Musicians find inspiration in some truly outrageous places, but some share their influences with countless other artists. The sounds of classic bands like The Beach Boys, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones have given rise to bands who trade on the bouncy rhythms of “Pet Sounds,” the harmonic nuance of “Abbey Road” and the raw energy of “Let It Bleed.” These influences aren’t particularly noteworthy in terms of their rarity, but they are special in the ways later generations have taken this source material and created a noise that borrows liberally from their variable aesthetics, but still stays true to their individual experiences.
Bands who wade around in the muck and mire of pop music face great difficulty in parsing out the relevant bits of their influences to build a perspective on an intimate summation of history and collective musical associations. It’s easy to be inspired by the effervescence and ebullient nature of pop, but it can be far harder to truly innovate within this given musical radius. For pop-rock band The Apples in Stereo, however, this blending of common and obscured inspiration led to the creation of some openly manic and cacophonous pop masterpieces. Led by Apples architect Robert Schneider, the band was deeply enmeshed in the Georgia/Denver/Louisiana-based Elephant 6 Collective-a group of bands prone to ecstatic pop and rock divergences that felt wonderfully atypical and expressive.
The roots of The Apples in Stereo can be traced back to a bus ride in Denver in 1991. This particular bit of public transportation was carrying both Schneider and Jim McIntyre, two musicians whose musical interests were far more similar than they would ever have thought. They initially bonded over their shared affection for The Beach Boys and soon entertained ideas of performing together. McIntyre introduced Schneider to drummer Hilarie Sydney, who was then playing with McIntyre in Von Hemmling. Schneider would meet and later recruit bassist Chris Parfitt through an ad in the classified section of a local newspaper.
Besides their discussions about forming a band, they tossed around the idea of starting their own record label, an idea that grew into the now-cult favorite Elephant 6 Recording Co. Prior to this, though, Schneider spent several weeks in Athens, Georgia, recording music and spending time with childhood friends Bill Doss, Jeff Mangum and Will Cullen Hart-all of whom agreed with his notion to start a label on which to release the sounds of assorted musical associates.
When he returned to Denver, Schneider officially invited McIntyre to join the band, which was fleshed out later that year by the addition of Sydney and Parfitt. They worked through their first few live shows in the first part of 1993, with studio sessions quickly following. They recorded and released their debut 7-inch EP, “Tidal Wave,” in June-the first release to bear the familiar Elephant 6 Recording Co. logo. Unfortunately, some conflicts within the band led to Parfitt exiting in early 1994. John Hill, who had played with McIntyre in a previous band, took over as rhythm guitarist.
Schneider then took more of the creative reins in hand and shifted the band’s output to sound far more spacey and pop-oriented than their more rock-inclined earlier work. The band began work on what was to become their debut LP, but it soon materialized into the “Hypnotic Suggestion” EP, another collection of songs that melded the dense rock and warped pop influences that fed into the band’s roiling creativity. After its release, independent label SpinART Records offered to buy the band an eight-track recorder if they recorded an album for them. The band took the offer and headed into the studio.
In mid-1984, McIntyre exited the band amid personal and professional difficulties but would continue to play a relatively active role in the band’s development well into the ’00s. During the recording of their debut full-length, the band was home to a collection of bassists, including Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Kurt Heasley of The Lilys, Kyle Jones, Joel Richardson and Joel Evans. Schneider and the band recorded the first half of their debut in Glendora, California, but finished it at Jones’ house, which is also where Schneider’s famous Pet Sounds Studio was born.
In their debut record, “Fun Trick Noisemaker,” released in 1995, the band conjures dense guitar-driven waves of skewed pop bliss, building across a craggy and ebullient hiss-filled dreamscape where the spirits of The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground could co-exist and play off one another. These songs are far rougher and more rock-centric than their later material, although you could already see the band’s fluid pop delivery beginning to take shape.
Tracks such as “Tidal Wave” and “Green Machine” are perfect distillations of the band’s manic pop-rock sensibilities and are indicative of the varied directions they went through in later releases. Schneider’s brilliant sense of amalgamated influences is balanced by the band’s dynamic pop interplay. These songs aren’t rigid or fixed by some constant rhythmic guidelines; they are amorphous and constantly in a state of melodic flux. Songs such as “Glowworm” and “Show the World” are microcosms of mercurial lo-fi resolutions.
The Apples in Stereo slowly moved away from these sounds on later records, but they never lost that sense of unexpected musical frivolity. Their work is grounded but insulated in a Day-Glo effervescence. “Fun Trick Noisemaker” is the result of Schneider and the band realizing their own potential and generating a succession of concussive wavelengths that seem to warp the air around them. This record is a piece of fractured beauty, a delirious work of pop-rock mania that clings to your subconscious and refuses to let go. It is unique and possesses a singular insight that spoke to a generation of pop fiends who had somehow discovered a band mired in the same wondrous and complicated influences as themselves.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.