I Made a Place

I Made a Place

In January 2018, Will Oldham joined his wife on a month-long artist residency on the rim of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano. When taking breaks from her own work, she’d provide her husband with creative prompts by posting future song titles to the wall of their cottage. “We essentially had a big grocery list,” Oldham tells Apple Music, “and every day, at what were sometimes frustratingly random times because I'd be chomping at the bit, she would write down a song title. And I would think, ‘Okay, well, how do I focus all of my ideas to fit that?’” So began the writing of I Made a Place, Oldham’s first LP of original songs under the Bonnie “Prince” Billy alias in nearly a decade. Recorded later in Louisville—with key contributions from Nathan Salsburg, Joan Shelley, and Jacob Duncan—it’s one of the Kentucky singer-songwriter's most disarming works to date, influenced in large part by the arrival of his daughter. “I’ll be 50 years old at the beginning of next year, and I am at a point where I'm happy to yield a significant amount of my space to another person, to my wife and our child,” he says. “Where a lot of my records before were almost built consciously on a foundation of uncertainty, this album—its major keys and its melodies—is a closed space without a lot of loose ends. It seems like we try to do things differently for our children, and one thing that I would like to do is to give her the authority to feel a degree of certainty. It’s all built on this idea of wanting to make something good enough for her.” Here, Oldham guides us through the album track by track. New Memory Box “‘New Memory Box’ is a little reference to ‘New Partner,’ a song we recorded for Viva Last Blues and Bonnie "Prince" Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music. It’s a song about being a song. This was a return to that idea and thinking about some of the better purposes for songs—along the lines of a fight song, but a playful fight song. The ideal is to fulfill: I want to grow up and be a doctor, a lawyer, or an Indian chief, but a song wants to grow up and be something that people rally around or sing along loudly to. I was giving this song the fast track towards a successful career, as something designed to bring joy. I figured that was a good way of starting the whole record out.” Dream Awhile “Every once in a while I will know where a song comes from, but it's pretty rare. And even rarer is the sense that I don't know where it came from but I know that it came from somewhere. I've always felt in listening to 'Dream Awhile' that there's something going on that I'm pulling from some other song. A couple of people have suggested Tim Hardin’s 'If I Were a Carpenter,' which surprised me, even though I've listened to it hundreds of times, specifically the Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash recording of it. It does have the same progression, but I feel like there's something more. There's something dreamy about the way the song moves. Someday I'm going to remember where it’s stolen from. Or, if not, I must have just had a really great dream one night.” The Devil’s Throat “I’m not very good at making small talk, like at parties. And yet, we need to put forth our positions on certain things on a pretty regular basis. ‘Devil's Throat' is a list song, making all of these pronouncements as if they’re intensely considered—about aspects of duality and the human condition—when in fact they’re kind of random. If somebody pushed really hard on any given line, it might just cave in like a sandcastle. I say, ‘The ranger put out good fires, bad fires.’ My wife was arguing with me about what a ranger would do in relationship to fires, and which fires were good and which fires were bad. But it's Election Day, you've got to vote.” Look Backward on Your Future, Look Forward to Your Past “I haven't written really long story songs since the early '90s, and I’ve wanted to. Something along the lines of an Irish ballad, of songs by Paul Brady or John Prine most of all. [Prine] sets up a character for you to follow and he makes it musical and he makes it fun. I wanted to have a song that people could very quickly get caught up in. It’s a story about this poor fellow Richard who came to his realizations just a little bit too late for them to be maximally fulfilling. The idea is that there's no such thing as closure and there's no such thing as history when it comes to your own fate and your own identity. All things being predetermined and all things being written, we are always one with our fate, and it's nice to know that that doesn't change anything. It just gives you something to think about: Nothing is futile, because you have your one existence to sculpt.” I Have Made a Place “It was important to me to name the record after this song, because of the sentiment of the chorus. I've observed myself throughout life and into the future: In rap music, people describe all these different versions of success, but I know that those would never be success for me. I wouldn't fit in any of those places, and so I wanted to try to describe a place that I would recognize as being totally fine and temporary. Everything that you do or have done will not be remembered—the mark you make will be washed away. That's something you know is coming, and if you can't look forward to it, then you've got to turn your head around, because it's something you can completely look forward to. That can be a pretty joyful and liberating idea.” Squid Eye “There was a writer who was born in the continental United States named Ian McMillan, and he moved to Hawaii decades ago and began a long career as a fiction writer and teacher at the University of Hawaii. The first time I went to Hawaii in '99, I found one of his books, a short story collection called Squid Eye, and that was a pretty crucial key to unlocking some of the many riches Hawaii has given to me in the subsequent 20 years. It’s about that concept, of someone literally being able to sight an octopus—or where an octopus might be holed up—a skill he calls ‘squid eye.’ This is kind of a kid song, except there's just such a jumble of vocabulary in there. How wonderful it would be to hear kids try to wrap their mouths around all that language.” You Know the One “There's a lot of little chord progressions that different songs share throughout the record, musical themes and lyrical themes that unite it. I was trying to figure out how to use my squid eye and get the gold out of this idea: What is a sweet memory? It doesn't have to be a memory of the past, it can be a memory of things that you're preparing your memory box for—the things that are yet to happen. People are telling [my wife and me] all the time, ‘It's going to go by so fast. It all goes by so fast.’ And yet I have this feeling already, our daughter’s going to be a year old in two weeks, and I feel like she's been with us forever. Right now it creeps by in this wonderful way where every day is full. When she really starts walking, I can’t wait to hold her hand and walk down the street—I'm preparing that memory even though I have no idea what that experience will be like.” This Is Far From Over “There's so much doom presented to us at all times these days about the planet. I don't ever hear anybody say that whatever direction the planet goes in, it's got to be okay. Why present to our children constantly this idea that they're entering this ill-fated, imminent destruction, as opposed to just saying, 'I don't know. It's exciting.' We're an invasive species, and the more respect that we have for that concept, I think the more chance we have of our children inheriting a sense of justification in their existence rather than feeling like they're inherently evil just by being human. It's trying to give people like my daughter the idea that even with the world that they're inheriting, their capability for exploration and optimism and adventure is no lesser than at any time in the past. It's as intense and extreme as it ever has been to master their own identity, even in the face of these things that we think are so horrendous.” Nothing Is Busted “I like to call it a para-apocalyptic song, something that goes along with an apocalypse. ‘Nothing Is Busted’ begins its own world and ends its own world. It clears the way a little bit, and then we can bring it back to pretty human terms. Making an impossible relationship possible is what it’s all about. We very humbly tackle some pretty grand themes with ‘This Is Far From Over’ and then this clears the air and we can just say, ‘Now look around, and don't look into the past and don't look into the future, but look at impossibilities that you have to deal with. Make them less impossible.’” Mama Mama “The one cover song on the album. It was the inherent mystery of it, this inherent contradiction that attracted me to it. I didn't understand the sentiment. It’s a strange relationship from child to parent, and the child being the reassuring one even in the face of tragedy, being the one that has to tell the parent, ‘Everything is going to be okay,’ even as the most terrible things are about to happen, and somehow feeling that they have the authority to tell their mother that.” The Glow Pt. 3 “Every night on the volcano, when the sun went down, we could see the glow of the lava in this big pit. My wife wrote ‘The Glow’ on the song title list, and I was like, ‘Well, okay, but I’ve got to put it in appropriate sequence,’ so I put it as part seven just because I wasn't sure if [Microphones singer-songwriter] Phil [Elverum] had written more than a couple parts to [his album] The Glow. I contacted him later and he said, 'Yeah, there's only Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, so you can go ahead and call it Pt. 3 if you want.' It was especially funny, because my wife didn’t know Microphones’ music, and while we were on the volcano, Phil and his daughter came and visited us. She’d written the title up there without any knowledge of its history and its association with these friends of ours who’d visited us." Thick Air “I still think sometimes that this belongs as the first song on the record. ‘Thick Air’ is all about clearing the air, and it’s a statement of position and purpose. When my wife wrote the title, I'm sure she was referring to the air that we were trying to breathe, the volcanic fog—or vog. But for more than a decade now, we've been dealing with my mother's Alzheimer’s, and that creates an emotional environment. This song imagines what it will be like to breathe the air after my mom is physically gone from the Earth. Even though now it's almost two years ago that those lyrics were begun, and she's still physically here, it's trying to describe a space that is free from prolonged and active grieving.” Building a Fire “This record in so many ways is about encouraging us to recognize the ability to define our own spaces. There’s a certain degree of certainty, but there's a implication that solitude is not the end goal. The goal has always been to create and identify a community, by throwing the music out into the world and seeing who reacts to it and who picks up on it. When we’re growing up and sitting alone in our rooms listening to a record, we realize, ‘Oh, my universe is much bigger than I thought it was, because the people making this music, they're a part of my world, and it's reassuring that everything that I know is not limited to this house or this block or this street or this school that I have to go to. There's reason to believe that there's something beyond what I can see and feel, and there's people out there that I can relate to.’”

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