The Olivia Tremor Control sends shockwaves through Pitchfork

By Sophia Coleman

By Sophia Coleman & Heather Schröering

Hailing from the deep south of Athens, Ga., indie psych-rock legends The Olivia Tremor Control took to the stage on the opening day of Pitchfork Music Festival and managed to chase away the gloomy weather during their enchanting and experimental set list.

OTC is comprised of six multi-talented musicians—Bill Doss, guitar, vocals and percussion; Will  Cullen Hart, guitar and vocals; John Fernandes, bass guitar, violin, saxophone; Peter Erchick, keyboards, bass, vocals; Derek Almstead, drums, guitar and bass; and Eric Harris, drums and guitar—all of whom have been part of the band since the early ‘90s. The band is also one of the three original projects of Elephant 6, which is a collective of American musicians who produced other popular indie bands of the ‘90s, like Of Montreal and Neutral Milk Hotel.

The band broke up in 2000 and temporarily reunited in 2005 when they toured London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. They officially got back together in 2009 and came out with their most recent single, “The Game You Play Is In Your Head, Pts 1, 2 &3” in 2011.  Currently they are in the midst of producing a new record.

On the second day of Pitchfork—another rain-soaked afternoon—The Chronicle caught up with Doss, Fernandes and Hart to talk about mashing up dream sequences and how their music has transcended two decades.

The Chronicle: How did your performance go yesterday? Did the weather affect you at all?

Bill Doss: It did actually, because we were waiting to sound-check and then it started storming. It cleared up right as we played, and then once we were done and had to pack up, it started storming again. So it worked out, really.

John Fernandes: It was pretty surprising, a lot of people were singing along—we didn’t expect that.

How does it feel to be at Pitchfork and in Chicago? What do you enjoy about the city?

BD: It’s a pretty amazing place. We’ve been [to Chicago] quite a few times since the ‘90s.

How have you seen the music scene change over the years? What direction do you think it’s headed in?

BD: Obviously digital recording is a pretty amazing thing.

Will Cullen Hart: [Most] major record companies are gone.

That’s pretty much the biggest thing that’s changed, like the rise of Mp3s.

BD: There’s good and bad things about that, because Mp3s sound like crap. But at the same time, with the Internet and social media, you can reach so many people and you don’t need major labels anymore. You can reach all your fans directly. It’s insane and exciting. You can not only connect with your fans personally, but also what you can achieve as musicians is awesome. Another great thing is smaller labels can reach out to other bands.

So there are more positives than negatives.

BD: It’s very positive. I mean, there are negative aspects to it because I am old enough to be like “Argh, this new technology,” but when you see all the positive things that are happening with technology, there’s a lot to be excited about.

Your group’s name refers to the legend of Jacqueline and Olivia, two friends separated during the California earthquake of 1906. What is the meaning behind it?

BD: To me it grew organically out of the songwriting. It began with the name Olivia. And then the other half came about when I worked at this telemarketing place, and I was speaking to this woman, whose name was Jacqueline, which I thought was a cool name, so I wrote it down. She was born in 1906, and Will saw it in my notebook, and he said that was the year of the earthquake in California. All of a sudden songs fell into alignment without even trying and the storyline grew.

JF: It became fun to push it even further and add new elements to it.

Did you guys have a concept for the song “The Game You Play Is In Your Head, Pts 1,2 &3”?

WCH: John remembered the name from years ago, and I was like—that’s right! It started in ’95, and we finished it more recently.

BD: It’s an old track that was going to be on the first album, but we ran out of physical room on the album. So we put it aside and saved it. When we got back together and started recording again, we found it and decided we should finish it. It was fun because it was a blending between the old sounds, and we got to balance it with the pro tools, and add in a bunch of other stuff and start the blending process of old and new technology.

In the past, you’ve had fans send in recordings of their dreams.  Do you still incorporate that into your music now?

BD: We still have a bunch of those tapes that haven’t been used yet. Will has always been obsessed with dreams. It was his idea to have people mail us their dreams. We chopped up different people’s dreams and put them together, so you get a while new story of a dream.

Fans now would enjoy that, too.

BD: Yeah, and now with the Internet, it would be so much easier for people to send them to us. We have to set that up, actually.

You have plans for a new record; do you have any set date on when that’s going to come out?

BD: No, we’ve been working on it for a while now, but we’ve been touring a lot that its been taking up too much time. We’re going to stop after [Pitchfork] for a while and get headlong into it and see where it goes. We have three hours of stuff right now that we’ve been chipping away at. Robert Schneider from Apples in Stereo is going to help us out, which he helped us with the first two records, too. He’s really good at focusing us.

What do you credit to the band’s longevity and what advice do you have for up and coming bands?

BD: A 10-year break. Any group of people who are together 24 hours a day, seven days a week for years—it’s a good thing to do.

WCH: We weren’t really getting any [music] out so we thought, “Why not take a break?” And we did [in 2000], instead of putting a sh—y album out.

BD: It seemed like the best thing to go off and do other projects and then come back together. We were able to do our own projects and see what our own strengths and weaknesses were, and we worked on them. And then we came back together [in 2009] and felt really confident.

For more information on OTC, visit