Well, it took some doing but the busy cats of the OTC (Eric / Will / Peter / John / Bill) finally responded to my questions. Hell, who can blame them, the amount of work these guys do seems exaustive.
I've been down with OTC since first hearing "Cubist Castle" at KTRU ages ago. The texturing, the songwriting, the attention to detail...this is definitely a band from whom everyone can learn a thing or two. And thus it is with great pleasure that we embark on a short chat with our musical heroes.
Wg: First let's get some of the preliminaries out of the way. I'm a bit confused...Bill Doss, W. Cullen Hart, eric Harris, and John Fernandes are the core of the band?
OTC: Yes, and we have added Peter Erchick since the first record came out. He's our permanent keyboardist/geodesics expert.
WG: Take us through the songwriting process. Who does what and how does the Elephant 6 Orchestra come into the picture?
OTC: It's really very different for every song. Some things are well planned in advance, others are quite spontaneous. It's usually a case of whoever wanders into the studio each day and gets involved in whatever we're recording. Jeff Mangum and Julian Koster are regulars, as are our horn players Scott Spillane and Kirk Pleasant.
WG: Does everyone contribute equally or does one member do the majority of songwriting?
OTC: Will and Bill do the majority of the songwriting. We all work on the arrangements and the recordings equally. Pete John and Eric slip in a song here and there too.
WG: There's a wonderful depth of layers in yr. records. How do you go about texturing the songs? Is it planned out from the beginning or added as you go along?
OTC: We like to add quite a lot in to the songs, and with the technology we use (4 and 8 track) things tend to get really squashed and dense. If the drums get lost in a sub-mix, just layer another track on top! We consciously expend a great deal of effort on making every moment of each song (hopefully) interesting, far more than most bands do I think.
WG: How do you approach the lyrics? Do you feel that they have a specific impact upon the music?
OTC: Yes, the lyrics are always important to us, and we try hard to make them evocative without being too pretentious! I hope people grasp our sense of humor in a lot of the lyrics. We try to say something deep without it coming out like some over-serious crap. And we like to project positive messages.
WG: The first song I heard of yours "jacqueline 1906" totally gave me goosebumps but I have to ask one question. What the hell are you singing about if anything?
OTC: Jacqueline is a reoccurring character, and she ties in with the earthquake (California demise) and the cubist castle un-time (skyline tulip).
WG: Considering how layered and textured yr. music is how do you approach a live performance?
OTC: It's a different band live. We can't recreate everything we do in the studio so we don't try. We do something different instead, hopefully something equally interesting. We're more of a studio band than a live band by preference but live shows are where we just have fun and let loose.
WG: How do people respond to the live shows?
OTC: Some people are confused. Others leave if we get too far out there, which is of course a good thing. Most seem to like it though. We try to blend the songs with a healthy dose of abstract improvisation.
WG: Do you enjoy playing live and if so what do you feel is the purpose of playing live to people?
OTC: Everyone in the band has sort of a love/hate thing with the live act. Touring is great for the one hour you're on stage, but the other twenty-three tend to get dull once you've done the touring thing as much as we have. Also we hate to practice and tour when we could be recording! But as far as the purpose goes I think it's to have fun, to put on a good show and do something interesting people will remember rather than just blasting through a bunch of rock versions of our songs. We try to throw in as many improvisational moments into the set as we can as this gives the band a chance to stretch out and improve, rather than just playing the same songs every night, which would get old fast.
WG: In this age of mass commercial absorbsion of so many musical genres what do you feel music offers to people?
OTC: Well, the trend is cyclical, and although so-called "alternative" bands (and even most "alternative" labels) have been absorbed by the larger machine, it's only a marketing term now. The underground never really surfaces, it just gets re-labeled. What music has to offer doesn't change. You (the individual) take what you want from it, and dig as deeply as you need to.
WG: Has music lost it's ability communicate ideas (eg 60's psychedelia/ late70's-early 80's punk rock) and is it now just relegated to pure entertainment, was that a mere illusion, or is music still a social force?
OTC: People who care enough to look can find idea music out there, and those who don't care wouldn't understand it if it were on the radio anyway. That is why we approach our music as a multi-layered entity. If you like a nice pop song, that's great, so do we, so we make pop songs you can hum along to. Buried deeper into that song however is another layer of information if you care to listen for it. In that layer you will find more challenges, more messages to explore. Beyond that layer is another, which may involve discovering the thematic and melodic links we bury in each project. You can go as far as you'd like with it. It's all about raising music back up to the level of art (hopefully). We're not as intersted in being a overt force for social change as we are in elevating peoples consciousness through carefully crafted soundscapes.
WG: How do hope people interact with your music?
OTC: Well, we try to appeal to people who really like to listen to music, who will put on some headphones and really get in to it, because that's the way we are.
WG: I've heard two comparisons (both intended as loose comparisons) first to Badfinger and then to the Beatles. How far are those?
OTC: The Beatles are undeniably an influence. We don't purposely try to sound like them, but we try to capture a little of the flavor and feeling of their recordings. I'm not sure about Badfinger...
WG: From whom do you draw inspiration?
OTC: Hmm... well there are really too many sources to name. John Cage, R. Bucky Fuller, Yoko Ono, Pierre Henry, Dziga Vertov, Tony Conrad, Etc.
WG: If you were death and could take out any member of U2 which one would go first?
OTC: No comment
WG: Ok, now I know there's a ring of side projects and collaborations. can ya take us through those?
OTC: Well I'll name a few of our close friends here in Athens who we collaborate with regularly. There's Neutral Milk Hotel, The Music Tapes, Of Montreal, Elf Power, The Gerbils, The Medaglia D'Oro Orchestra, and Dixie Blood Moustache to name a few. Look at any of those bands records and you'll see members of our band in the credits here and there, and they are just as often on our releases.
As for actual side projects we released a full length album in '97 from the band's electronic stepchild "The Black Swan Network", and there will certainly be more of that to come as well as individual band members' solo stuff that's in the works...
WG: How do those projects enrich OTC and visa-versa and finally, Elephant 6 gives one the impression of a little scene there....can you elaborate on what this is all about?
OTC: I must admit (as corny as it sounds) the town of Athens really is an amazing place to live right now. There is an inexplicable amount of great music centered here at the present, and the atmosphere is very inspiring. It's a big mutual admiration society! Almost every day there is some great band to go see, or a performance piece, or something absolutely amazing going on. I think we're lucky to have such interesting friends. And really that answers the next question too, Elephant Six is about a cohesive vision, it's about friends helping each other out and inspiring one another to do their best. And I think so far it has worked quite well.
|Memories of Jacueline 1906|
|Green Typewriters (excerpt)|
The above samples are in Real Audio format so if ya ain't got it may we suggest you visit their site at http://www.real.com/products/player/ and grab the freebie version. Good news is that they have improved the product quite a bit and this sounds damn good finally. The bad news is (because we are not streaming) it will take between 4-5 min. on a 28.8 modem to download. Still, if you've never heard the OTC it's worth the wait.
I was going to put an exhaustive discography but these sites do the job quite well. Check 'em out.
THE ELEPHANT 6 RECORDING COMPANY EAST
C/O THE OLIVIA TREMOR CONTROL
ATHENS, GA 30601
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