Name: Will Oldham
Occupation: Musician / actor
Bands/Projects: Will Oldham / Bonnie 'Prince' Billy / Palace Brothers / Palace Music
Labels: Drag City / Domino
Artist Recommendations: Francis Bebey / Elsa Hansen
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
You have paired two distinct questions and so the answer will be geared towards relating those two distinct lines of questioning to each other. Men some years older than me, on whose couch I was sleeping, told me to write a song that we could record. Then I moved into a closet across the country and another older fellow told me to write songs so that we could record them. Then when I moved in with my older brother, he told me to write a song that so that we could record it. So, these older guys were the direct reason that I began writing songs, and each time the songs were intended to be recorded.
The passions at the time: balancing freedom and participation. Same as now.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you?
I’m sure I never wanted to make something that was essentially like something else; what would be the point? So always it was about figuring out what I could make that nobody else could really make, for better or worse. All of the songs I assembled needed to be related to other things, because all of the songs I assembled were for other people.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I am constantly battling a tendency towards isolation. So the discipline and practice is, much of the time, about opening up and reaching out.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
The recording room that I maintain is a small room in an old house, with white walls and a white painted wooden floor. Before I took it over, it was a bedroom shared by three young sisters. There is a small wooden closet that is a terrific place to sing if you want a tight, dry sound. The technology needs to be relatively invisible, because I feel a responsibility towards replicating the listening experience in the recording process. This is my room. It has windows that let in light and even sound. It’s also great to record in others’ spaces, like David Ferguson’s Butcher Shoppe in Nashville, or Mark Nevers’ Beech House in Nashville, or Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago. And lots of other places.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
All of my actual recording equipment broke a couple of weeks ago, so the big-machine aspect is in flux. I’ve grown to love my microphones and my guitars. My brother Paul used to work for a company in the bay area that makes bass guitars with necks made from carbon fibre. I have one of those. I like my music stand, my amplifier, and the microphone into which I sing at shows.
In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity?
I’m pretty sure it’s all about the forces brought to the table by other people that essentially shape any new compositions. Meaning energy and experience, mostly. They bring energy and experience and ideas that create new approaches to assembling any given song.