Review by Tatiana Miranda
Even with the widespread popularity of Neutral Milk Hotel's album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, most don't know about the band's relationship to other 90s indie bands, The Olivia Tremor Control and The Apples in Stereo. All three are connected through their music collective and label known as the Elephant 6 Recording Company. In the documentary The Elephant 6 Recording Co., the origins of the collective and its bands are brought to light for members and fans alike to reminisce on the DIY nature of the label.
Robert Schneider of The Apples in Stereo, Bill Doss and Will Hart of The Olivia Tremor Control, and Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel all met in high school in Ruston, Louisiana. Each formed their own band but collaborated routinely in terms of instruments and production. Over time, this collaboration became known as the Elephant 6 Recording Company, which was spearheaded by the original four friends. Eventually, Elephant 6 moved from Ruston to Denver, Colorado and Athens, Georgia, where other artists like Elf Power and of Montreal joined the collective.
More than its members, Elephant 6 represented a creative, psychedelic, do-it-yourself approach to music that differed from the Seattle grunge scene and the other genres of the period. The collective gained inspiration from 1960s psychedelic pop artists such as the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Zombies. They inspired the Elephant 6 in more ways than just the genre but also through production. Robert Schneider, in particular, used the four-track to record songs from The Apples in Stereo. As he says in the documentary, "My ear needed to hear something on the quality of 1966, 1967. And nothing more slick than that."
Besides Bill Doss, who passed in 2012, and Jeff Mangum, most of the original members of the Elephant 6 are interviewed in The Elephant 6 Recording Co. These interviews are paired with archival performance footage as the documentary recounts the bands involved with the collective and the motives behind their collaboration and creative process. With the music industry's competitive nature, the Elephant 6 stands up to say that it can be more than that.
While the documentary isn't very linear and tends to shy away from certain topics, such as Jeff Mangum's rise to fame and lack of involvement with the doc, it showcases the magic of the collective in its prime. Although The Elephant 6 Recording Co. might not be the best music documentary of all time, it is perfect for aspiring musicians or Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor, and Apples in Stereo fans who want to know more about the creation of their favorite bands.
The Elephant 6 Recording Co. releases in select theaters on August 25.