Robert Schneider & Apples in Stereo Review

This week Jim and Greg enter into the psychedelic world of Elephant Six. This musical collective had humble beginnings in a small town in rural Louisiana, but has gone on to produce some of the most innovative pop and rock music ever. Jim and Greg will highlight some of their favorite songs from bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control, and talk with Elephant Six founder and Apples in Stereo front man Robert Schneider.

Robert Schneider
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Last week the Copyright Royalty Board, an oversight body created by Congress to settle royalty disputes in the music business, dramatically increased royalty rates for web music broadcasters that may put many internet radio and internet streaming programs out of business. Right now traditional radio only pays royalty fees to songwriters and copyright holders. Webcasters, on the other hand, pay fees to both the songwriter and the artist who performed the song. And now they'll have to pay even more. In addition to sinking web-based music outlets, musicians will also be affected by new laws. Many underground and independent artists depend on music blogs and internet radio stations to get their music heard.

Jim and Greg wanted to talk to people on both sides of the issue. First they talk with John Simson, the Executive Director of SoundExchange. SoundExchange represents the artists and labels and is the collecting and distributing body for these digital royalties. Simson thinks the argument that artists are benefiting solely from having their music played by internet radio stations is flawed. While he understands that there is the potential for musicians to get greater exposure from this kind of airplay, he's yet to see any evidence that they are selling more records. He supports a flat per-performance rate for all webcasters, and adds that up-and-coming artists who want internet exposure can strike their own deals.

Next, Jim and Greg invite Jonatha Brooke into the conversation. Brooke is a singer/songwriter and owner of Bad Dog Records. She testified before the CRB in support of these higher rates. Our hosts wonder why an artist would want to bite the hand that feeds them, so to speak, but Brooke argues that she isn't being fed that well. Like Simson, she disagrees with the notion that the digital airplay is giving her more business and helping her to sell more records. A small business owner herself, Brooke can sympathize with small webcasting outlets, but thinks they should have to pay for a product they are using just like anyone else.

Finally, we hear from Bill Goldsmith, a webcaster who will be affected by these new rates. Goldsmith and his wife run Radio Paradise, an internet radio station that serves about 12 - 15,000 listeners a day. He explains that he will have to pay almost half a million dollars for his retroactive 2006 fees alone. This, of course, will sink him, but it's not just the small and midsize outlets that will suffer. No single digital music broadcaster, even large stations like Pandora, will be able to survive with the new regulations.

So what's the solution? Jim thinks that lawmakers should eliminate the inequity between terrestrial radio, who has huge lobbying power and influence in Congress, and internet streaming radio, who are essentially the new, little guys on the block. Greg takes issue with the one size fits all approach the CRB and SoundExchange are currently using. He and many organizations like the Future of Music Coalition, support a structure that sets reasonable rates for different categories of webcasters.

Robert Schneider

For this week's feature Jim and Greg dive into the psychedelic world of Elephant 6. For those new to this crazy universe, Elephant 6 is a label and musical collective that was started by childhood friends in Ruston, Louisiana. The bands that came out of this group of music-lovers include Of Montreal, Beulah, Elf Power, with the most notable being Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, and Apples in Stereo. Jim and Greg will focus on those three Elephant 6 acts, discussing why they're so important in the rock landscape and which tracks and albums you should check out.

Sound Opinions always likes to begin any consideration of a band, label or movement with the music. Here are the three songs you sample first (you can find a list of all other song titles at the bottom of the page):

  • "Memories of Jacqueline 1906" by Olivia Tremor Control
  • "Two Headed Boy" by Neutral Milk Hotel
  • "About Your Fame" by Apples in Stereo

One of the key players in the success of the Elephant 6 Recording Company is Robert Schneider. Schneider is the chief songwriter, producer and lead singer of Apples in Stereo and co-founded the collective along with William Cullen Hart and Bill Doss of The Olivia Tremor Control and Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel. Jim and Greg wanted to find out from Schneider how so much great music came from Ruston, Louisiana. Schneider explains that because of the college music scene, he and his friends were exposed to a lot of great music. Schneider and Jeff Mangum took up music early as a way to escape mundane, small town life. Eventually all of these friends decided to start a label and call it Elephant 6.

Greg describes Schneider as the "pop craftsmen," of the bunch and Jeff Mangum of the Neutral Milk Hotel as the "soul child." The Olivia Tremor Control were then the trippiest. He and Jim discuss their debut release, Dusk at Cubist Castle, a double album whose subtitle, "Music from an Unrealized Film Script," points to the music's psychedelic nature. The Olivia Tremor Control tried to capture the feeling of a live performance and made a dense album full of layers and layers of sound. This was also the case on their second album, Black Foliage, but OTC disbanded soon after that.

Next Jim and Greg discuss Neutral Milk Hotel, the band that probably has the largest fan base. In fact, Jeff Mangum holds a mythic standing among music fans that parallels only that of Kurt Cobain. Mangum went for a soulful, more stripped down approach that was moving and easily identifiable for many listeners. This is evident in the band's 1998 release In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, a concept album about tragedy, and at times, the story of Anne Frank. Mangum wanted the star of this album to be the acoustic guitar, his voice and his words. This sometimes caused conflict between the songwriter and Robert Schneider, his producer, but the result is one of the most innovative and important albums of the 1990s.

New Magnetic Wonder Apples in Stereo

New Magnetic Wonder

The longest lasting of all the Elephant 6 acts is Apples in Stereo. After five years, the group has released a new album called New Magnetic Wonder. Since that last release, Robert Schneider and band mate Hilarie Sidney have divorced, but they remain collaborators. The two Bills of Olivia Tremor Control and Jeff Mangum also join in the effort. The new kid in town is Elijah Wood, aka Frodo. Wood, an ardent music fan, approached Schneider saying he wanted to finance the recording and release the album on his new label. Jim thinks the result is the best album of Apples in Stereo career. Greg agrees, making New Magnetic Wonder a double Buy It.

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