Bill Doss, who music fans know from his work with the Olivia Tremor Control and the Sunshine Fix, as well as co-founding the Elephant Six recording collective, has died at the age of 43 in Athens, Georgia. As of now, the cause of his death has not been announced. The band's website simply, and heartbreakingly, says goodbye to their brother. Whatever the cause, his death comes as a shock to his fans and followers, many of whom had a chance to see him play on the band's recent tour, including two weeks ago at the Pitchfork Festival.
Along with his life-long friend and musical partner, Will Hart, Bill wrote songs that mixed pure pop melodies with intricate, psychedelic textures. Listening to the Olivias' Dusk At Cubist Castle or Black Foliage meant getting rid of all other distractions and sitting down - or laying back - and just opening your ears and mind to the music. He invested his time in making it and it was tough not to want to return that investment.
I was fortunate enough to have met and interviewed Bill a number of times over the past 15 years. He was an interviewer's dream: smart, funny, charming and with a true love of music. When I spoke to him for NOW last September, he gave the thoughtful answers of a man who seemed thrilled to tour, saying, "Back in the 90s I felt pressure to make it, whatever that means. Now I don't feel that. I'm thoroughly enjoying travelling and making music with my friends. Maybe enjoying what you do is making it?"
At their September show at Lee's Place, the Olivias played and sounded even better than they did in the 90s. Their performance was joyous, celebratory and hopeful. Hope that they'd make another record. Hope that they'd come back to Toronto soon.
A few months before this show, Bill was in Toronto with the Elephant Six Holiday Surprise, a tour of musicians from a number of E6 bands. That show ended with the performers wending their way through the crowd as they sang Sun Ra's Enlightenment. Bill seemed to look every member of the crowd in the eye as he sang, "Enlightenment is my tomorrow / It has no planes of Sorrow / Hereby, our invitation / We do invite you to be of our space world.
It's my hope that Bill has found Enlightenment. The space world just got a whole lot cooler.