GQ has a relatively rare interview with Will Oldham, the eccentric genius songwriter who most frequently records as Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Until recently, Oldham’s catalog was not available on Spotify and other streaming services, a situation which did not change even when his longtime label Drag City finally came around. But over the last few months, his albums have gradually been appearing, including Superwolf, a cult-favorite 2005 album he made with the guitarist Matt Sweeney, which appeared this week. GQ spoke with Oldham and Sweeney both to mark the occasion.
As far as we know, this is the first interview with Oldham since he’s changed his tune on streaming. When asked about why, he sounds more resigned than excited, figuring that his fans might not hear his music otherwise. But the best parts of the interview—which is well worth reading in full—are the stranger details: talk of mega-magician David Blaine’s love for Oldham’s music, for instance, and of Sweeney and Oldham’s intense-sounding disagreement about whether it was a good idea to send Superwolf to Rick Rubin before it was released. The weirdest bit by far is a discussion of the time Will Oldham collaborated onstage with Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins—a musician with whom he would seem to have almost nothing in common, besides the fact that both men play guitar.
The connection is Sweeney. In addition to playing with underground heroes like Oldham and his own beloved band Chavez, he also did time in Corgan’s short-lived post-Pumpkins outfit Zwan, which formed just as Oldham and Sweeney’s own collaborations were also taking shape. Zwan offered to be the backing band for a benefit show Oldham gave for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. And Oldham has nothing but nice things to say about the experience, calling Corgan generous and sweet and praising the “incredible guitar parts” he came up with for his songs. (Here’s the RAWA benefit listed on an archive of Oldham shows, if you’re in disbelief that it went down.)
As for Zwan in general, he’s more measured in his assessment. Describing his mindset about his friend Sweeney’s participation at the time, he says, “I want to be positive, but again, I’m not thinking that they’re necessarily going to be making music that I’m going to be wrapping my ears around with full glee. And indeed it has its peaks and valleys.”
“It has its peaks and valleys” is probably the nicest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say about Zwan. Read the full interview here.