Bill Doss of Olivia Tremor Control, RIP: Hear His Legacy in 15 Tracks
How the Elephant 6 co-founder and indie-psych pioneer left his gorgeous mark
Olivia Trevor Control member and co-founder of the Elephant 6 collective Bill Doss passed away suddenly on Monday at the age of 43. He had a long and storied career as a indie-rock songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, audio engineer, scene lynchpin, and sound artist. But before all that, growing up outside Ruston, Louisiana, his idea of music itself was literally synonymous with the Beatles. He once recalled to the San Francisco Weekly about hearing the Fab Four at age 10, thinking, “Wow, this is neat. This music thing is good.”
As Doss grew and evolved, the Beatles remained his lingua franca as he and his high school pals discovered punk rock, screamed into boomboxes and four-tracks, got jobs at the college radio station, invented the Elephant 6 Recording Company, and eventually formed real bands. Alongside fellow Athens cohorts the Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Of Montreal, Doss experimented with ’60s psych-pop touchstones while forging a deeply experimental and personal path — ultimately inspiring everyone from the lush harmonies of the Shins to the divine weirdness of Animal Collective. Take a look back at 15 classics, deep cuts, and songs that owe him gratitude to grasp the full impact of this acid-indie visionary.
THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT TRACKS
1. The Sunshine Fix – “Athena” (circa 1993)
The earliest circulating Elephant 6 recording that Doss appears on is a tape of him in his Sunshine Fix solo guise, recording what will be one of the Olivia Tremor Control’s signature songs. Already veterans of increasingly less imaginary bands as Cranberry Lifecycle and the Synthetic Flying Machine, the embryonic, primal Olivia Tremor Control — Doss, Will Cullen Hart, and a young drummer named Jeff Mangum — deliver the lean, harmony-laden “Love Athena” and sound pretty much like the next decade of indie-pop, right down to the perfectly anthemic lyrics about “the streaming light of love.”
2. The Olivia Tremor Control – “I’m Not Feeling Human” (1995)
Recalling a nonexistent “Vege-Tables” suite leftover from Brian Wilson’s Smile sessions, this track’s doofiness belies the naked tenderness underneath Doss’ playful index of things he feels like besides a normal human being. Hart and Doss can’t quite get the pinging high harmonies at the end, but stumble across something quite beautiful in the difference.
3. The Olivia Tremor Control – “No Growing (Exegesis)” (1996)
Though they would have trouble keeping their records in print, double-vinyl was clearly the natural medium for the Olivia Tremor Control. The Hart and Doss-drawn cover art of their full-length debut, Music From the Unrealized Film Script Dusk at Cubist Castle clearly stated “2 L.P.’s.” While the band sprawled into 10-track musique concrète suites like “Green Typewriters,” it was Doss’ hyper-packed melodies that helped reel in the band and grow their the cult following. But even on Doss’ songs, the band was no less experimental: “No Growing” is ready to burst with submerged horns, fuzz breaks, R2D2 squeals, and endless harmonies.
4. The Olivia Tremor Control – “Sylvan Screen” (1999)
By the time of 1999’s Black Foliage — with drummer Eric Harris a fully tape-manipulating collaborator — the Olivia Tremor Control had quit their day jobs, bought a 16-track, and went deep into field recordings and intricate arrangements; all while keeping their unwavering faith in Fab harmonies and Strawberry Fields of dreams. One of the double-LP’s many centerpieces, Doss’ “Sylvan Screen” flutters into form out a sparse collage, finding a convincing momentum atop Hart’s clop-psych swing. The inevitable bah-bahing folds back into field recordings, and one more bah-bah chorus, both is both a punchline and a promise.
5. The Sunshine Fix – “The Age of the Sun” (2001)
Even when the Olivia Tremor Control split into Hart’s ever-intricate Circulatory System and Doss’ Revolver-worshipping Sunshine Fix, the bright lights of sunshine pop never diminished. In fact, he made them the centerpiece of his band and its first album, The Age of the Sun, piling on the self-harmonies in a way that was self-conscious and entirely open, as well an conveniently masking a bundle of stunning cosmic pop, the perfect soundtrack for a summer at faraway beach under a faraway sun.