Olivia Tremor Control Embrace Their Inner Jellyfish for a Full-Scale Reunion

As one of the founding members of the Elephant Six music collective and the band behind the neo-psychedelic classic Dusk at Cubist Castle, The Olivia Tremor Control was quietly one of the most influential bands in the mid- to late-’90s indie music scene. After a prolific four-year run that saw the release of two double albums, an instrumental album, and a singles compilation, however, the group parted ways, leaving current and future fans to wonder if they had seen the last of the Olivias. Luckily in 2011, after some tentative signs of life in 2005, the band started playing numerous shows around the country and even released their first single in over ten years, "The Game You Play Is in Your Head, Pts. 1, 2, & 3," that August, letting the world know that the reunion was in full swing. This past weekend saw the band playing one of their last scheduled gigs at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. There i caught up with Bill Doss, John Fernandes, Will Hart, and AJ Griffin and talked to them about reconnecting as a group, the possibility of a new record, and what would make a great band mascot.

You’ve been out of the public eye for a while now, at least as a group. What prompted you to come back?
Bill Doss: We got invited to play All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2005, and it kind of seemed like it was time to do it, too.
John Fernandes: Everyone was missing playing together.
BD: It just seemed like the perfect catalyst for it and, if I can get a little deeper into it. I was on tour with Apples in Stereo at one point and we got a phone call that said Will was in the hospital and had been diagnosed with MS and what happened…it’s what alcoholics would call a moment of clarity and it was just…why haven’t we been playing together for the past five or six years? This is ridiculous. The thing I enjoy most in the world is playing with this group of guys. So all of those things kind of converged; for me personally and it just worked out perfectly.
JF: We did some tours, The Elephant Six Holiday Surprise tour, where it was a variety show where we played some Olivia songs in there. It felt really great. More offers kept coming in for certain shows and we thought, let’s keep doing this.
BD: Starting with the whole ATP thing in 2005, Will and I started getting together and just hanging out because we had been broken up for a while, not only as a band also as friends. Just over bullshit stuff, none of it really mattered in the end. We started hanging out again and rekindling a friendship and then all the sudden the four-track came out, sat on the floor like high school, playing around with stuff, and then some of the other guys heard it and were like, we should be working on this stuff. So we got together and started playing at somebody’s house and just started jamming and recording, and all the sudden we had this whole catalogue of music we’d been recording. And it was like, maybe we should just work on a record now?

In the years since you broke up, a lot of fans have discovered your work and have been waiting a while to see you live. Do you ever worry about meeting the expectations they may have?
Will Hart: I’ve thought about that a couple of times, actually, and I thought, as long as we’re happy and good, which I think we’re just as good. I don’t really read reviews, but I kind of did, at first, and they were good!
BD: You always have that in the back of your mind a little bit, at least I do, but you can’t really let it get in there and fester. You just have to do what you do, and if it’s fun and you enjoy it and keep doing it and people like it, great.
WH: If we’re happy then it shows.
BD: Yeah, if we’re having a good time it comes across, people respond to that.
JF: There’s a certain chemistry that we all have together . We all played in a lot of different projects and stuff, but once we all got together again it’s like…
BD: It’s like the time had not even passed. And of course, we’ve known each other for like twenty years. We come from a similar background musically, we all grew up listening the same records, worked at the same college station.
AJ Griffin: I’m the one young who hasn’t known everyone for twenty years.
BD: But the thing about AJ is, he’s sort of a similar soul in the way that he grew up listening to the same albums we listened to, maybe at a different time, but it’s obvious he comes from the same background.
JF: He’s the youngblood. He’s like half our age, can play anything. And it’s funny because when we’re working on arrangements for some songs, we have to ask him like, what was this like on the record?
AJG: That’s my job: I’m the guy who remembers the songs. They’re like, look, basically you tell us this chord progression to this song that we wrote or we’re going to dunk your head in this toilet.

