Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley
The sudden death of The Olivia Tremor Control's Bill Doss last week was a huge blow to the music world. It reminded us of this two-song set of songs that the Hawkeye State's very own Poison Control Center and Louisiana's Brass Bed recorded with us a year ago. They've sat on the shelf since they were taped and as a tribute to the great songwriter, we're presenting them here for the first time as further proof of the fragility of bodies, but the longevity of the songs that are left behind. Following are two essays - one written by Poison Control Center lead singer Patrick Tape Fleming and the other by Brass Bed lead singer Christiaan Mader - about what Doss meant to them as artists.
From Poison Control Center:
My name is Patrick Tape Fleming. I'm in a band called the Poison Control Center. Olivia Tremor Control is my all-time favorite band. From the first time I heard them in 1997, I have hailed them the Beatles times 10! Our band was lucky enough to be asked to open for the Apples In Stereo on a tour in 2008 and I was so excited, not just because of the opportunity to open for the Apples but because I knew Bill Doss would be along for the tour.
I first met Bill at Robert Schneider's wedding. I was freaking out cause he said to me, "Nice bolo." I was wearing a ridiculous bolo tie. That night I got to talk about my favorite album ever, "Dusk At Cubist Castle," with one of the guys who made it. It was one of the greatest conversations I have ever had. Bill was so sweet to me. He could see I was a true fan and wanted to talk about weird noises on the record that I had memorized from hundreds upon hundreds of listens to it.
When our band got to Louisville, for the first show of our tour with the Apples, I told the guys, that it was my goal to get Bill Doss to let us back him on "Jumping Fences." He hadn't really played any OTC stuff live since the reunions in 2005, (which I drove 14 hours from Iowa to Athens to see). Anyway every night on the tour, I would go up to Bill and say, "Bill, OTC was the greatest band ever, and these songs need to be played, let us back you playing "Jumping Fences." He would just laugh. He was so sweet to me on that tour -- always talking to me and watching our band play. He knew I loved him so much.. Finally in Dallas, I asked him, "So Bill, is tonight the night we do "Jumping Fences," and much to my surprise he said, "OK, let's do it." I lost it for a second and started freaking out. He said, "Let's go over it backstage." So for five minutes, the Poison Control Center stood in a circle with Bill Doss, playing one of the greatest pop songs ever, with the guy who wrote it. I thought the song was in the key of B, but he showed me that it's actually in A, and he taught it to us, and yes we played it that night. Standing with your hero, in a circle with your best friends, learning a song that you think is as good as any ever written, was one of the greatest moments in my life. He did not have to do that. It was so special.
Only to be outdone last September when Olivia Tremor Control played in Minneapolis. Naturally, I was there and I got to talk with Pete, John, and Bill before the show. Bill was so sweet to me. I thanked him for releasing, "The Game You Play Is In Your Head, Pts 1, 2 & 3" on my birthday and told him, that Devin Frank from PCC said, "It's nice that Will and Bill were thinking bout you on your birthday." He laughed and said, "We were thinking about you, Patrick." That night was actually his birthday as well. During the show, Bill says, "I would like to ask someone from Des Moines, IA to come up here and sing this song with us, cause he bugged me every night to come and sing it with his band the Poison Control Center, who are one of the hardest working bands I know." I nearly lost it, I jumped up on stage with my all-time favorite band and I said into the microphone, "This is the greatest fucking band ever." Will looks at me and says, "No we're not." I just smiled and said, "Well, you're my favorite." Then Bill strummed into "Jumping Fences" and I got to sing it with them. During the end of the song, Bill came over and shared the mic with me, and I got to hear that glorious voice through my ear, not through a speaker and it was the most magical moment of my musical life, singing that song with him on the same mic. After the song was done, he hugged me and I thanked him. It was one of the coolest things ever, and I feel so honored to say that I got to meet my hero. And he was one of the kindest people I have ever met in my life! His influence in my spirit as a musician and as a person will never fade. Bill Doss, I love you with all my heart. Thanks for coloring my world.
Playing these two OTC songs, with another one of my favorite bands, Brass Bed, will truly be one of my favorite collaborations ever and I'm honored we did it for Daytrotter.
From Christiaan Mader of Brass Bed:
Bill was not Beatle-esque. He was a Beatle raised in the post-punk era. The use of studio trickery and sophisticated melody and harmony has become standard operating procedure for pop artists the world over, but Bill spoke from inside the British psych tradition like a messiah. He had the balls to do things in his arrangements with The Olivia Tremor Control that George Martin would never let Paul or John do (e.g. release a debut triple album with 10 song abstractions called "Green Typerwriters" as on "Dusk At Cubist Castle"). He and Will Cullen Hart took whatever orthodoxy the Beatles left untouched and joyfully smashed it to pieces with a 4-Track home recorder and a penchant for chaos, but in the end it was all beautiful, plaintive, earnest, and touching songwriting.
At the heart of every great band, no matter how innovative in recording methodology or artistic attitude, is a great songwriter who connects flighty and abstract ideas to a single flashing arrow that pierces your heart and makes you hurt good. Bill Doss was that great songwriter.
There is no growing in knowing where you're going, he said. To be truly Beatle-esque is to break rules with no fear of reprisal and to fuck with convention while still writing the best damned pop hook imaginable. As a fellow 60's pop devotee, he changed me. And for that I'll miss him greatly.