CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Even for those adept at navigating the more obscure elements of popular culture, Will Oldham - also known as Bonnie "Prince" Billy - remains one of the most excitingly strange personalities around.
Oldham's artistic output and cultural position runs the spectrum: He played a lead role as the coal miner/preacher Danny Radnor in John Sayles' 1987 film "Matewan." He produced a collaborative album with the Chicago post-rock outfit Tortoise. He scored a spot beside comedian Zach Galifanakis in a music video for Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing." And Johnny Cash performed a cover of Oldham's "I See a Darkness," for one of Cash's American Recordings releases.
Yet in a world that allows easy access to almost everything, it can be difficult to enjoy Oldham's creative output as a recording artist and touring musician.
Although Oldham has released more than 20 full-length records and at least twice that in EPs and singles (recorded under various monikers, including Palace Songs, Palace Music, his real name, and Bonnie "Prince" Billy), using modern methods to scope out his work often leads to a dead end.
A search through the music-streaming program Spotify, even considering all the various names under which his music has been released, reveals only three of Oldham's songs.
"It's on purpose," said Oldham, who joins the lineup at Mountain Stage on Sunday.
"We spend all this time writing, recording, mixing, releasing a record, creating the cover art for the record. And then people listen to it, just like the records I listen to. I don't want to destroy the record. I don't want to weaken the record," he explained.
But Oldham said it's not just about him and his records. There's a whole other side of it that makes him seem less accessible. But it's more that he has ideas about what a performer's relationship with his audience should be.
"It seems like music and movies and radio programs need to retain a specific relationship to an audience. The audience should be either consciously or subconsciously aware that this relationship is very specific," Oldham said.
"It's not like a piece of music just exists and anybody can get it anywhere at anytime, it's free, it doesn't matter - the same with a radio program. No, there should actually be some attention paid to who the audience is, because that's what makes these things have value."
It's not surprising that Oldham's attitude spills over to his touring schedule. He said that he and his management don't entertain all offers.
"It's definitely a mix, because I would say as often as not - or more often than not - the offers that come through are offers that I can't get excited about," Oldham said.
His careful positioning means he believes Mountain Stage is an appropriate outlet to share his work.
"It's similar to the experience of being asked to perform in the Matewan film. It's this great feeling of being energized by the context and the sense of responsibility. It's the sense that it's where I'd like this music to be."