After giving a memorable performance as a boy preacher in John Sayles’ 1987 coal-mining drama Matewan, Will Oldham made a brief attempt at being a working actor, before becoming disillusioned with Hollywood and retreating into seclusion for several years. When Oldham emerged, he came bearing music. As the reticent, creaky-voiced frontman for the mysterious Palace Brothers (later Palace Music, Palace Songs, and then just Palace), Oldham brought a distinctive new sound to indie-rock, informed by spooky country ballads, Eastern mysticism, and hermetic eccentricity…
AVC: You mentioned talking to Richard Linklater and Caveh Zahedi about your ideas on movie music. Can you summarize those ideas?
WO: Well, for a while, it seemed like you were always seeing movies where all the music was determined by the music supervisors and their special relationships with certain record labels. And I just felt like, “Wow, I’ll bet they spent months or years writing this screenplay, and I’ll bet they spent months shooting this, and I’ll bet they spent months editing this, and now they’re spending no time at all picking these completely inappropriate songs with lyrics to put under a scene that has dialogue.” How does that even work? How can you have a song with someone singing lyrics under spoken dialogue and consider that mood-music, or supportive of the storyline? As somebody who likes music, when that happens, I tend to listen to the lyrics, which have nothing to do with the movie. And then I’m lost in the storyline. Not only is that a crime, but it’s a crime not to give people who are good at making music for movies the work. It’s like saying, “We don’t need you, even though you’re so much better at it than I am as a music supervisor.” Like the cancer that is that Darjeeling guy… what’s his name?
AVC: Wes Anderson?
WO: Yeah. His completely cancerous approach to using music is basically, “Here’s my iPod on shuffle, and here’s my movie.” The two are just thrown together. People are constantly contacting me saying, “I’ve been editing my movie, and I’ve been using your song in the editing process. What would it take to license the song?” And for me it’s like, “Regardless of what you’ve been doing, my song doesn’t belong in your movie.” That’s where the conversation should end. Music should be made for movies, you know?
AVC: So there aren’t many contexts in which you can imagine licensing one of your songs to a movie?
WO: No. I mean, I could see-
AVC: Over the closing credits, maybe?
WO: Right, the closing credits. But again, someone wrote me recently and said, “We wanna use your songs in our movie, and we’ve already got this artist, this artist, this artist, this artist.” And I was thinking, “Well that makes for like, no integrity to your movie. All these different voices combined with the actors’, writer’s, director’s and DP’s voices. That sounds like the worst place to be. That sounds like a music festival.” [Laughs.] I liked it when those crazy, dirty, Rhode Island brothers made movies like There’s Something About Mary.