Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Will Oldham, June 6, 2009
Bonnie "Prince" Billy
|Born||January 15, 1970|
Louisville, Kentucky, United States
|Labels||Drag City, Domino, Spunk|
|Dawn McCarthy, Boxhead Ensemble, The Cairo Gang, Mekons, Matt Sweeney, Mick Turner, Tortoise, Trembling Bells, Harem Scarem, The Picket Line, Alex Neilson, Björk, Slint|
William "Will" Oldham (born January 15, 1970), better known by the stage name Bonnie "Prince" Billy, is an American singer-songwriter and actor. From 1993 to 1997, he performed and recorded under variations of the Palace name, including Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, and Palace Music. After releasing material under his own name, he adopted the Bonnie "Prince" Billy name for the majority of his output since 1998.
Oldham was born on January 15, 1970, in Louisville, Kentucky. He lived in Louisville until he graduated from the J. Graham Brown School in 1988, then briefly attended Brown University amidst his career in music and film. He is married to the fabric artist Elsa Hansen. They had a child together in 2018.
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. He has been called an "Appalachian post-punk solipsist", with a voice that has been described as "a fragile sort-of warble frittering around haunted melodies in the American folk or country tradition."
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.||"|
Will stated in a 1995 interview with KCRW that the name Palace Flophouse was inspired by reading John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. 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.||"|
He has explained that "the primary purpose of the pseudonym is to allow both the audience and the performer to have a relationship with the performer that is valid and unbreakable."
Johnny Cash recorded a version of "I See a Darkness" on his American Recordings disc, American III: Solitary Man (2000). Oldham provided backing vocals. Marianne Faithfull included Oldham's "A King at Night" on her 2003 Kissin Time tour. Steve Adey also covered "I See a Darkness" on his 2006 LP All Things Real. Mark Kozelek recorded a version of Oldham's "New Partner" on his 2008 disc, The Finally LP. Katatonia covered "Oh How I Enjoy the Light" on their 2001 EP Tonight's Music. In 2009 Mark Lanegan and Soulsavers recorded a cover version of "You Will Miss Me When I Burn". The release is a split single, backed with the Lanegan penned "Sunrise" featuring vocals by Oldham. In 2011, Deer Tick's cover of Oldham's song "Death to Everyone" appeared in an episode of Hell On Wheels. Cadaverous Condition covered "Black" on their To The Night Sky album (2006).
Oldham began his acting career at age 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 in the late 1980s, and landed 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. During this time, he also played the role of a preacher in the "Horse Apples" special of WonderShowzen in series 2 of the show. In 2007, Oldham starred alongside Zach Galifianakis in the alternate music video for Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing". In 2009, he was the narrator of "Madam and Little Boy", a documentary film about atomic weapons directed by Swedish artist Magnus Bärtås. In 2010, Oldham had a small part in Jackass 3D as a gorilla trainer. He revealed that he had to write a theme song in the style of a Saturday morning cartoon show for filmmaker Lance Bangs' life to get the role.
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."