The Elephant 6 Documentary is out now, and I can’t wait to see it! I didn’t really discover the label until the early 2000s, when it was in its period of inactivity after the original heyday. For those who aren’t fans of indie rock, it’s hard to convey the importance of this label and the impact and influence it — and the artists within its collective — has had on independent music of the late 90s through today. And with the new documentary that influence is as strong as ever.
While Elephant 6 originally started in Ruston, Louisiana, it ultimately found a home in Athens, Georgia, the original home of R.E.M. With Elephant 6, Athens became a Mecca for independent music with so many bands getting their start in the town and a number of underground labels calling it home as well.
Elephant 6 might be the most well known of those, but it finds welcome company with others like Kindercore Records, which also released a lot of great underground indie pop in the late 90s and early 2000s, and Happy Happy Birthday to Me which continues to release indie rock, indie pop, lo-fi punk, and more. Both of these labels have parallels to Elephant 6.
Today I’m pulling albums by five bands from the Elephant 6 Collective and members of their “extended family” — ones that tangentially were related to the label in its heyday and shortly after. Many of these albums weren’t originally released on Elephant 6, but the bands in question stemmed from the label or its immediate sphere of influence.
On my YouTube Channel (from the video above), I call out two honorable mentions: bands that aren’t in my collection but should be. Here, I’m just incorporating them into the greater list. Let’s dig in…
First up is Beulah, which may actually be the first band from the collective I discovered from E6 back in 2001 or so. The album is The Coast is Never Clear from 2001, and it wasn’t actually on Elephant 6. You have to go back to their debut for that: 1997’s Handsome Western States.
That 2001 release led me to their 1999 album When your Heartstrings Break which I absolutely love. This one was also post the band’s Elephant 6 days. I remember getting truly obsessed with tracks like opener “Score From Agusta,” midpoint “Ballad of the Lonely Argonaut” and, my favorite, “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand.”
Olivia Tremor Control
Olivia Tremor Control featured founding members of Elephant 6, including Bill Doss, Will Cullen Hart, and Jeff Mangum. The only member missing was Rob Schneider. So you can’t really talk about Elephant 6 without bringing up this band. Still, I never really got invested in the band, and they’re one I need to explore a bit more.
So, if you have a recommendation on which album to pick up, drop your thoughts in the comments below. Which one are most passionate about?
Neutral Milk Hotel
Perhaps the most widely praised band from the collective is Neutral Milk Hotel.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was released on Merge Records in 1998 and blends lo-fi 90s indie rock with psychedelic folk. Fronted by Elephant 6 founder Jeff Mangum, the album was produced by fellow founder Robert Schneider. The documentary goes into the history of this album quite a bit more.
It was the bands’ second studio LP, following On Avery Island from 1995, which was also released on Merge.
Aside from these two studio albums and a handful of singles, there aren’t really any other releases by Neutral Milk Hotel. Mangum did release a live album under his own name. Live at Jittery Joe’s is predominantly comprised of tracks off both studio albums.
Ultimately, it’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea that most people covet, myself included.
Apples in Stereo
Where Olivia Tremor Control featured three of the four founding members of Elephant 6, and Neutral Milk Hotel was founding member Jeff Mangum’s influential project, founder Robert Schneider’s baby has always been The Apples in Stereo.
I picked up the band’s Velocity of Sound closing in on two decades ago. The album was released in 2002. I also snapped a copy of Travelers in Space and Time back in 2010. Then there’s this 7-inch from the HHBTM singles club 7-inch from 2007-2009. This features Apples in Stereo on one side and a Seattle band called Patience Please on the B-side.
Back around the time of this release, I lived in Seattle and became friends with Patience Please, attending quite a few of their shows.
Another quite well known name from the Elephant 6 Collective is Of Montreal. A number of their early releases can be found on Kindercore Records. I’m not the biggest fan of their early, pre 2000 era work as it gets a bit out there, but I do love this compilation from that era. It’s called An Introduction to Of Montreal and it includes one of my favorites from the band, the song “If I Faltered Slightly Twice.”
In my video where I talk about my favorite songs that are 10+ minutes long, I called out the song “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” off the band’s 2007 album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer. I mentioned that Of Montreal is at their best when they inject a lot of emotion into their songs. You get that quite a bit on Hissing Fauna, and you get that on “If I Faltered Slightly Twice.”
I think the best work Of Montreal created was in the trio of albums from the mid 2000s: Satanic Panic in the Attic from 2004, The Sunlandic Twins from 2006 (which was my introduction to the band), and Hissing Fauna from 2007. Still, I have quite a few LPs and singles from them in my collection dating all the way to last year’s Freewave Lucifer, which I’ve covered here as well.
Early Of Montreal can be classified more along the lines of lo-fi psychedelic folk pop. Mid-era maintains a lot of the psychedelic sensibilities but really digs deeper into indie pop while letting go of the lo-fi and folk. More modern Of Montreal adds a fair share of glam.
I have a few items from Elf Power in my collection, and one I’d really love to add to my collection. I’ll start with the latter. It’s called The Winter is Coming from 2000, and by the turn of the century it was the band’s 4th LP.
I really should have picked it up when it was still in print, or at least when it was out of print and copies were still available at decent prices. I’m not finding any out there these days, so it’s starting to become a bit of a grail for me.
The one that really hooked me into this band was, like that by Of Montreal, their 2006 album. It’s called Back to the Web and I’d argue that it’s possibly their best album, though there are a few early ones I haven’t checked out yet. I just think it’s got some really solid tracks and is an all around great, well-put-together, and cohesive album.
Going back to The Winter Hawk EP, many of the tracks here can be found on the 2023 reissue of the band’s debut LP Vainly Clutching at Phantom Limbs as an added bonus
Alright, I saved a good one for last. This is my original pressing of Everything is Green by The Essex Green from 1999. This one is actually a split release on both Elephant 6 and Kindercore and it’s pressed to green wax. It might be the only item actually ON Elephant 6 in my collection. It’s a great blend of psychedelic folk and indie pop.
Like a lot of Elephant 6 items, you don’t see many copies out there and the ones you do see go for a pretty penny. I added this one to my collection about 20 years ago and it ran me just $5 USD.
Final Words on the Elephant 6 Documentary
There’s my list! What were your favorite bands from Elephant 6? Let me know down in the comments below.
As I noted, the documentary is out now. While it’s predominantly at independent theaters, you can find digital copies available to rent or buy on select online retailers like Amazon.
I picked it up from Amazon this week, and it’s a phenomenal glimpse at the label and the bands that made up the collective! It also features some recognizable faces within Hollywood, from David Cross to Elijah Wood (the latter appeared in The Apples in Stereo music video embedded above).
If you’re a fan of these bands, I implore you to check out the doc. It’s well worth it, and as of this post you can get a digital copy for just under $10 on Amazon!