Olivia Tremor Control’s Bill Doss Dies

Bill Doss in New York City, March 2009. Photo: Bobby Bank/WireImage

“Bandwidth Limit Exceeded” is the message that greeted most of those attempting to visit the official website of indie-psych pioneers Olivia Tremor Control this afternoon. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because of a drastic uptick in followers of the recently reunited, Athens-based band’s activities; It was the website’s notice reading, in part, “We are devastated by the loss of our brother Bill Doss.”

Doss was a driving force behind Olivia Tremor Control, a band at the heart of the Elephant 6 collective that coalesced in the early ‘90s and initially included the likes of the Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and Elf Power, among others. “Most of the bands that were starting out around the time that we did wanted to sound like Nirvana,” Doss told Hive in a 2011 interview, “And we kind of considered ourselves the antithesis of grunge. Why get up there and moan and groan about life when you could get up there and sing about how great life is?”

Though the band’s blend of psychedelia and lo-fi experimentalism, inspired in equal parts by Sebadoh and Smile, was at odds with the reigning rock aesthetic in the first half of the ‘90s, by the time they released their now-classic full-length debut, 1996’s Music From the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle, a change was in the air. With their Elephant 6 brethren, OTC helped to bring a psych-pop sensibility to the ‘90s indie-rock scene.

Olivia Tremor Control disbanded in 2000, and Doss channeled his energies into another ‘60s-influenced outfit, the Sunshine Fix, as well as into working with the Apples In Stereo. OTC reunited to play All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2005, and eventually found their way back to touring and recording. In 2011, they released a new single, “The Game You Play Is In Your Mind,” and offered expanded reissues of their albums. They were also getting set to unveil their first new album since 1999’s Black Foliage. “From the time that Will [Cullen Hart] and I started four-tracking again around 2005 we had just been sort of loosely working on stuff,” said Doss last year, “And then at some point we once again amassed a lot of material, and somebody made the obvious suggestion: ‘Why don’t we make a record?’”

As of now, a lot of questions remain unanswered. We don’t yet know the official cause of Doss’ death. It’s uncertain whether the new material will see the light of day. No one even seems to agree on Doss’s age, which has been reported variously as 40, 43, and 44. But there’s no question about the mark the Louisiana-born singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist made on music. The term “psychedelic” is tossed around with impunity by contemporary bands, and with characteristic humility, Doss sidestepped his own role in that development. “I heard MGMT, and I’ve heard people say ‘Oh they’re obviously influenced by Elephant 6,’ but what I heard was them being influenced by what we were influenced by, because it sounded really like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.” But anyone who’s been moved by the weirdly wonderful work of Olivia Tremor Control knows that Doss and his proudly freaky cabal had an irreversible impact.

Listen to “I Have Been Floated” here:

 

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