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Members include BillDoss, guitar, vocals; PeterErchick (joined band in 1996), keyboards; JohnFernandes, bass; EricHarris, drums;William CullenHart, guitar, vocals. Addresses: Record company--Flydaddy Records, Newport, RI; Management--Autotonic, Memphis, TN; Booking--c/o Jim Romeo, Legends of the 21st Century, New York City, NY.

The community of Athens, Georgia, earned distinction for having a credible local music scene first in the early 1980s, when bands like R.E.M., the B-52's, Pylon, and many others put the college town--home to the University of Georgia--on the map. While many speculated that Athens' new-found infamy was only temporary, bands such as Olivia Tremor Control proved them wrong, upholding the tradition well into the 1990s. "I think it's better than ever," said David Barbe, the former leader of the 1980s group Mercyland who co-owned and produced records at Chase Park Transduction, a studio that served as a popular stop for the new generation of acts from Athens. "Granted, there was some excitement in the early `80s. It was a new thing, and it will never happen again," he continued, as quoted by Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Steve Dollar in 1999, the same year R.E.M. invited Olivia Tremor Control and another Athens band, Elf Power, to open a show during their three-night stand at Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta. "But the quality and quantity of bands coming out of here is at an all-time high. The really good stuff, what's really good about it is it's all unique. And it's unique in a really melodic way."

Creating music that is often described as a cross between the 1960s pop stylings of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys and the spaced-out tendencies of Brian Eno, Olivia Tremor Control earned acclaim for layering psychedelic touches over irresistible pop melodies. Notwithstanding, the band never limited their work to these specific categories, occasionally dabbling in ambient textures, punk, the avant-garde, experimental noises, and various other hard to pin down sounds. As Vickie Gilmer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune explained, "OTC [Olivia Tremor Control] is the bastard child of [Brian] Wilson, able to manipulate sound, pop melodies, off-kilter rhythms and loops into a fantastical whole." However, the inability of critics and fans to neatly categorize the group's music suits Olivia Tremor Control just fine. "As soon as you give music a name, you pigeonhole it," Bill Doss, who sings and plays guitar, in addition to numerous other instruments, for the band, told Catherine Mantione Holmes of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1988. "It takes away from the imagination of the listener." And although Olivia Control illustrated through their music an abundance of influences, Doss cited minimalist musician John Cage as one of his own greatest sources of inspiration. "It's not so much Cage's music as the way he goes about it. Letting things happen as they happen," he said to Holmes.

Because of the group's innovative and diverse, yet pop-sounding music, Olivia Tremor Control became the most visible and accessible members of a loose collective of like-minded indie outfits called the Elephant 6 Recording Company. "We can't describe [Elephant 6]," Olivia Tremor Control guitarist and vocalist William Cullen Hart revealed to Billboard magazine's Chris Morris. "People have described it as a group of friends that make music. We don't try to define it. I don't think we need to release some kind of manifesto." Other prominent Elephant 6 bands included the Apples (in Stereo), Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power, and Secret Square. Although Olivia Tremor Control drifted together gradually in Athens where they started work on their first album in 1993, most of the band had roots in the isolated town of Ruston, Louisiana. The band's primary songwriters and co-frontmen, singers/songwriters/multi-instrumentalists Hart and Bill Doss, both grew up in Ruston, along with friends Robert Schneider and Jeff Mangum, who went on to form the Apples and Neutral Milk Hotel, respectively.

Throughout high school, the four aspiring musicians shared similar influences, namely the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Zombies, Pink Floyd, and Sonic Youth, and regularly exchanged home recordings and participated in one another's bands. After graduating from high school, Hart and Doss attended Louisiana Tech University together, where they worked as deejays for the school's college radio station. Often visited by pals Schneider and Mangum, Hart and Doss spent most of their free time at the station, further building their musical education and ambitions. It was also during the time spent at Louisiana Tech that the four developed a common aesthetic that joined the formalistic experimentation of psychedelia with the unrestrained ethic of punk.

