Mark Hollis, the British musician best known for leading the deeply influential synth-pop and post-rock band Talk Talk, has died. News of Hollis’ death began circulating on social media over the weekend and on Monday it was amplified by tweets from collaborator Tim Pope and contemporaries including Matt Johnson of The The, Graham Sutton of Bark Psychosis, and Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins. Hollis’ former manager Keith Aspden confirmed the news to the BBC on Tuesday: “Sadly it’s true. Mark has died after a short illness from which he never recovered.” He was 64.
Hollis was born and raised in the Tottenham area of London. In 1977, he formed a band called the Reaction, whose song “Talk Talk Talk Talk” ended up on a Beggars Banquet punk compilation called Streets. After a year, the Reaction broke up. In 1981, Hollis formed a new band with friends he met through his brother, the DJ, producer, and band manager Ed Hollis. They named the new band Talk Talk and signed to EMI. The old Reactions song, shortened to just “Talk Talk,” became their first proper hit.
Talk Talk’s early records adhered to a glammed-up New Romantic style that made them contemporaries of Duran Duran and Tears For Fears among others. Although they never cracked the top 10 in either the UK or the US, their first three albums yielded a number of hits including “Life’s What You Make It” and “Such A Shame.” Their biggest US single was “It’s My Life,” the title track from their 1984 sophomore LP, which was later covered by No Doubt.
After 1986’s The Colour Of Spring, Hollis and keyboardist-producer Tim Friese-Greene began exploring a deconstructed, experimental approach to music that veered far away from the mainstream new wave sounds Talk Talk built their career on. The resulting pair of albums, 1988’s Spirit Of Eden and 1991’s Laughing Stock, are now widely credited as early masterpieces in the fledgling post-rock genre.
After Talk Talk disbanded following the release of Laughing Stock, Hollis spent years figuring out what to do next. In 1998 he released a self-titled solo album, which burrowed even deeper into the minimalism that marked the last two Talk Talk records. He then largely retired from the public eye to focus on parenting his kids. Some of his rare late-career appearances include guest work on UNKLE’s 1998 debut Psyence Fiction and Anja Garbarek’s 2001 release Smiling & Waving and a commissioned work called “ARB Section 1″ for the Kelsey Grammar TV show Boss in 2012.
Hollis’ old Talk Talk bandmate Paul Webb posted a tribute via the Facebook page for his current project Rustin Man:
I am very shocked and saddened to hear the news of the passing of Mark Hollis. 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.
Below, enjoy some of Hollis’ classics.