You guys have a pretty dense, complex sound. What’s the process to recreating that live?
BD: It takes quite a few people!
AJG: Before I started playing with you guys, I was really curious as to what it was going to sound like. I had never seen the band live obviously, I had only heard the records. I was really interested to see how they go about playing this live.
JF: I try to play some violins and clarinet stuff and originally, when Bill asked me to play in the band, he showed me some bass lines and was like here, play this and play this.
BD: Yeah, before [John] came in I was playing bass. I love playing bass, it’s my favorite thing to play ,but I wasn’t coordinated enough to play bass and sing at the same time.
JF: And when we can, we try to bring our horn players. On one of Bill’s songs in particular, there’s a horn part. They couldn’t come with us overseas on our last trip, but they came up here [to Pitchfork].

What’s the oldest instrument you guys are playing that you guys are still playing right now?
JF: The violin that I play is the same violin I grew up practicing with. I started when I was seven so I had littler ones, but the first full-size violin I got is still the one I play. It’s got cracks in it from that unfortunate incident at the Filmore when our drummer went crazy and threw drums everywhere. But it still plays!

What animal would be your mascot for the band, like if you can’t pick an elephant?
BD: I was trying to think of the one in Napoleon Dynamite. What did he draw?

A liger?
BD: Yeah, a liger!
AJG: Well, you know, Derek’s middle name is Griffin, and my last name is Griffin, so maybe a Griffin.
BD: See, that’s something else you bring to the table, the mascot! I also like the jellyfish because it morphs and moves, and I feel kind of like that’s what our live thing does.
AJG: And it has no brain!

What’s the status of the new record? Any time frame or just “it’ll be done when it’s done”?
BD: It’s definitely coming!
JF: We don’t want to say it’s going to be next year because it’s still up in the air. Will’s like, we gotta do another double! But at the same time…I work at record store, I hang out with a lot of younger kids, and I realize not many people these days listen to a full forty-minute record, much less a seventy-minute record in one sitting.
BD: It’s kind of all about singles right now. But we just have to do what makes us happy and make the records we want to hear and then if people like it great. If not, they don’t, you know? But years from now we can pick up the records we made and go, yeah, we’re still proud of this. JF: No matter what people are expecting these days, we’re going to do what we do. I mean, even the single we just released is a three-parter.
BD: We turned in an EP one time and it ended up being forty minutes. It happens, you know?

Pitchfork Recap: The Clouds Part for Sunday’s Jams

Finally: a day in which the weather wasn’t actively working against us. Well, other than the fact that it was 95 degrees, which after two days of rain and heavy foot traffic led to Union Park smelling like the world’s most depressing petting zoo. Nevertheless, if you’re going to spend the day at an outdoor festival, “hot” beats “rainy” ten times out of ten. And as long as you followed John Dwyer’s (of Thee Oh Sees) advice to “stay hydrated, goddamn it”, it was a solid day to catch some great performances from Milk Music, Thee Oh Sees, The Field, and The Men. Oh, and Lady Gaga was there, if that’s your thing.

Best Set: The Men
Near the beginning of The Men’s set, someone in the crowd kept shouting, “Play some Springsteen!” at the band. It’s unclear if this was meant sincerely or as a joke, but a little bit of The Boss wouldn’t have sounded out of place. From the moment in their sound check when they played the opening riff to Van Halen’s “Jump” to the end of their outstanding set, the Brooklyn four-piece seemed like they were on a mission to prove that all of those people who say Pitchfork doesn’t care about rock music anymore don’t know what they’re talking about. They even had one person skanking! (Maybe he thought he was going to see Mustard Plug and just decided to roll with it? Whatever. He was happy, so right on, buddy.) The audience-led clap-along to “Open Your Heart” was just the cherry on top of an awesome performance.

Biggest Surprise: Araabmusik
This was more of the bad kind of surprise, but I’ll take some of the blame for it. My familiarity with Araabmusik stems exclusively from from last year’s fantastic Electric Dream album, which was closer to the house music genre. I was unprepared, then,  for his brostep-heavy set that evening. To his credit, he’s certainly a lot more fun to watch than most DJs, as he constructs songs on the fly by pounding on his MPC at speeds that seem almost superhuman. But in the end, my low tolerance for wub-wubs beat out my fascination with his technique. Kudos to whomever scheduled him before Beach House, though, as that is a Pitchfork Festival trainwreck transition for the ages.

