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Anyone who's ever talked to members of the Apples knows that they are among the most modest musicians to ever have walked upright--which is why bandleader Robert Schneider's description of the group's new licensing agreement with Sire Records as "not a super-big deal" needs to be put into context. Short of Brian Wilson asking the quartet to support him on his next album, there's not much that would provoke Schneider, drummer Hilarie Sidney, rhythm guitarist John Hill and bassist Eric Allen to boast. But the covenant, which kicks off with the January 6 nationwide re-release of the Apples' latest album, Tone Soul Evolution, has the potential to catapult them from cult heroes to widespread successes.

The industry buzz about the Apples has been building since at least the release of the 1995 spinART platter Funtricknoisemaker, a disc that was lauded by underground journalists and prominent musicians such as Beck, who included it in a Rolling Stone list of his favorite albums of the year. More acclaim greeted the Apples EP Science Faire and albums by Neutral Milk Hotel, the Olivia Tremor Control and other acts affiliated with Schneider's Elephant 6 imprint. As a result, the media was primed and ready when Tone Soul Evolution, another spinART full-length, hit stores late last summer. Praise for the recording, designated as one of the finest to come out of Colorado this year (see page 68), appeared in publications such as Alternative Press and Spin.

Also hovering around the band has been a slew of major labels interested in gaining the rights to Apples product. But the group's three-album contract with spinART, of which Tone was the second release, complicated matters. Rick Rubin, flamboyant head of American Recordings and producer of artists ranging from Johnny Cash to the Beastie Boys, told Schneider that the Apples were his favorite group but that he was unable to wrest them away from spinART.

As this was going on, the Apples were gaining even more credibility via tours with Pavement, Sebadoh, Son Volt and others. But despite appearances of growing affluence, the musicians were still struggling to survive. "It's been really hard to make any money," Sidney says. "We can't really work jobs because we're always doing band stuff, but because spinART is so small, they can't really give us the money we need a lot of the time. So even when we were in these situations where everything seemed to be going well, we were always on the verge of having it all fall apart."

Fortunately, a white knight was in the offing--namely Seymour Stein, head of Sire Records. Stein is one of the most powerful and influential figures in the recording industry: His company introduced America to the Ramones, the Talking Heads and Madonna, and it also put out Brian Wilson's first solo album, a fact that was not lost on Schneider, who's such a Beach Boys fanatic that he named his studio Pet Sounds. After hearing the Apples a few months ago, Stein decided to put them on the list, too, and because he had a prior business relationship with spinART (Sire's current roster includes the Lilys, a former spinART signee), he had a distinct advantage over his competitors. When he talked, spinART listened--and so did the Apples.

"We were on tour, and we got a call from spinART telling us that Seymour really liked us and that Sire wanted to license the record," Sidney remembers. "So we thought about it and said, 'We'd like to do it,' because it seemed like it could really benefit us."

"We were psyched about it," Schneider interjects, "because Sire's a good label and because they're putting out the record through their distribution, which means it'll be in a lot more stores than it is now. Plus there's all the marketing stuff, which they know a lot more about than we do."

The Sire pact covers the licensing of Tone Soul Evolution and the as-yet-unrecorded third album required by the spinART agreement, but it otherwise leaves the band unencumbered. Says Sidney, "We're not signed to them, so we're not under any creative obligations. We didn't have to sign any crappy contract. We still have the same contract with spinART, which is an excellent one."

The downside to the affiliation is that it involves little cash up front. But, Schneider notes, "we'll get tour support. And there's also a budget for making a video, which is great. We're really into making videos. We grew up with them, so we have a lot of ideas, and I think we'd have fun doing it. And because of Sire, they might be able to get it on MTV."

No date's been set for the video shoot yet, largely because no one's decided on which single to push. "A lot of people like the first song on the album, 'Seems So,' and I like it, too," Schneider allows. "But to me, I like to think of every song on the album as a single. That's kind of the way we do things." Tour plans haven't been finalized, either, but Sidney suspects that "they'll want us to go out with somebody bigger--and that's okay with us, because that will give us more exposure. But I think we'll headline some, too, like we did the last half of our last tour before this happened. And we'll probably start recording again next fall. We like to record, so we're always ready."

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