Will Oldham

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Will Oldham
Oldham in 2009
Oldham in 2009
Background information
Also known asPalace Flophouse
Palace Brothers
Palace Music
Palace Songs
Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Born (1970-01-15) January 15, 1970 (age 52)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Years active1993–present
LabelsDrag City, Domino, Spunk
Associated actsDawn McCarthy, Boxhead Ensemble, The Cairo Gang, Mekons, Matt Sweeney, Mick Turner, Tortoise, Trembling Bells, Harem Scarem, The Picket Line, Alex Neilson, Björk, Slint, Silver Jews, Joan Shelley, Bill Callahan

Joseph Will Oldham (born January 15, 1970) is an American singer-songwriter and actor. From 1993 to 1997, he performed and recorded in collaboration with dozens of other musicians under variations of Palace (Palace, Palace Flophouse, Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, and Palace Music). After briefly publishing music under his own name, in 1998 he adopted Bonnie "Prince" Billy as the name for most of his work.

Early life and education[edit]

Oldham was born on January 15, 1970, in Louisville, Kentucky.[2] His mother, Joanne Lei Will Tafel Oldham, was a teacher and artist.[3] His father, Joseph Collins Oldham, was an attorney and photographer.[4] Oldham graduated from the J. Graham Brown School in 1988. He attended Brown University sporadically while pursuing a career as an actor, and living between Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Bloomington, Indiana.[5] He began making music during this time, initially as a project for his professor Jeff Todd Titon, an ethnomusicologist at Brown University.[6]


Oldham in 2017

Oldham is known for his "do-it-yourself punk aesthetic and blunt honesty",[7] and his music has been likened to Americana, folk, roots, country, punk, and indie rock. He has been called an "Appalachian post-punk solipsist",[7] with a voice that has been described as "a fragile sort-of warble frittering around haunted melodies in the American folk or country tradition."[7]

Oldham first performed and recorded under various permutations of the Palace name, including Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, Palace Music, and simply Palace. Regarding the name changes during this period (1993–1997), Oldham said:

I guess the idea is that when you have a name of a group or an artist, then you expect that the next record, if it has the same name, should be the same group of people playing on it. And I just thought we were making a different kind of record each time, with different people, and different themes, and different sounds. So I thought it was important to call it something different so that people would be aware of the differences.[8]

Will stated in a 1995 interview with KCRW that the name Palace Flophouse was inspired by reading John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. Beginning in 1998, Oldham has primarily used the moniker Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, which draws inspiration from several sources:

[T]he name has so many different references that it could almost have a life of its own. Bonnie Prince Charlie has such a beautiful ring to it, and I was very conscious of appropriating that mellifluous sound. And I was also thinking about the name Nat King Cole. But it wasn't until later, and this may have been subconscious, that I remembered that Billy the Kid was William Bonney or Billy Bonney.[8]

He has explained that "the primary purpose of the pseudonym is to allow both the audience and the performer to have a relationship with the performer that is valid and unbreakable."[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Some of his albums, such as There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You (1993),[10] Viva Last Blues (1995),[11] and I See a Darkness (1999),[12][13][14] have appeared on greatest albums lists.

Johnny Cash recorded a version of "I See a Darkness" on his American Recordings disc American III: Solitary Man (2000). Oldham provided backing vocals. Marianne Faithfull included Oldham's "A King at Night" on her 2003 Kissin Time tour. Steve Adey also covered "I See a Darkness" on his 2006 LP All Things Real. Mark Kozelek recorded a version of Oldham's "New Partner" on his 2008 disc, The Finally LP. Katatonia covered "Oh How I Enjoy the Light" on their 2001 EP Tonight's Music. In 2009 Mark Lanegan and Soulsavers recorded a cover version of "You Will Miss Me When I Burn". The release is a split single, backed with the Lanegan-penned "Sunrise" featuring vocals by Oldham. In 2011, Deer Tick's cover of Oldham's song "Death to Everyone" appeared in an episode of Hell On Wheels. Cadaverous Condition covered "Black" on their To the Night Sky album (2006).

Film and other media[edit]

Oldham's first film acting role was as the teen preacher in John Sayles's film Matewan (released 1987), a dramatization of the life of Appalachian mining community in the 1920s and the Battle of Matewan. Following this, he moved to Hollywood to pursue a career as an actor.[15] He played the role of Chip McClure in Everybody's Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure (released 1989), and the role of Miles in the film Thousand Pieces of Gold (released 1991).

Oldham played minor roles in Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), Junebug (2005), and The Guatemalan Handshake (2006).

In 2004, Oldham appeared as himself in the short documentary film "Tripping With Caveh", by Caveh Zahedi.

Oldham played a lead role as Kurt in Kelly Reichardt's film Old Joy (released 2006). He was Pastor Pigmeat in the "Horse Apples" special, episode 207, of WonderShowzen. In 2007, he starred alongside Zach Galifianakis in a music video for Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing".[16]

In 2009, Oldham narrated "Madam and Little Boy", a documentary film about atomic weapons, directed by Swedish artist Magnus Bärtås.