In 1990, Hart, Doss, and Mangum moved to Athens, forming a group together called Cranberry Life Cycle. The band was short-lived, however, because Mangum left the band shortly after it got underway. Nonetheless, Hart and Doss wanted to continue making music together, so they enlisted bassist/multi-instrumentalist John Fernandes and changed their name to Synthetic Flying Machine. Soon thereafter, Moss defected for a short period to the group Chocolate USA, and upon his return to Synthetic Flying Machine, the band mutated into the Olivia Tremor Control. Meanwhile, Schneider and Mangum relocated to Denver, Colorado, to form their own bands.

According to Doss, the group's name refers to the legend of Jacqueline and Olivia, two friends separated during the California earthquake of 1906. Since that time, as the story goes, they continued to search for each other across different dimensions of time and space. But according to Eric Harris, who joined the band for their debut EP and subsequent albums on drums and as "technical advisor," Olivia Tremor Control's name holds no specific meaning. "It's supposed to be evocative of whatever comes to mind," Harris told Holmes. "It doesn't have any special meaning outside of that." Likewise, Olivia Tremor Control experienced trouble in naming which instruments each member played. "We all play everything," said Doss. Because the band's songs feature theremin, violin, clarinet, saxophone, xylophone, flute, and keyboards, the matter of exchanging instruments is more complicated than simply switching a guitar for a bass. "But during a live show, on the straight pop songs, we play the instruments we play best," Doss added.

In 1995, Olivia Tremor Control, now consisting of Doss, Hart, Harris, and Fernandes (keyboardist Peter Erchick joined the band in 1996), debuted with the EP California Demise, the first installment of concept recordings built around a surreal, imaginary film conceived by Hart and Doss. Following the release of the vinyl-only EP Giant Day, Olivia Tremor Control released the 1996 double LP Music from the Unrealized Film Script "Dusk at Cubist Castle." The first few thousand copies sold also included a companion disc of ambient sequences entitled Explanation to: Instrumental Themes and Dream Sequences. Produced by Schneider and utilizing material first recorded as far back as 1989, the band's debut album, issued by Newport, Rhode Island-based Flydaddy Records, won stellar reviews. Robert Levine, for instance, in MusicHound:Rock hailed the creation a "masterpiece" of both psychedelic weirdness and Beatles-era pop. With their debut, Olivia Tremor Control's popularity started to extend beyond the Athens area as listener-supported stations and modern-rock radio picked up on the band's music. And as the band toured to more remote areas and appeared in larger venues, they sealed their reputation as an exciting live act, incorporating film features and abstract images into their shows.

The following year saw Olivia Tremor Control debuting the dreamy, ambient-leaning sounds of their alter ego, which they named the Black Swan Network. In 1997, they released a 20-minute EP entitled Olivia Tremor Control vs. the Black Swan Network, which featured both their ambient and pop sides, followed by the album The Late Music. For this release, the members of the band asked fans to send recorded description of their dreams, and the Black Swan Network layered the accounts over ambient music.

Two years later, in 1999, Olivia Tremor Control arrived with their second full-length album, Black Foliage: Animation Music by the Olivia Tremor Control. Again, critics applauded the band's ability to explore both pop and experimental music simultaneously. With tracks ranging from eleven seconds to eleven minutes, the songs of Black Foliage, as stated by Brett Milano in Stereo Review's Sound & Vision, "are sunny and bubbly, full of innocent sentiments and vintage pop harmonies--but they're segued, and sometimes interrupted, by wildly abstract tape collages." Furthermore, Milano went on to call the release "one of the more elaborately produced albums in recent memory."

In the spring of 1999, Olivia Tremor Control toured the East Coast, the Midwest, the Mid-South, and Canada, planning to perform in Europe as well as Japan during the summer months. That same year, the band received their first honor at the Athens Music Awards for best album cover for Black Foliage: Animation Music by the Olivia Tremor Control. In addition to music, all the band members were involved in the visual arts. Their record company, Flydaddy, reported that some of their work would soon be made available for sale.

by Laura Hightower

Olivia Tremor Control's Career

Formed band in 1993 in Athens, GA; released debut album Music from the Unrealized Film Script "Dusk at Cubist Castle," 1996; released Black Foliage: Animation Music by the Olivia Tremor Control, 1999. Also recorded as the Black Swan Network, and were part of a loose collective called the Elephant 6 Recording Company.

Olivia Tremor Control's Awards

Athens Music Award for best album cover for Black Foliage: Animation Music by the Olivia Tremor Control, 1999.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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