Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Come all ye daydreamers, amateur dreamers and 40-hours-a-week dreamers and feast at this very table. Sit all ye hind ends down at the benches lining them, careful not to disturb the tablecloths and place settings as you pull yeselves close. If ye think to do it, arrive with ye PJs already on ye bodies, comfortable and soft - capable of yanking the winks out of you like the farmer pulls the milk from a full dairy cow. You might be in for a short meal and a long night that feels short because you're nodding it away, dreamily living for hours on the other sides of your eyelids. Elf Power can be the tour guide you never knew you needed until you could sense yourself getting bogged down by the petty episodes in life, catching yourself stuck in a drab existence and seeing permanence in the drudgery that has enveloped your tattered excuse for spontaneity. It's become similitude. All of it. Most of the dreaming you do now is done under a death glow of purplish-white fluorescent light, during your supposed productive hours, as the professor's performing his droning white noise or the copy machine's incessantly duplicating what needs to be duplicated. It's being done in the center of the beehive, where the activeness shouldn't be in doubt.
This is how you get paid, drifting into thoughts of happy hour margaritas and bottomless tortilla chips and salsa. It's about as far as your defeated imagination let's you embark - tequilaed up drinks and hand foods. This needs to stop. It needs to be easier for you to take yourself someplace other than where you are and there shouldn't be an obstacle in getting there. Lead singer Andrew Rieger conducts himself - on every one of the Elf Power albums - as if he knows the precarious importance of mind-body separation. It could just be that there's little room in his life for situational comedies or dramas on television or the silver screen to make up for the adventures that he's not having in his daily lives. It's not his preferred method of escapism to tune in to what's happening on "Two and a Half Men" or sinking into a sofa to absorb four quarters of the Patriots-Bears game. The way to do it is to be sucked into a ground portal, taken to a land of imaginary peoples and left to your own freedoms, not unlike the way Wonderland operated for Alice.
For those incapable of doing it on their own - or unable to develop any but the denatured dreams that shouldn't even count - Rieger does the heavy lifting. The unfit can get themselves in the black with a red king and his feathery excursions into the stricken catacombs of an inclement heart and the fantasy towns of make believe inhabitants. His songs, admittedly and assumingly, are brewed while flat upon his back, drilling into creepily far gone story systems that slump back, hammock-like into hymns of hypochondria, loss, unbelievable circumstance, smoke and mirrors, immeasurable dramatics, tea-time escapades and fairy taled gingerbread house-isms that still provide lessons for real mankind.
Rieger and keyboardist Laura Carter are the founding members of this band, which takes its cues from the remarkably promiscuous activities of living life and loving life and packaging them as interdependent things. You shouldn't have to grow up and cease staying young. With this year's Back to the Web, there's more of a draw from the maudlin everyday blues of the average guy, not the effective sermons of slumber times, dripping with the waters of slippery folktale-ish fog. Some of that is still in the cracks, creaking around backside, but it's more wispy and incorporated in a different manner. When these amorous flailings into spots that aren't of our own, it's as if we are being taken through a looking glass, but not in a removed way. They don't uncover fabricated temples of colorful tigers and dragons and monarchies these days. These really are more the daydreams for the working stiffs, not the still-young-at-heart. It's as if Rieger, Carter, bassist Derek Almstead, guitarist Jimmy Hughes, cellist Heather McIntosh and drummer Josh Lott have all conspired to make a genuine attempt at making music that glares right in through the chest, mics the mirrors that it finds refracting inside and then brays them out all misty and submissive. However you can get them to work for you, they're beneficially molten and helpful to forget the fluorescence of your regular self.
*The Daytrotter Interview:*
*How has living in the Orange Twin Community House been? How long have you been working on that project? Who's all living there?*
Andrew Rieger: Laura (Carter) lives out there with five other people. It's a beautiful old house that was going to be torn down. Orange Twin bought it for $1 and moved it out to the land (about five miles outside of Athens). It's nice to have people living out there finally. The land is an old Girl Scout camp outside of town.
*Where does the greatest thrill from that project come from? Where did all of the money to buy those 100 acres come from?*
AR: There's a group of investors who all pitched in and all co-own the land together. It has been a thrill for me to have some of my favorite artists play concerts out there in the natural ampitheatre. We've had Bonnie Prince Billy, Olivia Tremor Control, Tall Dwarfs...
*Do you stop and think about how Elf Power has been a band for 12 years? Despite the various different incarnations, that's a long time to have an ongoing project. How has it held together?*
AR: There can be periods of burnout, but when that happens we take a break. Making records and getting to travel all over the world playing your music for people who love to hear it is endlessly rewarding, so it makes up for the periods of fatigue and burnout. If you're sick of being on the road, then you can hole up in your room and record on your 4-track for six months, writing new songs.
*How has the songwriting shifted for you in that time? There seem to be less songs about fantasy-like things -- less Alice In Wonderland stuff -- and a greater sense of everyday situations and problems? Am I off-base?*
AR: It's changed naturally over time. Each record is a reaction to the last one, in a way, to keep ourselves interested mostly. And lyrically, yes the songs have definitely shifted from the fantasy-themed songs we did on When the Red King Comes, back in 1997.
*Why did you decide to release Back to the Web on Ryko and not Orange Twin?*
AR: One of the big reasons was Ryko has a European branch, with a London office, and they supported us on European touring , which is something Orange Twin just doesn't have the money to do.
*Where was the last place you saw Jeff Mangum? What were you all up to?*
AR: The last time I saw Jeff was actually in a dream I had a few nights ago. He was with me with several other friends, and we were on a lake, and we were standing on the backs of alligators, riding them around like motorized surfboards, using reins to guide them all over the lake and the land too. They were moving really fast. I was horrified and frightened and desperately wanting to get off, but Jeff and the others were cackling wildly, having the times of their lives. Soon my alligator starting thrashing about, trying to buck me off and biting at me, and suddenly I had the power of levitation, and started levitating out of his reach, and then I just floated away. It was pretty wild and unsettling, and I awoke in a frenzied state, sweating profusely, my heart beating really fast!
*Do you feel like cult legends?*
AR: I actually infiltrated a legendary cult in Chicago a few years back -- in 2002/2003. I lived in Chicago for awhile. I was dating a girl who lived up there. She was working a lot, so I had a lot of time to myself, wandering the streets. Two blocks from my house was a huge sanctuary for the cult "Adidam." I started hanging out in their bookstore, and I soon realized they were an infamous sex cult from the 1960s that I had read about before. I went to a few meetings , but unfortunately they were pretty tame, with no crazed sex orgies erupting. My girlfriend eventually made me quit going. Also, I discovered the singer from the band Live was a devotee of Adidam, and they are my least favorite band of all time, so I definitely couldn't join their ranks when I found that out.
*What have you been listening to and reading lately?*
AR: I've been reading John Fante's The Road To Los Angeles for the fourth or fifth time. New albums that I liked this year were Konono No.1 Congotronics, Bonnie Prince Billy The Letting Go, Johnny Cash A Hundred Highways, A Hawk and a Hacksaw The Way the Wind Blows, Man Man Six Demon Bag, Boris Pink.
*Do you still feel relevant in music?*
*Why is there no Elephant 6 collective? Or is there? How did it die?*
AR: All the folks involved still make music, so the spirit of Elephant 6 is thriving more than ever. The songs I've heard from the new Apples in Stereo and Circulatory System albums are amazing. Hopefully, those will both see the light of day this year. Jeremy Barnes' A Hawk and a Hacksaw albums continue to astound, especially the new one!