When Denver’s Apples in Stereo asked Eric Allen to play bass with them in 1995, he accepted in a heartbeat. Joining the Apples wasn’t an opportunity he was going to pass up. At the time, the band had only been together for a few years and was known for its revolving cast of players. Allen had never really played bass (he was a guitarist in other local groups), but anytime they had a show, he would go, so he figured he might as well join the band.
The Apples have come a long way since then. What started as one of the living, breathing musical incarnations of the Elephant 6 Collective — a community of artists sharing apartments and recording studios — has evolved into a creative monster. While initially lumped in with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and the Olivia Tremor Control, the Apples have evolved into a superpower themselves.
As its title implies, Travellers in Space and Time, the Apples' seventh album, takes listeners through a time warp. We not only glimpse the Apples' history, but also stop in the '60s and '80s along the way. At first listen, "Dream About the Future" is like hearing Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky" for the first time. You want to sing along shamelessly with the falsetto vocals. You want to dance maniacally around the room pretending to pound on keyboards. The song produces that kind of joy.
When it comes to finding vintage equipment, the Apples are pretty well off. Almost everyone in the band has a home studio with keyboards and toys collected over the years. The band recorded the majority of Travellers in a Brooklyn studio that was full of old synthesizers and '70s vocoders. Yet Travellers sounds different from earlier Apples material. It's got more of a futuristic bent and less of the '60s analog vibe.
"Most of our albums are recorded on tape machines," says Allen. "I think we used to be a little bit against digital technology, and we're definitely more strongly for analog and old sounds. But you don't have to sacrifice everything just to use digital."
Another transformation is the band's lineup. Longtime drummer Hilarie Sidney left the band after the last album. The Olivia Tremor Control keyboardist Bill Doss, keyboardist John Ferguson, and drummer John Dufilho now join Allen, frontman/band founder Robert Schneider, and rhythm guitarist John Hill.
Typically, Schneider writes all the songs. But this time, each member pens songs and takes turns on lead vocals. "We're trying something different with every album, but it still always sounds like the Apples," says Allen. "Kinda poppy and garage-y. It's kinda funny because even if we play a lot of cover songs, it'll end up sounding like us."
On this tour, the jangly pop band will be able to play songs truer to its recordings, since it features two keyboard players.
"There's always been this dichotomy with the Apples, where we make these beautiful, lush pop records, and then live, we're just like a scrappy punk band, barreling through songs with two guitars, bass and drums," says Allen. "We're actually able to pull off the parts on the album better than we could before."
More background vocals, percussion, and synthesizers will give the band a fleshed-out sound when it plays the Grog Shop. Expect to hear half the tunes off the new album as well as plenty of older material. The Apples might also incorporate a new element — costumes. Keyboardist John Ferguson started the trend on the band's 2008 tour.
"It's funny because everyone likes to wear whatever they wear onstage, and he decided he wanted to make his own outfit," recalls Allen. "He wanted to wear a cape. And we're like, 'Cool, yeah, do that!' I love that he was the only one wearing something like that!"
Capes and costumes, ridiculously huge choruses, strange nerdy flourishes — these are elements fans can smile about between the hints of melancholy in the Apples' music. They are also part of the easygoing atmosphere that keeps the Apples together.
"I know a lot of people in bands who don't get along on a personal level — there's always tension," says Allen. "The Apples is really not that band. It's really easy and enjoyable to be around each other. Even if we weren't in a band, I'd still want to hang around with these people."