Olivia Tremor Control's Black Foliage was one of the most ambitious albums to drop in the final months of the last century. The group, part of the collective affiliated with the Elephant 6 imprint, took the buzz of home-recorded indie rock and added a strong sense of pop that evoked The Beach Boys and The Beatles, fusing them into modern rock in a way that few bands have.
But part of what made Black Foliage such an opus was the numerous "animated" versions of the title track. These interludes crept up every few tracks, with only various elements (bass, horns) remaining from the original song. The band also added tracks titled "Combinations," which pulled random sounds from songs throughout the album, stretching and pulling them into new shapes much like Frank Zappa did on early Mothers of Invention albums. Many of the "real" songs, meanwhile, also had snatches from the "Combinations" sneaking into various corners of the mix. It made for a dreamlike trip, enhanced with snatches of audio of people talking about their dreams, courtesy of tapes that the band solicited from fans.
The whole thing was recorded over a period of three years, with guitarist/vocalist William Cullen Hart spearheading much of the process. "I had a little digital machine and kept chopping and adding bits to it," he says. "I didn't have a job, so that was my job. That was cool. I'd get up and have fun with sound, which we immersed ourselves in."
Hart says their label helped by not giving the band a strict deadline. In fact, he says, the process could have continued endlessly. "Someone had to sit there and say, ‘C'mon, this has got to be done,'" Hart recalls. "It was my friend Eric, who'll be joining us on the next tour. He finally said, ‘Will, it sounds great.'"
Olivia Tremor Control had something of an open-door policy, and Black Foliage alone included contributions from members of Neutral Milk Hotel and The Apples in Stereo, along with the band's core five members. An eight-piece version of the band toured in support of the album, including a stop in Pittsburgh that seemed to straddle sonic chaos and the bliss of the album.
The band drifted apart due to various other obligations, but two recent events seemed to point toward a reunion. Chunklet Records offered to release deluxe reissues of Black Foliage and its predecessor, Dusk at Cubist Castle, complete with numerous bonus tracks. Also, Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum approached band members about performing at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in England, which he is curating this year.
"We figured we were in the planning stages of putting out the albums anyway. They've been out of print for years," Hart says. "So we thought, ‘Why don't we also get it together and tour before [All Tomorrow's Parties] so we can be ready for it?' We'll see if we are."
His voice changes to a whisper.
"We are! We really are!"
OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL with THE MUSIC TAPES. 8 p.m. Thu., Sept. 15. New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Square East, North Side. $15. 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org