Invoice Callahan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy Merge Their Musical Minds

Two yrs ago, the singer-songwriters Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Monthly bill Callahan introduced a protect of Yusuf/Cat Stevens’s “Blackness of the Night time,” a grim, tranquil tune about exile, heartache, and loneliness. The musician Azita Youssefi, who records as AZITA, contributed acoustic guitar and synthesizer, providing the keep track of a surreal wobble. The timing of the song’s arrival—weeks prior to the Presidential election, months ahead of the frantic scramble for vaccine appointments—felt like a unusual tiny reward. Everyday living felt dim, but relationship and collaboration were still achievable. Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the nom de plume of Will Oldham, and Callahan, who commenced his career as Smog, are organic musical bedfellows. Each individual has a loaded, idiosyncratic voice (Oldham’s is lean and brittle Callahan’s is low and hesitant), and they are the two erstwhile reps of Drag Metropolis, the Chicago-dependent independent label started, in 1990, by Dan Koretzky and Dan Osborn. The label has been property, at different details and for various lengths of time, to functions these types of as Pavement, Joanna Newsom, Scott Walker, Stereolab, Silver Jews, Death, and the comic John Mulaney. For much more than thirty many years, Drag Town has provided a form of oddball shelter for artists functioning outdoors the mainstream—sometimes considerably out. Till not long ago, it was a single of the only report labels to refuse streaming. (In 2017, it commenced selectively releasing its catalogue to Spotify, Apple New music, and Tidal.)

Much more include songs followed from Oldham and Callahan, who had been joined every single time by a further member of the Drag City roster: Hank Williams, Jr.,’s “OD’d in Denver” (featuring Matt Sweeney), Billie Eilish’s “Wish You Were being Gay” (that includes Sean O’Hagan), Jerry Jeff Walker’s “I Enjoy You” (that includes David Pajo), Air Supply’s “Lost in Love” (showcasing Emmett Kelly), and Lowell George’s “I’ve Been the One” (that includes Meg Baird). Some tracks (Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues”) favor the original arrangement, whilst others (“Wish You Ended up Gay”) experience wholly reinvented. Inevitably, all nineteen covers that the pair introduced on line were collected for “Blind Date Get together.” I recently related with Oldham and Callahan by means of Zoom—Oldham from his dwelling in Louisville, Kentucky, and Callahan from his home in Austin, Texas—and we spoke about the shock of the pandemic, the future of independent labels, and mourning David Berman.

It is really good to see you the two.

Will Oldham: Bill, you seem so fantastic with eyeglasses! I cannot try to remember if I have found you have on them prior to. You seem really distinguished, like a seventies motion star.

I was likely to say “professorial.”

W.O.: It is like a Lee Marvin, Robert Redford, a person-person-towards-the-universe, guns-blazing variety of point.

Monthly bill Callahan: Thank you. I’ve long gone through thirty pairs of glasses. I usually split them, or my little ones get them and they wishbone. I feel these are my permanently eyeglasses.

I listened to every of the singles on “Blind Day Party” as they were being being released on the internet, but I have identified it is a extremely distinct kind of encounter listening to them collected and sequenced.

W.O.: Bill arrived up with the sequence. I adore the circulation.

Invoice, is that work—the purchasing of songs—instinctive for you?

B.C.: It is. It is the only point to do with making tunes that I think I’m fantastic at. And, you know, I proved it with this. [Laughs.] When I’m earning my data, I already have them sequenced in advance of I even go in the studio. The tracks might be unfinished, but they already have a sequence.

The act of serialization can be shockingly powerful—sometimes you place one issue subsequent to one more factor and subsequently improve them equally. You started collaborating on these tunes in the spring of 2020. How did you begin?

W.O.: In the previous yr of his lifetime, David Berman arrived up with this notion of a tour with Invoice and David and myself termed the Monsieurs of Drag Metropolis. We casually threw ideas back and forth, contemplating it would almost certainly by no means materialize. But what if it did? How a great deal enjoyable would it be? It didn’t come about. And then the lockdown did transpire. 1 day, I was conversing with Dan Koretzky. I’ll toss suggestions at him, and ordinarily I can hear his eyes glaze above on the cellular phone. I started considering about Willie [Nelson] and Waylon [Jennings] documents, how they would crew up—these were being supposedly duet data, but perhaps Waylon would not be on a music, or he would not be fully obvious, or they would cover each other. So I thought, Very well, what if Monthly bill and I did that, and tried to round up as quite a few other men and women as attainable? We even now did not know what was likely on in the planet. How could we wrangle all these musicians and get them to do a thing collectively? Not possible! But every thing occurred. We started the engine, and it didn’t end for months and months.

