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Elf Confidence 

Elf Power keeps on keepin' on

If you've heard of the Elephant Six collective, skip down a couple of paragraphs. If you haven't, stay right here. The Elephant Six, known by fans as The Six or E6, is a sort-of record label imprint. It's also a tape-trading community, a business plan, and a social construct of sorts. The E6 contains, in a nutshell, a bunch of musical groups who share a love of experimental, often psychedelically enhanced indie rock. Some are damn good. Some are not so damn good.One of the damn good ones, Elf Power, started out in 1993 -- like many other E6 bands -- with a series of low-fi four-track tapes. The tapes were put out by Andrew Rieger with some of his roommates, as well as his then-girlfriend, Laura Carter. A debut release, entitled Vainly Clutching At Phantom Limbs, was released. Some 50-odd copies made it into the hands of friends.

After graduating from the University of Georgia, Rieger and Carter decided to move to New York City. The second official Elf Power release, The Winter Hawk EP, was recorded at the time, with parts filled and embellished by cronies from other E6 groups, including folks from Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control. This formula has more or less held over the years over a handful of other releases and EPs, including their newest, an EP of punk rock covers on Orange Twin entitled Nothing's Going To Happen. Included are songs by the Buzzcocks, Bad Brains, Roky Erickson, Husker Du and others. As a treat for hardcore E6ers, also included are the 6 songs from the out-of-print, limited edition Come On EP. Creative Loafing recently got the chance to speak with Lead Elf Andrew Rieger about the new album, the methodology of The Six, and more.

Creative Loafing: Is it getting easier to pick up crowds sans an E6 "package tour" than in the past?

Andrew Rieger: In bigger cities like New York City, San Francisco and Chicago, we play larger clubs...in smaller towns where we're not as well known, we usually play the smaller clubs.

On the new disc, Nothing's Going To Happen, how did you pick the songs you cover? Had you played them all live at some point?

Yeah, we always enjoy playing covers of songs we like or artists we enjoy. I think we always manage to put our own personal touch on it, though. Some music snobs tend to look down on people who do cover songs, but we consider it to be a tribute to artists whose music inspires us. Some of my favorite songwriters, from Robert Wyatt to Willie Nelson, play lots of covers themselves.

I've read you grew up with a lot of fantasy stuff -- Phillip K. Dick, etc., which I'd gather is an influence on story songs. However, I've noticed a move towards what might be considered a more abstract style. Is this intentional?

Early on we did some kind of ridiculous fantasy-themed narrative songs. Which were fun, mind you, but we tired of writing those types of songs. So, the lyrics may seem a bit more abstract nowadays.

Your music is very colorful and textured, with certain melodies and instruments often suggesting a style or place or mood. Do you usually write the melodies and music first, and then match lyrics to the mood of the song?

I usually write the basic chords and vocal melody on acoustic guitar, then come up with the lyrics later. After that, the band comes up with the arrangements.

Most people see the music business as cutthroat. While the extended family you guys have seems very community-like, at least musically, does it ever get competitive?

Some of the bands we know seem to be really competitive about music. Well, not so much the music, but weird jealousies about touring, money, other people's perceptions of the bands, etc. But most of my friends in bands here in Athens don't care too much about such things.

Does the band still do most of the recording on an eight-track?

It depends. Creatures was recorded entirely in a friend's 16-track home studio while the covers album was recorded at home on eight-track, then mixed and overdubbed over at the 16-track studio.

How do you feel about the band being labeled psychedelic? Nowadays, it seems the word gives folks all sorts of hippy-dippy visions.

Yeah. To some people "psychedelic" means the guy from Phish playing a 20-minute blues solo. I consider psychedelic music to mean "Tomorrow Never Knows" by the Beatles, where it sounds like a seagull from another dimension is ripping your face off. We do aspire to that type of "psychedelic" sound occasionally, though much of our music isn't really psychedelic at all.

Elf Power will perform at the Evening Muse on Thursday, Oct 10. For more info, call 704-376-3737. Uptown Girl

Last Wednesday, a local writer -- OK, so it's really Tonya Jameson of the Charlotte Observer -- wrote a column about Jim Crow, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Reconstruction, clothed in the guise of a story about the lack of uptown options for African Americans. Speaking of a project called Black-Out, wherein groups of African Americans hit uptown clubs to test the reactions of patrons and bar managers, she mentioned that the secret got out at the group's rendezvous at Cosmos Cafe. In her words, "there's always one snitch in the slavehouse." She also mentioned weekly events at Aqua, Varga, and Mythos, but opined that she's "not satisfied with drinking at the whites-only water fountain on weekdays." Weekend uptown streets are "lily white," and uptown clubs, says she, "cater to drunk, white fraternity boys looking for cheap beer and uptown yuppies bragging about their Porsches." Granted, Ms. Jameson is looking to "turn the knife" here, and it's evidently worked. The knife has been turned, mostly back onto herself. In her own article, Jameson notes that Tim Newman of Charlotte Center City Partners offers advice to anyone wishing to start a club uptown. In addition, she notes Bar Charlotte and Mythos both draw a mixed crowd. I live across the street from Aqua and Time Lounge -- if anyone doesn't believe the clientele is "mixed" (a horrible word anyway), I invite you up to my apartment for a look. Jameson herself? She hasn't "had problems uptown," but she "doesn't dismiss complaints from friends, especially brothers, about rude behavior from staff or hostile looks from white customers." (For what it's worth, I get rude behavior from staff and hostile looks from white customers almost once a week). For the uninitiated, Ms. Jameson speaks about "brothers" in the colloquial, folksy sense, in an apparent attempt to add edge to her argument -- put another way, she's "keeping it real."

You don't have to agree with columns. But they should make sense. Jameson says she hasn't had any problems uptown, mentions that most of the main bars do have a mixed clientele, mentions black-themed nights at other clubs, completely fails to mention The Vault and LaTorre's, and mixes in the odd Angela Davis soundbite. That's not an editorial, that's a mess. No doubt approved by the Observer editors to give the paper some needed edge, it instead seems more like the kid in high school wearing a confederate flag T-shirt in an attempt to get attention. Real edge comes from pointed thoughts, not pointed words.

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