Will Oldham, June 6, 2009
|Birth name||Will Oldham|
|Also known as||Palace Flophouse|
Bonnie "Prince" Billy
|Born||January 15, 1970|
Louisville, Kentucky, United States
|Labels||Drag City, Domino, Spunk|
|Associated acts||Dawn 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|
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.
Oldham was born on January 15, 1970, in Louisville, Kentucky. His mother, Joanne Lei Will Tafel Oldham, was a teacher and artist. His father, Joseph Collins Oldham, was an attorney and photographer. 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 southern Indiana. He began making music during this time, initially as a project for his professor Jeff Todd Titon, an ethnomusicologist at Brown University. He married the textile artist Elsa Hansen Oldham in 2016. They had a child together in 2018.
Oldham is known for his "do-it-yourself punk aesthetic and blunt honesty," and his music has been likened to Americana, folk, roots, country, punk, and indie rock. He has been called an "Appalachian post-punk solipsist", with a voice that has been described as "a fragile sort-of warble frittering around haunted melodies in the American folk or country tradition."
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:
Well, 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.
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:
Yeah, the 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.
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."
- There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You – Palace Brothers (1993)
- Days in the Wake – Palace Brothers (1994)
- Viva Last Blues – Palace Music (1995)
- Arise Therefore – Palace Music (1996)
- Joya – Will Oldham (1997)
- I See a Darkness – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (1999)
- Ease Down the Road – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2001)
- Master and Everyone – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2003)
- Sings Greatest Palace Music – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2004) (reworkings of earlier songs)
- Superwolf – Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2005)
- The Brave and the Bold – Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2006) (covers album)
- The Letting Go – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2006)
- Lie Down in the Light – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2008)
- Beware – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2009)
- The Wonder Show of the World – Bonnie "Prince" Billy and the Cairo Gang (2010)
- Wolfroy Goes to Town – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2011)
- Bonnie "Prince" Billy – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2013) (EP)
- Singer's Grave – A Sea of Tongues – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2014) (reworkings of songs from Wolfroy Goes to Town)
- Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties – Bitchin Bajas and Bonnie Prince Billy (2016)
- Best Troubador – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2017) (covers of Merle Haggard songs)
- Wolf of the Cosmos – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2017) (cover of Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos by Susanna)
- Songs of Love and Horror – Will Oldham (2018) (reworkings of earlier songs)
- I Made a Place – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2019)
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
Oldham 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. 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).
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".
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. 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.
Oldham also provided voicework and inspiration for the character "Will" in the video game Kentucky Route Zero
- Matewan (1987), directed by John Sayles
- Everybody's Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure (1989) (TV movie)
- Thousand Pieces of Gold (1991)
- Elysian Fields (1993)
- Radiation (1998)
- Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) (uncredited role), directed by Harmony Korine
- Slitch (2003), directed by Dianne Bellino
- Tripping with Caveh (2004), directed by Caveh Zahedi
- Junebug (2005)
- The Guatemalan Handshake (2006)
- Old Joy (2006)
- Trapped in the Closet- Chapter 15 (2007)
- Wendy and Lucy (2008)
- Madam and Little Boy (2009)
- Music Makes a City (2010) voice
- Jackass 3D (2010)
- Pioneer (2011)
- New Jerusalem (2011)
- Magnetic Reconnection (2012) voice
- Edén (2014)
- A Ghost Story (2017)
Photography and editorial work
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."
- "Björk: Björk – The music from Drawing Restraint 9". Paste. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
- Alan Licht (Ed.) (2012), Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Faber and Faber Ltd., London, pp. viii. ISBN 978-0-571-25814-7.
- "Joanne Oldham (1942 - 2020) - Obituary". www.legacy.com. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
- "Joseph Oldham - Obituary". www.legacy.com. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
- Derek Walmsley (March 14, 2013). "Exclusive Bonnie 'Prince' Billy Interview". The Wire. Retrieved January 25, 2016.
- "Watch Bonnie "Prince" Billy Cover Merle Haggard With His Dogs on Morning TV Show – Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
- Pak, Minju (April 4, 2017). "Pop Culture Figures – Rendered in Embroidery". The New York Times. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
- "Episode 40: Will Oldham/Bonnie 'Prince' Billy ClifTones W/ JC Denison podcast".
- Baldwin, C. (March 28, 2002). "The Wanderer". Chico News & Review. Retrieved May 8, 2007.
- 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.
- "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" (PDF). Foggy Notion. April 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 10, 2007. Retrieved May 8, 2007.
- 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.
- Kim, Michelle (September 10, 2019). "Bonnie "Prince" Billy Announces New Album, Shares New Song: Listen". Pitchfork. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
- Irvin, Jim; Colin McLear (2003). The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion (3rd ed.). Canongate. p. 585. ISBN 1-84195-438-1.
- 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.
- Irvin, Jim; Colin McLear (2003). The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion (3rd ed.). Canongate. p. 651. ISBN 1-84195-438-1.
- Bowers, William (November 17, 2003). "The Top 100 Albums of the 1990s". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved May 8, 2007.
- Dimery, Robert (2006). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Universe. p. 854. ISBN 0-7893-1371-5.
- Roberts, Randall (June 3, 2009). "Will Oldham's Trouble with Hollywood". Dallas Observer. Retrieved January 16, 2010.
- The Kanye West/Will Oldham/Zach Galifianakis Collabo You Never Saw Coming. Wired, July 25, 2007. Retrieved on August 23, 2012.
- Webster, Andy (September 17, 2010). "Louisville, Ky., as a Contemporary Music Hub". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
- 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.
- McCarthy, Shannon. "Slint Lyrics and Biography" Musicianguide.com. Retrieved on November 25, 2007.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Will Oldham.|
- Bonnie "Prince" Billy official website
- Will Oldham discography at Discogs (includes links to alias profiles/discographies)
- Will Oldham at Drag City (record label)
- Bonnie "Prince" Billy at Domino Records (record label)
- Will Oldham at AllMusic
- Will Oldham on IMDb
- "I don't care, let's have some tea: A conversation with Bonnie "Prince" Billy" by Colin Cheney, 2004
- "The Pretender: Will Oldham transfigures American music" by Kelefa Sanneh in The New Yorker, 2009
- Interview with Oldham at Music Illuminati, 2010