Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (born 24 December 1970 in Louisville, Kentucky), is an American singer, songwriter, and actor. Prior to adopting his current moniker, he performed and recorded under various permutations of the Palace name, including Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, and Palace Music (1993-1997).
Will 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, although Oldham is dissatisfied with these labels: "I don't think it's roots music, though it's definitely influenced by Western popular music." He has been called an "Appalachian post-punk solipsist" and is notable for his unique voice, which has been described as "a fragile sort-of warble frittering around haunted melodies in the American folk or country tradition."
Will 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. I mean, I don't want people buying my records and being disappointed that it doesn't sound like the last one... Within my own tiny little world, the first full-length Palace record is with one kind of musician and it was recorded in a certain type of way, while the second one was completely different-sounding and there was a fifth of the amount of people involved. The songs to me also seemed really different. And then the third record was another completely different recording environment and I had different kinds of musicians involved. So those things seemed different enough for me to alter the name. I'll admit that that's just me in the process of moving forward without any benefit of perspective, distance, or time whatsoever.||”|
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.||”|
Oldham has explained that "the primary purpose of the pseudonym is to allow both the audience and the performer to have a relationship with the performed 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)
- Superwolf – Matt Sweeney & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (2005)
- The Brave and the Bold – Tortoise & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (2006)
- The Letting Go – Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (2006)
- Wai Notes – Dawn McCarthy and Bonny Billy (2007)
- Wilding in the West – Bonnie "Prince" Billy (2007)
- Lie Down in the Light – Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (2008)
- Is It The Sea? – Bonnie 'Prince' Billy with Harem Scarem and Alex Neilson (2008)
- Beware - Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (2009)
Much of Will Oldham's music has received considerable critical praise. Some of his albums, such as There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You (1993), Viva Last Blues (1995), and I See a Darkness (1999), have appeared on greatest albums lists.
Will Oldham began his acting career at the age of 17, when he portrayed a teen preacher in John Sayles's film about an Appalachian mining community, Matewan (1987). Oldham moved to Hollywood to pursue acting, and was well received, landing roles in a couple of films. However, he quickly became disillusioned with the film industry and quit in 1989. He has since had several minor roles in independent films, such as Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), Junebug (2005), and The Guatemalan Handshake (2006). Oldham took a lead role in Old Joy, which was featured at SXSW XX and opened at New York's Film Forum on September 20, 2006. Will Oldham also played the role of a preacher in the Horse Apples special of Wondershowzen in series 2 of the show.
- 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)
- Wendy and Lucy (2008)
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. [sic]"
- Bonnie 'Prince' Billy official website
- Will Oldham at Drag City (record label)
- Bonnie 'Prince' Billy at Domino Records (record label)
- Will Oldham at Allmusic
- Will Oldham at the Internet Movie Database
- The Royal Stable - Fan site with news, photos, tour dates, etc.
- The Pulpit - Fan site with some lyrics and tablature
- Daytrotter session
- The Wanderer - Chico News & Review article
- How Can I Know? How Can I Care? - 3am article
- Freewilliamsburg.com interview
- How Was the Show? Review of Will Oldham live
- Touching the Void Signal to Noise article (PDF)
- Foggy Notion article (PDF)
- The Journey of Will Oldham Skyscraper article (GIF)
- The Man Who Would Be King Mojo article (PDF)
- Bonnie 'Prince' Billy as Guest DJ at NPR Music
- The Pretender - Profile of Will Oldham in The New Yorker
Biography from Wikipedia