Aunque el último disco de The Apples in Stereo, Travellers in Space and Time no ha sido precisamente de lo mejorcito de su carrera, he encontrado esta divertida entrevista en la que Robert Schneider nos confiesa, medio en broma medio en serio, sus principales influencias en cuanto a la influencia de la ciencia ficción en su música. Lo cierto es que comienza bastante en serio, pero en cuanto habla de Kool and the Gang o Labelle… comprobadlo vosotros mismos.
Even before The Apples In Stereo frontman Robert Schneider starred as a time-bending scientist in a promotional video for the band’s newest record, Travellers In Space And Time, The Apples’ oeuvre was already noticeably rife with sci-fi imagery and groovy space effects bouncing around amid the ’60s pop. A charter member of the Elephant 6 collective, the Denver-based power-pop band has conjured much more exotic locales than Denver, like a rocket ship circling Earth’s orbit (“Rocket Pad”) or desolate regions of the universe (“Floating In Space”). Schneider’s experiments in music theory surely appeal to the science and math whizzes: His non-Pythagorean scale, based on natural logarithms and used during disorienting interludes for 2007’s New Magnetic Wonder, sounds more like a discarded take from the UFO communication scene of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind than a song from an indie-rock band. Before his band plays Lincoln Hall on Friday, The A.V. Club talked to Schneider about which bands influenced him to take The Apples In Stereo into alien galaxies, mind-bending dimensions, and Star Trek conventions.
Robert Schneider: I would say the sci-fi influence on our music comes more from art and maybe album art than it does from specific songs. That being said, the new Apples album is extremely influenced by ELO, and particularly by the ELO album Time, which is really overtly sci-fi. It seems like they had started in this direction, we just picked up and followed up on it. A sort of sci-fi, baroque kind of pop. There are a couple of songs on that album, one’s “Twilight,” and the other, “Yours Truly, 2095”—that’s basically the template for the sounds that I wanted for our album. In general, ELO uses a lot of vocoders and robot sounds, pulsing synths, in the context of ’70s pop.
A big influence as far as the sci-fi theme is ELO’s album art. I wanted to make a record that sounded like their album art looked. I love the idea of a roller-skating disco party on a UFO or a recording studio on a UFO. I love space art, too, in general. My whole life I’ve always loved these old kind of futurist space art books from the ’70s and ’80s that I used to read as a little kid, where it has photo-realistic paintings of a space colony on a barren kind of moonscape, or it’ll be a different world and it’ll have three suns.
The A.V. Club: Any specific album cover that inspired your sound?
RS: Oh yeah, the album cover for ELO’s Out Of The Blue, which is mind-blowing. It’s got this huge UFO on the outside, and inside you open up and it’s this huge recording studio with all this kind of retro, outmoded computer station gear. That’s where I wanted it to feel like it was recorded.
RS: “Interstellar Overdrive” by Pink Floyd is another one. It’s extremely futuristic. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn sounds like a UFO. Given that it’s from the ’60s and it’s a psychedelic track, it’s pretty futuristic. That was one of the things when we started The Apples: We wanted our band to sound like it was “Interstellar Overdrive.” It totally feels like you’re flying through space on a UFO. In stereo.
AVC: So this whole idea of songs recorded in UFOs was an original intention of The Apples In Stereo?
RS: Yeah, actually one of our early songs was “Rocket Pad.” It was about, “We have this spaceship. Come on aboard and see our show, and you can hear our band. We just moved into this spaceship and the sounds are a lot better here.” The new album is magnifying a thread that was a sub-thread of The Apples.
RS: They totally had these blurby, trippy, UFO sounds behind their songs. That was a major element of early Apples. I figured out early on that you could take a little Casio keyboard and run it through a fuzz pedal, run that through a wah-wah pedal, then run that through a tremolo pedal, then you can make it sound like a synthesizer. Because you have the fuzz making it sound like a pure tone, instead of a Casio keyboard, and then your wah-wah pedal will go waaayyoooww, and then the tremolo will go dip-dip-deep-dip-deep, so then you kind of go wa-ba-ba-bing-ya-weayaa-ba-bing. [Laughs.] So yeah, I exploited those types of sounds heavily on our first 7-inch.
RS: My friend Jim McIntyre [of Elephant Six’s Von Hemmling] gave me a bootleg CD of this early-20th-century composer named Ivan Wyschnegradsky. He invented this piano with two keyboards that were tuned to quarter tones, so basically there were twice as many notes in the octave as there are on a regular piano. And he also made these great compositions—God, they’re good—that got my ear interested. Listening to this got me interested in wanting to mess around with different scales. It got my brain into a mode where it didn’t sound ugly to me or dissonant. I was freed from the regular scale for a period, and I was able to mess around with this thing and hear beauty in it.
AVC: So this composer was a gateway for your brain to look into music in a different language?
RS: Yeah, that’s exactly what it’s like. At first it’s really alien, it really feels like you’re pulling these tones out of outer space or something like that. Putting them together, they don’t seem to make any sense. But I knew from the start they make sense mathematically. I just had to make the new connections that made my brain used to hearing these mathematical relationships instead of the other ones that we normally hear. You just have to kind of believe in it, you know?
RS: I would say late-’70s, early-’80s kind of R&B bands with a kind of sci-fi, post-Parliament look, Midnight Star, or The Dazz Band. And especially, musically, Kool And The Gang. I listened to their greatest hits a lot when we were recording the record. I think of them as being futuristic, cause ’70s R&B, ’80s R&B is that genre where bands would dress futuristically.
AVC: Are you guys going to do any fashionable stuff like that?
RS: We have silver costumes by Rebecca Turbow, a designer from New York. She had designed these awesome silver futuristic costumes because we’re trying to project that we’re traveling on a time machine, and we just showed up at the show and we’re like, “Oh, what date is this?” [Laughs.] It’s not like we’re super-theatrical about it, we’re just rocking out and playing our pop songs. But we’re trying to project some sort of a unity as if we were a space crew. So there’s a theatrical element to our new tour that we haven’t ever had before. You know, usually we’ve been kind of chaotic from the point of view of fashion. Not that that’s bad.
AVC: If you had a budget, would you have a Parliament-style UFO coming down from the ceiling or something?
RS: Oh my God, yes. That would be incredible, except it would turn out to be 6 inches tall like in [This Is] Spinal Tap with the Stonehenge. We had actually joked about that, trying to get a UFO and have it end up being like that.
RS: My wife just reminded me of my inspiration for wanting to get futuristic space costumes. There’s a song called “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle. I heard it on the radio a couple times. It’s the fucking best song I’ve ever heard in my life. So I looked it up on YouTube and I saw a video of the band playing it. It’s like these three girls who are dressed up super alien-looking, wearing costumes from the most bizarre Star Trek episode ever or something. When I saw that it really turned me on to the idea of wearing space costumes.
AVC: I didn’t anticipate you being so excited about Labelle.
RS: [Laughs.] I had forgotten about it. I got very excited about the whole futuristic thing. I love the way you can appear futuristic without necessarily needing to be futuristic. They weren’t being futuristic at all, except they looked like aliens” (avclub.com)