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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."

Schneider is optimistic about the future, but he isn't ready to celebrate quite yet. "It hasn't really affected us that much so far," he says. "There's a series of things that happen to your band after a record comes out, and right now, this just seems like one of them. And we still don't have very much money. We always joked that when we signed to a major label, there'd be like a million dollars in each of our bank accounts the next day. But I keep checking, and there's still nothing there. The tellers are getting sick of seeing me."

"We're definitely not rich and famous," Sidney concurs. "But we're glad people like the record--and I really like it, too. It makes me happy."

The career of the 8-Bucks Experiment hasn't hit the heights attained by the Apples, but Evan O'Meara and his bandmates are on the right track. In December they were filmed for a sequence in Salt Lake City Punk, a new film produced by Sam Maydew and Peter Ward, whose credits include Speed and Twister, and starring Matthew Lillard, a featured player in Scream ("He was the guy who got killed with the TV set at the end," O'Meara explains), and Michael Goorjian from Party of Five.

The director, James Merendino, based the movie on his own experiences in Utah during the early Eighties: O'Meara says it's "one of those American Grafitti, Dazed and Confused kind of things, but really hardcore." He adds that Merendino discovered the Experiment while scouting locations. "He brought all the money people on the movie to this dive bar in Salt Lake where we were playing, and after we were done, he came up to us and said, 'Wow, you guys are fucking intense.' Then, three weeks later, after we got back to Colorado, they called us and said, 'Be out here in two days.'" In the picture, he goes on, the Experiment portrays a British band modeled on GBH "in this fight scene at a place where we're playing. We played our own songs and this Buffalo Springfield cover--you know, the one that goes, 'Stop, children, what's that sound...' ['For What It's Worth']. And I have a speaking part in it, too. I did a pretty fucked-up accent, because I'm not very good at that kind of stuff, and they said they'd probably have somebody dub it. But then afterward, they said they were going to leave it in."

Right now it's unclear which studio will release Punk; although Fox has the inside track, negotiations are continuing. The soundtrack situation is pending, too, but O'Meara has been told that the Experiment's songs will probably share disc space with archival cuts by the likes of the Damned and the Exploited. (The band has also completed a new full-length, tentatively titled Love Thy Brother, which should be out soon on the group's own Blue Moon label.) Furthermore, the filmmakers have said that they want to fly the musicians to France for the flick's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May. "It's pretty cool," O'Meara says, "because this is the kind of movie I'd go to see even if I wasn't in it."

When you hit the big time, guys, don't forget the little people back home.

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com

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