Biggest Disappointment: the stage assignments
I’m sure there’s some kind of logic to who plays where at Pitchfork, but I’ll never understand it. For example, Thee Oh Sees drew twice as big a crowd as Iceage, yet they were relegated to the smaller Blue stage. The same thing happened on Friday with Japandroids, though in their case I wonder if it was a conscious decision to make sure the crowd was bananas. This is a nit-picky complaint, I know, but it would be nice if more established acts got to play on the bigger stages, since they’re more than likely going to bring in more people. Sure, it was nice being able to watch Thee Oh Sees and The Men in the shade at the Blue Stage, but I’d be willing to stand in the sun a little bit if it meant more people got the chance to actually see the bands they wanted.

Pitchfork Recap: Japandroids Blast Off on Friday Night

I arrived a little after the gates had opened and after almost an hour of hard rain had fallen on Union Park. The schedule was already fifteen minutes behind, and no one had started playing yet. Not the best way to begin a three-day festival. The weather seemed to make an impression on a lot of potential festival-goers, too, as it was the sparsest crowd I’ve ever seen, even for a Friday. But for those who did make it out, acts like Japandroids, Clams Casino, A$AP Rocky, and Dirty Projectors did Their best to make sure it was worth it.

Best Set: Japandroids
After a soggy start, these guys are exactly what we all needed: a shot of straight-forward, fist-pumping rock’n’roll to get everybody excited about seeing live music again (so, basically the opposite of Lower Dens). They kicked it off with “Adrenaline Nightshift” and, I know this is going to sound like hyperbole, the clouds started to part and the sun was shining before the song ended. The band didn’t let off the gas until they were done. It was glorious. It’s amazing to see how big a band with only two guys can sound. The only thing that bothered me was seeing a kid that couldn’t have been older than 17 sing his heart out to “Younger Us.” I’m not sure if he really gets what that song is about. Oh well; he’ll know soon enough.

Biggest Disappointment: the sound
Festivals in general have a reputation for spotty sound. Pitchfork seems to draw a lot more criticism than other festivals, partially because they book a lot of acts with complex sounds that end up having problems, but mostly because every year it really does seem as bad or worse than the year before, leading to complaints about prices going up but the sound not improving. This year the weather at least gave them a reason for much of the problems, causing equipment malfunctions and postponing or even canceling important sound checks. Still, a legitimate excuse for the issues doesn’t make them easier to deal with, and acts like Olivia Tremor Control definitely suffered. There’s nobody to blame, really, but it certainly put a damper on things.

Biggest Surprise: Willis Earl Beal
Because of the previously mentioned sound problems, I left Olivia Tremor Control a few songs early just in time to catch the last ten minutes of Willis Earl Beal. All I really knew about this guy was that he was from Chicago and that he used to post flyers with his phone number, telling people that if they called he’d sing them a song. I’m glad I made it a point to see him because he really was incredible, mixing elements of soul, blues, and lo-fi with a stage presence that’s exceedingly rare at this festival. He was as passionate and intense as he was self-effacing, telling the crowd, “Thanks for coming to my poetry reading. There’ll be real songs coming up after me,” before leading them in a sing-along about keeping the tears (and in this case, the rain) at bay. Only the most cynical music fan wouldn’t have been won over.

Pitchfork Recap: Saturday’s Biggest Moments

Saturday started out rough. The weather was very uncooperative, with rain coming down hard off and on for the first few hours of the fest. It even got so bad that Cloud Nothings shorted out their PA during their set. I arrived a little later than I planned in hopes of missing most of this, only to show up right in the middle of a downpour and to find there was no power in the press tent, which was extra steamy with no fans running. The only band playing at the time was black metal band Liturgy, which didn’t help much, either. Still, around 4:00 things started to turn around, and after the Murderer’s Row of Flying Lotus, Wild Flag, Sleigh Bells, and Hot Chip, Saturday turned out to be probably the strongest day of the festival.

