William Cullen Hart and the other members of Olivia Tremor Control weren’t thinking
about Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes when they called their upcoming album
Black Foliage: Animation Music By the Olivia Tremor Control.
The idiosyncratic quartet from Athens, Ga., had something else in mind.
“The animation … is all the stuff floating around and interrupting [the tracks on the
album],” multi-instrumentalist Hart, 27, said. “Almost during every song, you hear some
little thing creak or groan or zip by. To me, that’s what [animation music] is: sort-of a
sound and space, personified — just flying around to greet you in a friendly way” (interview excerpt).
Set for a Feb. 2 release, the album is the band’s second full-length opus. It features
sound snips, clips and loops on experimental pieces, such as “The Bark And Below It,”
while embracing an accessible pop sensibility on tunes such as “A Sleepy Company.”
It may seem a strange juxtaposition to place field recordings of crickets chirping and the
sound of people climbing the stone steps of a Swedish castle alongside the kind of ear
candy that sounds as though it belonged on the Beach Boys’ pop classic Pet
Sounds. But that’s what his recording collective is all about, Hart said.
“Obviously, the juxtaposition of super-pop against the [more experimental material]
makes them both stand out a lot more,” Hart said. “That’s really why we like that.
Somebody who might really like soundscapes might not be somebody who really likes
melodies and vice versa, so we’re not really trying to switch anybody over. We just
happen to like both”
Continuing a theme established with their double-disc debut, Music from the
Unrealised Film Script “Dusk at Cubist Castle” — which featured such tracks as
Ambassador” (RealAudio excerpt) and “Can You Come
Down With Us?” (RealAudio excerpt) — Olivia Tremor Control urged fans to
send them cassettes describing their dreams, and they included several of those choice
nocturnal musings on their next album.
The group was born from the lo-fi and highly experimental Elephant 6 recording
collective headquartered in Athens, Ga. That collective, which grew out of a gathering of
friends with a similar passion for making music, also gave birth to fellow avant-pop
enthusiasts Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel and Elf Power. Within the collective,
bands share musicians and often appear on each other’s work and onstage during each
Just as they did with their last record, Olivia Tremor Control enlisted the aid of the
Elephant 6 crew in recording Black Foliage.
Apples In Stereo singer/guitarist and producer Robert Schneider played guitar on one
track and mixed the record in his studio in Denver. Neutral Milk Hotel singer/guitarist Jeff
Mangum and multi-instrumentalists Julian Koster and Scott Spillane also contributed
their versatile talents.
The most high-profile fan of Olivia Tremor Control and their experimental recording
techniques might be fellow Athens, Ga., resident singer Michael Stipe of superstar
Asked who he thinks are among the best new musical artists out there, Stipe praised the
Elephant 6 stable as having some of the “coolest bands, making some of the most
interesting music around.”
Olivia Tremor Control’s eclectic approach has struck a chord on foreign shores as well,
winning such fans as 20-year-old U.K. resident Giles Hamlin, who raved about the
band’s unique sound.
“I really like Olivia because they are just such a refreshing change from the standard
crop of alternative bands you hear about these days,” wrote Hamlin in an e-mail. “The
music is done really well. But if you listen to it, it isn’t reminiscent of any particular ’60s
band — just a generic ’60s sound. And they love to experiment too, which is cool — the
use of things such as singing saws and Dictaphones held to guitar pick-ups is really
Not content simply to rotate instruments among Hart and fellow Olivia Tremor Control
multi-instrumentalists/singers Bill Doss, John Fernandes and Eric Harris, the foursome
stretched the limit while recording the song “Hideaway,” pressing a slew of acoustic
guitarists into duty.
Hart recalled that the studio got a little crowded.
“We had 10 people play guitar on ’Hideaway,’ ” Hart said. “We had them come in two at a
time so the song kind-of gets thicker as it goes along. That was pretty insane, having all
those people learning the chords and coming in at the right time and trying to get it right
in a room as small as a closet.”