Bill Callahan (musician)

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Bill Callahan
Callahan performing in 2007
Background information
Also known asSmog
Born (1966-06-03) June 3, 1966 (age 57)
Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • keyboards
DiscographyBill Callahan discography
Years active1988–present
Member ofThe Sundowners

Bill Callahan (born June 3, 1966) is an American singer-songwriter, who has also recorded and performed under the band name Smog.[5][6] Callahan began working in the lo-fi genre, with home-made tape-albums recorded on four-track tape recorders.[7] Later he began releasing albums with the label Drag City, to which he remains signed today.[8]


Callahan started out as a highly experimental artist, using substandard instruments and recording equipment. His early songs lacked melodic structure and were clumsily played on poorly tuned guitars, resulting in the dissonant sounds on his self-released cassettes and debut album Sewn to the Sky.[9] Much of his early output was instrumental, a stark contrast to the lyrical focus of his later work. His use of lo-fi techniques was not primarily an aesthetic preference, but stemmed from his lack of resources to make and record music. Once he signed a contract with Drag City, he started to use recording studios and a greater variety of instruments for his records.

From 1993 to 2000, Callahan's recordings grew more and more "professional" sounding, with more instruments, and a higher sound quality. In this period he recorded two albums with the influential producer Jim O'Rourke and Tortoise's John McEntire, and collaborated with Neil Hagerty. Callahan also worked closely with his then-girlfriend Cynthia Dall in his early career,[10] and they contributed vocals to each other's albums. After 2000's Dongs of Sevotion, Callahan began moving back to a slightly simpler instrumentation and recording style, while retaining the more consistent songwriting style he had developed over the years. This shift is apparent in albums such as Rain on Lens, Supper, and A River Ain't Too Much to Love.

Smog's songs are often based on simple, repetitive structures, consisting of a simple chord progression repeated for the duration of the entire song. His singing is characterized by his baritone voice. Melodically and lyrically he tends to eschew the verse-chorus approach favoured by many contemporary songwriters, preferring instead a more free-form approach relying less on melodic and lyrical repetition. Themes in Callahan's lyrics include relationships, animals, relocation, nature, and more recently, politics. On the subject of voice in his albums, Callahan has said, "It's usually one character per record. So, the character appears in all or most of the songs on one record and then is gone. Though it makes me feel weird to talk about. Because I don't really think in clear terms of characters. My albums as a whole could be seen as one character with many voices."[11] His generally dispassionate delivery of lyrics and dark irony often obfuscate complex emotional and lyrical twists and turns. Critics have generally characterized his music as depressing and intensely introverted, with one critic describing it as "a peep-show view into an insular world of alienation."[12]

In 2007, Callahan released Woke on a Whaleheart, his first solo album released under his own name. Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle followed in April 2009. Both recordings were released through Drag City, worldwide. In 2009, Callahan contributed cover songs on four separate tribute albums to Judee Sill, Kath Bloom, Chris Knox, and Merge Records. In 2010, he released his first live album Rough Travel for a Rare Thing, which was recorded in 2007 at The Toff in Melbourne, Australia. Apocalypse was released in April 2011 to favorable reviews. Critic Sasha Frere-Jones called it "my favorite of Callahan's albums, not because it has better songs—those are scattered among at least five others – but because it does exactly what he wants it to do: it conveys an album’s coherence."[13] A tour film chronicling Callahan's 2011 Apocalypse tour was released in 2012.[14] His followup to Apocalypse, Dream River, was released in September 2013.[15] A dub remix of the album entitled Have Fun With God followed in January 2014.[16] In 2018, Callahan was featured in the Live at Third Man Records series. This was his second live album, and features songs from Callahan's previous three studio albums.[17]

Callahan took a hiatus from making music after the birth of his son in 2015 and for a time he considered quitting music altogether, citing the demands of being a parent.[18] His musical hiatus ended with the release of Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, on June 14, 2019.[19] It received favourable reviews, with Pitchfork contributing editor Jayson Greene referring to it as a "highlight of his career".[20][21] His more prolific pace has since returned with the release of Gold Record, in September 2020.[22]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Callahan and Will Oldham collaborated on a series of cover songs along with several special guests that they released as a series of videos on YouTube. They compiled these songs into the album Blind Date Party that was released in December 2021.[23] Callahan's latest solo album YTI​⅃​A​Ǝ​Я followed in October 2022.[24]

His song "Drover" features prominently in the final episode of the documentary series Wild Wild Country, the title of which is drawn from the song's chorus. His song "America" also plays during the credits of Episode 1.[25][26]

His cover of Kath Bloom's "The Breeze/My Baby Cries" is featured in the fifth episode of the third series of Sex Education.[27]

Personal life[edit]

Though he was born in Maryland, Callahan's family spent a total of eight years living in Knaresborough in England's North Riding of Yorkshire, with a four-year return to Maryland from 1969 to 1973.[5] His parents worked as language analysts for the National Security Agency.[28] He currently lives in Austin, TX.[29]

In 2013, he became engaged to photographer and filmmaker Hanly Banks; they were married the next year. Their son, Bass, was born in March 2015.[30] They also have a daughter born in either 2019 or 2020.[31]


In July 2010 Drag City published Callahan's Letters to Emma Bowlcut, an epistolary novel.