Best Set: Hot Chip
I worry that people are taking Hot Chip for granted. They put out a pretty good/great album every other year and always put on a fantastic live show, yet I feel a lot of people just forget about them. It’s the curse of being consistent. If the band feels like people are sleeping on them, however, they didn’t let it show. They kicked off things with a more soulful rendition of “And I Was a Boy From School,” then tore through a set of old hits (“Over and Over,” “One Life Stand”) and new ones (“Flutes,” “Don’t Deny Your Heart”). They even tossed in a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere” for good measure. They did their best to remind people that they’re still around and that they’re still great. Let’s hope it worked.

Biggest Surprise: Flying Lotus
If Hot Chip had the #1 set on Saturday, Flying Lotus had #1A. I’d given his albums a listen a few times, but they’ve never connected with me. But seeing him live, where he could mix in things like Portishead’s “Machine Gun” with songs off his last album Cosmogramma, finally made it click. He was definitely responsible for two of the day’s best moments. The first was when he dropped “Simon Says,” which made me and every other right-minded individual lose their shit. The second was when he stopped three-fourths of the way through the set to tell everybody how drunk he was and that he was “going to switch to normal shit, unless you want to hear more of that drunk shit.” He closed out the set with a seriously beefed-up instrumental version of “Hard In Da Paint,” and he found himself with at least one new fan.

Ballsiest Move: Godspeed You! Black Emperor as Saturday’s headliner
Before Saturday, I probably would’ve considered myself a GY!BE fan. After Saturday evening, when I stood there for ten minutes listening to the same note, wondering if they had even started playing yet, I realized that my fandom was really based on the fact that they were the go-to band for me to play during my 3-6AM shift at my college radio station when I needed to go to the bathroom or just didn’t feel like doing anything. Having said that, hats off to the person/s who fought to have these guys close out the day. People who spend a lot of time on the internet like to think that Pitchfork is basically the mainstream, even if most of the rest of the world only know it as “that hipster music site” (if they know about it at all). Ending the biggest day of your festival with an experimental ambient act is a good way to show that you’re still pretty much outside the mainstream.

Archers of Loaf’s Matt Gentling on Stepping Back Into the Light

On January 15, 2011 at The Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina, to the shock and delight of both the crowd in attendance and indie rock fans the world over, a reunited Archers of Loaf took the stage to play their first show together in nearly eleven years. In the year and a half since, the band has toured the U.S. extensively, reissued their classic first two albums, and made their television debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, a long overdue milestone reached nearly 20 years after the band first formed. On Thursday the Archers accomplished another achievement: playing for the first time in Spain in front of the massive crowds at the San Miguel Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona. I sat down to talk with bassist Matt Gentling about the reunion tour, the tend of reunited bands, and what the future holds for the Archers.

So other than a show last January at Cat’s Cradle, you guys have been doing reunion shows for about a year now. How’s that been going?
It’s going well. We’ve been having a blast. It’s been really nice hanging out with each other again and we’ve really enjoyed playing the songs. It is a little weird because, I don’t know, we more or less just kinda exhumed ourselves. We never really planned on breaking up in the first place but we just got burned out. and then we thought well, we might get back together and play again later, and it just never happened. We all got busy with our lives and everything. And then all of a sudden the idea occurred to us because well, basically everybody else had been doing it. [laughs] In fact, that was actually a deterrent to getting back together was like, “Man, it seems like everybody’s doing it. I feel kinda cheesy.” And then we finally got over ourselves.

Well, in the past it felt like reunion shows/tours were looked at kind of cynically. Now at least 15-20 acts playing at Primavera are bands that have reunited or come off hiatus. How do you think the public’s attitude has changed towards bands reuniting?
I think a number of things have happened, not the least of which is just that people have just got immured to it, you know? Like, “Well, this is happening, so OK.” [laughs]. And the fact that it’s a group that used to play that stopped playing and started playing again at the end of the day is kind of irrelevant to whether the music is going to be enjoyable to listen or not, you know what I mean? But at the same time, there’s certainly nothing wrong with a little bit of skepticism or even a hair of cynicism regarding it because, you know, there’s an element to it that even to me feels like… I jokingly to my friends call it “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp” because, yeah, we don’t have any new stuff so we’re kinda bringing up old songs that we wrote when we were young and that is, I don’t know… You don’t wanna put any kind of apotheosis on it or anything.

