Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Members of the Elephant 6 come through Lafayette on a Holiday Surprise Tour. By Dege Legg

20110223-livingind-0101In a decade characterized by faux grunge merchandising, false-hearted, alt-rock gold rushes, gangsta rap, novelty pop and rap rock, it’s worth noting that during the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s four former high school buddies from Ruston – Robert Schneider, Bill Doss, Will Cullen Hart and Jeff Mangum – went about quietly fermenting one of the world’s most interesting musical cooperatives of its era. That cooperative — the Elephant 6 collective — beginning in Ruston and relocating to Athens, Ga., and Denver, Colo., went on to spawn such notable bands as The Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo and Of Montreal.

It is with great heart and modest intentions that members of the Elephant 6 collective are uniting for a Holiday Surprise Tour, making stops around the U.S. Anyone who has heard those old Elephant 6 records can attest to the genuine love of music witnessed in those songs — all of it stripped of hype, industry greed and big money promo campaigns and replaced with the pure joy of simply making music at home. The modest intimacy of many of the initial Elephant 6 records transcended their meager recording budgets to somehow magically drill straight into the heart of what great music is all about. Namely, emotion, soul and heart.

The most obvious case in point is Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea. Recorded at Robert Schneider’s (Apples in Stereo) home studio in Colorado, it is undoubtedly one of the greatest records released within the last 25 years. The sheer emotive resonance of the songs and low-to-the-ground production aesthetic magically combined to create a timeless classic that easily trumped other over-hyped records of its day. Other Elephant 6 albums that shared in similar triumphs include Olivia Tremor Control’s Music from the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle and The Apples in Stereo’s Her Wallpaper Reverie.

Although Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum is not reported to be appearing at any of the tour stops, the spirit of that album vibrates within the camaraderie of the musicians involved in the Holiday Surprise Tour — all of whom gather on stage as one big band to play songs from the weighty back catalogue of Elephant 6 tunes. Some of the Elephant 6 musicians who will be involved include Will Cullen Hart, Bill Doss, Peter Erchick, John Fernandes, Julian Koster, Scott Spillane, Andrew Rieger, Laura Carter and Derek Almstead, as well as various members of Elf Power, Circulatory System, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Gerbils, The Music Tapes, Major Organ and Adding Machine, Pipes You See, Pipes You Don’t and The Instruments.

“It’s incredible. It feels like we’re still the same kids we were 20 years ago, having fun playing music together,” says Hart of the Olivia Tremor Control. “We’re doing 28 shows. Four and a half weeks across the entire U.S. plus one show in Canada. We’ve decided to take three, 12-passenger vans. We looked at some other options, but in order to fit 14 people plus all our gear and stuff it’s going to take no less than three vehicles.”

The show will include more than 14 musicians performing in various configurations, swapping instruments and playing each other’s songs with sets sometimes running over two hours long. The troupe will also be screening short films and conducting audience participation games. In a world filled with overproduced and tightly gridded schlock, the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise tour is an indirect testament of sorts to the true soul of music and the lasting magic of making it together with friends.

The Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour comes to Grant Street Dancehall Feb. 27. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 on the day of the show. Tickets can be purchased online at

POSTHASTE with WILL CULLEN HART of the Elephant 6 Collective and The Olivia Tremor Control

History of Elephant 6 in five words, more or less.

Four-track cassettes and friends.

What’s the motivation behind the Holiday Surprise Tour?
An excuse to hang out together.

As a former Louisiana resident, what’s the weirdest thing you miss most about Louisiana that you wouldn’t have guessed you’d actually miss?
Drive-thru daiquiris.

Best gig ever?
The Olivia Tremor Control, Amsterdam 1996.

Worst gig ever?
The Olivia Tremor Control, New Orleans 1998. Arrived 2 hours late, had to use borrowed gear, which broke and we had to pay for. (But the people there were really nice).

Most underrated Elephant 6 player?
John Fernandes.

If you were to choose an alternate trade, what would it be?
Italian Seaside Ice Jester.

Open interpretation. What is happening here?
Smells Like Teen Fist.

Do you ever experience “missing time,” a trait common among UFO abductees?
Yes, of course.

2012. Metaphysical upgrade or doomsday date with disaster?


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