In 2010, Oldham narrated Music Makes a City, a documentary about the formation of the Louisville Orchestra, directed by Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler.[17] Also in 2010, Oldham appeared in Jackass 3D as a gorilla trainer. As part of an agreement to play that role, he wrote a theme song, in the style of a Saturday-morning cartoon show, for filmmaker Lance Bangs.[18]

Oldham also provided voice work and inspiration for the character "Will" in the video game Kentucky Route Zero

Photography and editorial work[edit]

Oldham shot the black-and-white cover photograph of Slint's 1991 album Spiderland, showing the band members treading water in the lake of an abandoned quarry.[19]

Oldham also featured as guest aesthetic designer for the North American literary magazine Zoetrope All Story (vol 11, no 1) in 2007. In a note contained in the issue, he jokes that it would be "really magnificent to imagine this issue as a cocktail party at which all of the contributors, word and image, are present. add a bowl of keys and some mushroom cookies and i am there."[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

He married the textile artist Elsa Hansen Oldham in 2016.[20][21] They had a child together in 2018.[22]


Studio albums[edit]



Year Title Role Notes
1985 What Comes Around Young Tom Hawkins
1987 Matewan Danny Radnor
1990 Thousand Pieces of Gold Miles
1999 Radiation Will
1999 Julien Donkey-Boy Uncredited
2005 Junebug Bill Mooney, scout
2006 Old Joy Kurt
2006 The Guatemalan Handshake Donald Turnupseed
2008 Wendy and Lucy Icky
2010 Jackass 3D Himself
2011 New Jerusalem Ike Evans
2014 Eden John
2017 A Ghost Story Prognosticator
2021 Hands that Bind Barkeep


Year Title Role Notes
1989 Everybody's Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure Chip Mcclure Television film
2006 Wonder Showzen Pastor Pigmeat Episode: "Horse Apples"
2007 Trapped in the Closet Chapters 13–22 Sgt. Platoon Video
2008 Xavier: Renegade Angel Reverend Episode: "Signs from Godrilla"
2018 Animals Father Ferret Episode: "At a Loss for Words When We Needed Them Most or...

The Rise and Fall of GrabBagVille"

2020 The Midnight Gospel Bubble Max Episode: "Vulture with Honor"


  1. ^ "Björk: Björk – The music from Drawing Restraint 9". Paste. June 30, 2008. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  2. ^ Alan Licht (Ed.) (2012), Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Faber and Faber Ltd., London, pp. viii. ISBN 978-0-571-25814-7.
  3. ^ "Joanne Oldham (1942 - 2020) - Obituary". legacy.com. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
  4. ^ "Joseph Oldham - Obituary". legacy.com. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
  5. ^ Adam Schwartz (February 17, 2016). "Bonnie "Prince" Billy Tells of His Royal Roots". [Indiana Public Media]. Retrieved July 14, 2021.
  6. ^ Derek Walmsley (March 14, 2013). "Exclusive Bonnie 'Prince' Billy Interview". The Wire. Retrieved January 25, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Baldwin, C. (March 28, 2002). "The Wanderer". Chico News & Review. Retrieved May 8, 2007.
  8. ^ a b Ashare, Matt (January 20, 2003). "Mystery Man: Palace Brother Will Oldham becomes Bonnie 'Prince' Billy". The Phoenix. Archived from the original on December 2, 2008. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  9. ^ "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" (PDF). Foggy Notion. April 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 10, 2007. Retrieved May 8, 2007.
  10. ^ Irvin, Jim; Colin McLear (2003). The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion (3rd ed.). Canongate. p. 585. ISBN 1-84195-438-1.
  11. ^ LeMay, Matt (November 17, 2003). "The Top 100 Albums of the 1990s". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on May 6, 2007. Retrieved May 8, 2007.
  12. ^ Irvin, Jim; Colin McLear (2003). The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion (3rd ed.). Canongate. p. 651. ISBN 1-84195-438-1.
  13. ^ Bowers, William (November 17, 2003). "The Top 100 Albums of the 1990s". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved May 8, 2007.
  14. ^ Dimery, Robert (2006). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Universe. p. 854. ISBN 0-7893-1371-5.
  15. ^ Roberts, Randall (June 3, 2009). "Will Oldham's Trouble with Hollywood". Dallas Observer. Retrieved January 16, 2010.
  16. ^ The Kanye West/Will Oldham/Zach Galifianakis Collabo You Never Saw Coming. Wired, July 25, 2007. Retrieved on August 23, 2012.
  17. ^ Webster, Andy (September 17, 2010). "Louisville, Ky., as a Contemporary Music Hub". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  18. ^ Will Oldham Discusses Jackass 3D, Working on 'Blueprints' for New Album Archived March 12, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Buzzgrinder.com (March 9, 2011). Retrieved on May 4, 2012.
  19. ^ McCarthy, Shannon. "Slint Lyrics and Biography" Musicianguide.com. Retrieved on November 25, 2007.
  20. ^ "Watch Bonnie "Prince" Billy Cover Merle Haggard With His Dogs on Morning TV Show – Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  21. ^ Pak, Minju (April 4, 2017). "Pop Culture Figures – Rendered in Embroidery". The New York Times. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  22. ^ "Episode 40: Will Oldham/Bonnie 'Prince' Billy ClifTones W/ JC Denison podcast".
  23. ^ Knott, Alex. (April 30, 2012) Bonnie 'Prince' Billy announced new EP, book + reissue of 6 LP's | Music News. Frost Magazine. Retrieved on May 4, 2012.
  24. ^ Kim, Michelle (September 10, 2019). "Bonnie "Prince" Billy Announces New Album, Shares New Song: Listen". Pitchfork. Retrieved September 10, 2019.

External links[edit]