Photo Credit: Sandra Rek
It’s been nearly four years since the release of Elf Power’s last album, Sunlight on the Moon. That’s the longest the distinguished Athens psych-pop band has gone without releasing material since it first began playing in 1994. While prepping the group’s new record, Twitching in Time, it was important to co-founder, singer and guitarist Andrew Rieger that the band take its time.
“After the last album came out, we mostly focused on touring,” says Rieger. “We toured with Neutral Milk Hotel [and] Broken Bells throughout 2013 and 2014. After we got done with that, we just started writing and recording… We didn’t really feel like we wanted to be rushed. It’s our 13th album, so we thought we’d better have something worthy of saying, or else what’s the point?”
Twitching in Time was recorded in various places, including Rieger’s home studio and engineer Jesse Mangum’s The Glow Recording Studio. According to Rieger, the extra time spent on the album was a result of the band trying new methods of recording, and trying to see what worked best in a world where Elf Power couldn’t always be every member’s No. 1 priority.
“We took our time,” he says. “Some songs we rehearsed as a band and then recorded together, basically like how we would play it at a live show. Then some songs I recorded guitars and vocals at home, and the others played to that elsewhere. It sounds a little convoluted, but it works for us. With most of the songs, I write the basic music and lyrics, but there’s one song on this new album that Laura Carter wrote on piano that I wrote lyrics to later [‘Watery Shreds’]. We just tried a bunch of different things over the course of two years, and it eventually came together.”
Elf Power is one of the longest-running and most active projects to come out of the legendary Elephant 6 collective. Though the modern-day incarnation of Elephant 6 is more broad idea than actual entity, Elf Power continues to embody the collective’s experimental spirit through its consistent releases, as well as band co-founder and keyboardist Laura Carter’s label, Orange Twin Records. According to Rieger, Elf Power couldn’t have a better home.
“Things are good at Orange Twin,” says Rieger, laughing as he describes the push-and-pull of managing work at the label as well as non-traditional work at the Orange Twin Conservation Community, the 100 acres of woodland surrounding the label’s office and several homes.
“We have the label in the main house,” he says. “It’s been really busy this year. Things are chugging along on the farm… Whenever I’m out there working on label stuff, Laura will usually rope me into doing some farm work. The other day… I was supposed to be packaging albums to send distributors, and she had me out there holding a goat by the horns while she trimmed its hoof.”
Rieger says even Orange Twin’s college-age interns have been known to get in on the farming action. But “not all of the interns are into the farm stuff,” he says. “They think it’s gonna be just working in an office and packaging records. There is a lot of that, but there’s also plenty of goat wrangling.”
Though Elf Power will tour this spring and summer in support of Twitching in Time—including a string of dates with Guided by Voices guitarist Tobin Sprout—after more than 20 years, Rieger says being on the road is not as thrilling as it used to be. Though the band finds time to explore new locations and takes day trips to avoid the monotony of touring, it can still be a slog. Thankfully, the group has discovered a few tricks to stay happy and healthy.
“We’ve figured out ways to get around the terrible parts of touring,” says Rieger. “On this past tour, we included in our rider that venues had to supply us with fresh vegetables. We brought a vegetable steamer and cooked our own rice and then had it with the vegetables—that way we could avoid eating shitty food every night. It seemed like a lofty plan, but we couldn’t eat Subway every day—it was driving us crazy.”
And Rieger says Elf Power has always avoided staying away from home for extended periods of time. “When we put out an album, we’ll tour, but then we’ll take a break and won’t do anything for six months, or sometimes even longer,” he says. “It lets us explore other interests and gives us a break, so we don’t all end up hating each other. I think the fact that we do take breaks is the reason we’ve been able to do this for so long.”
Reflecting on 23 years of touring and recording, Rieger says he is most proud that Elf Power is still able to come up with new material that makes longtime listeners happy.
“With any songwriter, you can’t really escape your sound. When Willie Nelson did a reggae album, he still sounded like Willie Nelson,” he says. “I’m really proud of our new album. There are some songs that have the classic Elf Power feel to it, and there are other songs that sound like nothing we’ve done before. I’m glad we were able to pull that off. I don’t pretend to be the most diverse musician ever, but it’s just nice for our own interests to try and change things up—and I think our fans will appreciate it.”
ELF POWER Longtime fixture on the Athens scene playing crisp, melodic psych-pop. Album release show! See story on p. 12.
TOBIN SPROUT Singer-songwriter from Dayton, OH best known as a member of iconic indie-rock band Guided by Voices.