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Monday 16 September 2019

Bright Eyed

The indie star leaves behind angst and goes a fresh, matured way

BEATNIK: Conor Oberst has grown up on tour with his band and draws inspiration from the changing tide
BEATNIK: Conor Oberst has grown up on tour with his band and draws inspiration from the changing tide

Conor Oberst’s new album is the first released under his own name in 13 years. But the former member of Bright Eyes isn’t after taking a musical hiatus. He’s going it solo.

“Well, it’s a little-known fact, because we sometimes do a poor job of explaining ourselves to people, but Bright Eyes is a band – myself, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott. It wouldn’t have been right for me to call it Bright Eyes,” said the guitarist, singer and song-writer of the alternative folk band from Nebraska.

Life on the road was necessary for the success of his small-town band and has had a huge effect on Conor’s growth, who has been touring full-time since he was 19.

“It really has taken over my life. It definitely affects the way I think about things. I can’t really stay in a town for more than a month or two. Even if I don’t have a reason to leave, I make one up.

“I find that moving keeps me optimistic, the idea of what’s going to be down the road a bit or around the next bend. That feeling is a big motivation in my life. Also, I tend to think I really come to appreciate somewhere after I’ve left it.”

Over the last 10 years, Conor has grown from small independent beginnings in Omaha to securing simultaneously the top two places on the American Billboard Hot 100. Humble and unassuming, he never expected that kind of success.

“In the back of my mind, I was always assuming eventually I’d have to get a real job and all of a sudden it’s 10 years later and I’m still doing it and I guess that’s what life is. I’ve been fortunate it’s been a gradual climb,” he shares.

While he once had a reputation for being angst-ridden, that aspect seems to have left his songs “I think it’s fair to say my tastes have changed over the years and I’ve grown up. When you’re 16 or 17, I think like most people that age, the first time you experience certain things in life, whether it’s heartbreak or death or love, obviously it’s going to seem like a much bigger deal.

“That’s how old I was and that’s what the world seemed to me.”

With Conor’s recent album recorded in Tepoztlan, Mexico, a place known for UFO sightings, and the last Bright Eyes album ‘Cassadaga’ named for the Florida psychic community, Conor seems to be pulled towards the occult.

“I’m always looking for a chance to peek behind the curtain or understand more about life. ‘I’m a spiritual being having a human experience’. I heard someone say that once, I like that.”

Whereas the last Bright Eyes record took a year in the studio to complete, Conor finished this album over a period of six weeks in a make-shift studio.

“I wanted to have a more laidback experience. I’m less of a perfectionist.”

Conor is due to entertain large crowds at Electric Picnic yet his music makes its name in being alternative and independent. How will it fare at a festival?

“Maybe it’s the kind of music I play – it’s not exactly the most anthemic festival crowd-pleasers – so sometimes it’s difficult to be in that environment, where people are kind of just looking to throw their fists in the air and get rowdy.”

‘Conor Oberst’ by Conor Oberst is out today; Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band play Electric Picnic, Co Laois, August 31.

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