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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


Of Montreal-Lousy With Sylvianbriar

September 14, 2013 Leave a comment

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I’m on record as being all-in on whatever Of Montreal wants to try. If they want to put out a disco record, I’ll grab my boogie shoes. If Kevin Barnes wants to make a drone record that is literally just a 40-minute track of whirring guitar and bass, I’ve got my wallet out ready to hand over my money. At this point in their career, Of Montreal have pretty much tried everything, so I guess it’s not a huge shock that Lousy With Sylvianbriar is a straightforward folk album (by their standards).

“Fugitive Air” starts the album with the same unbridled enthusiasm we’ve come to expect from Barnes over the past couple records. The lyrics are just as crazy and beautiful and weird as ever, as Barnes sings ” I guess I was his anti-hero, the bitter word upon his lips. I hope I never feel a terror like when you discovered your autonomy had flipped.” The opener is followed by “Obsidian Currents,” a laid back, quiet tune you’ll probably play a lot late at night. A gorgeous song, for sure. However, it is not very indicative of what’s to follow on Lousy With Sylvianbriar.

The first single from the album is “Belle Glade Missionaries,” and this is where the album finds its footing and really takes flight. The band seem to be channeling all of their 60’s influences, with everything from The Kingston Trio and The Monkees to Serge Gainsbrough finding its place in the music. The most interesting factor, to me anyway, is how heavily Barnes is borrowing from Dylan. I never would have imagined Of Montreal doing an album like this. It’s almost like their version of Bringing It All Back Home.

To that point, I present “Hegira Emigre.” There’s definitely a “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” vibe coming off this one. Again, Barnes’ lyrics get off the wall while the music maintains a straight up and down blues/rock sound. “If you’re thinking I’m caucasian, well actually I’m gray. I was born on Ash Wednesday and stoned on Christmas Day.” “She gave head til she lost a tooth, that’s what you get for molesting people in a DJ booth.” The songs couldn’t be more different as far as story is concerned, but the manner in which they’re delivered is very similar.

Lousy With Sylvianbriar doesn’t come out for almost a month, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing more songs off the album as we get closer to release date. I can’t say enough good things about it. If you’re one of those people who thinks everything after Skeletal Lamping is garbage may want to check this out. Hopefully it changes your mind and you go back and give False Priest another try. You can pre-order the vinyl, limited to 1500 copies on Sea Glass Green (the bonus here is that it ships 2 weeks before the official release date-a trend I’m starting to see in vinyl purchases).

Of Montreal-Paralytic Stalks

January 16, 2012 2 comments

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It took me a long time to realize that I like Of Montreal. Around the time Sunlandic Twins was released, I kept hearing this song on KURE that I could never place. Because a lot of the time that I listened there was no one at the station, I never caught the name of the band. Then, about a year later, I saw a commercial for Outback Steakhouse that was using a variation on the song. Who would have thought that Outback Steakhouse would prove to be the coolest of the reasonably priced steakhouse dining choices in North America? Based on the commercial, Kari was able to search for the song they used, and I learned that it was “Wraith Pinned On The Mist” by Of Montreal. So I grabbed that song off the internet, and didn’t pay much attention to their other releases over the next couple years.

I had a couple friends who liked Of Montreal a lot more than I did, but they never pushed me to check out their other albums. But then I started seeing things on my own: Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer? got a great rating on metacritic, so I grabbed that one. I thought it was ok, but it didn’t knock me out. Then I grabbed False Priest, and I never looked back. Maybe this doesn’t hold true for people who have been fans of Of Montreal since the beginning, but that album blew me away. I rated it the third best album of 2010 (behind Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor and a live boxset of Otis Redding). So, when I heard that the band had a new album coming out in the first quarter of 2012, I was pretty excited.

Kevin Barnes might be the most interesting mind in music right now. He seems to create these soundscapes that no one else would think to put together, and he makes them work. Sometimes they are dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish. On Paralytic Stalks, much like False Priest, the album begins with a few songs that definitely lean toward pop, albeit with Barnes’ warped take on the genre. Then we get into the more psychedelic and dark stuff on the back half. I don’t know why he’s gone with this bipolar tracklisting, but it works amazingly well. so he must be on to something.

For the top half of the album, my favorite track is “We Will Commit Wolf Murder.” It’s the song on the album that most closely aligns itself with Of Montreal’s last album, and I like that there is some continuity between the two records. The lyrics, as always with Barnes, are creative and emotionally resonant, while remaining almost works of art themselves. There aren’t a lot of songwriters out there who can work in a line like “into some ancient reptilian form like an agnostic transubstantiation.” The song carries that False Priest-y feel for the first three and a half minutes, then goes off in a new direction for the remainder.

Two songs later comes my favorite song overall on Paralytic Stalks, “Ye, Renew The Plaintiff.” Whenever Of Montreal gets a little funky like this, I start to wonder what a world tour featuring them and Prince would be like. The bass and drums really drive this song, but it’s the guitars that impressed me most. I don’t remember hearing any Of Montreal song this brazen with attitude. Add on top of that Barnes’ lyrics, and you get something truly magical:

Oh Nina, how can I defend myself against this world
That batters me like a retarding cartoon
It’s too soon for salvation but that word is just a joke

Oh Nina, my whole system is chaos
I’m desperate for something but there’s no human word for it
I should be happy but
What I feel is corrupted, broken, impotent and insane

The best thing about Of Montreal is their ability to be everything for everyone. If you’re a lyrics person, like me, Barnes will provide enough material to make your head explode. If you’re just in it for the music, you get yours as well. Not many bands can be equally adept at both sides of music, but this band does it as good as almost anyone. If you haven’t checked out False Priest yet, I definitely recommend picking that up before hearing Paralytic Stalks. If you enjoyed FP, I have no doubt that you will love this new album. It doesn’t come out until February 7th, but there are a couple songs already posted online.

http://soundcloud.com/oscar213/of-montreal-dour-percentage

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