Reviews

Cassadaga

Author: John Liberty
10/18/2007 | Kalamazoo Gazette | www.mlive.com | Live Show Preview
Conor Oberst, frontman of Bright Eyes and founder of the Omaha, Neb., label Saddle Creek Records, was not made available for an interview prior to his band's sold-out concert at the State Theatre Saturday. So, here is a collection of tidbits about Oberst, the new CD, ``Cassadaga,'' and the latest music video.

London animator David S. Blanco made Bright Eyes' latest video for the song, ``Soul Singer in a Session Band'' from the album, ``Cassadaga.'' You can see the video at www.thisisbrighteyes.com. Blanco agreed to an interview via e-mail:

Q: Doves appear in several of your videos, including for Bright Eyes. Explain the significance.

D.S.B.: Yeah, the doves or birds have had several appearances in my work, that's for sure. Personally for me, the dove represents freedom, the freedom I have as a creator to fly from one project to another without the restraint of full-time employment. Working for ``the man'' is still, to this day, my biggest fear. I personally would feel imprisoned as a creator, if I had a full-time job where I was required to be at a certain place between a set amount of hours ``being creative.''

However, as a protagonist for narratives, the bird or dove, whatever you want to call it, is a great storytelling device, simple to animate and allows one as a director to move from scene to scene effortlessly most of the time, depending on what I am doing with the narrative.

The birds have been allowed to roost for awhile. I felt they were becoming too much of a constant signature in my work, so don't expect to see them around for a while. I'm sure you won't miss them. There seems to be millions of ``graphic simple'' birds about these days, huh?

Q: How did you team up with Bright Eyes?

D.S.B.: I am represented as a director by H.S.I London. When I first joined them, I wrote a list of bands and artists I would like to work with and gave it to one of my representatives. Bright Eyes was on that list. One day, by chance, the phone rang and my producer told me that Bright Eyes' label was sniffing around my work. I laid out more sweet smells for the label to sniff until they found the pie and ate it.

Q: Were you or are you a fan of Conor Oberst? Is it easier to make a video if you are a fan of the musician or band?

D.S.B.: Huge fan -- Commander Venus, Cursive, The Faint, The Good Life, Decaparecidos and, of course, Bright Eyes are among some of my favorite bands. The fact that they all reside in Omaha and are all on the same label in one form or another really excited me when I was first introduced to that scene.

Making a video for a band as a fan is great, and a creative dream come true. I'm not really a music video director. I'm a fan of music. I would never dream of making a video for a band I wasn't 100 percent behind or a huge fan of their back catalogue. I don't see the point. Music videos rarely inspire these days anyway, and I would like to have a select reel of bands I work with.

Q: How much did you talk to Oberst about the meaning of his song? Did he offer input or was it totally up to you?

D.S.B.: Their label asked me to write on one track from the new LP. The choice was a rarity, and mine, which is unheard of at best.

So, I listened to an advance of the record all the way through and scribbled notes and thoughts down on a note pad as I did. In the end, ``Soul Singer in a Session Band'' connected with me the most. I wrote a treatment of what I thought the video should look like and feel like. I handed it in to the label and two days later I got the call saying that they had green-lighted it. Now we had to figure out how to make the thing in a week!

Q: Describe the pressure with putting images to what can be abstract thoughts or ideas from another creative mind. How do you hone in on certain themes, messages or feelings?

D.S.B.: Putting your own ideas to someone else's thoughts is the best thing about what I do, reinventing or repackaging something someone has already laid down per se.

However, it can be pretty tricky trying to find that middle ground where your ideas relate to the topic at hand -- in this case, Conor's music and lyrics. However, with such an abstract canvas to work from initially it gives one incredible license to either ``go with the flow'' or try and interpret the lyrics from a completely different angle. One of the things that struck me about the Bright Eyes track I worked on was its jolly feel. It's almost like a sing-along track, dating back to the golden age of Americana and even though the lyrics are a call to arms, and that appealed to me the most, taking this urgent message and combining it with a uptempo feel gave me a unique situation to tell a more humble, sad and reflective message to what we are doing to humanity in general.

