The higher-ups at the Apples and the Googles would love us to forget that there is any value to anything we did five seconds ago. It’s like you are not supposed to value anything that came before this moment unless it’s a timeline that’s on the cloud. But actually everything that led up to this moment is valid and bursting, so I wanted to put out a record that points to that.
BY ERIN MALYSA
Chicago INNERVIEW spoke with Will Oldham on a Saturday afternoon as he was, naturally, driving around Louisville looking for latches and wood screws to mend the backyard fence at the home of his soon-to-be in-laws. Dog-proofing the yard for his Kentucky Pocket Wolf, Oldham’s 23-year music career has been immune to deterioration as the prolific indie folk singer/songwriter’s warbling voice and haunted melodies have kept fans on their toes for 19 eccentric albums on Chicago-based Drag City, the most recent of which is this year’s Pond Scum.
In addition to music, Oldham is an actor who has appeared in a variety of indie films such as 2006’s Old Joy (not to mention appearing in a music video for Kanye West and playing a gorilla trainer in Jackass 3D.) He also dabbles in photography, having shot the cover photo of Slint’s 1991 album Spiderland. Currently, Oldham is gearing up for his upcoming tour with Bitchin Bajas to promote their new collaborative release, Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties.
Chicago INNERVIEW: You’ve had a long career as an actor, musician and artist. Do you think it’s artistically important to work in various formats?
Will Oldham: It doesn’t hurt. Music is the thing that at the beginning and end of the day is the thing that I put the most into and get the most out of, but it helps to get perspective from another medium. There are those few people who are deeply and insanely magically focused on one thing, but I think you’ll find that anyone who digs deep needs to step back here and there. And it’s good to step back into another medium because you’re still learning things about perception, audience, connection and expression.
Chicago INNERVIEW: You’re an incredibly prolific musician. What is your creative process?
Will Oldham: It’s going to vary. A good portion of things I get involved in is due to collaboration, so there is a resetting of the rules. If it comes from me from the ground up, then I build them gradually and fine tune them as long as I can get away with understanding the whole purpose of them existing is to be recorded and given to an audience so that there can be an exchange. Some of that is the banal exchange of money for music. You could spend forever on something, but then you won’t have achieved the purpose of making a living.
CI: What or who was your artistic influence growing up?
WO: As a kid, it was probably tied up with the folks here in the theatre in Louisville. I loved watching old movies. My brain imagined that let’s say Cary Grant was a focused artist with a trajectory in mind that he was shaping all along, but as I grew up I realized that it probably wasn’t the case. When I started to realize that there is something magical about a musical artist, then I would dive deeply into that sound. I would go to record stores and find it. I would build imaginary artistic evolutions for different singers or painters or actors or directors and bounce from one to another from Lou Reed to Sam Peckinpah to Paul Gauguin. I would romanticize, narrativize things and it was helpful, as a kid from Louisville, to make sense of it.
CI: At this point in your career, why release songs from your BBC Peel Sessions on your latest album Pond Scum?
WO: Every once in a while, a friend will play a song from the BBC sessions and it sounded great. We always tried to bring it at those sessions, it was our opportunity to record a chemistry between a group of traveling musicians. The main drive is a little fight back to the way that people consume art and put things behind them so regularly and so quickly. It’s a way to play into people’s desire and programming to have new songs and cutting edge — or at least present with the present — but at the same time, trick them into participating in the not-so-distant past. The higher-ups at the Apples and the Googles would love us to forget that there is any value to anything we did five seconds ago. It’s like you are not supposed to value anything that came before this moment unless it’s a timeline that’s on the cloud. But actually everything that led up to this moment is valid and bursting, so I wanted to put out a record that points to that.
CI: How did the collaboration with Bitchin Bajas come together?
WO: It was meeting the Bitchin Bajas. I was fascinated by their work and we travelled together for a little bit. It’s always crucial to learn about common practical logic of approaching the logistics of travel, music, recording, et cetera. The progress of putting the piece together moved at a very nice pace and I couldn’t wait to see what the next step was and we really enjoyed the process. Neither of us felt stressed about what we’d done and that’s so rare and so crucial, so we decided to record it over the six to nine months. They’d walk in the door from the road and 45 minutes later, we’d be recording. Our mindset was the same.
CI: There has been an influx in the last five years of record labels and recording artists putting songs out on cassette. How do you feel about the resurgence of this format?
WO: I love them. The music I listen to on any given day can be on MP3, cassette, CD, vinyl or broadcasted over the radio. The group of people, whether artists or cassette labels, making tapes are so strong. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe because people are inheriting vehicles that had tape decks. I don’t appreciate the people who run the big businesses putting their hand in my record collection and trying to actively change the way I approach listening to music and owning and collecting music. Now more than ever before, they are trying to wipe out and destroy relationships to music and start from zero. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have to rethink my whole approach to listening to music. If I listen to cassettes, no one is going to mess with me. The batteries may run out, but I’ll go buy new batteries.