Of course, but like you said, you didn’t break up because you hated each other. It’s easy to see that you’re doing shows again because you like playing together, so that certainly helps keep people’s opinions positive. This isn’t a Van Halen type situation.
Correct and, admittedly, there was a little bit artistic drift, you know [laughs], like we were kinda getting, stylistically, a little more disparate but we still got along. We still enjoyed writing the songs. The last album we did is definitely a little more different than a lot of the other stuff we did because we were a bit more ascetically fractious at time, but it wasn’t to the point of it being difficult. We still enjoyed writing the songs and we still argued with each other over song parts and structure and all that stuff, so it was rewarding and fun and cool. It was just that we were on the road playing shows 200 something dates a year.

Sure. So over the years, a lot of new fans have discovered your music and have been waiting a long time to see you perform live. Do you ever worry about meeting the kinds of expectations that they might have?
On one level I do, a little bit. I mean, you want people to be happy that come to the show and I think it’s good to be worried to an extent. You wanna do justice to the thing you devoted so much of your life to, but also you want it to be worthwhile to the people that are coming out to check you out. So, yeah, I do worry about it and that’s one thing, but at the same time I have a lot of confidence in our stuff, and that in itself is a weird thing. I’m not saying what we do is sacred or whatever, but I’m proud of it, you know? I really am, and if people don’t like it, that’s fine, too. But it won’t be because I feel like it was half-assed or ill conceived or anything. I think it stands fairly well, you know.

You reissued Icky Mettle last year and then Vee Vee this past February. Are there any plans for the other two albums to get the same treatment?
Yeah, yeah, I think we’re going to rerelease everything, and do it on a sort of accelerated schedule. I think this year is sort of our last year of doing this many shows on this level. We’re planning on a little bit of stuff next year too but I think we’re going to kind of tone it back.At the end of all this, there’s not… We haven’t really written any new stuff and we don’t necessarily fully agree 100 percent on that, like whether to do it or how to do it or whatever, so we just haven’t been able to settle on anything there. I know Eric [Bachmann]’s a little bit reluctant, just because he’s not sure if he can revisit that feel and doesn’t know what the new feel would be, whether it would be appropriate or not, which I think is probably a pretty well thought out opinion on it.

It’s understandable.
I, on the other hand, am like ‘who cares?!’ [laughs]

Have you guys ever played Spain before?
No. I was playing bass on a couple of tours with Band of Horses and we played Primavera when I was with them. So, I’ve been and I think Bachmann has been. He’s traveled around Spain pretty extensively, but the other fellows, no.

Is there anybody that you’re excited to see at the festival?
There are a lot. I looked at the list… Well, I’ve been almost been trying not to find out too much because I really want to see the city really, really bad. [laughs] But I’m really excited to see Mazzy Star. Never got to see them back in the ‘90s and loved them. I mean, that was our van music; like, late night drives, it was always Mazzy Star, Well, not always. Baja Marimba Band, but they’re not really doing anything these days.

Sadly, they won’t be there.
So yeah, I went through the list and there were quite a few bands that I was like “I really want to see them.” But I also want to see the town so I’m going to have to do the little triage.

You touched on this earlier, but what’s the picture look like for doing shows going forward?
Logistically I think we’re kinda going for it for the year. We’re going to book some more, not quite as intensely as we did last year. Last year we had as many as our day jobs would allow, really, and then this year we’re doing almost as many and then next year we’re talking about maybe doing another trip or two but then just kinda tapering it off from there. And there’s been talk about, “OK then I guess just saying that’s it,” and I was just like, why? We eventually did that last time. We don’t need to say, “That’s it.” If it’s appropriate to play something and everybody’s got a bug up their butt to play a show, then let’s do it, you know?

Yeah, nothing needs to be definite.
Exactly. That’s what I’m saying.