Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....

Author: Troy Johnson
04/10/2003 | San Diego City Beat | | Feature
Bright Eyes is the moniker of one Conor Oberst, a frail confessionist from Omaha, Neb. His wailing diary-rock has made people cry. Big, glossy magazines like SPIN and Rolling Stone have now caught on. He is like the frayed bunch of nerves in Dashboard Confessional's closet. Here, he speaks of Nebraska, people crying, big industry and Starbucks. The diary gets bigger.

Could you touch on the contrast between the Conor Oberst who wears blue suits and has friends by his side on prestigious rock tours, compared to the Conor Oberst who writes about suicide, anxiety and depression?

Sure. I think that the music-art someone creates can be an expression of their person without fully encompassing it. For me, I just write what comes out and try not to worry about what people may think or how it will reflect on me as a person. Maybe that is unwise. I am not miserable all the time. I have lots of friends and enjoy having good times.

It seems like you are close with both of your folks and your brother, yet some of your songs point to uncomfortable relationships. Is that more folklore or real, personal feelings? For me, songwriting or writing in general is intended to find some common truths among humans. To capture thoughts, feelings that anyone, whether they know you or not, can relate to on some level. I usually put a lot of myself into the process, but the goal is not a biography, but a song. I want people to relate to the music, not to me. I sing about myself, my family, my friends, strangers, archetypes, characters, every book I ever read, every movie I every saw, every conversation I ever had—every day I ever lived plays a part in what I write.

Before turning 21, you accepted a publishing deal with a major record company. Do you have any regret? Does being affiliated with a corporation like that have any effect on writing songs about capitalism or make you leery about being quoted, as you recently were on MTV, saying the music industry sucks and you wouldn't want to sign with a major label?

The music industry does suck and I would never want a major-label record deal. The publishing deal has worked out great... mostly 'cause they have never used it for anything. I have a great relationship with the dude who handles our affairs over there so he understands what we want and don't want. He doesn't shop us to TV or commercials and talks everything through with us. I think I am lucky.

Especially on your new album, Lifted, your voice can nearly be operatic. And, like an opera, your music has been known to bring people to tears. Have you come to terms with that?

It is strange when I stop and think about people's reaction to the music. I try not to, because either way—whether they love it or hate it—it just makes me feel more uncomfortable and self-conscious. I am happy when people react strongly, though, because at least I know it's not bland, it's not background music.

Your shows are always better when you are a bit pickled… when was the last time you performed dead sober? I don't remember the last time, honestly.

No one really thinks of Nebraska as breeding some amazing music, but Omaha seems to be getting a lot of attention from the national media lately. What's so special to you about Omaha? Omaha is my home. It is overflowing with people I love. There are some great songwriters here... but as far as a city and music scene, it could use a lot of work. We are trying, but it's hard to find support for art in such a conservative place. We are not giving up, though. There are a lot of creative people who are actively trying to improve the artistic climate here. Every little bit helps.

You probably spend half of your year on tour, in big cities like Los Angeles and New York, where Starbucks are everywhere. When was the last time you found yourself indulging in a white chocolate, half-calf, non-fat latte? I manage to avoid Starbucks pretty well.... But it is hard to travel and not patronize a lot of corporate chains.... It sucks 'cause you wish you could seek out the competition but it can be rough traveling—Motel 6, Jiffy Lube, Denny's—it's just impossible to win. But every little bit of subversion helps.