ALL-AGES DIALOGUES, Part V: Will Oldham—"I think the best thing we can probably do would be to make fake IDs more available"

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photo by Valgeir Sigurðsson

The ALL-AGES Dialogues: A conversation with Will Oldham
by Jay Babcock

This interview was conducted by phone in late summer 2006, as part of a series of conversations I was doing with various folks regarding the history of all-ages, philosophy/ethic of all-ages, the state of play of all-ages, yadda yadda. Shoulda been published long ago but stuff kept going awry and we didn’t get it in the mag. Still, almost four years later, it’s a good, pertinent read. Thanks to Will for his time and patience, and special thanks to a certain friend of Arthur who transcribed this conversation a long time ago.

Will Oldham, as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, is traveling and playing shows right now with the Cairo Gang. More info: dragcity.com

Previously in this series:
Interview with John Sinclair (MC5 manager, activist, poet-historian)
Interview with Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag, Chuck Dukowski Sextet)
Interview with Calvin Johnson (K Records, Beat Happening, Dub Narcotic Sound System)
Interview with Greg Saunier (Deerhoof)


Arthur: Do you prefer to play all-ages shows? Is it a priority for you, or does it even matter?

Will Oldham: It matters and it makes a difference, but it isn’t a ‘priority.’ Does that make sense? Every show is contextualized for what it is—in that way, it’s important. But I guess my skewed stance is that I’ve always approached this work of making music in terms of… I think my main drive is to write and record music, so playing live is always just a weird experiment. So to me, every aspect of playing live is part of that weird experiment, whereas a lot of bands and musicians seem to make records of the music that they make. [For me] it’s the reverse. I think that every time that you play live, it’s like, ‘Whoa! What was that all about?’ It’s great whoever the audience is. You try to find the most fun audience, I guess.

Arthur: I noticed that when you are touring shortly, you’re playing a bunch of record stores…

Yeah, an all record-store tour.

Arthur: One of the weird things, from what I can tell about the performance environment in America, is that one of the few places where people of all ages can see quality music in a live setting now is the record store.

Yeah. “Quality music.” One thing that I had started to think about before we started on this topic was… like, how old are you?

Arthur: 35.

I’m 36, and my sense is that, if you won’t take offense, is that we are out of touch. There are quality shows going on six out of seven nights a week that are all-ages shows, in people’s houses, in public places, and we just don’t know those bands. Because I’ve seen some this year—I’ve seen some every year. And it’s like, Whoa, where’d these kids come from? And these kids came from the same places we came from, and they’re making great music that we don’t have access to, because… It’s the same way that bands that I went to see play 20 years ago, people who were 22, to 36, to 50, they would be saying ‘There’s just no music going on these days. There’s no shows like I remember.’ And meanwhile, I was having the fucking time of my life! Continue reading

Will Oldham on his Double Chocolate Chess Pie, as told to Gabe Soria

Come On In My Kitchen (column)

This issue’s chef: WILL OLDHAM of Louisville, Kentucky
as told to Gabe Soria

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Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (April 2004)

I’ve been making different kinds of chess pie for most of my life; it’s like pecan pie without the pecans in it. I think vinegar pie is similar, and transparent pie is similar. It’s just slightly different proportions of the different ingredients and consistencies, otherwise it’s the same thing: the magic of sugar mixed with butter mixed with eggs thrown in a piecrust.

Will Oldham’s Double Chocolate Chess Pie

1/2 c. Butter
2 oz. Chocolate, unsweetened
1 c. Sugar
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. Crème de Cacao liqueur
2 tbs. All-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tbsp. Salt
1 Pie shell
Vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan over low heat, melt butter and chocolate. Remove from heat. Blend in sugar, eggs, liqueur, flour, salt and vanilla extract into melted butter and chocolate. Beat until smooth. Pour into the pie shell. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until set. Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.

There’s a place in Louisville called Homemade Ice Cream and Pies Kitchen that makes a really insane chocolate chess pie, and that might be where I first had it, ‘cause it opened when I was a teenager. [In Louisville] there’s also Derby Pie, which is pecan pie with bourbon and chocolate chips in it, but that’s not a full-on chocolate experience. In Birmingham, Alabama there used to be a place by the airport called BJ’s on the Runway and they made the best pies ever. They had a chocolate meringue pie, and the chocolate was… it was like a black hole. You got sucked into the whole thing and you didn’t come out until the pie was gone. It was six or seven inches high, with this meringue. Amazing pie. I think that that was when I realized what the possibilities were in a chocolate pie.

