The Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider was as surprised as anyone to learn that this season’s American Idol contestants sang his song “Energy” in a Ford ad during last night’s show. “We’re on the road right now,” Schneider tells the Music Mix. “My mom called me and said she’d just seen it. I was like, ‘Whoa!’ Then when we got to the hotel, we watched it online. It was pretty cool.” Read on after the jump for a full Q&A with more on the Apples’ Idol moment and Schneider’s favorite Idol episode ever — plus details on Travelers in Space and Time, the new “sci-fi R&B” album they’re recording for a tentative Spring 2010 release, and why it won’t sound like anything the Apples have done before.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what did you think of “Energy” on Idol last night?
ROBERT SCHNEIDER: I mean, there’s two sides. It’s a song I wrote for my son and for a friend of mine. [The Idol performance] was hard to process — it was on such a larger scale. I’ve heard my songs covered before, but it’s usually been by fans, and their covers are even more lo-fi than my original. In this case, to hear my song get covered in such a polished setting, it was just surreal. In a good way. I’m pleased. Because on the other hand, when I write certain songs, I have the feeling that in a perfect world this song would be a No. 1 hit. And they kept it pretty close to my original arrangement. They’re good singers. I can’t really say I have any complaints in that way. I expected they’d schmaltz it up. Are they going to hip-hop it up or something? I could see the song going that direction. [laughs]
Do you watch Idol?
I watched it for many seasons in a row, and some of my bandmates do watch it. I haven’t watched it in the last few seasons just because I’ve been really busy. I have a set of shows that I do watch religiously, and American Idol was one of those. But you have to take shows out of rotation.
Who’s your all-time favorite Idol contestant?
I can’t remember. There have been so many seasons that I’ve seen. Often the ones I liked would get eliminated. I can remember my favorite American Idol guest person, though: Barry Gibb. He was incredible! I love the Bee Gees, he’s one of my heroes, and he has such a good voice still. Seeing Barry Gibb on American Idol — that’s one of the musical highlights of my last five years. He’s not someone you see in the public eye a lot, even though he’s extremely famous. You imagine he’s at the top of a mountain in some sort of Greco-Roman temple or something.
Tell me about the new Apples album you’re working on.
We started it last fall. It’s really, really different. My manager reprimanded me — it’s so different that he doesn’t want me to talk about it. It’s like there’s a party on a UFO, and everybody’s invited to come in. It’s sci-fi R&B. It’s not 100 percent different from various songs we’ve done, but it’s different from our albums, and it’s really, really different from the last one.
Do you listen to a lot of contemporary R&B?
When I hear it, I love Top 40 R&B as a style. There was a song a couple years ago by Gwen Stefani called “The Sweet Escape” that blew my mind. I love it so much. God, it’s a good song. It’s not technically R&B, but it kinda is. I don’t listen to the radio a lot — usually I hear mainstream music when I’m, say, in a gas station on tour or in the supermarket. I’ll hear it and I’ll stand there for a minute under the speaker and be, like, “Damn, that Gwen Stefani song is good.” Anyway, most of the R&B I like is from the ’80s when I grew up. Michael Jackson and Kool and the Gang are big influences on me in general and this album especially. And then I love ELO, the Bee Gees, ’70s pop bands that were dipping into the R&B style in the disco era. I love ’60s R&B — Motown, Stax. If you hooked ELO up to some warp-speed spacecraft and sent it careening through a nebula, that’s what the new Apples record sounds like to me. It’s not psychedelic indie-rock. It’s a different style.
How far along is the album?
Right now I’m just immersed in trying to produce awesome tracks. I’ve been writing a lot of songs on the piano, as opposed to the guitar which I usually write songs on. Most of the backing tracks for the album are done. I haven’t recorded the vocals yet, and there’s still overdubs and sound effects to do. But up until an album’s finished, there’s always more songs. Last week I just wrote and recorded a backing track for one of the best songs I’ve ever written. It’ll probably be the last song on the record. So even though the record’s mostly recorded, it’s still also in the writing phase.
More from EW’s Music Mix:
American Idol and Apples in Stereo: weird-good or weird-bad?
Jason Castro talks about his debut album — and reveals his ‘Idol’ picks
We goofed! Ten heartbreaking songs we wish we’d included on our list