Oldham — who went by Bonnie “Prince” Billy at the time — would write lyrics from his home in Louisville, Kentucky, and then send them to Sweeney, the guitarist who had played in the innovative New York rock band Chavez and Billy Corgan’s Zwan. The result was 2005’s Superwolf. The follow-up to that record, Superwolves, will be released by Drag City on April 30th (a physical release will follow on June 18th).
The duo just dropped their new single from the record, “Hall of Death,” which builds on the innovative, eccentric chemistry of their original work together. The video was directed by Sai Selvarajan and Jeff Bednarz. It follows the release of another track, “Make Worry For Me,” last year.
When Superwolf dropped in 2005, Sweeney’s gritty yet elegant roots-rock songs were the perfect match for Oldham’s otherworldly voice and archaic, sometimes startlingly direct lyrics. The album became a cult favorite. “It was my favorite album for some time,” Rick Rubin has said. “I liked both the reference points chosen, the looseness of the playing and the emotion in it.” It was also hard to find until it was put on digital services in 2018.
For the new album, Oldham again delivered lyrics to Sweeney, before they got together “to sing, stitch, strengthen, and finally perform them together in front of a small unsuspecting audience,” according to a release. “Then new sets of lyrics are sent, animated and played in a high wire style until the shared songs and experiences are ready to commit to record. This is just the beginning of their fusion process.”
“The chemistry comes from lives, lived separately, in which music is crucial sustenance,” Oldham said in a statement. “We listen with gratitude and awe, knowing that we belong in there. We construct our dream selves with the faith that these selves will have their chance at life. We know what we are capable of doing and just need each other’s support to bring the imagined languages to life.”
The band on Superwolves includes rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane, lead guitarist Mdou Moctar, bassist Mike Coltun, and drummer Souleyman Ibrahim. Sweeney and Oldham started work on the album five years ago, and began recording it last year at Brooklyn’s Strange Weather and Nashville’s Butcher Shoppe.
“I love the challenge to write melodies for Will to sing,” Sweeney said. “Struggle with that challenge, too. Knowing that Will’s voice will elevate the melody makes me reach higher and dig deeper for the tune. Makes me want to match it with a guitar part that holds his voice like a chalice holds wine (or blood, or whatever is needed to live the best life). I also love singing harmonies and responses to this voice of his.”
Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2018, Oldham singled out Superwolf as an important work in his catalog: “[Superwolf is] a pretty hugely significant record for, I think, both Matt Sweeney and myself. In terms of what we were able to do with each other and then also how it’s reached people and who it’s reached.”