Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
USA TODAY's Edna Gundersen calls his new album, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, a "flat-out stunner that justifies the breathless comparisons to Bob Dylan." With two new albums out this week (he simultaneously released the experimental Digital Ash in a Digital Urn) and a U.S. tour that kicked off Jan. 14, Oberst is suddenly everywhere. USA TODAY catches up with the singer, who has been recording music since he was 13:
Q: Serious music journalists have heralded you as this generation's Dylan or Paul Simon. Does that keep you awake at night?
A: I believe everything is pretty temporary. It's dangerous to buy into praise and criticism for what you do when you're trying to present your music to people. I don't ignore it completely, but I don't dwell on it too much. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter too much.
Q: What does keep you awake at night?
A: When I can't stop paying attention to my heartbeat. That's the worst.
Q: You're committed to your independent label in Omaha, which you co-founded with your teenage pals. Is it safe to say we're not likely to see you on a film soundtrack or in a Gap ad?
A: Seems like every time we make a record, we have to have the same conversation with the major labels and with ourselves. I'm just lucky. It's grown to the point where it serves all the needs that I require, and I don't have to consider a change. I don't know what they could offer me. Money?
Q: You collaborate with Emmylou Harris on several new songs. How did that go?
A: That's the first time I approached someone with whom I wasn't friends with beforehand. The record was done, and I felt there was room for more harmonies and a higher country-type voice. Emmylou was the voice I was hearing. So we flew to Nashville .... On the couch in the control room, she was sitting next to me, and at some point, she started singing. To hear her voice - not coming out of speakers - singing my words ... I had to excuse myself and take a break in the hallway.
Q: You've been able to hover just under the celebrity radar so far. What if you get Paris Hilton-ified and recognized everywhere you go?
A: I'll just deal with it. There are good parts, nice things about that kind of thing. You get free drinks a lot.
Q: I understand you have a long-term girlfriend.
A: Yeah, I guess I do.
Q: You "guess?"
A: It'll be a long story.
Q: We've got time.
A: No. Yeah. Actually, I've got to go now. I've got to get a cavity filled.
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