2003, STREAMING NOW

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy | 11/06/18

Image: Bonnie 2003

Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Master And Everyone - Streaming Now

I SEE A DARKNESS and EASE DOWN THE ROAD sessions had ultimately proceeded well, and so Will Oldham mapped out a third full-length recording session with a similar process concept in place.  This new record would be made over the course of a month in Shelbyville at Paul Oldham’s Rove Studios with musicians coming and going for their respective tracking sessions.  For basic tracking, NY-based guitarist Alan Licht, Baltimoron bassist Drew Nelson and Belgian drummer Thomas Van Cottom were flown in and recording began.  To ease into the session and get good sounds down, a cover of Glen Campbell’sLess of Me” (learned from Roger Miller’s TENDER LOOK AT LOVE LP) was tracked.  A few originals were attempted, but the results didn’t feel right to Will, and he reluctantly pulled the plug on the whole session, sending this amazing ensemble back to their respective homes scratching their heads.  What was wrong with the proceedings?  Probably Oldham missed having a collaborator at the helm with him, looking at the big picture.  EASE had been a very satisfying experience with David Pajo co-overseeing the shaping of the record.  A conversation with David Berman persuaded Will to call producer/engineer Mark Nevers in Nashville to see if something could be done about saving the record.  Nevers had time available at his Beech House studio, so Will and Paul drove down to Music City, USA to start fresh.  Nevers brought in Paul Burch to play drums.  After a couple of days’ worth of recording, Will again felt that the songs weren’t coming together correctly.  Burch was dismissed, and the tracking began again from scratch with just brothers Will and Paul (on bass) playing the songs.  It was rudimentary, but the songs were coming across and so all proceeded until the ten songs were on tape.  Paul Oldham went home, and Nevers began to introduce Will to some of his intimate musical community, as well as to methods of studio recording in Nashville.  Nevers and Oldham would discuss arrangements, and then Nevers would get on the horn and bring in one pro or another.  Most significantly, Nevers introduced Oldham to keyboardist Tony Crow and guitarist William TylerOldham wanted a woman to sing on the record.  Nevers asked Oldham to describe what he was looking for, and Oldham said he wished for someone who combined the timbre and expressiveness of Dolly Parton and Sandy Denny.  It was up to Nevers to explain this to the singer’s union over the phone.  They recommended Marty Slayton, so Nevers called her and she came and threw down.  Watching Slayton work, Oldham realized what he wanted to be when he grew up.

With Nevers doing the heavy lifting, he and Oldham mixed the record in a few days.  It was done, but it had been an awkward and jarring experience overall for Oldham.  The songs and their recording had not been easy.  For months, Oldham listened to the mixes, convinced that they weren’t releaseable.  He thought to pare the collection down to six songs and release it as an EP titled IT’S EXPECTED I’M GONE, after the Minutemen song (which Oldham later recorded with Tortoise).  He’d become acquainted with Marianne Faithfull through Matt SweeneyOldham sent Faithfull the full ten songs, and she encouraged him to release the record as a full-length. 

He was still on the fence.  When the session was slated to go down in Shelbyville at Rove, Sarah DeVincentis was scheduled to come in and sing.  She’d joined the Bonny band for it’s first of three annual tours with RainyWood (who transmogrified into Brightblack by the third tour), an all-camping venture down the west coast of the USA (a 7” was recorded during this tour, “Barcelona” b/w “We All, Us Three, Will Ride”).  A couple of months after the Nashville session, Oldham joined DeVincentis and her family on a surfing excursion in Biarritz, where the cold and rain and generally poor surfing conditions kept everyone indoors.  Oldham played DeVincentis the MASTER AND EVERYONE recordings, and her positive (or at least non-negative) reaction pushed Oldham towards the decision to put out MASTER AND EVERYONE as the full ten-song record it is.

The front cover of the record is a photograph by Steve Gullick taken in a London hotel room.  Oldham commissioned his mother Joanne to make the back cover.  He asked her to render a blue jay.  She had just been to Alaska and was inspired by Russian iconographic works in the churches there, and so she rendered her jay in stylized two-dimensionality with a golden halo around its head.  Sammy Harkham painted a work for the record as well.  Harkham worked up pieces based on paltry notes provided by Will, coming up once again with inspired brilliance.

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Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Happy Child / Forest Time - Streaming Now

A couple of little orphan songs were birthed in 2002, and Will Oldham felt strongly that they would be well-served by a release through channels familiar with Bonnie Prince Billy and Palace Musics.  One of these was “Forest Time”, commissioned as musical accompaniment to a small pressing of photographs by artist Erik Wesselo.  The song was recorded on home multitrack hard drive thingamajig at Oldham’s Baltimore house.  The other song, “Happy Child”, was released on a record by Tweaker.  Oldham had been approached by Tweaker’s Chris Vrenna to write lyrics and vocal melody for an instrumental bed that Tweaker had created.  The singing was recorded by Paul Leary in Austin Texas.  The cover art for the release of these two songs as a CD single was culled from paintings that Sammy Harkham had made for MASTER AND EVERYONE.