In the panicked early days of the pandemic, I believed a good deal about an interview I study with Frank Sinatra, many years in the past, in which he reported one thing about the relevance of fallow intervals for artists—time to reset. He meant in an intentional way. But, these previous two decades, it has frequently felt as if any person pulled the crisis brake on songs, or at minimum on live tunes. How has every single of you reacted to that?

B.C.: I’m generally making an attempt to write. But a emotion that I have heard a lot of individuals echo back to me is that there is almost nothing worth producing about, besides the pandemic, and what can you say about the pandemic? It took these kinds of a extensive time to clearly show itself to us. I went by means of a period of wondering, There is no put for my small stupid tunes in this earth.When you are accomplishing a cover, you are not accountable for the lyrics. It was the great way to retain performing for the duration of a confusing time.

W.O.: I’m making an attempt to course of action this strategy of the fallow period. I feel I’ve generally been at ease with the periods when there isn’t any writing happening, simply because why worry? It seems like stressing about it would only make it a problem when it is not a trouble. You just have to rely on that something’s likely on. The Bonnie “Prince” Billy report “I Built a Place” experienced just arrive out, and I explained to Drag Metropolis that I was gonna stick with my variety of skeletal, shadowy social-media accounts, or close ’em down for a though, or, you know, get rid of them. And then, right then, the pandemic happened, and I thought, Oh, well, this is why Significant Tech developed the virus, right? To up everybody’s dependency on these boards. And I assumed, We’re gonna deal with these tracks, but we’re gonna do ’em on steroids, we’re gonna use all of the resources we have at our disposal, together with social media. We determined and expanded our local community by it. It was about Monthly bill and I connecting with every single other, and then connecting with all these distinctive artists with whom we had some degree of relationship, superficial or potent, by way of Drag Town. Alternatively than grieve the lack of relationship with other persons, it was a wonderful time to acquire stock of the connections that we did have.

This appears like the ideal time to check with you the two about the title. It is playful, but it also indicates a lack of context. I sometimes delight in coming at a piece of art without a ton of data. It is anything I like about accumulating prewar 78-r.p.m. records—for all kinds of nefarious and not-so-nefarious factors, it is usually tricky to locate out any information about prewar American artists. So the track exists on its possess terms, unencumbered. There is a thing demanding about that, but also a little something gorgeous. Did you inspire some of the artists you labored with to occur to these songs blind, and not to fret too a lot about provenance?

B.C.: A blind date reveals up at your doorstep. That is how it was with these tunes. We gave complete authorization to these artists to just do no matter what they wanted—absolutely nearly anything they wanted—to the protect. Make it unrecognizable, whatever. So, when we would get these files back again, it felt like a stranger showing up for a date.

W.O.: Bill said “Blind Date” and I mentioned, how about “Blind Day Party”? No person selected their tunes all people was assigned a random track.

Was another person at Drag Town pulling music out of a hat?

B.C.: If we informed you the real truth, you would consider we ended up yanking your chain. [Laughs.] It was decided on by a dog—Dan Koretzky’s canine. He set up an elaborate predicament in his apartment, with each music title and just about every performer’s identify on a deal with. In some way the get in which the dog located the treats all around Dan’s apartment decided who received what track.

That is remarkable.

W.O.: I like imagining about what you had been just conversing about—the mess, the vagaries, the mystery powering some of the prewar 78s. Invoice and I both of those brought some massive names to the table—in my case Lou Reed, and in Bill’s situation Iggy Pop. They’re nicely regarded, effectively revered, and properly celebrated. And nevertheless, I still really don’t come to feel that the Lou Reed I enjoy is recognized and celebrated. Maybe everyone feels that about some of their preferred performers or artists. But, you know, I consider that “Legendary Hearts” is like a prewar 78. It’s nonetheless one of the greatest information I have at any time heard, and still I have hardly ever seen anybody try out to dissect it or notify me just about anything about it. And “Rooftop Garden” is even further. Just, like, what? Why is this a great track? I don’t know. It is a superior song, but why is it a very good track? It’s wild. Or “I Want to Go to the Seashore,” by Iggy Pop. It is, like, nicely, what’s up with this? Where did this magic occur from, and why does it go me? We feel we know anything about Iggy Pop, and fortunately we don’t, due to the fact that way I can continue to listen to this Iggy Pop tune and be entirely transported to a put where by the procedures of truth do not essentially apply.