Back in October, shortly after their set at the Wall in Taipei and despite losing his voice, Robert Schneider, the singer, guitarist, main songwriter and producer of the Apples in stereo was nice enough to talk to me and answer some of my questions.
When I heard that the Apples were coming to Taipei, I was basically blown away; American bands just didn’t come to Taiwan much. When I heard back from their manager that an interview was possible, my mind started racing. After all, this is one of the first indie pop bands I ever liked. My first exploration into the Elephant 6 collective after In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was Science Fair. Tone Soul Evolution came shortly afterwards and still sits among my favorite indie pop albums of all time.
[If you want the condensed version of the interview, jump down to the question about the band’s transitional period.]
the Apples in stereo – the Silvery Light of a Dream, Pt. 2 (mp3, from Tone Soul Evolution)
Adrian of IPMN: I love that you do the “hello” and “thank you”s [during your show] in Chinese.
Robert Schneider: I studied Chinese in college but I’ve totally forgotten it now. But it turns out having traveled, I know the most basic shit in a few languages, but that really gets you by. Because most of your interactions with average people is–you have to know how to say “hey”, “please”, “thank you”, “I’m sorry”. “I’m sorry” is a good one. Whenever I go to a new country I learn “I’m sorry” first because it really keeps you out of trouble.
[We’re walking and Dan, the band’s manager, approaches to discuss some logistical details. After that, as we’re leaving we need to pass a local.]
R: Dui bu qi [I’m sorry].
A: See! So useful.
R: I know how to say “sorry” in multiple languages. It really gets you by. If you want to be chatty with someone it won’t get you by, but it gets you in average interactions.
A: How do you like playing for the Taiwan crowds?
R: It’s been amazing. We’ve had really good shows. Our show at the Megaport Festival was awesome.
We were playing against the water and there were gigantic fucking ships behind us–huge industrial ships. It was incredible, you know. It was really cool. We had to bring up the volume to meet the [volume of the] gigantic ships and the shipyards. We stayed in the–what’s it called–the Skytower. It’s the 14th tallest building in the world. [Ed: Now’s it’s the 16th tallest, but at the time of the interview it was the 14th.] A huge hotel–
A: Is this in Kaohsiung?
R: Yeah, this was in Gaoxiong, or Kaohsiung or however you say it. It was awesome. It was amazing.
A: So Megaport brought you over? How’s that work? They just called up your people and said, hey, can you do this…?
R: Yeah. They only brought over three international bands: two Japanese bands and then us. So I guess they didn’t do it with a lot of people but that’s what they did. They just called us and said, we’ll pay for this whole trip. We have hotels and everything taken care of, every single thing. Plane tickets and everything. I got to bring my wife and child over. It totally rocked. We had an amazing time. We had a translator/ guide and she took care of everything. She was amazing. It’s been pretty awesome. They were great.
A: So the last few years seem like a bit of a transitional period for the band. Is that fair to say?
R: Yeah, I’d say so. I mean, our whole career has been a transitional period in a sense because we’re always changing and doing different things. Also, making records and stuff has always been tied up in learning how to record. We usually home recorded and stuff. It’s been this whole journey of learning how to have a studio, record, and make productions, write songs and play together. We could barely play our instruments when we started our band. So [the] whole [time we’ve been a] band has been a transitional period, but the last few years has been much more transitional.
A: Was it a purposeful break that you took between, uh, sorry, uh, Velocity of Sound and New Magnetic Wonder?
R: No, it wasn’t purposeful but we were working on having a new sound and stuff. We were trying to work on new things and we had kind of a high goal for we wanted to achieve. So we just took time–also there was other stuff that happened. We toured in that time.
Many of us have other bands. Our drummer Hillary Sydney quit about a year and a half ago, after we recorded New Magnetic Wonder. About a year ago, actually. She was our drummer from our first–from the beginning of our band.
Actually, musically it was transitional. I went through a period, around Velocity of Sound and before that where I lost faith in the principles I always believed in as far as music goes. I always had this faith when I was growing up, when I was a teenager and when I was going into the Apples, going into my 20s and being a part of Elephant 6, which was this collective I was a part of and stuff–I’d always had this–it was my religion. It’s not overstating it to say it was my religion. My religion was big production, pop music, harmonies, psychedelia. When I say it, it doesn’t really mean enough–it really was my religion. I breathed it. It was the universe to me, you know? Brian Wilson and John Lennon and Paul McCartney and the Zombies and the Kinks. These guys were like my deities, you know. And my only deities.
I kind of went through a period where I lost faith in it. I came to feel like–not the songwriting–but the production and the drum sounds and the horn parts and the harmonies and the sound effects and stuff that’s all very important, it seemed very empty to me. I started to feel like–I can’t describe it. I went through a period where I started to feel that stuff was kind of superficial. What was real–you can listen to a record, like a Robert Johnson record or an old Dylan record. It’s just a guy and an acoustic guitar. You hear the voice and you hear the guitar. The voice is most of it and the guitar is equivalent to the whole big production. How important is that? You hear a guy singing some songs and you hear something else, some chords. Is it an orchestra, is an acoustic guitar or a piano? It doesn’t matter. And I started to lose faith because it’s like, if it can just be an acoustic guitar, why do I need this whole orchestra?
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