NONE gigs; none proper studio time; none nothing, except, perhaps, as Big Black once memorably put it, to “sit around home, stare at the walls / Stare at the walls and stare at each other.” It’s a tale we’ve heard oft told since the virus got tough, got going. What was a committed, lifer musician to do?
Well, the thing about the Drag City stable of artists is: it’s a proper family. And that helped soothe the grind of the solitary.
Those twin pillars not just of the DC rollcall but of contemporary Americana, Bill Callahan and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, embarked on a musical outreach programme pretty early on, using the saving graces of file transfer, Zoom, and the like.
So: what was the plan? Maybe it would be a good idea to hunker down, even virtually, and play with old classics and songs they really liked, they thought. And indeed that was a good idea. How about recruiting people they loved or had always wished to play with, too? Great idea. And now: how about giving that song interpretation a blind date element? Ideal. Tracks were advocated from among the wealth of musicians they knew, and then also paired with another artist with no say in the matter.
A rather lovely, communal plan came to fruition and songs began to crackle across the ether between the world wide web of talent. And thus was the sprawling, 19-track collaborative covers set Blind Date Party born.
That album features the two Bs in musical conversation with Meg Baird, AZITA, Matt Sweeney, the High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan, Bill Mackay, Alasdair Roberts, Cory Hanson, Six Organs of Admittance, David Pajo, phew! lots and lots of others. And the songs they got together to breathe new life into include selections from Yusuf Islam, Bill Callahan himself, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Demis Roussos, Billie Eilish, Robert Wyatt, Iggy Pop and more. What began as a sanity-saver for all concerned and a creative keeping in of the hand flourished to a full-blown double album.
And to tantalise you with the record, this hot minute they’ve dropped the video for a cover not included on the album – in which Bill and Billy take a tune from Nottingham’s Scout Niblett and thrust it toward Baltimore’s self-proclaimed synthy nerds Hamerkop, with all the fun of the fair resulting. Press the YouTube arrow below and step into that world.
Bill Callahan & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s “Kidnapped By Neptune”-is available now across all digital streaming platforms.
Bill Callahan and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Blind Date Party will be released by Drag City digitally and on double cassette, double CD and double vinyl on December 10th; you can pre-order yours right here.