Old Calf Borrows a Horse
Ned Oldham (yes, Will’s brother) keeps himself busy with many music projects and a family at his Charlottesville, VA home. Now, he’s back with a new band, Old Calf, comprised of Oldham, Matty Metcalfe, Michael Clem and Brian Caputo. On their debut, Borrow A Horse, the band revisits nursery rhymes to create a delightful folk experience. Here, Oldham talks about the album and teaches us how to play stool ball.
ELM: Where in Kentucky did you grow up?
NO: In Louisville.
E: How do you think that influenced you?
N: Musically? It was interesting. There were local bands doing things that weren’t like what you heard in a lot of other places, for some reason when I started seeing live music at the age of 13 or so, not that i’d never seen any other live music, but it always was classical. I guess I’d seen a couple big concerts, like Ozzy Osbourne and Motorhead, and Rush, but when I started going to see local bands, like the Babylon Dance Band, Your Food, Malignant Growth, it was really cool, it would be an enthusiastic but not huge crowd and kind of felt like we were outside of sort of the concert scene, it seemed sort of distant. It was just a lot of people, doing it yourself, people putting together their own committees, having their own shows, in abandoned buildings, not abandoned, but like an old ballroom of a former hotel that was now kind of standing empty. Stuff like that.
ELM: What was the first record that really changed your life, as you can remember?
NO: I don’t know…I mean, Led Zeppelin IV? When I was, maybe 5 years old, before I went to school? Just listening to that record and picturing Led Zeppelin as these really tall, kind of pear-shaped, short-haired four identical kind of guys playing this music.
ELM: Where did you come up with the name Old Calf?
NO: Oh, it’s kind of the oldest trick in the book, you take part of one person’s name in front of another person’s name in the band and see if it sounds good. Which i’ve done, thousands of times, not thousands of times, but almost every time I’ve been in a band, dozens of times. This time it just happened to work and sound good, because Old Calf is how we sound, how we feel, and what we say, pretty much.
ELM: Cool. What about the album title?
N: It’s taken from a line in the song, ‘Follow My Bangalory Man.’
ELM: I noticed that there’s a lot of dark humor on the album. In folk music there’s a big tradition with murder ballads and dark humor and I didn’t know if you felt like you were just keeping in that tradition or if you have particularly dark sensibilities.
NO: Well, in a lot of ways the darkness of the rhymes, the traditional lyrics, all come pretty much from rhymes except for ‘Bonny Cuckoo’, they’re all basically pulled from collections of nursery rhymes, and I kind of have found myself for the last 15 years always able to go back in to the nursery rhymes and have a great time and find new things that I haven’t found before. New things in old rhymes and new rhymes I never knew before. Definitely one thing just attracted me to the rhymes is the darkness but I guess the humor as well. The thing that attracted me to them was the darkness, but not just the darkness. Maybe without the darkness in those rhymes I might have been less attracted to them but without them having everything about them still being fantastical kind of, of another world, a little world unto themselves gave them a kind of richness.
ELM: Who are your favorite writers?
NO: Let’s see. Olaf Stapledon. Charles Wilford.
ELM: I haven’t read any of them.
N: Well you have them to look forward to.
ELM: Which one should I start with?
NO: I don’t know, what do you like to read?
ELM: I don’t have a very good attention span, so I mostly read a lot of poetry and short stories, when I do read novels I like kind of modernist stuff, or I like experimental stuff.
NO: I would say, they’re all kind of modernistic, easy and fun to read. that’s all I can remember. anyway.
ELM: Excellent. What about visual artists? Are there any of them that you really like?
N: Oh man. There’s just, so many, I….what can I say? I always liked Hitchcock movies. I like Kevin Taylor, he’s done a bunch of art for Old Calf, and art for me, and his paintings are really cool. Too many to name.
ELM: I have to ask you about your brother, obviously we won’t dwell too much on since he gets his own press, but, is music something that the two of you really share or is it kind of each of you doing your own thing?
NO: We are now, I would say, doing our own things. We have shared a lot of music in the past.
ELM: How did you share it? Did you write together, or just play together?
NO: We just played together. Yeah. We played a bunch of records, a bunch of tours, we joined Anomoanon for a couple of tours and various shows here and there.
ELM: Who else did you work with to make Borrow a Horse?
NO: The guys in the band, who are all listed on the record, and Rob Evans who engineered and sort of helped produce, and Alex Caton, who’s a woman who’s a fiddler and singer who lives out in the country around here, and Sara White, who’s a singer who lives in Charlottesville, who’s a pleasure to work with, and David Huemann, of Arbouretum in Baltimore, he played on a bunch of the Anomoanon records and we’ve done many many shows together, he played the guitar for one of the songs. And then not on the record is the Anomoanon guitarist, Aram Stith, who is coming on the road with us for our sort of northeastern jaunt, we’re going to New York and Philly and a couple shows, also along the way, and he’s a great player, we’re looking forward to getting him back with us, he played our first show to work the record down here in Charlottesville about five months ago.
ELM: Can you tell me a little bit more about the song “Stool-Ball”?
NO: yeah, I really didn’t know until after I wrote the song, in general i liked the lyrics even if I don’t really know what they were talking about, and in some cases I’ll go back and look up whatever it is they’re talking about and in other cases I never do, or maybe years later someone points it out. But Stool-Ball I actually did look up because I had never heard about it. It seems like kind of a backyard version of Cricket, where people played with a stool, like a little three legged stool or a chair, as a bat, you know, so maybe a couple wickets going back between two posts, it was apparently played by women a lot, like in long skirts and stuff, and I think it suffered a couple of suppressions because I mean, I don’t know what about it could possibly have been inappropriate but maybe just the fact that women running around playing any kind of sport in the victorian age was, I don’t know. But it sort of was thought of as kind of a disgraceful thing to some people. People still play it in England, I think it’s sort of a nostalgic game and stuff but, you know, you play a game, that’s what it is.
ELM: Are there other periods in history that you’re interested in?
NO: Yeah, I mean, I guess it’d be probably easier to talk about periods of history that I’m not interested in. Because I, you know, basically anything, I’m even interested in this last century, it’s just getting so complicated, there’s too many things going on, you know, sort of anything before computers is a really fascinating time.
ELM: If you could raise awareness about any particular social cause what would it be?
NO: The golden rule. It just seems like the hardest one to follow, and really if everybody did follow the golden rule, then we’d be in business. You spread yourself pretty thin by going to specific things, and anytime, if you want to properly take on a cause, it’s really going to be like a half time job or something, right now my cause is my kids and, you know, trying to help them become good people and we’ll see what happens when I don’t have to work so hard to pay the bills and everything, too.