There are few things Hilarie Sidney misses about life in United States, though dining out is one. “We don’t have the variety of food and restaurants, and they’re all so expensive,” she says of her adopted hometown of Grøa, Norway. “We almost never go out to eat.”
No matter. Sidney is staying put. She’s earned her bachelor’s degree in Norwegian language, literature and history—and she certainly doesn’t miss the “boys’ club” that was the Elephant 6 collective, fertile ground for such noted ’90s bands as Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power, the Olivia Tremor Control, Beulah and Of Montreal.
Another Elephant 6 mainstay, the Apples In Stereo, was co-founded in Denver by Sidney and her now ex-husband, Robert Schneider. She’s happy to talk about those years—a time when indie rock’s elite seemed to thrive on unfettered creativity, a distinct sense of community and a unified sense of purpose.
“I already played guitar, but I was begging those guys to be the drummer,” says Sidney, explaining how she finagled her spot in the Apples In Stereo. “Finally, they were like, ‘OK, you can play,’ But I didn’t know how to play, so I had Robert show me some simple beats. I was off from there.
The collective—and particularly Neutral Milk Hotel leader Jeff Mangum’s untimely disappearing act—is the subject of a new book, Endless Endless: A Lo-Fi History Of The Elephant 6 Mystery, written by Philadelphia-based journalist Adam Clair.
“I’ve read parts of it,” says Sidney. “This sounds terrible, but it’s a little boring for me—because I was there. We started out as a record label. We spent many nights at Kinko’s collating, printing and putting everything together. We got a P.O. Box and started doing mail order, but we were really bad at it. We realized pretty quickly that we couldn’t run a record label. But we had this really cool group of people—and we knew that if all stuck together and inspired each other, we could do really great things.”
These days, Sidney is married to Per Ole Bratset, whom she met at an Apples In Stereo show in Oslo 20 years ago. The two have a 16-year-old son together, along with a band called the High Water Marks. Overtly tuneful, with hints of post-punk grit and wistful psychedelia, the band’s latest LP, Proclaimer Of Things (Minty Fresh), doesn’t stray too far from the Apples’ melody-driven classicist template. Its 13 tracks—mostly sung by Sidney in her girlish wisp of a voice—are an exercise in efficiency, breezing by in 40 minutes. Clocking in at a little more than four minutes, “Fingers And Trees Are Only Temporary” is the album’s longest, most experimental track, an effortless, bittersweet drone with a subversively catchy aftertaste.
“It’s really just a bunch of crazy public-domain video clips—and little bit of me and my husband,” says Sidney of its homemade video, which debuts here. “I tried to match the aesthetic of one clip to the next. It was put together sort of like a quilt.”
Proclaimer Of Things is the culmination of a prolific few years that began with 2020’s Ecstasy Rhymes, the High Water Marks’ first album in 13 years. Soon after its release, Sidney was busy crafting more tunes—partly as a way of staying sane as her mother succumbed to COVID an ocean away.
“My mom was in a nursing home, and we talked on the phone every day,” she says. “Then, suddenly she wasn’t calling me that much, and I find out that the virus is going around the nursing home. When I was sitting around thinking about it, I felt guilty and was kind of a mess. Songwriting was the one thing I could do that made me happy—or at least as happy as one could be under those circumstances. She probably would’ve approved of that. From the time I dropped out of college and started in the Apples, she and my dad were big fans.”