Wolfroy comes to town

“Go folks! Go forth! Go folks! Trust your brain! Trust your body!” Perhaps the myths that cast Bonnie “Prince” Billy (stage name of Kentucky-born musician Will Oldham) as a misanthrope who spurns human interaction, especially media interviews, can be put to rest. A sagacious quality colors Oldham’s recent work, a brightness that remains earthbound, prizing flesh over philosophy. Take the hopeful single “Quail and Dumplings,” from the Oct. 4 full-length Wolfroy Goes to Town: “Quail and dumplings, now to the end / God and her minions, as our bosom friends / got empty tummies, but it won’t always be / one day it’s gonna be quail and dumplings for we.” In his conversation with Xpress, Oldham’s tone was just as generous. Recurrent themes centered on collaboration, community, presence and family — and how playing music can invite others into an otherwise solitary life.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy on Wolfroy Goes to Town:

“It is a name I’d come up with a number of years ago. It’s a mash-up of the wild animal and royalty. I didn’t really use [the name]. A friend of mine, Lori Damiano — I saw a show of hers once and there was a painting called “Wolfroy Goes to Town.” She’s one of my very favorite artists, and I loved the painting as well. I bought the painting and it’s in my house. I look at it every day. At one point, maybe a year and a half ago, I was beginning to write songs and looking at [the painting]. It’s been an inspiration. She’s an inspiration to me.”

On company (and cash):

“The two things that keep me going are the collaborations and the paychecks. The reason that some of us — myself definitely included, and I think that for many of the musicians and visual artists that I have an affinity for — do what we do is because we want to communicate, and that’s how we can communicate. Our workplaces are pretty solitary. So, our social interaction is collaboration — rather than just accepting the solitary life. It is not a solitary life. And, it can be, for the soldier and the civilian, not a solitary life, but a shared experience.”

On perverse hungers:

“For the past 10 years, the idea of doing the regional tours is to not have where we are be a negligent or coincidental factor in what the tour experience is, but to have it be as active a part of where we’re going to be as possible. You can’t eliminate the anonymity of the audience, but you can chip away at it. But, as perverse as my musical hungers or appetites have always been, they’ll probably only get more perverse. It’s not anonymous insofar as there’s a warmth to help understand where music has value for more than one person, where a song has value for more than one person. I don’t care if it’s more than 10,000 people, but it has to be more than me, or more than five of us.”

On sudden visitors:

“Look, there’s a little kitty on my front porch.”

On characters:

“I’m reading a book now called The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis. It’s about a young woman, a chess genius. I’m finding that the perspective that I’m getting from her, and the compassion that I’m feeling for her, the equilibrium she’s giving me now is invaluable

On clues:

“The most important thing about press and publicity for a new record is to let people know that it exists, and to give one or two clues that are trying to push people’s buttons if the buttons are there to be pushed. If there’s anything intriguing about the record, hopefully that intrigue is related to a greater experience that will be had upon listening to the record. But there are no words or descriptions that I feel could pull somebody into a record that would then be expanded upon. People’s feelings about music and the music that moves us is so crazily different from person to person. Even sonic qualities or something you think would be objective. A great guitar player does not mean the same thing to everybody.”

On the science of hearing:

“I hope a live a long enough life to where there is a greater examination of the ear and the brain and how that relates to musical taste. Could it be cool if someone could recommend music to you based on anatomical profiles and chemical profiles of how you were made up? That could be great. Someone would say ‘you would like this record,’ and you’re just like, ‘oh my God, thank you.’”

On waking up in Asheville:

“I’m looking forward to it. The work of Bascom Lamar Lunsford has meant something to me, and most of that work was done in neighboring Mars Hill. I think we’ll stay in Asheville, too, to cool our heels. We might even drive there from Knoxville the night before. It’s a rare treat to spend two nights in a row in the same bed when you’re on tour. And Asheville is a nice place to wake up.

— Jaye Bartell can be reached at jbartell@mountainx.com

who: Bonnie “Prince” Billy (with Phantom Family Halo)
where: Marshall High Studios, Marshall, N.C. (Limited round-trip shuttle service available for $10)
when: Wednesday, Oct. 5 (8 p.m., $15/$18 harvest-records.com)

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