In coffee circles, Will Oldham has most certainly made it. After countless albums under a suite of names (his most famed moniker is of course Bonnie Prince Billy), the singer-songwriter from Kentucky has now been immortalised as a coffee blend. It’s a feather in the cap he is surprisingly pleased with, admitting to a “guilty pleasure in seeing the ‘Bonny Billy Blend’ – 100 per cent pure and organic.”
A novel way to market his new album, Wolfroy Goes to Town, the coffee concept was a creative response to the ever-changing media environment, where downloaders (rightful or illegal) are left without a tangible way of supporting the music. As Oldham explains, the digital revolution has pushed the industry in conflicting directions.
“There is this well-recorded chaos and decline in music sales and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact the people are buying digital music and it’s something that doesn’t really exist,” he says.
“There are people who love music and want to show that love through an exchange, so we offer this coffee and people want to buy it, because we like to support music but it feels weird supporting it by buying these weird, little wispy download things.”
Whatever the reason behind it, it’s selling and Oldham’s friend, from whose plantation in Hawaii the coffee hails, is no doubt pleased.
The enigmatic Oldham is about to embark on his first Australian tour in more than six years, travelling with one-man band the Cairo Gang (Emmett Kelly) and vocalist Angel Olsen. Both appear on the new album, a sparse yet persuasive conversation that flits between lonesomeness, medieval-like tales of love and loss and, that other great Oldham constant – God.
Softly spoken as ever, Oldham explains his references to the almighty as both indefinable symbols and simple lyrical tools.
“I think that God is all things, specifically all things unutterable, and music is fairly unutterable. Why do we do anything? Why do we sing? If it’s unanswerable, then God is the ultimate variable you can put in any sentence and it fits.”
Oldham will be touring Australia in early March, most notably playing the Sydney Opera House. And if he is nervous about playing his first concert at the iconic auditorium, he isn’t showing it, despite admitting he can get affected by architectural surroundings. “When a room or space is designed for the transmission of sight and sound from the stage to the audience, it’s heaven. As opposed, to a room that’s designed essentially for microphones and sound technicians.”
Having recently performed at a stage designed by one of America’s most famous architects, Frank Gehry, Oldham now knows the pleasures of performing in an architecturally profound space.
“At first, I was dreading it because his designs seem so impractical visually and I’m a great enemy of the impractical, but once we got on stage it was one of the more perfectly designed stages that I’ve ever had the opportunity to perform on.”
He finishes our conversation professing his love for churches, with their perfect acoustics. Amen. Or as Oldham puts it, “Chalk one up for God, right there.”
Bonnie Prince Billy plays in Sydney on March 5 at the Sydney Opera House, in Melbourne on March 8 at the Regal Ballroom and March 9 at the National Theatre.