Interview With Andrew Rieger of Elf Power

This interview was conducted by my friend and brilliant musician Patrick Tape-Fleming. He’s been my go-to interview guy anytime I get a request that I think he may be interested in doing. His knowledge of and passion for music is second to none and I always love reading his questions because they come from a very enthusiastic place that only a real fan could muster.

Enjoy the interview below and check out Elf Power when they hit Chicago next Tuesday, July 18th at Beat Kitchen!

Hey Andrew, It’s Poison ControlCenter/Gloom Balloon Patrick your old pal from Iowa. How are you? I hope great! Josh from Music.Defined. was kind enough to let me ask the questions for this interview! 

You now have been putting out albums for 22 years as Elf Power. That’s twice the lifetime of the Beatles, and half the lifetime of the Stones if you were going to compare Twitching In Time to an album in each of the bands catalogs what would they be and why?

Revolver for its’ mix of folk rock and psychedelia, and Beggar’s Banquet for its’ demonic and Satanic undertones. 

I bought my first Elf Power record in 1998 and saw you for the first time in Oct. of 1999 in Minneapolis with the Minders and Fable Factory, I met you before the show at Let It Be Records, (My Favorite Record Store Ever.. the record store i bought When the Red King Comes, Dusk At Cubist Castle, In the Areoplane Over the Sea) anyway you were so sweet to a 19 year old kid who was such a fan. You guys put on one of my favorite rock shows ever that night! playing tunes from Red King, A Dream In Sound and even played “Embrace the Crimson Tide” off A Winter Is Coming before that album was released.. Those 3 albums are all perfect combinations of psych pop and were so influential to me as a musician. That was also the high point for your fellow E6 buddy bands, can you tell us a little bit about the vibe in Athens at the time? Was it a friendly competitive vibe, everybody playing on each other songs, inspiring each other…

Thanks! It was a very collaborative time, with lots of spontaneous recording sessions, and all of our friends playing on each others’ records, and touring around the world together. We still manage to collaborate with one another a good bit, though it gets harder as you get older and people are naturally evolving into their own more separate lives.
You and Wilco are the bands I have seen most over the years, I feel there is a kindred spirit between your two bands, always a changing cast behind the main songwriter and different albums take different shapes! The first time I saw Wilco in 1999 they were opening for R.E.M and I saw you on stage that night working for R.E.M how did that come about?
I never worked for R.E.M. in a live setting, though i used to work for their fanclub from time to time. We opened for R.E.M., and played a tribute show to them at Carnegie Hall a few years ago. They’re one of my favorite bands, since high school. We also did 2 tours opening for Wilco, who are also great!

I have always loved your songs, but I also think Elf Power is one of my favorite interpreters of other people’s tunes! Your cover of “Needles in the Camel’s Eye” off Red King has found it’s way on to so many mix cd’s of mine over the years! I also think Nothing’s Going To Happen is one of the greatest covers records ever, I also got a tour only covers cd you did with the Byrds Feel A Whole Lot Better on it that… I loved it. What have been your favorite covers to do over the years and how have they helped you develop your own songwriting?
The Brian Eno cover is always a fun one to play live, also “20th Century Boy” by T. Rex, “Queen Bitch” by David Bowie, “Jumping Fences” by Olivia Tremor Control, “Pay to Cum” by Bad Brains, “I Wanna Destroy You” by Soft Boys, “Nothing’s Going to Happen” by Tall Dwarfs…figuring out songs you love are a great way to learn different songwriting tricks, new chords, arrangement techniques, etc.
You backed Vic Chestnut on a record/tour and were also Neutral Milk Hotel’s backing band on tours, what makes Elf Power the go to backing band and if you could back anybody who would it be?
We never backed Neutral Milk Hotel on tours. There was a period in 1996 or 1997 i think when we backed Jeff Mangum on some NMH songs at some local shows around Athens, before his other bandmembers were living in Athens. I would just love the chance to play with Vic Chesnutt again; that collaboration with him, recording a record together and touring around the world together , was one of the highlights of my musical career thus far.
If you could have anybody produce a record for Elf Power who would it be.. Brian Eno, Brian Wilson, Brian Helium…Other?
Brian Eno has produced so many great records, he’d be fun to work with of course!…his solo “rock” albums like “Here Come the Warm Jets” , “Taking Tiger Mountain(by Strategy)” and “Another Green World” are some of my favorite albums ever, not only for the inventive production and arrangement techniques but also for the amazing and sublime songwriting
I have always loved the production of your records whether they are made on 4-track cassette recorders or with big time producers! You have taught me so much about how to make interesting sounding albums. On every record I have ever worked on I have wanted direct input guitar on something.. Mostly cause the sound you created on records with that effect on guitar solos. After over 20 years of recording what gets you excited when working on music these days?
Just writing songs, trying to come up with new and different ideas , and trying to remain creative and seek new methods in recording as well. I think we acheived some new sounds like never before on our latest record (“Watery Shreds”/”Halloween Out Walking” particularly) and i’m very proud of that
The new record has the perfect combo of slower and rocking tunes.. It’s really a powerful, dark record, and it sounds like the most confident record you have ever made to me. Tell us a bit about how this one came to be.  
Thanks! We just took our time and recorded a bunch of different songs over the course of a year and a half, and sometimes multiple versions of the same songs with vastly different arrangements, and picked our favorites when we were finished. We didn’t really have a deadline, so it just evolved naturally and we took our time with it, which i think is reflected in the songs.
With over 20 years of killer songs, how do you sculpt an hour long set list on tour these days! And just for us die hard and since you are on tour with Tobin Sprout if you have to play a 3 hour GBV style set and had to play 56 songs.. What would they be and in what order? 
We have 13 albums to choose from so coming up with an hour long set is no problem! Touring with Tobin Sprout has been amazing, his band is great and he’s one of my favorite songwriters of all time , so it’s a joy to see him play every night and hang out with him. I don’t think that i could play a 3 hour set every night, that’s simply too long, i wouldn’t subject any audience to that! but if i was forced to do so i think i would cheat and play 56 covers of Napalm Death’s 2 second song “You Suffer” in a row, having the set clock in at a whopping 112 seconds!

Thanks for making so much amazing music over the past 20 years Andrew… next time I see you, I’m going to give you a big hug and thank you in person! 

Patrick posted this picture of meeting Elf Power at that show in Minnesota back in ’99