By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
For the first time in months, the Apples are back in town--but if you miss their appearance Sunday, July 20, at the Fox Theatre with Neutral Milk Hotel and Sissy Fuzz, you won't get another chance to see them for a while. "Oh, my gosh, we've got so much to do," says Apples leader Robert Schneider. "And it's been that way all year."
He's not exaggerating. In January the Apples began making preparations for their upcoming CD, tentatively titled Tone Soul Evolution. Shortly thereafter, the musicians headed to Hartford, Connecticut, to begin recording at Studio .45, a facility located in the most unlikely of places. "It's an old Colt factory," Schneider divulges. "It used to be the national armory, where they made most of the country's weapons between the Civil War and the Korean War. It was shut down in the Fifties or Sixties, but more recently they built this studio there, and it's amazing. It's one of the biggest buildings I've ever seen. It's so big it's almost inconceivable."
That the Apples were interested in recording anywhere other than their home studio in Denver comes as something of a surprise. After all, Schneider has made virtually all of the Apples' platters--as well as critically lauded long-players by Olivia Tremor Control, Chocolate U.S.A. and the aforementioned Neutral Milk Hotel--using his own gear. But for the followup to the act's Funtricknoisemaker, a CD showered with compliments by numerous national publications and artists such as Beck, Schneider was determined not to take any shortcuts. "We had been working here with our eight-track, but it was sort of a scattered effort," he admits. "There just wasn't as much passion in it as I wanted. Besides, in the last couple of years we've gotten better live, and the recording just didn't measure up. We did a live four-track tape, and it sounded fifty times better than the one we'd been working on."
As a result, Schneider and company began to cast about for somewhere new to record. They settled on Studio .45, in part because of the impressive full-lengths that have been made there by the Lillies and the Silver Jews, among others. But the real selling point was engineer Michael Deming. "He's a great guy," Schneider says. "And he was just what we needed, because I really wanted to work with an engineer on this album. It's hard for me to produce, engineer and play at the same time--I can't do justice to all three things. And I wanted things to sound on tape the way they did in my head. The previous recordings have been somewhat muddy because we've put so much on top of the original tracks that they sort of got drowned out. But with Michael helping us and the 24-track they've got at Studio .45, I knew we could sound the way I always wanted us to."
This process was slowed considerably by several pleasant interruptions. In February the Apples were invited to tour with Sebadoh. Then, a few weeks later, the outfit was invited to open a string of dates for Pavement. "We were right in the middle of things, and by doing that, it knocked two weeks out of our recording schedule," Schneider says. "But they're one of our favorite groups. We just couldn't turn it down." The case was much the same for a June jaunt with the Push Kings, a Boston-based buzz band on the independent Sealed Fate imprint that Schneider describes as "really amazing--like a cross between Gerry and the Pacemakers and Badfinger."
Now, however, the Apples are home, and Schneider could hardly be more enthusiastic about the material that will make up the new CD. "Most modern records have a certain gloss to them, but not this one. It's very warm and natural: modern minus the gloss. There's a lot of piano, horns, percussion and stuff on it, but there are also tons of guitars; it's a much more guitar-oriented record than we've made before. And best of all, it sounds really hi-fi. I wanted it to sound like a real record so that nobody could say, 'Well, it's good for the kind of record it is,' or 'It's good enough.' I wanted it just to be great--and I think it is."
The album is scheduled to be issued under the spinART insignia on September 9, but the Apples won't simply be sitting around waiting for the disc to drop. "We'll be doing a lot of practicing--tightening up our vocal harmonies," Schneider says. "On other records, I did most of the singing, but this time everybody sang, and we want to make sure that we'll sound as good live as we do on the album." Schneider will also be spending most of July and August recording the next Neutral Milk Hotel offering for Merge, a firm that's home to Superchunk. And there's a full slate of releases set to come out on Elephant Six, the Apples' own label. In the past, Elephant Six has been as much an idea as an actual company, but that should change given the avalanche of material Schneider is readying. "We're putting out an album by this really cool San Francisco band called Beulah--they're sort of like a combination of the Plastic Ono Band and the Velvet Underground. And we're going to do a Minders album and a bunch of singles"--including seven-inches by Marbles (a Schneider solo project) and Von Hemmling, put together by the Apples' Jim McIntyre.