A book of photographs of Callahan by Chris Taylor, titled The Life and Times of William Callahan, was released in January 2013.[32]

In October 2014, a collection of ink drawings by Callahan and lyrics spanning his first album as Smog, to Dream River was released, titled I Drive a Valence.


In November 2021, British experimental band Squid covered Callahan's song "America!".


As Smog[edit]

As Bill Callahan[edit]



Year Title Role
1999 Pola X Musician
2012 Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film[34]


2013 I Used to Be Darker Composer


Year Title Role Notes
2017 Animals Narrator (voice) Episode: "Worms Birds Possums"[35]


  1. ^ Martins, Chris (October 14, 2013). "Hear Bill Callahan Cover Walt Whitman, Play 'Dream River' at Studio 360". Spin. Retrieved April 21, 2024.
  2. ^ "Bill Callahan: I want to be alone". The Independent. September 21, 2001. Retrieved April 21, 2024.
  3. ^ a b Murray, Noel (May 8, 2007). "Bill Callahan: Woke On A Whaleheart". The A.V. Club. Retrieved April 21, 2024.
  4. ^ Enos, Morgan (June 17, 2019). "Bill Callahan Gives His Take on Every No. 1 Song of 2019 So Far, From 'Thank U, Next' to 'Old Town Road'". Billboard. Retrieved April 21, 2024.
  5. ^ a b Thompson, Ben (May 11, 1997). "Bill Callahan spares nobody in his songs – himself least of all". The Independent. p. 18.
  6. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Smog | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  7. ^ "Bill Callahan". DrownedInSound. Archived from the original on March 15, 2016. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  8. ^ "Bill Callahan | Drag City". Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  9. ^ LeMay, Matt (March 31, 2001). "Smog: Sewn to the Sky". Pitchfork. Pitchfork. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  10. ^ "Cynthia Dall - In the Mix - Music - Music - November 7, 2002". Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  11. ^ Raymond, Jon. "Bill Callahan" Archived October 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, BOMB Magazine, Summer, 2009. Retrieved August 1, 2011.
  12. ^ Bill Callahan at AllMusic
  13. ^ Sasha Frere-Jones. "Apocalypse review". Archived from the original on September 21, 2013. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  14. ^ Bill Callahan Tour Chronicled in Documentary | News. Pitchfork (January 26, 2012). Retrieved on September 18, 2012.
  15. ^ "Bill Callahan's Dream River". The New York Times. September 18, 2013. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  16. ^ "Have Fun With God". Bandcamp. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  17. ^ Sodomsky, Sam (November 9, 2018). "Bill Callahan, WHY? Release New Live at Third Man Albums: Listen". Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  18. ^ Hyden, Steven (October 12, 2022). "Bill Callahan Reviews His Own Albums, Including The New 'Reality'". Uproxx. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  19. ^ "Stream Bill Callahan's New Album 'Shepard in a Sheepskin Vest'". Spin. June 14, 2019. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  20. ^ "Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest by Bill Callahan". Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  21. ^ "Bill Callahan: Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest". Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  22. ^ "Gold Record". Bandcamp. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  23. ^ Woodbury, Jason (December 28, 2021). "Blind Date Party". Pitchfork. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  24. ^ "YTILAƎЯ". Bandcamp. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  25. ^ "How "Wild Wild Country" Uses Indie Folk to Frame a Quintessentially American Story". April 12, 2018. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  26. ^ Amter, Charlie (April 18, 2018). "The Music Behind the Guru: Inside the Making of the 'Wild Wild Country' Soundtrack". Variety. Retrieved April 12, 2022.
  27. ^ "'Sex Education' Music Supervisor Reveals Meaning Behind Season 3's Soundtrack". Newsweek. September 22, 2021. Archived from the original on September 22, 2021.
  28. ^ Ratliff, Ben (April 8, 2011). "He Can Sing It, if Not Speak It". The New York Times.
  29. ^ Hyden, Steven (October 12, 2022). "Bill Callahan Reviews His Own Albums, Including The New 'Reality'". Uproxx. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  30. ^ Bevan, David. (September 17, 2013) Bill Callahan Rolls on Like a River | SPIN | Profiles. Retrieved on April 23, 2014.
  31. ^ Snapes, Laura (September 28, 2022). "Bill Callahan's listening diary: 'My daughter makes me listen to Harry Styles 20 times in a row'". The Guardian. Retrieved October 17, 2022.
  32. ^ Preview The Life and Times of William Callahan, a Photo Essay by Chris Taylor. The Fader (June 7, 2013). Retrieved on April 23, 2014.
  33. ^ Hussey, Allison (August 15, 2022). "Bill Callahan Announces New Album Ytilaer". Pitchfork. Retrieved August 15, 2022.
  34. ^ "Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film". Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  35. ^ "Worms Birds Possums". Retrieved September 4, 2019.

External links[edit]