Fans of Athens, Ga., indie-psych collective Elephant 6 should delight in this month’s Holiday Surprise variety tour, with 14 U.S. dates featuring a gathering of like-minded musicians playing new material and older goodies from the collective’s mid-’90s heyday.
Multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster planned the tour initially as a set of support dates for the Merge Records release of two Koster-helmed albums, The Music Tapes’ “Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes” (released in August) and Koster’s solo effort “The Singing Saw at Christmastime” (out Oct. 7). But upon contacting fellow Elephant 6 veteran Will Cullen Hart (co-frontman of Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory System), Koster agreed to expand the tour into a variety show featuring music of several bands with overlapping lineups.
“Julian called me and asked if he could call the tour ‘Holiday Surprise’ after one of the Olivia Tremor Control songs I wrote,” Cullen Hart tells Billboard.com. “And I said, ‘Of course! Maybe we’ll even play that song.'”
Rounding out the stage lineup for the dates will be Scott Spillane of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Gerbils, Laura Carter of Elf Power, Eric Harris of Olivia Tremor Control, Nesey Gallons and many more, including non-human Music Tapes “members” the Singing Saw, the 7 Foot Tall Metronome and Static the Television. Cullen Hart promises tunes from the catalogs of most of the above bands, though he says the hardest part is reining in the ambition.
“We’re gonna revolve some of the material,” he says. “We played a show (Oct. 7) in Athens, and it was three-and-a-half hours long, which I thought was too long, so we need to trim it down a little bit. Initially, the leaders of the respective bands each brought in about five songs that they wanted to play, and basically, if you wrote it, you’re in charge of leading the song in rehearsals and on stage.”
The Athens show, at club Cine, was preceded by a screening of the surrealist short film “Major Organ and the Adding Machine,” which features songs by numerous Elephant 6 groups and will be shown at each of the Holiday Surprise dates. Making an appearance in the film is reclusive Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum, whom Cullen Hart hopes will take part in at least one or two of the upcoming shows.
“Jeff told me he wants to make it to the Chicago show and maybe the Kentucky show, so we’ll see. I know he hasn’t played out much in the past few years, but he seemed very excited about this tour when I talked to him.”
In other news, Cullen Hart says his band Circulatory System has “about three albums’ worth” of recorded material and is looking for a label to release the follow-up to its self-titled 2001 album (Cloud Recordings). “We’ll be mixing the new songs into the set lists on the tour,” he adds.
Here are the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise tour dates:
Oct. 9: Chapel Hill, N.C. (Local 506)
Oct. 10: Baltimore (The Talking Head Club)
Oct. 11: New York (Knitting Factory)
Oct. 12: Boston (The Church)
Oct. 14: Portland, Maine (Space)
Oct. 15: Hamden, Conn. (The Space)
Oct. 16: Purchase, N.Y. (The Student Center at SUNY)
Oct. 17: Rochester, N.Y. (Bug Jar)
Oct. 18: Pittsburgh (Brillobox)
Oct. 19: Columbus, Ohio (Wexner Center for the Arts)
Oct. 20: Pontiac, Mich. (The Pike Room at the Crofoot)
Oct. 21: Chicago (Bottom Lounge)
Oct. 22: Bloomington, Ind. (The Cinemat)
Oct. 23: Lexington, Ky. (The Red Mile Round Barn)