Bright Eyes in­ter­view,

Pro­lific Ne­braskan Conor Oberst – the heart and soul of Bright Eyes – has pro­duced what is likely to be his fi­nal record un­der that moniker with so catch him this week­end while you can. He talks Amer­i­can weird­ness, the big Obama let-down and staying posi

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

CONOR OBERST has never been a fol­lower. He be­gan mak­ing mu­sic as a teenager, and set up Sad­dle Creek Records some years later. This kind of drive set him apart early on, sus­pend­ing him in a kind of mu­si­cal ice. His idea of mu­sic is more of a call­ing, a vo­ca­tion.

“I have never re­ally day­dreamed about an­other life, be­cause mu­sic was al­ways there. I was 13 when I made my first al­bum, and have been re­ally for­tu­nate to con­tinue do­ing it for so long. It has been the one thing I can rely on in the world, and makes me feel like I have some pur­pose and gives me mo­ti­va­tion.”

This mo­ti­va­tion led to him set­ting up Sad­dle Creek records with his brother, Justin. “That is a whole other story. When it started off it was com­pletely ide­al­is­tic. We were truly like chil­dren, just do­ing it for fun, as there was noth­ing go­ing on where we were from. It was amaz­ing for many years, but you learn lessons about money and friend­ship, and peo­ple get older and grow apart. Now it is just run like a busi­ness, and it’s fine. It is hard to keep that ide­al­ism when the world in­ter­venes. Al­though, I have been very blessed with so many tal­ented friends, and peo­ple who were al­ways there to col­lab­o­rate with. It was a very nur­tur­ing place to cre­ate at the be­gin­ning.”

Ac­cept­ing change as pro­gres­sion is present in so many of Oberst’s records, par­tic­u­larly 2000’s Fevers and Mir­rors, which in­tro­duced new in­stru­ments such as the ac­cor­dion into his work, and this year’s The Peo­ple’s Key, which in­volved Denny Brewer of Re­fried Ice Cream, who pro­vides the eerie and bril­liant spo­ken word in­tro­duc­tion to the record, akin to a moun­tain talk­ing sense.

“Ha! That’s a great de­scrip­tion of Denny. He has such a cool, grav­elly voice. We had spent some time pre­vi­ously in a place called Sonic Ranch in El Paso, which is this re­ally cool stu­dio in the mid­dle of nowhere. Denny lives near there and is friends with the guy who runs the stu­dio. We were there for six weeks, be­came friends, and then played some shows with Re­fried Ice Cream, who do all this re­ally cool char­ity work – we even played a show in the world’s largest Har­ley David­son deal­er­ship, which was pretty amaz­ing.

“We have a slight tra­di­tion of in­clud­ing an awk­ward in­tro in records, which forces the lis­tener to slow down, tak­ing them to a place where they are in a bet­ter mind­set to en­joy the record – or, at least, that is the hope – and I re­alised that a lot of these new songs re­minded me of the late-night car sta­tions I would lis­ten to with Denny and his son Josh. So I asked him if he would record a con­ver­sa­tion about his ideas, and he was gra­cious enough to do it. I thought maybe he would send us 15 min­utes, but in­stead he sent 90! He said so many in­ter­est­ing things that we could have done a whole record with it.”

Brewer’s ad­di­tion brings an even greater au­then­tic­ity to the record, which is polem­i­cal but kind, lo­cal but uni­ver­sal, shar­ing com­mon ground with some­one such as An­nie Proulx, who writes so well on the wilder parts of the US, from Texas to Wy­oming.

“West Texas is a re­ally mag­i­cal part of the coun­try. It is like be­ing on the moon or some­thing. Peo­ple who choose to live there, es­pe­cially where Denny lives, are like desert rat peo­ple, and are al­ways in­cred­i­bly in­ter­est­ing. Wy­oming is also very beau­ti­ful. There are cer­tain parts like Jack­son Hole, where all the movie stars live be­cause it is one of the most scenic places in the coun­try, and there are moun­tains, streams, and lakes. Tour­ing takes me to these places – I have played some weird places.”

His love of na­ture and “weird places” is be­ing sated by his new pas­sion for camp­ing. “I never camped as a kid. My fam­ily wasn’t very out­doorsy. So a cou­ple of years ago I met these peo­ple who were river rats, and they took me on trips, which were re­ally amaz­ing. That was the first time I ever re­ally slept out­side un­der the stars. The earth looked so flat to me be­fore, but to get out there and see it, you can see the dome – it’s un­real!”

Oberst’s sense of place has also drawn him to lo­cal pol­i­tics. When he re­leased Coy­ote Song last year, it was to raise aware­ness of Ari­zona’s in­tol­er­ance for the His­panic com­mu­nity. “There is this re­ally new bar­baric na­tion­al­ism in Amer­ica; it is so xeno­pho­bic and crazy. Here the His­panic com­mu­nity is used as scape­goats for the eco­nomic down­turn. I have a spe­cial love for Mex­ico, and to see a whole pop­u­la­tion bru­talised is shock­ing. Ari­zona is a no­to­ri­ous place for weird­ness. They fa­mously wouldn’t make Martin Luther King Day an of­fi­cial hol­i­day for a re­ally long time, and Pub­lic En­emy in the early ’90s had an anti-Ari­zona thing be­cause of that. It is a race to the bot­tom right now with states like Florida and Ari­zona. Even in my home state of Ne­braska, they passed a copy­cat law to SP1070 [es­sen­tially le­galised racial pro­fil­ing] it is scary to me how these ideas can be­come ac­cept­able.”

The Peo­ple’s Key is about not ac­cept­ing such bru­tal­ity and ac­knowl­edg­ing that kind­ness is far stronger. One For You, One For Me, for in­stance, is full of ra­di­ance, and the record ends on the word “mercy”.

“My hope is that there is a hu­man­ist spirit to it, the idea that we are all in this to­gether, and the di­vi­sions we cre­ate among our­selves are just il­lu­sions. There is so much mis­ery, pain and sad­ness that the only thing you can do is to put out pos­i­tive fire into the world. I think what­ever you can do, any small ges­ture of hu­man kind­ness is the right way for­ward, be­cause all of those things ac­cu­mu­late. I don’t pre­tend to know what it is all about, but when you put that pos­i­tiv­ity into the uni­verse it is go­ing to come back around. It’s all we’ve got re­ally, so the more the mer­rier.”

This pos­i­tive fire was surely his rea­son­ing for per­form­ing as part of the Vote For Change tour with Bruce Spring­steen in 2004. “Go­ing through the whole Obama elec­tion, and be­ing a big sup­porter early on, means I can’t help but feel a lit­tle let down. I am not aban­don­ing him, but the ele­phant in the room is the fact that our poli­cies are run by cor­po­ra­tions and fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests. Go fig­ure, maybe I should have re­alised more. Just be­cause we have some­one who is a de­cent hu­man be­ing doesn’t mean that he can change the ba­sic core of how our sys­tem works. What peo­ple don’t like to hear about is class war­fare, and that the su­per-rich call the shots. I don’t know how you change that. Maybe get like Egypt?”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.