Mark Hollis, a synth-pop hitmaker and pioneering art-rock innovator as the frontman of Talk Talk, has died at the age of 64.
Hollis’ manager, Keith Aspden, confirmed the musician’s death to Pitchfork. “I’m still trying to accept this, but sadly it’s true,” Aspden said in a statement. “Mark has died after a short illness from which he never recovered. Deeply felt sorrow for a remarkable person who remained true to himself throughout his life. I can’t tell you how much Mark influenced and changed my perceptions on art and music. I’m grateful for the time I spent with him and for the gentle beauty he shared with us.”
“I am very shocked and saddened to hear the news of the passing of Mark Hollis,” former Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb wrote on Facebook. “Musically he was a genius and it was a honour and a privilege to have been in a band with him. I have not seen Mark for many years, but like many musicians of our generation I have been profoundly influenced by his trailblazing musical ideas. He knew how to create a depth of feeling with sound and space like no other. He was one of the greats, if not the greatest.”
No cause of death was known at press time. Tim Pope, Talk Talk’s frequent music video director, also tweeted of Hollis, “Condolences to his lovely family. We had many, many laughs together.”
“Thank you Mark for the art you created and for letting us share our version of it with the world. I hope we did it justice,” wrote Tony Kanal, whose group No Doubt covered “It’s My Life” in 2003.
Formed in 1981, Talk Talk released a string of synth-pop hits in the early Eighties, including “Talk Talk” (which Hollis penned for his previous band, the Reaction) and “It’s My Life,” the latter a Top 10 hit for No Doubt in 2003. After two successful albums, 1982’s The Party’s Over and 1984’s It’s My Life, Hollis and his bandmates shifted away from the synth-pop style and move toward the Roxy Music-inspired New Romantic art-rock that influenced them.
With producer and keyboardist Tim Friese-Greene now a full-time unofficial member, the band released their third album The Colour of Spring in 1985. The album would become Talk Talk’s best-selling LP thanks to the hit “Life’s What You Make It” and “Living in Another World.”
Now armed with a bigger budget, more creative freedom and no time constraints, Talk Talk entered the studio to begin work on what would become their greatest achievement, Spirit of Eden. As detailed in engineer Phill Brown’s book Are We Still Rolling?, the Spirit of Eden recording sessions stretched deep into the night, with musicians often playing in a darkened, incense-filled room outfitted with strobe lights.
“The band liked to make recording an event, not just another session, and succeeded in creating a unique environment,” Brown wrote. “In our dark cocoon we settled into work.”
In one of the few interviews from the era, as the band moved away from the promotional circuits and performing live in general, Hollis called Spirit of Eden a “late at night” LP for when you’re “in a very calm mood with no distractions.” Packing six amorphous songs into 41 minutes and lacking any semblance of a single, Spirit of Eden was a commercial flop – to the point that their label EMI first sued and then cut ties with Talk Talk – yet beloved among critics and music fans.
“It’s certainly a reaction to the music that’s around at the moment, ‘cos most of that is shit,” Hollis told Q around the time of Spirit of Eden‘s release. “It’s only radical in the modern context. It’s not radical compared to what was happening 20 years ago. If we’d have delivered this album to the record company 20 years ago they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.” Hollis added of the LP, “You have to give it all your attention. You should never listen to music as background music. Ever.”
In recent decades, Spirit of Eden would be hailed as one of the greatest albums of the 1980s and a chief influence in the post-rock genre. “It redefines how you listen to music,” Radiohead’s Philip Selway told BBC 6 Music in a recent 30th anniversary retrospective of Spirit of Eden.
The band, after aligning with Verve, would release one more album, the similarly acclaimed Laughing Stock in 1991, before Talk Talk officially disbanded the following year. After a four-year sabbatical, Hollis fulfilled Talk Talk’s two-album contract with Verve with his own understated self-titled solo album in 1998, after which he disconnected entirely from the music industry to focus on family. “I choose for my family,” Hollis told Q after withdrawing from the spotlight. “Maybe others are capable of doing it, but I can’t go on tour and be a good dad at the same time.”
A near-mythic artist following his retirement, Hollis made rare musical appearances over the past two decades, including one-off instrumental collaborations with U.N.K.L.E. and Anja Garbarek. In 2012, Hollis contributed a short piece titled “ARB Section 1” to the television series Boss; it was his final released work.