In deep Kentucky winter, Will Oldham asked Cheyenne Mize and Emmett Kelly to come to his house and record a four-song EP. The EP was to be called “Chijimi”, after a style of fabric crafted in northern Japan during snowy months. It was just the three of them in the room together, and to Oldham it felt ideal. Why weren’t all recording sessions like this? The sounds of the room were captured by the microphones, the three voices worked very well with each other, the material was in turns poetic, evocative, outlandish and devotional. It felt to Oldham like a new model had been established and that all could be right in the world of music-making from that point on.
The artist Thomas Campbell had recommended to Oldham that he apply for an artist residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts outside of San Francisco. Oldham got himself a three-month stint living and working there in the Marin Headlands National Seashore. It proved to be a productive time. Among other endeavors, Oldham worked daily on new songs and planned the next performance journey (with booking agent David Viecelli and tour manager Jesse Fischler) and recording session and touring ensemble (with Emmett Kelly). Oldham was assigned a small studio in the main building at the Headlands, but soon was able to secure a larger, more remote studio space overlooking a former missile launch site. The building was huge and wooden with plenty of room for thinking and making noise. The basics for all of the BEWARE songs were built here. Oldham’s plan was to meet up with a group of musicians, assembled by Kelly, in Chicago; to tour extensively with this group; then to take a break, give all of the musicians demos of the BEWARE songs, and to reconvene in Chicago at a studio called Engine with knob-twiddler Neil Strauch at the board. Oldham and Kelly constructed the set of songs to be performed on the tour, including four cover songs: Shaun Camp’s psychedelic country hit “Would You Go With Me?” (made famous by singer Josh Turner), the Gun Club’s “Carry On”, Susanna’s “Stay” (foreshadowing the full-album cover of Susanna’s SONATA MIX DWARF COSMOS that Oldham and Kelly would record years later, in 2017, as WOLF OF THE COSMOS), and “One Day at a Time” by Yusuf Islam (known also as Cat Stevens). The four covers would be performed every night on the tour and then recorded first at Engine, in order to get sounds established for the new songs. The band that Kelly corralled included percussionist Michael Zerang and bassist Joshua Abrams; Oldham brought in Jennifer Hutt, a violinist he had met through Baltimore’s Dave Heumann. All sorts of Chicago musicians contributed guest performances to BEWARE, including Azita Youssefi, Nicole Mitchell, Rob Mazurek, Jim Becker and the Mekons’ Jon Langford. D.V. DeVincentis and Greg Leisz flew in from California to play their parts. At one point, Kelly and Oldham decided that they needed to find a Mexican accordion player to play on one of the songs, so they scoured Chicago’s cantinas one night, coming away with a significant tequila buzz and a single telephone number. They called the number, and the following day a gentleman came to the studio with a broken accordion and alarmingly primitive musical abilities. It was decided to find a ringer instead, and Robert Cruz was called. Once again, Katy Kolego was hired as production supervisor, and she kept things running solid and smooth.
Simultaneous to the BEWARE recording session, Susanna Wallumrod was in Scandinavia making her FLOWER OF EVIL record. She asked Oldham to sing on two songs, Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” and Harry Nilsson’s “Without You”. She sent the basic tracks to Engine and Oldham did his singing on Susanna’s songs near the beginning of the BEWARE time.
The cover art of BEWARE was dominated by a drawing of Oldham sent by artist Jeff Hamilton. The back cover and LP/CD labels were painted by Sammy Harkham. Oldham and Dan Osborn worked out the poster details together: Hamilton’s skull-like drawing of Oldham’s head with a staircase rendered in primary colors leading to the top of the head, where a village is seen being established by tiny figures. Jennifer Parsons made a video for “I Am Goodbye” featuring Oldham walking through the streets of east L.A. with a Turkish t-shirt and black contact lenses. TV commercials were made for the record by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, including one spot featuring Neil Hamburger. The title for BEWARE was inspired principally by two things: the first was the EP by the Misfits released in the early 1980s of the same name, and the second was Oldham’s own warning to himself and everyone else that the ideas behind this record were moving him in the opposite direction from where he felt he should be going. “Chijimi” had established a template of meager ambition and home-spun workings and here they were with a huge (for BPB) tour, and an expensive out-of-town recording session featuring a wild and wonderful assemblage of talents.
