Sibling supergroup: A conversation with Anomoanon's Ned Oldham
By Jayson Whitehead
The man whose first album set Mother Goose to a southern rock beat has found a new muse: 15th century poet Francois Villon.
“I thought that his rhyme schemes were cool,” says Ned Oldham, whose current band is called Anomoanon (rhymes with “phenomenon”).
A 1990 UVA grad, Ned now lives in Baltimore. He'll bring Anomoanon to Tokyo Rose on June 27 as the first stop on a four-city mini-tour. They will be joined by two indie-music stalwarts, Ned’s brothers Will (better known as Bonnie Prince Billy) and Paul, an acclaimed producer.
“We’ll play some of Will’s songs and some of our songs,” Ned says. “Play some cool covers, maybe some of Paul’s songs. Who knows?”
The sibling supergroup promises to put on a rousing show. “Live, I like to be overwhelmed,” Ned says of his own performance preference. “I don’t like going to see some guy whisper onstage. I just don’t like it. There’s nothing that’s going to make me like it. I don’t like it when some guy just screams, either. I like to feel a little bit of power going on on stage.”
I recently spoke with Ned Oldham about returning to play in Charlottesville and what it was like attending UVA with members of Pavement and the Silver Jews.
Have you played at Tokyo Rose before?
Oh, yeah. I remember it when it opened before it had gigs. Then a guy we knew started having dance parties in the basement, and it started being a gig place.
What did you study here? Were you in the English department?
I studied anthropology as an undergraduate. I actually got an MFA in creative writing [in '93] when I was a graduate student.
Are you a fan of Pavement?
Um… a little bit. I never really bought any of their records. People gave me some of their records that I liked okay. I know that they were there [at UVA] at the same time, as was [Silver Jews founder David] Berman. I remember seeing Berman walking around kinda like a freak. But I was more into psychedelic music at the time. And they were sort of record store geeks. Maybe they were just getting into it at a later age than I was with all the indie stuff. But I had gotten tired of the whole indie scene by the time I got to college. I don’t really know what they were up to.
Actually, there’s a funny little story about David Berman and our guitar player Aram Stith’s wife. She is striking because she is tall and completely pale with blonde hair. Not albino, a beautiful woman, but very easy to spot from a hundred yards. Berman had a big crush on her, I think. She said he came to her room and maybe said, “I worship the ground you walk on.” Since then I’ve hung around with him a few times. He’s a fun dude, pretty wild sometimes.
Stephen Malkmus played a show here in the fall.
Was it any good?
Yeah, it was cool.
I heard the Jicks record. I didn’t get too wild. But I heard he was covering a Mellow Candle song recently. Did he do that when you saw him?
No, but it was funny. As an encore, he started out with “Sister Ray” and then he went into the old 70’s song “Mama Said” and then finished with Elastica’s “Connection.” I guess they all operate on the same chords.
Yeah, sort of a little rock lesson.
I kind of have a bad feeling with Pavement. We one time played a gig with them here in Baltimore, probably three years ago. It was probably one of their last gigs. And we all knew Bob Nastanovich, who used to live with both of my brothers. He moved to Louisville so he could be near horses because he’s a horse dude. We set up this gig through their booking agent, and it was a huge show, really packed, but they stiffed us. So I’ve always been a little pissed off about that. They didn’t pay us a cent. It was pretty lame.
[Writer’s note: Ned clarified for me a few days later that the members of Pavement had nothing to do with the payment mishap. Apparently, it was a management gaffe.]
I think Nastanovich was the Jicks’ tour manager this past fall.
And he got up onstage and they had vegetables with little seeds in them that he shook into the microphone. It was kind of amusing.
Well, when we saw Pavement– the same show where they stiffed us, actually– they were great. I had heard mixed reviews about them live, but I was really impressed with Malkmus’ guitar playing, and the whole band sounded great. And Bob was definitely a strong, positive force for the band. He was shouting and yelling and playing the Nord Lead. I was really impressed.
When I saw Bonnie Prince Billy play a year ago, I was surprised how much they rocked out. I was expecting something more mellow, but there were three electric guitarists. Is that what we can expect when you play here?
I hope so. We’ve done a few tours with Will where it’s the Anomoanon and then we also play as Will’s band. This time it’s all just going to be one big set. Whenever we’ve done that it’s always been pretty loud. It can get pretty wild, pretty rockin’. That’s what’s more fun for us to do. I can’t speak for Will at all, but I’m hoping that he’s in the mood for that kind of a scene too. The whole crew that we’re traveling around with seems to bring that kind of spirit out.