Will Oldham, or Bonnie "Prince" Billy as he is known to some, is a focused individual. One can see this in the craft in which his music is made, distributed, and presented... not to mention how his own persona is established alongside it. Mr. Oldham can be an enigma at times... but I think that calls for something that he might agree with, listening to the music for itself... and setting the figure of the man or woman behind it aside.
Oldham has been very active within the last year, as recent collaborations have found him recording an album and touring with the Cairo Gang, having an appearance in Jackass 3, and appearing on a remix of Hot Chip's "I Feel Better", aptly titled "I Feel Bonnie"... amongst several other appearances.
Bonnie "Prince" Billy and the Cairo Gang will be playing Town Hall in New York City December 8th. I was able to interview Mr. Oldham via e-mail.
Over the past few years, it seems like your work has followed a pattern between "little albums" and "big albums." I see this starting around "Master and Everyone", a sparse, small production, contrasted by the huge cast of your next record, "Greatest Palace Music", the year after. Then a bit later with with "Lie Down In The Light" being the small record to the bigger production of "Beware." Why is it that you decide to work in this matter? Is it important for you to release one album every year, as you practically have been able to do?
After Greatest Palace Music was Superwolf with Matt Sweeney, and then The Letting Go. The pattern that you have outlined is not really evident.
Emmett Kelly, also known as The Cairo Gang, has been a consistent player on your records for the past few years, but this year's release, "The Wonder Show of the World", marks the first full-on joint release between you two. How did this record come about?
We had worked so much together and discussed the composition of songs and the making of records so often that it was a natural extension to build songs together.
This record marks a bit of a change from your last few releases, as the duet between the male and female voices has been substituted with two male voices. This reminded me of some of your early releases, where the singing related to a more brotherly love, where the male/female singing on "The Letting Go" or "Lie Down In The Light" had a strong erotic context to them. Was there a
reason why there was an absence of female singing on this record?
Bitches make so much trouble some time.
I haven't seen Jackass 3-D yet, but I have heard you are featured in the movie. How did you get involved with the Jackass guys?
Through the kind intervention of Lance Bangs.
You have a strong relationship with comedy, as you have worked on album adverts with Tim and Eric and Neil Hamburger, appeared on Wonder Showzen, and worked with Zach Galifianakis on the video for Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing." Do you feel it is important to offer this comedic element to the persona of Bonnie "Prince" Billy?
It is important to me to throw light on levity; work itself can be so heavy. To work with laughter as an end is huge as far as balance in life goes.
I wanted to ask you about the inserts your albums have. It seems like there is much care given to the design and packaging of your CDs, I was blown away by the clear sheets the lyrics for "The Wonder Show..." were printed on, and especially by the snow monkeys on the CD itself. I felt like these elements gave the music an entirely new facet, which had a big impact on the music for me. Why did you decide to put the snow monkeys on the CD?
The snow monkeys were on the promo label, and on the 7" sleeve. It was an effort to illustrate the bridge we were attempting to build: cross-cultural, inter-species.
Is this album packaging very important to you?
All of the artwork on all of the records has been very important to me. This one was powerful for us because my mother did the front cover illustrations and Emmett's father did the back cover portraits.
Yes; the songs are assembled as if they are fully visualized narratives, and the production of the records is assembled like a film crew, with as much power and voice distributed as is possible without dissolving into an unfocused rabble rule. Division of labor and respect of delineated roles.
Are there any directors or films who/which have influenced the way you make records?
Yes; the set of John Sayles' Matewan was a seminal education for me. from there, it's gone from Sam Peckinpah, Russ Meyer, and Francois Truffaut to Nicholas Ray, Robert Duvall, Clarence Brown, John Cassavetes, as well as actors, writers, producers, cinematographers...
How did your collaboration with Hot Chip come about?
Hot Chip reached out and I grasped their hand!
I'm quite fond of the video for it, it reminds me of some of Harmony Korine's work and some of the videos for Palace Brothers. How did the video come together?
They directed me from a distance. They asked for Super 8, I borrowed a camera from my friend Ryan Daly, and Emmett shot the footage on a break from rehearsing for shows last Spring.
How important to you is the way in which music is presented in a live setting? I know that when you played Monster Island Basement, you had an open bar there before you played. With elements like that, do you feel that setting an appropriate mood is a crucial part of a live musical performance?
Crucial, in a nutshell, yes.
Do you still surf?
Just got a new board, with a glass-in fin.....