Q: What did ``Soul Singer in a Session Band'' mean to you? What did you take away from it?

D.S.B.: The sad state of humanity and a total disrespect to everything that was once pure around us. I thought it had a very organic element that I wanted to tap into.

I felt it also had a significant political message -- a feeling that all is not what it is, that corrupt leadership is part of our modern Western lives, covered by this jolly, happy coating that attempts to reassure us that everything is OK when all the time a pathetic attempt is constantly being made to imprison our thoughts, lives and humanity in general ... TO FEED US FEAR.

My protagonist, in contrast to what Conor ``may'' have been writing about, differs significantly as my character is in the form of a dove of peace, a messenger of hope, someone trying to, at all costs, reach the other doves of peace and failing because of man's desire for greed and control. The outcome is portrayed in the misery of our planet.

-- John Liberty,

Kalamazoo Gazette

Conor Oberst on comparisons to Bob Dylan

``It just doesn't really make a lot of sense to me other than I guess we both play guitar and sing in English,'' Oberst said during a phone interview with Ontario's Barrie Examiner last June. ``I mean, I like Bob Dylan's music along with a lot of other music, but I read (Dylan comparisons) about a lot of people so in that sense it seems kind of like lazy journalism.''

Bright Eyes on the road

The Los Angeles Times sat in on Bright Eyes' performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Oct. 1. Here's what writer Ann Powers had to say:

``Wherever (Conor Oberst) and the band ranged thematically or musically, Oberst remained the center of attention. His voice, a forceful yet wobbly tenor communicating constant upheaval, is by far the most distinctive musical element in Bright Eyes. The band is not dull -- multi-instrumentalist and producer Mike Mogis led vibrant and varied arrangements, and the whole band played with fierce commitment. But Oberst's voice cut through it all, the way a whisper sometimes can in a crowded room. His magnetism fit a band setting; he obviously loves the sparks generated when musicians collide, and he's chosen mates with enough talent to find their place within his aura. But the band's pairing with the Philharmonic was anticlimatic ... .''

A bit about `Cassadga'

Using the `spectral decoder'

On the surface, the art work of Bright Eyes' latest CD doesn't look like much other than a dull gray case. But once you open it, things liven up. The disc comes with a ``spectral decoder,'' a small screen you slide across the surface that brings out encoded illustrations not detectable to the naked eye. Saddle Creek Records graphic designer Zack Nipper drew the images while listening to an early version of the album. In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald in April, Nipper described how the concept came together.

In the article, Nipper said Conor Oberst, the band's frontman and Saddle Creek founder, originally wanted hidden images using stereogram optical illusions, the kind you stare at for awhile and hidden images appear. Nipper thought some people might not be able to see it. He searched for other options online and discovered 3D Images Ltd., out of London. The company took Nipper's illustrations and, using a computer program, created the art you see now.

There are a number of images like palm trees, pyramids, stars and a flying coffin. Oberst also added real and made-up messages, some in other languages.

What is Cassadaga?

Cassadaga is a small unicorporated community in Volusia County, Fla. The 35-acre area is a hilly retreat for Spiritualist readers and psychic healers. Spiritualism is a religion based on a strong belief in God and that people's personalities survive death. In a February article in the Orlando Sentinel, it was said that Oberst named the album after a visit to Cassadaga. The area often has visitors seeking communication and guidance from the spiritual world, the Sentinel said.

The first track on the album is ``Clairaudients (Kill Or Be Killed).'' Clairaudients is the name given to psychics who hear the words of a spirit guide, which is different from clairvoyants who interpret pictures or symbols for their clients.

-- John Liberty, Kalamazoo Gazette

Ticket stub

Bright Eyes, with opener Andrew Bird, 8 p.m. Saturday, State Theatre, 404 S. Burdick St., downtown Kalamazoo. SOLD OUT.
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