Will Oldham is a gifted, eccentric and fairly revered folk-rock singer-songwriter who, for 20 years, has made an art of working outside the mainstream. Now, with a book and some branding deals — coffee, perfume, beer — Will Hermes says he’s dipping a toe in.
Photo: Kevin Yatarola/Lincoln Center
Showing 28 posts tagged will oldham
The crowd at Brooklyn’s BookCourt looking good (and often beardy) at last night’s event for Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy with Oldham, Sasha Frere-Jones and Alan Licht. Oldham is pictured at right, in an orange shirt and overalls.
Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Turns out Will Oldham is as weird as he seems, but not in the ways you’d think. Also, quite a lot of R. Kelly in this one. Much more R. Kelly than in anything else I read this year.
You heard it here first. Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Quite a lot of R. Kelly in this one.
A list of the Best Music Books of 2012 from PopMatters was just posted and provides more than enough evidence that this was a great year for music writing. In addition to the “must-have” Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the list includes books on Yo La Tengo, Whiskeytown, and Neil Young.
Will Oldham has been singing and composing under the name Bonnie “Prince” Billy for twenty-five years. In a new book, he discusses his highly individualistic approach to music making and the music industry, one that cherishes intimacy, community, mystery, and spontaneity.
Do you think a song is ever really finished?
I feel like a song is completed when the writing is done and I present it to a friend, partner, or group of musicians. Then it’s completed when we record together and finish mixing. Then it’s completed each and every time someone listens. I think that a song, for the most part, is completed by the listening experience. It enters into people’s brains and mutates and then might get completed again—in their dreams, in mix tapes that they make, or in new listening experiences that they have. So it isn’t ever finished because there’s never going to be a definitive listening experience. I guess the idea is that I listen to certain favorite songs over and over because for some reason I just haven’t finished listening to them. But in terms of concentrating on the bones of the song, that ends with the recording; in rare cases there will be arrangement modifications, but from that point on the skeleton is always going to stay the same. From then on, playing live, for me, is more like an exercise to stay in shape for writing and recording.
There’s the way a song can sound when you’re just playing it in a room to somebody that’s going to perform it with you, and then the way it sounds in the rehearsal room when you’re playing it with a band, and then there’s the way it sounds when you go into a studio and the engineer is listening to it; there’s an evolution of the song’s identity from when it’s something that you’re creating on your own to where it ultimately ends up.
Yes. Anybody who’s a big music fan and plays music for people experiences this, but if you work with recorded music you can point to the differences in instrumentation or preparedness or arrangement. And you can play the same recording of the same song and have vastly different feelings about it. You could be listening to a song in your car and not enjoying it, and then someone could get in the car and all of a sudden the song becomes good, or the reverse. It seems to me that the ears that are listening make more difference than the way the music sounds. ‘Cause you can also tell when you see people who are absolutely 100 percent enthralled and enjoying inarguably terrible music, and they’re smart human beings; you see it happening and you realize it doesn’t have anything, or far less, to do with the music itself than the listening done by the listener and the situation.
Excerpted from Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy, edited by Alan Licht. Copyright © 2012 by Will Oldham. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company.
“It’s amazing, I feel like every time I buy a record I’m communicating to the artist or artists, to the record company and to the world at large, something. Tiny little thing, big thing…something is being communicated. Even if it’s a used record, even if it’s a record from the library, it’s communicating to someone, because the person at the counter might say, ‘A guy came in and bought this Helen Reddy record. I’ve always seen it there, and I just assumed no one was going to buy it.’ And they might forget it forever or they might mention it to somebody, but every little decision you make in relation to listening to music has the potential to put something back into the world of making music and listening to it.”
So ends WILL OLDHAM WEEK. Swap in “books” for “records” and it feels just as nice. We recommend one book in particular. Try and guess which. (And, if you’re New York, don’t forget to join us on Monday.) And if you haven’t had your fill of old Oldham, you can do some more reading here.
“Gradually I learned, hearing stories, whether they’re true or not, that the Offspring became a hit because Epitaph did things like buying new computers for a promo company, or things like that. What the entertainment business is built on, is people working together, and when you’re a music listener you don’t understand that. I used to assume that it’s a record company, it’s radio stations, it’s listeners, it’s musicians, it’s songs, and then I learned that no, hits are a different business. Publicists, booking agents, talent agencies or managers, record companies — they make hits. With each other and for each other. I’ve never run in those circles, and neither has Drag City. I’m not working with people who make hits. Again, there’s probably an exception here or there, but basically any hit you’ve ever heard is in that system.”
You've said that everything from 'I See a Darkness' onward is related.
I think so, yeah.
In terms of...everything?
“It’s very polite, I believe, for someone to tell you of a dream experience they had with you, because it’s going to affect their communication with you. So I feel like whenever possible, if you remember a dream that someone was in and if it’s someone that you communicate with and care about, that it’s important to share that experience with them, so that they know where you’re coming from next time they see you.”