The preface to this week's column was necessitated by a recent letter e-mailed to me not once, but several times by pissed-off reader John La Briola. In it, he asked, "Just how far do the Apples in Stereo have their fist up your butt? It's not enough to force-feed us weekly silver-lined updates about every fly they catch, but now you raise the hype to new, ridiculous levels by mentioning them alongside George Martin ["In His Life," March 4]. Cut the crap! You sound more and more like their rich, apologist mother, for fuck's sake. Or a 3.2 Don King pushing another mediocre white hope from the welter-weight class to heavy-belt contender. Give it a goddamn rest, would you? Surprise me. Write about JonBenet or those stupid polar bears. Write about Carrot Top being the next Buster Keaton. Write about Gary Coleman or Blinky the Clown. Anything. Just shut up about your darling little Apples for a while. Quit embarrassing us. Quit nauseating us. I dare you."

The timing of this well-written and amusing, if highly suspect, assault is ironic, because as it turns out, some breaking news has put me in the position of needing to write about the Apples this week. Before doing so, however, allow me to offer a little context. First of all, the Apples have been given the full Westword profile treatment only once--and that was almost five years ago, in an article penned by contributor Brad Jones ("Harvest Time," July 20, 1994). In addition, my last column about the group appeared nearly fifteen months back (Feedback, January 1, 1998) and concerned the act's new distribution deal with a major label, Sire Records--something so rare in this market that its newsworthiness is impossible to dispute. Since then, mentions of the Apples have almost all been in the context of other groups associated with them: Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel and the Minders are the most prominent examples. In addition, the Apples get much more ink nationally than they do in their own hometown. They are unquestionably the most critically acclaimed current act from Denver, yet they almost never appear in the daily newspapers, where local music coverage pretty much consists of annual mentions that Firefall is playing the People's Fair.

So please accept my apology in advance, Mr. La Briola--because I'm not going to stop embarrassing you, and I won't refrain from nauseating you, either. If I think something involving the Apples will be of interest to the majority of our readers, I'm going to write about it. But that doesn't mean I don't still love you. Will you be my valentine?

Oh, yeah--the Apples. As noted above, the band inked a pact with Sire Records in late 1997. But Sire's marketing of Tone Soul Evolution, issued several months earlier by a prominent indie, spinART, didn't turn the disc into a bestseller. In fact, group leader Robert Schneider points out that the Apples' previous spinART CD, Funtricknoisemaker, moved nearly as many units as did Tone with no major-label support at all. So when Sire offered to either extend the distribution agreement to the band's next long-player or sign it outright, Schneider says, "we turned them down."

Such a move isn't unprecedented: Boulder's Sally Taylor, profiled last week in an article called "Taylor Made," has declined a whole series of lucrative proposals waved at her by industry kingpins. But unlike Taylor, who has the kind of monetary support that comes with being the spawn of James Taylor and Carly Simon, the various Apples are living hand to mouth. "We're broke and struggling," Schneider admits. "But the thing is, if we'd gone with Sire, we would have continued to be broke and struggling. I don't want people to think it was all about money, but that was definitely part of it. Sire was willing to give us the creative control we wanted, but they weren't willing to do any more for us financially, distribution-wise or promotion-wise than spinART could. And with Sire, there was just so much more red tape and bureaucracy that we figured we were better off where we were. So we told them no."

Shortly thereafter, the Apples contracted with spinART for a new album, and they plan to license numerous other efforts with the firm through Elephant 6, Schneider's own imprint. He describes the first of these releases--Wallpaper Reverie, an Apples mini-LP set to arrive in stores this May--as "a really psychedelic excursion" that will differ substantially from the group's next full-length, which is being assembled now at its recording space, Pet Sounds. This homemade approach was chosen in part because of Schneider's creeping dissatisfaction with Tone, the first Apples effort to be produced in a professional studio (Hartford, Connecticut's Studio .45). "It just didn't have the edge that we have live," he says. "Live, we're not all that polished and fluffy; we rock more. But that got lost in the mix. The problem was that I was collaborating with another engineer. Collaboration doesn't have to water things down, but this time it did. I think I just wasn't confident enough. But since then, I've made a couple of records where I've really learned a lot, and they've shown me that maybe we're better off if I just do it myself."

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