Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the tragic and sudden passing of Bill Doss, one of the four close friends from Ruston, Louisiana who formed the Elephant 6 Recording Company, making music for each other, playing in each others’ bands, and cultivating an ethos of community musicianship that arguably set the stage for the 2000s indie movement as a whole, no doubt one of the finest songwriters, most influential musicians to come out of the renaissance of ’60s psychedelic/baroque pop.
Bill Doss, along with his high school friends Will Cullen Hart and Jeff Mangum, started a band that went under the name of “Synthetic Flying Machine,” out of which came the Olivia Tremor Control, the finest experimental/psychedelic pop band of the last twenty years. Jeff Mangum continued to be part of the Olivia Tremor Control in their earliest years, before he went on to other projects .
After a few early experimental EPs, in 1996 they released their first album, “Music from an Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle,” engineered and produced with the help of the fourth member of their childhood gang, Robert Schneider.
The Olivia Tremor Control went on to release another full-length LP, “Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume 1,” as well as a few less-accessible (but just as good) experimental noise/musique concrete albums. They released a compilation of their early singles and EPs in 2000, Olivia Tremor Control “Presents: Singles and Beyond,” then Bill Doss and Will Cullen Hart apparently had a falling-out and the band broke up.
Will Cullen Hart went on with the rest of the band, plus a few scores of multi-instrumentalists (we’re talking about Elephant 6 after all) to form Circulatory System, and they released their first album in 2001. Meanwhile, Bill Doss had revived his early solo recording project, The Sunshine Fix.
He released an EP and two full albums. His second full album, 2004’s Green Imagination, was not as well-received as his first post-OTC album, 2002’s Age of the Sun. Granted, that one was hard to top, as it is a magnificent album.
Bill fell into a funk, but nonetheless, his influence continued to ripple through the second generation of Elephant 6 bands, especially Of Montreal. Eventually, Bill came to be a full-time member of the Apples in Stereo, but in the last couple years, he had started making music again with Will Cullen Hart, who had been stricken with multiple sclerosis. Life’s too short for rifts, and the thought of losing his childhood best friend compelled Bill to call him up and put the past behind them. No labels, no gigs, no nonsense, they would just make music like they did in high school, sitting around with their four-track.
At the end of the day, Circulatory System, a great band in their own right nonetheless, is simply Olivia Tremor Control minus Bill Doss. In the ten-year hiatus between Bill and Will’s falling out and OTC reforming, Circulatory System released two fine major albums and a few experimental projects as well. Their second album was delayed for years, and Will was diagnosed in the meantime. They finished up and released 2009’s Signal Morning with the help of a few outsiders…including Bill Doss. The first track was an old Olivia cut that was unreleased and features Will and Bill’s fantastic vocal harmonies. In my opinion, at least, “Circulatory System” could only have been by Circulatory System, but “Signal Morning” definitely had the Olivia Tremor Control vibe floating around, if you could sense it.
Out of this, one could say that Bill played a show with Circulatory System, and in the blink of an eye, the Olivia Tremor Control had reunited.
The Olivias were hard at work making what will become their third album, and they released a new single two years ago, in the summer of 2011: “The Game You Play Is In Your Head, Parts 1, 2 and 3.” They were hard at work on their third album, slated to be a double-LP. Bill’s hard drive was full of recordings. It was 2012 now, Jeff Mangum was active again, and they were all back in full form, backed by the Elephant 6 Orchestra, there on stage playing at Pitchfork Music Fest on July 13, 2013. Two weeks later on July 26, they played the Georgia Theater back at home base in Athens. It was an exciting time for everyone. But four days later…
Bill was gone.
Nobody seems to know what happened. Bill didn’t seem to have any health conditions, at least any that we fans knew of, and despite official reports denying foul play or suicide, due to the family’s wish that people donate to Nuci’s Space, an organization dedicated “...to prevent suicide by providing obstacle free treatment for musicians suffering from depression and other such disorders as well as to assist in the emotional, physical and professional well-being of musicians,” rumors circulated that he had taken his life. This was furthered by Jeff Mangum’s “he decided…he checked out” at Bill’s memorial service at the 40 Watt in Athens. Others that seem to be more in the know say that Nuci’s Space provided much more to the musicians of Athens, and that concluding he committed suicide was reading too far into it.
All we know though, is this: on Reddit, someone made a post about Bill Doss’s death and one of the EMTs who responded to the call replied.
“He appeared to have gone peacefully. He died with his guitar in his hands. I thought you guys would appreciate knowing that.”
I’m pretty sure most fans of Bill Doss were in the boat with me on that one.
I’ll admit it, I cried. Then I picked up a guitar and started playing NYC-25. Thanks, Bill.