Apples In Stereo Worming Their Way Into Pop World

Like Beach Boys, Byrds and Beatles before them, band toys with technology and harmony.

Apples in Stereo frontman Robert Schneider adjusted the controls on his stereo

at his Denver home, trying to come to a decision about the tones and

frequencies of the music pouring through it.

"Does it sound trebly enough?" an excited Schneider, lead

singer/songwriter/guitarist of the Apples, asked his bandmates as he continued

to work the dials.

The Denver-based band had just received the vinyl version of their latest album,

Tone Soul Evolution (Elephant 6/SpinArt). "It's the gatefold we've

always wanted to do," Schneider said. "It's kind-of a double album, except we

just added a new 7-inch as sides three and four. That was the only way we

could justify the cost."

Schneider can hardly contain his giddiness when it comes to making music. He

doesn't think of writing, recording or producing music, such as

"What's The #?" (RealAudio excerpt) off

their recent album, as work, only as meeting deadlines. When he isn't touring,

he spends nearly every day in the studio, either helping friends (Olivia Tremor

Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, the Minders or Felt Pilots, for instance) record,

making his own music or just hanging out. "I just wish I could spend more

time in the studio," he said.

It should come as no surprise, then, that in four years the Apples have already

amassed three albums-worth of material, not including a full-length release from

Schneider's solo project, Marbles. Nor should it come as a shock that the

Apples' music, from Tone Soul on down, sounds studiously crafted yet

effortlessly catchy -- a product of listening for hours to records by pop masters

such as the Beach Boys, the Byrds, original Pink Floyd leader Syd Barrett (the Apples' name is derived

from Barrett's "Apples and Oranges") and the Beatles, as well as more recent

bands such as Pavement, Lilys and the High Llamas, and trying to emulate their

finest moments.

"Listening to music on headphones really changed the way I listened to music,"

Schneider said. "I started paying more attention to the production qualities of

these records, hearing the movements of stuff. The way that '60s records were

recorded and split into stereo is just so psychedelic. Pink Floyd's The Piper at the

Gates of Dawn is the perfect headphone record. When I heard that record

for the first time, I realized that the placement of sounds is just as important as

chord progressions and melodies."

Not surprisingly, the Apples In Stereo sound good through headphones -- or

speakers, or a PA system for that matter -- because their production wizardry

combines subtleties for massive impact.

Their full-length debut, 1995's Fun Trick Noisemaker (Elephant

6/SpinArt), for instance, employed Beach Boys-mastermind Brian Wilson's

patented Pet Sounds-era technique of performing and recording the lead

guitar and vocal parts twice, once for each speaker. The meld of familiar

sounds ironically created new, unfamiliar sounds from which emerged

stunningly original melodies.

To help attain that goal, Schneider included spacey sounds thanks to his late-

'60s Moog and late-'70s Jupiter keyboards and some tape-manipulation.

Tone Soul Evolution, however, takes a cleaner approach to reach the

same goal. The melodies and whimsical lyrics remain, but are bared to the

world. "I wanted you to be able to hear each instrument," Schneider said. "We

always try to have fun with stereo, but this time everything is either hard-right,

hard-left, or middle. You can pick out individual instruments instead of it

sounding like one big sound."

Schneider also bares a newfound maturity and restraint on the new record. "At

first you're like, 'Wheee! I'm having fun with the technology.' We've

documented that discovery before, now we need to build on that. The same

holds true of my songwriting. I used to only want to make happy music to cheer

people up. Now there are other emotions and other people I want to address."

"Was it something in the sky, or something in my eyes?" sings Schneider on

Tone Soul Evolution's opener, "Seems So."

Similarly, Schneider describes the band's beginnings as a blur of images.

Shortly after moving to Denver from rural Louisiana, Schneider met original

bassist Jim McIntyre taking the city bus to school every day, and the two found

common musical ground in their love of the Beach Boys. "I went over to his

house that night, smoked pot, met (drummer) Hilarie (Sidney), his girlfriend, and

we all started hanging out," Schneider said.

Though McIntyre no longer plays in the band, he and his studio, Pet Sounds,

are an integral part of the Apples' world. The revolving lineup now includes

John Hill on rhythm and acoustic guitar and Eric Allen on bass. Learning their

instruments along the way, the Apples have gone from four-track to 24-track

recordings. Yet their earlier work, chronicled on 1996's Science Faire

(Elephant 6/Spin Art), stands above the typical, nostalgic demo collections.

"The Apples in Stereo aren't an obvious choice for commercial radio because

they're on a small label," said Sean Boy Walton, music director at radio station

KXRK (X96) in Salt Lake City, and an early fan of the Apples. He liked their

song "Tidal Wave" (Fun Trick Noisemaker) so much that he added it to

the station's regular rotation and invited the band to perform at KXRK's annual

summer festival, The Big Ass Show. The song saw airplay on more progressive

commercial radio stations and was even played on an episode of

Nickelodeon's underhandedly hip children's TV show "Pete and Pete." "In an

ideal world, the Apples would get lots of radio play around the country because

they write perfect pop songs," Walton continued. "They act as a great buffer to

long, dark, un-fun Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains or Korn songs."

Chuck Arnold, who has known the Apples In Stereo since their inception and

has provided them with tour support and radio promotion and even pressed

"Time For Bed," a split 7-inch with Olivia Tremor Control, on his No Life Records

label, pinned the band's unique charm on their easy-going attitude. "They're so

laid back," he said. "They approach writing pop songs with a perspective that

many people don't have ... Maybe it's the heavy use of marijuana."

But ask Schneider, who also confesses to being an avid fan of Nintendo games

and a cat-lover, and he'll tell you it's their innovative nature that makes them so

likable. "You hear some bands' third or fourth records and it just sinks your

expectations of them," he said. "I want our records to always be a good

surprise. I'm fascinated by technology. I learn more about it every day."

Schneider's fondness for personal relationships has shaped his rapport with

fans, of whom there are many rabid followers of Schneider's work, as well as

his lyrical approach. "When I write songs, I feel like I'm writing to one person,"

he said. "Even if I don't have someone specific in mind, it helps me feel more

emotional and inspired. I like the feeling of addressing someone personally.

That's why the vocal sound I like best, where the singing comes in both ears,

works so well. It's like a whisper to the listener."

Thus far, the Apples In Stereo have done their damnedest to out-step

predictability. Even Schneider said he can't predict what the next Apples record

will sound like. "We've still got a lot of territory we want to cover," he said.

[Thur., Dec. 4, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]