Let the shuffle gods decide: Will Oldham lets his iPod do the talking

We have a date with destiny but Will Oldham is walking out of his central London hotel just as I'm going in. "Gonna get a better cup of coffee than they serve here and I'll be right back," he says, strolling out on to Tottenham Court Road. Twenty-five minutes later, Oldham returns. He is not, it seems, a man to take his beverages lightly.

This is hardly surprising. If one thing has characterised the 38-year-old's life till now it is a wilfulness bordering on the abstruse. He quit high school in Louisville, Kentucky, to study drama and bagged the part of a boy-preacher in John Sayles' 1987 film Matewan. He went back to studying, dropped out of the Ivy League Brown University in New England, and then landed a plum part in the made-for-TV drama Everybody's Baby, the story of Jessica McClure, the little girl who fell down a well. (He played her dad.) A handful of minor roles later, Oldham was already heading off in a whole new direction.

He had always had connections to the Louisville music scene. His older brother Ned had played in local bands, and a photograph Oldham had taken had been used as the cover shot for Slint's 1991 album Spiderland. Still in his early twenties, Oldham picked up a guitar and, because he had grown up around the DIY punk ethos, started making records with his friends. At first, these records were released by acts with names such as Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Palace Songs and, sometimes, plain Palace. One – 1996's Arise, Therefore – was put out with no name on the packaging at all. The idea was that Oldham could disappear into a musical persona: a country-outlaw troubadour with a face to grace Mount Rushmore.

Since 1999, he has settled and grown into the name Bonnie "Prince" Billy. But while it's now easier to find and listen to his music, there is no more logic in the way it is released. Records come out whenever Oldham feels like it: there have been two recent live albums, one guitar-heavy and abrasive, the other with the Scottish folk troupe Harem Scarem. In 2004, he released Bonnie "Prince" Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music, a collection of his favourite Palace songs rerecorded with a group of polished Nashville session musicians.

He still acts occasionally too: Junebug and Old Joy are recent high points. And, slowly, Oldham has grown into the sort of artist that, as it did last month, The New Yorker would devote six pages to. (His mother, when asked for an opinion on her middle son for that piece, chose "ornery" [stubborn] as the word to best describe him.) Johnny Cash covered him. Björk has collaborated. The anti-folk singer Jeffrey Lewis has a song about a hallucinatory meeting with Oldham on the New York subway (it's called "Williamsburg Will Oldham Massacre" and the video on YouTube can't be recommended highly enough).

But what was that about a date with destiny? It goes without saying Oldham doesn't much like interviews. In fact, he is threatening to never give them again and is only doing so now because his new record is as approachable, warm and inclusive as he is ever likely to make. Perversely, and therefore naturally, it's called Beware, and so we have decided to throw caution to the wind and let the fates decide what we will talk about today. Oldham's knowledge and love of music runs deep. So, armed only with the 10,461 files on his 80GB iPod –the stuff that he is "most into, most wants to be into, or most wants to learn from" – we plan to put our conversational destiny into the hands of the "shuffle" gods and see what happens. Think The Dice Man – only with songs in place of sinister possibilities...

John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey

BPB: "Let's hit the button. Well, the first song that comes up is 'City of No Sun' from the 1996 album Dance Hall at Louse Point. When this came out I thought it was a really great record. I still think so. Vocally, it's one of the most exciting records in the past decade. There's whispers and sometimes there's screaming. [Sings] 'Love me tenderly my darling/...In the city of light and truth'. I've never tried to figure out why she sings the way she does or the intent behind it, but I guess there's a villainous aspect to it."

The Pipil Indians of El Salvador

"This next song is called 'El Barrenar'. The Smithsonian library has a website and you can order anything from the archives. Someone will then burn you a CD. I was going to El Salvador a year ago and I wanted to hear some music in the months leading up to my trip there. This is vocal, rustic and is in Spanish, when I was hoping it would be in an American-Indian dialect. It's probably from some time in the 1960s. The truth is I'm not all that happy with this purchase."

Unknown artist

"This is better. It's called 'Wexford Mummer's Song' and it's from a record called As I Roved Out, a compilation of Irish field recordings collected by Jean Ritchie and George Pickow. The principal appeal of this song is being able to hear what Ritchie was into and collecting. You can hear people talking and laughing in the background. Though I've been to Dublin many times, I don't much like cities. I don't like the idea of being surrounded by hidden things; people you can't see in buildings and cars. Cities are made for enemies to destroy."

Pupu Himene

"This next song is Tahitian. It's from a record called Polynesian Polyphonies that features a choral music called himene. It's Polynesian hymns, probably Christian in theme. Whenever I see something that looks like it could be good – whether it's on vinyl, CD or cassette – if it's not too expensive, I'll take a chance."

Timbaland

"We now come to 'Boardmeeting', one word, by Timbaland featuring Magoo from his 2007 record Shock Value. I have never listened to this song. I was on tour and I watched a Timbaland video with Nelly Furtado late one night on the hotel TV. I liked it and thought, OK, I must listen to the rest of the record. But I don't like the rest of the record, though I should at this point confess a weakness for Nelly Furtado records in general."

Joe Walsh

"This is 'Midnight Visitor' from Joe Walsh's 1972 record Barnstorm. It's a recommendation from a friend who randomly called and said he thought I'd love it. He'd never recommended music to me before. It's like psychedelic folk and I like Walsh's voice a lot."

Roy Acuff

"Here's another singer I love. This is 'Wreck on the Highway', it's a pretty standard American folk-country number sung by a man with an incredibly expressive and unique voice. It's a cool story song; a factual, pretty violent and gory telling of a wreck on the highway. The refrain is [sings] 'All that blood... all that blood/ But I didn't hear nobody pray, I didn't hear nobody pray.' It's a classic, for sure."

Cat Stevens

"This last one is 'Randy'. It's from Back to Earth [1978], Cat Stevens' last record as Cat Stevens, which has a really beautiful cover of a waterfall – like a long exposure, so the water looks like a solid white stream. On the back it already had, I think, the name of god in Arabic. After a couple of strange and unsatisfying records I felt like this was super-great, although 'Randy' is not one of my favourite songs on it. What's it about? An elephant? A woman? A dog? A boy?"

With that mystery hanging in the air, Oldham mutters something about being able to do this all day. Next up on what may or may not be his last-ever round of UK press, is a journalist from the NME. Then, Oldham will go back to Kentucky to do whatever he pleases. Just before he left, I asked about the title of his new record. Of what, specifically, should one beware? He answered: "Not liking this record very much." And you can make of that – and everything else Will Oldham-related, for that matter – what you will.

'Beware' is out on Domino tomorrow. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy plays the Royal Festival Hall, London SE1, on 20 April (0871 663 2500)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone