Interview: Will Oldham on His New Album Beware
"[Beware] was like getting cum out of a thirteen-year-old boy: easy as hell."
Having a conversation with Will Oldham in an isolated corner-room in the Algonquin Hotel is a more pleasant experience than one might believe, if judged by his muted, frequently melancholy songs. But in person, Oldham displays openness and a wry sense of humor--qualities also lately much in evidence in his ever-growing catalog. Back in January, Oldham was in town to promote his latest album, Beware, out March 17 on Drag City. We spoke with him then about the new record, his love for Madonna, and his famously unruly back pages.--Steve Lowenthal
Beware seems like the most ornate record you've done in terms of arrangements. How was it trying to get the performances you needed this time around?
Ease Down the Road and Greatest Palace Music each had a large group of musicians on them. This was a more concentrated effort. Greatest Palace Music started with session musicians and then friends and family were added. Getting the performances out of people, a couple of times it was hard but for the most part it was not like pulling teeth. It was more like getting cum out of a thirteen-year-old boy: easy as hell.
The title of the record is Beware, and there are a lot of songs where the music is upbeat but the lyrics are dark. I felt it was a fitting title in that regard.
Exactly, and it also relates to the previous record [Lie Down in the Light], which I feel was a wholly well-intentioned, positive record. So the title is saying that this is not that record, and I apologize that it's not, but it isn't. There's also the fact that as a kid I always coveted owning a copy of the Misfits' Beware, and I still don't own it--so now I do in my own way.
You mentioned the positive nature of Lie Down in the Light. There was one line there that always struck me: "And a hand to hold your throat, to stifle that crying choke."
That was basically the tough love line of saying "I will force you to stop in order to show you a good time, I'll torture you. If I have to."
But the title track to that record was about giving yourself over to being happy, which is a terribly difficult thing to do.
It's also a dangerous place to be sometimes. Feeling comfortable is when they get you.
You have a pretty extensive archive of demos and lo-fi recordings. Do you ever go through the old tapes to see what's there?
Only haphazardly. I forget there's anything of value but then I'll listen and think: "whatever happened to that fragment, or that verse?" It's completely out of mind in the editing process: at that moment it has to not exist in order to move forward. So then you only discover it six months or five years later. And then it's interesting to remember that certain things exist.
I ask because you're no stranger to releasing different versions of your songs. I wonder if you'll go back ever and cherry-pick some choice ones.
I have a very intense fan who wrote and said he was interested in getting some work as an archivist, who would be a perfect guy. But he's such a heavy fan there might be too much emotional weight. He's kind of intense. But at this point there are lots of cassettes, DAT tapes, CDR, ¼ inch reels. And a lot of it is poorly labeled.