Will Oldham loves to body surf; it reminds him of being immersed in music. “I like the idea of being without any encumbrance or any equipment,” he tells Rolling Stone. “To be at the mercy of a natural force. … There’s an element of it that’s predictable and an element of it that’s unpredictable.”
For Oldham, the musical equivalent of body surfing is the Sacred Harp Singers, an American tradition of choral music that originated in New England that brings together groups of people to sing four-part hymns and other traditional songs — no instruments allowed.
“You’re completely enveloped by this mass of voice and intention coupled with the writers who are composers of the hymns and the songs, their intention,” Oldham says. “It’s erupting from inside of a group of people and becoming one thing. And you’re inside of that. And it feels pretty wonderful because there’s no escape. You’re safe and releasing yourself to this natural force.”
The Singers factor heavily into Oldham’s new video for “In Good Faith,” a new song via his Bonnie “Prince” Billy persona. The track is a companion to his upcoming album, I Made a Place, out November 15th via Drag City. Director and friend Timothy Morton came on to shape the visuals, which he culled from his in-process documentary on the Sacred Harp Singers, Movers & Shapers.
The video follows a collection of Singers as they travel from their respective cities to a massive group singing — Oldham and guest vocalist Joan Shelley included. “To witness a singing, either on recording but especially in person, and especially in a church, or another room or hall designed for acoustic projection, can be one of the more powerful musical experiences you could witness,” he says. “It’s huge and breathtaking.”
I Made a Place is the first album of new material Oldham’s made under the Bonnie “Prince” Billy name since 2011’s Wolfroy Goes to Town. He released an annotated book of lyrics, Songs of Love and Horror, in 2018.