“Chijimi” came out exclusively as a 10” vinyl record. There were two editions, the first with a rubber-stamped plain white paper sleeve and the second as the BEWARE “Ultraload”. At the time, Bonnie Prince Billy vinyl purchases did not come with a free download the way that many new releases did. In this instance, a compromise of sorts was made: you could buy the “Ultraload” package, which had the “Chijimi” EP slipped into a 10” BEWARE sleeve with a download code for BEWARE included.
The recording of “Stay” was released as a 7”, with Susanna’s “People Living” (recorded live outside of Milan, Italy, performed by Kelly/Mize/Oldham) as the B-side. The recording of “One Day at a Time” was released as a digital single. Yusuf Islam heard it eventually, and proclaimed it his “favorite cover”.
It’s with great pleasure that we offer FUNTOWN COMEDOWN to the streamverse. A live record born of good times and friendship, FUNTOWN COMEDOWN has had only a limited availability up to this point.
Here’s how it happened: One summer, Oscar Lee Riley Parsons asked Will Oldham what it would take to induce Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy to perform at a strange and special little place called Funtown, of which Parsons’ friend Brad Reinstedler was the mayor (and is still the mayor, by the way). Oldham replied that all he needed was a rehearsed ensemble, and so Parsons put his own group, Thomas A Minor & the Picket Line (including Reinstedler, Bob Dixon, Jon Kempf, and Danny Kiely), to work learning a set of Bonny pieces. Parsons enlisted Cheyenne Mize as fiddler and duet partner. They rehearsed the songs and soon invited Oldham into the rehearsal process. Tickets were sold for the Funtown event, commemorative kazoos were purchased as giveaways (and to facilitate audience participation on “Goat & Ram”), folks gathered on a warm summer day outside of Louisville, and music and merriment went down a-plenty. So much fun was had, in fact, that it was decided that this ensemble ought to play some more together before disbanding. There had a been a handful of practice shows around Louisville, at Joe’s Palm Room, the Back Door, and the Nach Bar. Now sights were set further afield...as far as Lexington, KY for a benefit show intended to raise awareness of the plight of the Kentucky Hemlock tree. Hence the group learned Ralph Stanley’s “Hemlocks and Primroses”. They were all invited out to San Francisco for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. And then it was thought that they ought to record their efforts, and so one more show was arranged at the recording studio of bassist Danny Kiely. Invitations were sent out, about fifty people gathered, and a little live show went down, recorded on high-fidelity multi-track recording gear by Kiely. Oldham and Kiely spent a week or so mixing (during which time the King of Pop passed away; this will give you an idea of when all of this occurred. Perhaps the timeline won’t match up precisely but you will forgive if a date is out of place here or there). The record artwork is made up of photographs by Louisville photographer Dan Lubbers. Yet another Merle Haggard song is covered by Bonny on this record, “Ramblin Fever”. It will still be a few years before Bonny undertakes a full record of Haggard tunes, BEST TROUBADOR.
"Afraid Ain't Me" and "Without Work, You Have Nothing" were recorded during the BEWARE sessions, and in fact were included as parts of the original pressing of that record. However, it was soon realized that these two songs stuck out like wild gnarly burls on an otherwise resplendent tree trunk, and they were lopped off and given their own home as a pair. The digital single of these two songs comes with glorious artwork rendered by Dirk Knibbe and ought to be listened to together or separately.
STREAM ALL OF 2009 AT YOUR FAVORITE E-TAILER....NOW!
Funtown Comedown: https://lnk.to/funtown
One Day At A Time: https://lnk.to/onedayatatime