Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bill Doss Talks New Olivia Tremor Control Recordings, Stephen Colbert, and File-Sharing

By Tom Faix.

Bill Doss and the gravity-modifying effects of the new music.
Photo by Bill Doss

2011 is turning out to be quite the eventful year for Bill Doss. In February he journeyed with fellow Elephant Six-ers on the Holiday Surprise tour, performing material from a wide array of projects, including The Olivia Tremor Control and Sunshine Fix. Come December he will be in England playing at a Jeff Mangum Curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival with OTC and The Apples In Stereo. Between now and then the focus will tune to the highly anticipated new OTC recordings. With 11 years passed since their last album and increased live activity, curiosity for the new music is growing rapidly in the fan community. To gain some clarity on what's to come, I had Doss answer a few questions about his recorded output, ranging from the new recordings to the early E6 cassettes.

Square Cotton Candy:  A few months ago North Term Reality came out on the AUX comp. Prior to that, it had been reported that there were at least two complete songs from the new OTC sessions.  At this point, what would a CD-R of session progress sound like?
Bill Doss: At this point, we have approximately 2 hours of music that we have been working on.  Some mixes are close to being finished and some are just begun while others are merely rough ideas that will be worked into something.  Beginning next week, we are going into Derek Almstead’s studio to begin the process of bouncing tracks to tape.  He has a ½ in tape machine and because we began a lot of these tracks on Protools, we’re gonna bounce the drums, bass, etc to that tape machine to warm them up/fuzz them out a bit.  It’s a tedious process but I’m actually quite excited about it as that will be when sounds start to take shape.  The sculpting will begin! 

SCC: Is there prospect of a seven-inch or something being ready around the time you go to England for All Tomorrow’s Parties later this year?

BD:  We do hope to have recordings out by the time we go to England later this year.  Whether that will be a 7” EP or a full length LP is anyone’s guess at this point.  We just have to keep adding ingredients into the sound stew and stir, stir, stir until it tastes like something that we’d want to hear, if we were listening to an album.  The outcome is unpredictable which is what makes recording fun.  You can go into the process with all sorts of ideas as to how you want a song to turn out, but with any luck, given that there are others in the band who will add their own textures and ideas, you’ll end up with something completely unexpected.  In the past, we have released preludes to our LPs (California Demise, Giant Day) and that may happen again  but with the way the music world is at this point in time, we’re looking at many different possibilities for releasing music.  What with the digital realm, the possibilities seem endless.

SCC: How did the Apples In Stereo song “Stephen, Stephen” come about?

BD: Well, you’d really have to ask Robert [Schneider] about that one but from what I understand, he and Max were playing croquet out in the back yard, when his dog, Simeon, got distracted and started barking at something off in the tree line.  Upon investigation, they saw a faint blue glow coming from deep within the forest.  They carefully made their way through the bramble and came upon some sort of egg/pod/capsule type object which bore some strange markings on it’s casing in the middle of which was a dial.  Before Robert could warn him away, Max, in a very excited and incautious way of a child, grabbed the dial and randomly turned it.  At this point, a strange and not very pleasing sound emanated from the pod as it opened to reveal what appeared to be a set of headphones with a note attached that simply read:  “Listen”.  So, Robert put on the headphones and what was coming through them was a tune, the likes of which Robert claims to have never heard.  He and Max immediately made tracks back to their house where Robert grabbed a guitar and tried to recall what he’d heard.  The result was “Stephen, Stephen”.   

At least, that’s the story I heard.

SCC:  I found it a bit unusual for a major TV personality to announce the musical guest with the preface “to celebrate the release of the Japanese picture-disc”. Do you think it is ironic that something as obscure as an import single was promoted at that level of exposure?

BD: I do find that a bit odd, but given Stephen’s overly-developed ego, I think it makes sense that he would want to promote anything that gives him praise.  Plus, that disc had just come out so it was perfect timing.

Synthetic Flying Machine's self-released 1993 cassette "Heaven Is For Kids"

is among the most sought after releases in the Elephant Six canon.

Cover by Synthetic Flying Machine.

SCC: There are a lot of sought after recordings and more esoteric releases under your belts. A few years ago Jeff [Mangum] told me that it was a complicated question as to whether they would ever be properly reissued. After recording more music and becoming further distanced from some of my old tapes I began to see more of his point. There must be a respectable amount of people out there who would buy, for example, a Synthetic Flying Machine record if it was pressed, but I can see a few reasons why it wouldn’t be done. Between the constant creation of new material distancing you from older recordings and the freedom of file-sharing, how do you feel about preparing reissues?

BD: You kinda answered your own question there.  It’s a bit tedious to go back to old recordings and immerse yourself in them long enough to create a proper release.  You have to make new mixes or masters and deal with artwork, etc.  It’s difficult when you wanna stay in the now and continue working on whatever is exciting you at the moment.  Those are things that excited you years ago.  And, as you mentioned, with file sharing what it is today, as soon as someone takes it upon themselves to upload your recordings to the internet, there is almost no reason to worry about releasing them anymore.  They are available and free to anyone with a computer. 

SCC: The series of OTC photos in which your faces are all painted different colors reminds me of the Miracle Legion album Surprise Surprise Surprise’s back cover.  Were those photos a nod to their influence?

BD: As I have never heard of this band, I looked them up when I read this question.  While I see that they also painted their faces, it seems to me that their intent was different than ours.  Their overall motif seems to be more zoological and we were more simply working with color and light to see what effect we could achieve.

SCC: Can you further describe Francisco from Major Organ and the Adding Machine beyond the character development of the lyric?

BD: This coming from the creator of the character himself:   ”Francisco is a well-intentioned but bumbling swashbuckler, a noble buffoon.”

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