[I make chess pie] probably three times a year, ‘cause sometimes it’s easier to go to Homemade Ice Cream and Pies Kitchen to get a slice. I’ll make it for a recording session and we’ll just eat it over the course of the session. You get the rewards all along the way. It helps the music stay psyched. This

is nice, though, because it has this Crème de Cacao, and that’s a very good liqueur. I like it. I can have a scoop of vanilla ice cream with whiskey poured over it. It’s good. In Italy they call it an “Apogato”, which means drowned man, and you can have it with your choice of liquor. Sometimes sweet potato pie with a little bit of bourbon or rum cooked into it can be really delicious.

Chess pie and sweet potato pie are two things widely available in varying recipes all across Louisville. It’s a very exciting place for pie. There’s a bakery in Louisville called Plehn’s Bakery that makes a caramel ice cream, and the caramel ice cream from there mixed with the chocolate chess pie from Homemade Ice Cream and Pies Kitchen is… it’s beyond description. When you take a bite of it, it’s like… how you know… it helps you recognize how omnipotent and indescribable God is. Because this food, you know, goes beyond, and obviously God, you know, God would go beyond anything a Pope could tell you, or an imam could say about, or rabbis, you know? They can pretend that they can tell you about God, but it’s way fucking beyond their comprehension, no matter how many books they read or how much they whip their back or do whatever they do. It’s the same thing with the pies when you realize that the way things work is way beyond anything you could comprehend. We can put [the ingredients] together, but we can’t explain why, when you put them together, why they do what they do.

Tuesday Evening Listening: When You Awake Mixtapes

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Our pal Jody over at When You Awake has a new mixtape up, put together by Akron/Family member Dana Janssen. It’s called Top 10 Songs To Ride A Bike Thru NYC To and it features pedal-pushing hits from Harvey Milk, Fela, Tinariwen and Lil Wayne. It’s an annotated mixtape, naturally, so you can also look for tips on what to look out for (curbs) and drink after the ride (kombucha). Check it out here.

She also reminds us that Akron/Family will be playing a three-night run at the Steve Allen Theatre here in Los Angeles on March 10, 11 and 12, no doubt previewing material from their new album, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free, due out on May 5. The show is presented by Arthur and Aquarium Drunkard, and all you need to know is found by clicking here.

While you’re over at When You Awake you should also totally check out their double-disc set of post-Valentine’s Day jams, Music For The Morning After, featuring one disc of songs selected by bands like Vetiver, Howlin Rain and Beachwood Sparks. Disc two has another set of jams picked by writers, bloggers and DJs including Aquarium Drunkard, Little Radio, and a very special foresty nugget contributed by your humble Arthur Magazine contributing editor. Go get it here.

More on our selection, Kate Wolf’s “Early Morning Melody,” plus a bonus track after the jump.

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"We're all going one way, but we may as well get down to it while we're here"*

(*John Martyn talking about the themes of mortality on 1970’s Road To Ruin)

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John Martyn’s two 1970 albums with his wife Beverley — Stormbringer! and Road to Ruin — are near perfect examples of lush, freewheeling ’70s folk music. There’s the intricate guitar picking that characterized his earlier work on albums like The Tumbler, and there are a few of the jazz affectations that defined his later, more experimental efforts like Bless The Weather and Solid Air. But mostly this is the sound of two people in love, holed up with pals like Levon Helm in the idyllic countryside of Woodstock NY — e.g. just look at the two Martyns huddled together on Stormbringer!‘s awesome cover (later appropriated by Wooden Wand & The Sky High Band for their 2006 album, Second Attention). On his website, John offers these memories of the sessions:

“It was the year of the festival. We just lived there and worked with Paul Harris very quickly and very briefly and we just went into the studio and did it very one-off, very swift. Levon Helm and Harvey Brooks we met in Woodstock and used them, just because they were friends. It seemed obvious that they should be on it. Dylan lived up the road, and Hendrix lived virtually next door. He used to arrive every Thursday in a purple helicopter, stay the weekend, and leave on the Monday. He was amazing…a good lad.”

Here’s my favorite song from the album, the absolutely magnificent “John The Baptist.”

Download “John The Baptist”

On his 2006 tour Will Oldham was playing a hybridized cover version of Martyn’s “John The Baptist” and another song on the same subject by Virginia country gospel players E.C. and Ornal Ball. Here’s an acoustic version of Oldham’s medley, from his August 2006 run at Joe’s Pub in NYC. (Thanks to Aquarium Drunkard for posting the complete Joe’s Pub sets back in December).

Download Will Oldham’s “John The Baptist”

Road to Ruin–also recorded in 1970–has more of the same but with lots more jazz playing. It includes the melancholy vacation anthem “Give Us A Ring,” in which the couple ask their friend Nick Drake to bring them something cool back from his time abroad.

Download “Give Us A Ring”

Martyn went on to make weird, wonderful records that spanned folk, improv, ambient and reggae, but those two albums with his wife — they divorced in the late ’70s — will always be my favorites.

John Martyn died today of pneumonia. He was 60. Various obituaries and remembrances after the jump.

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