Image via The Apples in Stereo’s Facebook page.
Sometimes all it takes is a well-placed cover. Despite being a band for over 20 years, The Apples in Stereo reached one of their largest audiences yet when Phish covered the six-year-old song “Energy” at Saratoga Springs, NY’s Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Friday night. The cover set off a flurry of tweets and text messages, and single-handedly turned a new scene of fans onto the seminal Athens, GA indie-art group’s music.
Robert Schneider, The Apples in Stereo’s founder and a key member of the critically acclaimed but commercially underground The Elephant Six Recording Company collective, heard about the cover within minutes of its performance thanks to a friend who happened to be at the show. The Apples in Stereo’s team spent much of the weekend bantering with their new followers on social media and probably racking up some new royalties thanks to an increase in Spotify hits. Like Ween and TV on the Radio before them, The Apples in Stereo suddenly became known to thousands of fans as the authors of a well-received Phish cover.
As in turns out, The Apples in Stereo’s connection to Phish is much closer than many listeners know. “Energy” appears on the 2007 album New Magnetic Wonder, which was engineered by longtime Pavement and Trey Anastasio collaborator Bryce Goggin. (He’s the man who produced Phish’s Farmhouse and Round Room, Page McConnell’s self-titled album and a slew of Anastasio projects). Schneider also produced, arranged and performed on Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, whose title track Phish covered in 2010. He’s also a longtime fan of the Grateful Dead and psychedelic music history who has always seen the walls between jamband and indie rock as thinner than many realize. While he’s the first to point out that The Elephant Six Recording Company’s lo-fi techniques and punk vibe are worlds away from Phish’s expansive jams and tie-dye roots, Schneider was quickly able to trace their roots to a similar psychedelic source and shared love of orchestral arrangements and pop hooks.
Unfortunately, Schneider’s newfound attention comes as at sad time for The Apples in Stereo. Last year, The Apples in Stereo keyboardist and core The Elephant Six Recording Company collaborator Bill Doss passed away due to natural causes, and the band has remained quiet for the past year. While Schneider says the group is working on some new material, he is also pursuing a PhD program in Mathematics at Emory University and admits the band’s touring future is uncertain. A few days after Phish covered “Energy,” Schneider discussed the cover and his band’s future with Relix and Jambands.com
Lets’ start by talking about Phish’s cover of “Energy.” Were you aware they planned to cover ‘Energy” and, if not, when did you find out?
Yeah, I found out when everyone else did. I got a mass of emails from friends and fans on Facebook and I was pretty pleased about it. Also one thing I’d like to say is that I’m psyched that you’re calling from Relix because it’s an awesome magazine. I’m a lifelong fan of psychedelic music and being in a psychedelic band and part of a psychedelic musical collective, that’s awesome.
Phish often choose awesome things to cover. I think they covered The Beatles’ The White Album and The Velvet Underground’s Loaded. I mean these are some of the greatest albums ever. And so I’ve always seem them as a band who chooses their covers based on probably what they think is cool. So I thought that was awesome, I’m so happy. I liked their cover of it too, somebody sent me a YouTube video of it and it was awesome.
I was at the show and I thought that they did a great cover of it, and I felt they kept a lot of the character of your version of it but definitely made it sound like a Phish song.
Yeah, I thought that too. They kept the feel of our song while [making it their own]. Like even looking at the time signature of the videos, they basically sing most of the song by like a minute and a half. That’s when it goes into the big instrumental section in the song and I thought that arrangement was really cool.
From looking at my Twitter feed, there seemed to be a lot of back and forth and banter going on between your team and the Phish fans.
Right away when I saw the video, I made a post on Facebook just saying, “Thanks to Phish for their sweet cover,” or something like that. Basically a friend of mine emailed me and was like, “Dude, check out this video and your Facebook page,” someone had posted the video of them playing on my Facebook page. And I think that it was somebody who was at the show at that moment and emailed it the next day. So I was like, “That’s awesome.” Yeah, it wasn’t something that I knew about in advance but I was very pleasantly surprised.
That’s awesome. Have you ever seen Phish?
You know, I haven’t seen Phish. They sort of emerged about the time that I was probably like 20 years old or so, and at that time I was completely into nothing but just ‘60s psychedelic music and then the underground indie rock scene. And so, while I’m a huge Grateful Dead fan—although I missed the chance to ever see the Dead play— American Beauty was a really big influence on me as just a young musician and on all my friends.
I was in my world of making albums and producing my own brand of psychedelic music, and while I knew that there was this movement kind of happening around Phish—and I listened to their albums—I’d never seen them play. I know that their live performances are supposedly where they really are stellar. I always knew that I hadn’t really gotten to the soul of the band without seeing them play. At the same time, I’ve always seen them as being a very tasteful band. Also we recorded with an engineer who has recorded with them too so we sort of felt one degree of separation from them, musically. So I haven’t seen them play and I’m sure that it’s an awesome experience. I mean, I feel like they’re kind of carrying the torch of that sort of a show that the Dead left behind. I mean, I think that that’s clearly the case. It’s obvious to even say it. As the words are coming out of my mouth, it’s like, that’s obvious. I have a lot of respect for them.
I assume the engineer you are referring to is Bryce Goggin, who has worked with Phish, Pavement and your band. He’s definitely kept one foot in each of these psychedelic worlds.
Yeah. He’s amazing too. And if you met him too, you would really see why. Because both the indie world and the sort of jamband world have a number of things in common, but one thing that’s definitely in common is there’s sort of like a looseness and sort of like a lack of flipness to the scene. I mean, not just to the people but to the music and musicians and the sort of aesthetic. And if you met Bryce, while he’s like a very detail-oriented engineer, he’s like the most zen-like, mystical, guru kind of guy. And you’re totally like, “This is the most relaxed, competent and confident and yet, gentle person.” You can see the crossover between Phish and Pavement in this man’s personality.
He exudes looseness and relaxedness and gentleness, which I think is kind of like a characteristic of both the indie psychedelic scene and then the more jamband-based psychedelic scene. I mean, these two things are interesting because they exist side by side, they’re two modern brands of psychedelia that are out there. It’s almost like in the ‘60s when you had the British psych-pop, like Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and then you had simultaneously the San Francisco psychedelic explosion going on. They’re unified in their aspirations and yet musically they sound very different. And there’s a lot of crossover also in the listeners. I could see somebody liking The Olivia Tremor Control or the Apples and also liking Phish or the Dead or something like that without there being any conflict in musical taste.
I’m not sure if you know, but Phish has already covered another song from your family that you were involved in, Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”
Oh that’s awesome. I played bass and wrote the horn arrangement from that song. And of course produced it. That’s awesome. That’s amazing, I’ll check that out! Multiple thumbs up to Phish. All three thumbs.