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
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.
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,
" 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:
Alan Sargeant for Crud Magazine© 2001