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Elf Power Interview

An excellent new album from Michel Stipe/REM endorsed Athens band, Elf Power. Crud takes a look at how santa's little helpers help put a little sunshine into winter.


picture of Elf Power album cover

Elf Power have a refreshingly frank attitude to an industry that is wantonly steeped in blag, verbosity and dense subterfuge. Grilled about their recent shift from Arena Rock to Sugar Free Records (Shifty Disco in the UK), Andrew Rieger is cheerfully blunt:

"We're pretty easy to get along with, we just have a strange idea that we should get paid the royalty money due to us on time, and we've found that a lot of independent labels like to keep all of the money for themselves instead of splitting it with the bands!"

So no skeletons in the closet there, then. What you see is what you get. Even a suggestion that their music is a deliberate, and thoughtful act of transgression in an otherwise bland and unremarkable province is met with derisible understatement:

" we definitely work within the traditional rock set-up, but we like to throw the unexpected in there from time to time. We're not out to be the wackiest, avante-garde, ground breaking band, but we also don't want to bore ourselves and the audience, by being just another standard rock band."

Frank admission, or not, this is an unfair testament to a band that show a genuine talent for transforming even the most hackneyed parlances of rock into the most delicate and off-kilter arrangements. A horn led boogie-woogie section on the title-track namechecked, their new album "Winter is Coming" is a cooky, gaelic chuggernaut of classic pop-hooks and gorgeous eccentricity, a debt owed as much to the magic unearthly realism of Brian Eno as to Spector or Wilson - the oft quoted reference points of recent months:

"I love the Beach Boys "Smile" and "Pet Sounds" records, but I honestly don't think they are a big influence musically. I only became familiar with the good Brian Wilson stuff in the last few years, and as musicians and vocalists, we are not nearly technically proficient as they are. Eno, on the other hand is a huge influence, because musically Eno is very simple - excluding the Robert Fripp wankfests on guitar, that is - it's his ideas and combinations of sounds that make him so interesting. There are several songs on our new record that are heavily indebted to Brian Eno."

Combinations of sounds, combinations of arguments, combinations of reference points, "Winter Is Coming" is a timely intervention in an increasingly grave debate: what is there left to do in music? Well, with the squeal of overdrive, the pan of a pipe, and the beat of a drum Elf-Power clearly demonstrate there is plenty of leg-room remaining. Think of the inexpert but agile tomfoolery of the Monkees around the time of 'Head' and the psychedelic surliness of the Velvet Underground and you may just have it covered. Throw in some Gorky's, perhaps some Stereolab and a splash of XTC and you got it damn near perfect however. But what informs such an unlikely aural fantasy as this? Rieger believes he has the answer:

"I read the Tolkien books and C.S.Lewis when I was younger, and more recently writers like Phillip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft, who delve into some of the darker realms of the sub conscious, I've definitely been influenced by writers who deal in fantasy and supernatural elements. But I think this would be solely a lyrical influence, as all of the things I rip off musically are from musicians and not writers."

So any supernatural experiences themselves?

"Nope, that stuff's just made up", suggests Rieger, again surprising frank.

A five piece band, Elf-Power kicked off in Athens, Georgia in 1994, when it was the duo of Andrew Rieger and Laura Carter. A self-produced and self-financed album ensued with barely more than 55 copies ready for distribution. Perhaps something else was needed:

"...the first album was recorded at home on 4 track cassette, mostly by myself, before there was a proper band in existence. Once the album came out, and people liked it, we figured we'd form a real band to play the songs live, and every album we've done since has been with a full band. "

With the addition of bass-player Poole, Rieger and Carter moved to New York City. It was here they began to write the songs for their first major release, 'The Winter Hawk' EP, recorded interestingly enough, while they made the rounds of open-mic nights at various clubs around New York City.

Hooking up with Poole back in Georgia after nine months banging the boards in New York, they enlisted Aaron Wegelin on play drums. Laura, who had up until this point been held back on drums and cardboard boxes, was now free to move up front and Elf Power was reborn as a 4 piece. Was this a good thing extending the family? Andrew Rieger seems to think so:

"I prefer the way we sound now, but there is definitely something to be said for recording a record by yourself, with no one else's opinions and no compromises to get in the way of what you hear in your head, but often other's contributions to a song are better than what you would have done yourself. "

Within no time at all, Elf Power found themselves in the midst of a new exciting scene - a collective of sorts known as Elephant 6. But Rieger plays down any dramatic notion of the union:

"Elephant 6 is just a group of friends who have a similar aesthetic, and enjoy collaborating with one another, and playing on each other's records. "

End of story.

Beginning of story.

Started by friends Will Hart (Olivia Tremor Control), Bill Doss (Olivia Tremor Control), Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) and Robert Schneider (Apples In Stereo), the Elephant 6, began to tour and play on each other's albums. What's more, in a now legendary 1998 interview, Rolling Stone asked Michael Stipe what he believed was hot in music and he cited Elephant 6. However, one notable omission that fans of the new Athens scene might pick up on now, is that of The Glands and founding father, Ross Shapiro:

" No, they are not part of the collective," says Rieger flatly, "They are friends, and actually our new bass player, Neil Golden, used to be The Glands' keyboard player, and The Glands' Doug Stanley plays lap steel on our upcoming album, "Creatures".

With the release of 'When The Red King Comes' in late '97 and 'A Dream In Sound' in '99 Elf-Power slowly began to reap the attention that they deserved on a broader, national level. Not only did they play the stadium capacity shows with REM in '99 but the album, 'A Dream In Sound' was produced by none other than, David Fridmann, responsible for two other critically acclaimed albums of that year: Mercury Rev's 'Deserters Songs' and The Flaming Lips 'Soft Bulletin'. The album, a hugely enjoyable blend of gently charged antifolk and new wave showcased the bands gift for crafting beautifully discordant pop. So how was the Fridmann experience? All too brief apparently:

" Dave Fridmann was great to work with. His studio is in a secluded cabin, in rural upstate New York, so it's a really pretty environment with very few distractions. The Flaming Lips had left a lot of their equipment and gadgets up there, so we got to experiment lots of cool gizmos. But Dave was pretty expensive to work with, so we did "Dream in Sound" quickly, in two weeks. "Winter Is Coming" we did at a home studio in Athens, so we took a lot longer to experiment and try different things, as we had no urgent deadline or financial restraints. "

Eventually the band signed with Shifty Disco in the UK releasing the superlative, 'Jane' as part of the label's cult status 'singles club' in late 2000 followed by the shockingly up-beat,' High Atop The Silve'r in the April of that year.

In 2001 with the addition of Adrian Finch on violin, Elf-Power began work on what is now, 'Winter is Coming', an album that continues to expand the wide, elastic boundaries of their music. So what next? A new album. Scheduled for the spring of 2002, the new album, 'Creatures' promises as much as it will no doubt achieve. Rieger thinks so, anyway:

"Definitely my favorite Elf Power album. Mixes the more straight forward pop songwriting of "dream" with some of the darker arrangements and lyrics of "winter". ".

A kind of somewhere in between. And what better way to sum up Elf Power.

Elf Power are:

Laura Carter
Adrian Finch
Bryan Poole
Andrew Rieger
Aaron Wegelin

Relevant Sites

Alan Sargeant for Crud Magazine© 2001



2-4-7-MUSIC.COM 2009

STILL refusing to dumb it down.

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