Between last year’s release of The Wonder Show of the World (alongside The Cairo Gang), his forthcoming work with David Byrne on Paolo Sorrentino’s new film This Must be the Place, and his current Free Florida Tour, Will Oldham, better known as Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, knows how to stay busy. He also knows how to manage chaos, which explains how he made time for a quick chat with Consequence of Sound‘s Phillip Roffman. Albeit a brief discussion, the two digressed on the what and the why behind his fourth free tour and his exciting work with Byrne.
Why the free tour? Why Florida?
Um….well my initial response to that is; I’m sure you can think of a lot of good reasons for there to be a free tour and for it to be in Florida. And I’m sure that any of those reasons that you could think of would probably be absolutely right. Free is awesome and Florida is awesome with a lot of hidden talent.
On some levels it’s a no brainer. It sometimes feels like my struggle in life is that people don’t want to pursue the “no brainer.” Which is quite confusing at times. So people might ask me “So why are you doing that?” and I’ll reply with “Because it’s a good idea… why wouldn’t we do it?”
People have this attitude about Florida that there isn’t a certain set of promoters that you would see in other parts of the country… I’ll say to booking agents “So what can we get in Florida?” and they’ll say “Oh well, it’s really tough…”
What is your overall message with “Free Florida?”
Emmett Kelly (of The Cairo Gang) has never been to Florida; he was born in California and spent a lot of his years in Chicago. I have taken the burden upon myself to present to him the state of Florida. However, my thesis is going to be that Florida itself will present itself to Emmett. Through the good people of Florida, the rich cultural atmosphere, and the beautiful environment, my job will be a piece of cake.
Why have The Cairo Gang accompany you on your tour?
This is my fourth free tour in the last… let’s say 14 years. Yet this is the first time that I have ever gone with anybody else. The other shows I went with nobody else at all. Emmett and I worked on The Wonder Show of the World and the first set of shows that we did for that release was play a crazy terrain of shows. One thing that we did with all of those shows was play without the use of any house system. I have been recording so much with Emmett especially with The Wonder Show of the World and it’s essential that we play them together. These songs are still pretty dear to us. I would have to avoid playing them if I did this tour by myself. I think I did the Free tours before because I have this child like joy of discovery. A lot of people that I usually play with on tour are more grounded. Emmett, as well as Angel Olson, are pretty full of wonder and open to what we may or may not experience on this tour. I want to build and develop upon that relationship.
Folk itself has been very prominent in the music industry. With this expansion do you feel as if folk is “Folk”?
Well, I’m not sure… What we have now with is more instrumentation and maybe musicians in costume. Folk musician costumes. I don’t know… music, regardless of what we call it will be music. It will evolve and it will stay the same and it will be reachable at times and impossible to grasp at sometimes.
Moving away from Free Florida… How did you and David Byrne end up working together on Paolo Sorrentino’s new film, This Must Be the Place?
We met a couple of times. We met once – this is going to make it sound as if my life is not what it is – at a BBQ, at Bjork and Matthew Barney’s house north of New York City. This makes it sound like a common occurrence for me. The second time he played in Louisville maybe about a year ago and a friend of mine here is a friend with a woman who was singing in his band and we were invited to a gathering to say hello to folks and we met again then. Then he got this job to make this music for this movie and in the script there’s this band that is part of the story and they made a demo and the demo is a part of the story and the script said that the music from the demo is reminiscent of Prince Billy. He was required to make up music for this band in addition to scoring the movie…. So, he remembered that we had met and wrote me, “Listen I was hired to make music that sounded like you which sounds kind of…like a silly task.” I replied with, “Well they hired you so why don’t we make music that sounds like us… so that’s what we did and we wrote four or five songs together for this fictional band.”
What did that process look like creating songs for the film?
He would forward me notes from the director. Even though the songs were these pre-existing songs by a fictional band, [Sorrentino], the director, wanted to use those songs to function not only as actual audio props but help score the film and be integral to the main character, Sean Penn. So, Byrne would send me musical demo ideas and I would, based on the notes that the director sent to Byrne in the first place, create these songs for the film.
This Must Be the Place is currently scheduled to hit cinemas later this year. Meanwhile, catch Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and The Cairo Gang on Tuesday, May 31 at Miami’s Sweat Records. Call 786-693-9309 or visit sweatrecordsmiami.com for more information.