We found out early in the week that Olivia Tremor Control founder Bill Doss had died at 43. To date, there has been no front-page New York Times obit, but there should have been. We expect figures from rural Louisiana to have an influence on Delta blues, but Doss was a revivalist, not of American idioms, unless you consider psychedelic rock as such, but of the trippy weirdness that came when the Beatles and Stones hit their “Tomorrow Never Knows”/”Citadel” late ’60s form.
The Olivia Tremor Control came out of nowhere in 1996 with Music From The Unrealized Film Script “Dusk At Cubist Castle”, and today, 16 years after its release, it holds up as the finest psychedelic rock album since the Summer o’ Luv. We say this with all due respect to our faves, First Communion Afterparty, and any of the mushroom swallowing young ‘uns who emerged in the OTC’s immense wake. Dusk At Cubist Castle was a first album that sounded like a marriage of Sgt. Pepper’s, the second side of Abbey Road, and Badfinger — it was melodic and pure and surpassingly straightforward for all the weirdness, an accomplishment of a mature band with a big label’s budget. And yet this first album was recorded for a pittance on a four track, albeit by a cast of musical geniuses that apparently included Doss’s Ruston (LA) High School classmate Robert Schneider, the George Martin of indy rock.
Doss and Olivia Tremor Control spawned The Elephant 6 Collective, which never had a major impact on the mainstream, but in those divots and caves where real rock’n'roll reproduces in mutant cell division, their impact was legion. Bands like Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Of Montreal may have gotten airplay and sold songs to Madison Avenue but they never played Madison Square Garden. Schneider’s Apples in Stereo may have sent a mighty arrow through red fruit with their theme song for The Powerpuff Girls, but none of the Elephant 6 bands were ever featured on the cover of the Rolling Stone. If Beulah had stayed together, they might have gone all the way. But they didn’t.
And still, on the occasion of his early passing, we come back to Bill Doss, and Dusk at Cubist Castle, and Olivia Tremor Control. Last year, right around this time, came word that the reformed OTC was releasing some new material, and sure enough, the magical release of their first new music since 1999 sent the entire staff of Tulip Frenzy out in search of celebratory lysergic mead snow cones. And word spread, even as the band toured and were featured on NPR, that a new album was in the offing.
And then last week came the bitter rejoinder: Bill Doss had died, which leaves us approximately nowhere. Singer, guitarist, dreamer, entrepreneur, front man and inspiration, Doss is dead. Long live Music From The Unrealized Script “Dusk At Cubist Castle”.