CROUCHED IN THE COLORED-LIGHT-LIT bedrooms, painting-lined hallways and lobbies of the converted frat house they call home, the Athens, Georgiabased Olivia Tremor Control have assembled some of the most joyous, adventurous music in recent memory. Amiable multi-instrumental pop shuffles in the hazy mode of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, gauzed with intricate four-part harmonies and a host of sound effects, bump up against loping, kitchen-sink ambientronic instro-ludes in albums that seem created somewhere outside of standard time by art students with a serious pop jones.
Tying it all together on the new 69-minute OTC opus, Black Foliage: Animation Music, are recurring melodic motifs and the group's abiding interest in the dream state, a fascination that informs the band's lyrics (“We felt a pleasant gray rain/hiding in the machine of the city”; “Waterfalls fell on an optical altar”), raggedly psychedelic album graphics and general approach to recording and performing. Pretty strange for a band whose co-founder rarely has vivid dreams himself.
“It's true,” says Will Cullen Hart, one of the principal singer-songwriter-instrumentalists, cell-phoning from a balcony overlooking the OTC headquarters' bamboo-strewn back yard. “I do have dreams, but they're the ones you can't explain. You know, you have that person in a dream that's like three different people — it's an old friend, it's a schoolteacher, and it's someone else, but in your dream it's all the same person physically. Weird! And I try to put that across in the writing; I like to grab onto that little crux and try to go with it. I'm looking for that mysterious feeling. It's ridiculously hard.”
Hart and his cohorts mine the dreamtime for inspiration with a specifically surrealist spade, on the lookout for odd, inexplicable images and near-incommunicable sensations. As with Rick Veitch's mid-'90s Rare Bit Fiends dream comics, there's little Freudian psychoanalysis or Jungian collective-unconscious theorizing in OTC, just lots of compelling, amusing strangeness.
“My interest in dreams has always been the imagery, like some huge monster horse balanced on a giraffe — your Dali imagery,” says Hart. “When analysis comes up, I always go, 'Ulp, no thanks.' But I like to hear other people's dreams . . .”
The Olivias have long solicited audiotapes from their listeners in which they recount their dreams. Although the response hasn't exactly been overwhelming — about 30 respondents so far, evenly male/female, five of them Swedish — “the Dreamers,” as Hart wistfully calls them, have provided some raw material that has already been incorporated into the Olivias' work.
“All the bits where you have somebody talking on the new album, like 'I woke upWOKE UPwokeupWOKEup . . . underwater,' that's just us chopping up parts from their tapes and putting them together,” Hart says. “Sometimes we take the voice to the point that it's inaudible or stretched to be an instrument. We might loop somebody saying one word and stretch it until it sounds like a bass tone.” OTC has also recorded Black Swan Network vs. The Olivia Tremor Control, an album of “songscapes” (“sleepy music,” says Hart), with vocals provided by the Dreamers.
INCORPORATING STRANGERS' VOICES AND dreams into the band's music is only one of the Olivias' collaborative, interactionist impulses. For their upcoming cross-country tour promoting Black Foliage, OTC's dream patois and elaborate music — electric guitars fed through square-wave fuzz boxes, acoustic guitars melting into banjos, and accordions, violins and horn sections dueling with a vintage “Guitorgan” — will be accompanied by animation and imagery created by artist (and Hart's junior high school friend) Joey Foreman.
“Half the songs will probably have a film with them,” says Hart. “There's sections where we'll do songs, and there's sections where we stretch out, and when we stretch out, he's gonna stretch out with us — he can do color filters, looping, frame by frame. It's not anything big, not like there'll be a huge screen behind us, but it'll be something else to gaze at.”
These modest, endearingly handmade attempts at synesthesia on a shoestring budget are something Hart literally loses sleep over.
“I sleep five hours a day,” he says. “I try to stay up as much as I can, because I feel like it's a blessing that I'm able to work on music right now. When we get back from doing a tour, there's usually some time when I don't have to get a job, and I spend all that time working [on music and art]. You have to give all your time away later. I drink about fuckin' three pots of coffee a day. It's cool . . . it's like, five hours of sleep makes you this crazy, tripping person.”
THE OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL | Black Foliage: Animation Music | (Flydaddy)