Reviews

Fevers and Mirrors

Author: Keith Cameron
07/01/2000 | NME | Feature
At the ripe age of 20, Conor Oberst is a little long in the tooth to be properly termed a prodigy, but his talents are certainly prodigious. Since releasing his first cassette seven years ago, this multi-instrumentalist citizen of Omaha, Nebraska, has written hundreds of songs and made records with various groups of differing striped before settling on Bright Eyes as the front for his disarming brand of acoustic-based melodrama.

A hardened veteran of the US tour routine, his recent London debut was a wild affair: seated behind his guitar and piano, Oberst resembled a teenage runaway singing hysterical tales of heartbreak and dysfunction. At times he looked on the verge of tears - and the awestruck audience felt much the same.

"In general, I like performing," he says, sipping a Bloody Mary in a pub near Hyde Park. "Probably the most uncomfortable place for me to play is Omaha. 'Cos everyone there knows me and knows about...shit."

Indeed, Bright Eyes' songs are overwrought and almost ridiculously unhappy. In a quavering drawl suggestive of a gothic Elliot Smith, Conor sings of lives assailed by mania, people doing bad things to themselves and each other. The extent to which his work is autobiographical is a moot point.  Near the end of "Fevers and Mirrors," the third Bright Eyes album and the first to be released in the UK, there's a mock radio interview in which 'Conor' (it's actually someone pretending to be him) claims his mother drowned five of his brothers and that he's prone to vanity and self-loathing.  As well as being funny, it's clearly an attempt to conflate the dichotomy between truth and fiction in art.

"I had thought of writing elaborate liner notes explaining the imagery but that was gonna sound real pretensious when I got it down on paper. So some of the answers are truthful, maybe to the effect of something I would have written, but then a lot of it is just bullshit. People tend to obsess over what part of the songs have taken place in my life and I just don't see it as very relevant.  It was also to make fun of the seriousness of the whole record. It's so stark up until that point, and it's like, 'Hey, we're aware that this is really serious, dramatic music, we're not so into ourselves that we can't realize that.'"

Given both the intensity of his muse and his pretty-boy-lost demeanour, it's not suprising to discover Conor has attracted some particularly obsessive female attention.

"I get letters from these girls telling me every fucked-up thing that's ever happened in their lives. Seriously horrible details. What can you do? Do I send them an 8 x10 with a signature going, 'Here you go, slit your writs!'? I used to write back and give just generic encouragements, but after a while I was like, 'This is lame, I have nothing to offer these people. I have no idea what I'm even doing, how can I possibly give advice?'"

Bright Eyes laughs.
"Yeah, it seems the people that like it, really fucking like it."
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