The People's Key
3/7/11 | Spinner.com | www.spinner.com | Feature
The scientifically motivated ninth Bright Eyes album, 'The People's Key,' explores the reality of trouble-shooting the future and how modern humans are in control of their own successes. Spinner sat down with the Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott to discuss their newest endeavor and the longevity of the Bright Eyes moniker.Is 'The People's Key' your 'pop' record?Conor Oberst: I certainly wanted it to be pop.Mike Mogis: It ascribes more to the conventional formulas of pop music. For instance, it's formulated, which is new to us. It's honestly kind of fun, because we like that kind of music.CO: When we started making the record, we knew the kind of record we didn't want to make more than the kind we did want to make. The first several months of the recording there was a lot of confusion.MM: Forward and Reverse and Forward and Reverse.What were the initial concepts that inspired you to put pen to paper?CO: I've been reading more science fiction in the last few years. I'm a real big Vonnegut fan. He's one of my favorites. I find it interesting that so often predictions in science fiction become true. That's really fascinating.There are several monologues about space, time, humanity and existence peppered throughout the album. Who is that speaking and why did you include them?CO: That's a friend of mine, this guy named Denny who I met when I was making a record outside of El Paso. He's a really interesting guy. He has a band called Refried Ice Cream, which I highly recommend, and he's just one of those characters I met along the way. When I was writing the songs for this record, I kept thinking about him because I realized a lot of these ideas came from conversations I had with him. I asked if he wouldn't mind committing some of it to tape to be used in the context of the album and he was gracious enough to do that.Musically, what inspired this? Some of it seems influenced by the Pixies.CO: Oh, I love the Pixies. They have always been an inspiration. Frank Black is the coolest man on the planet. He's always had a sci-fi thing going on. [His third solo album] 'Cult of Ray' was supposedly all about Ray Bradbury.Who have been your songwriting influences?CO: Leonard Cohen, I'd say is one of my all time favorites. There's so many different styles of writing lyrics too...it doesn't always have to be serious. I've always liked Mark Bolan, T. Rex. His lyrics are amazing and they're like, crazy made-up words half the time, but he's so elevated at that style that it's completely satisfying as a listener.How has your approach to songwriting changed since the early days?CO: I guess I favor writing that is more open for interpretation. At a certain point in my life, I was frustrated if people didn't know exactly what I meant by a song, whereas now, I have almost the polar opposite feeling and I want it to mean whatever they find in it. To me that's more exciting.Are there any books or authors in particular that influenced the album?CO: I really like Margaret Atwood. She wrote 'The Handmaid's Tale,' and she has two books called 'Oryx and Crake' and 'After the Flood,' they're sort of companion pieces -- not sequels, but very similar. Arthur C. Clarke has the book 'Childhood of Man,' which is kind of a touchstone. Obviously Vonnegut, his stuff. Orson Welles, Jules Verne, all that stuff is interesting to me. Those two in particular really predicted things that were right around the corner, a century ahead.Also, I don't know if you're familiar with the theory of singularity. This guy, Ray Kurzweil, who was the inventor of early synthesizers, he has this theory -- a few other people write about it too -- but essentially there's a point where artificial intelligence reaches beyond human intelligence and we fuse in with the internet and become what he calls "spiritual machines." Essentially, you stop having to die and stop having to eat. Our physical form is no longer important because you're able to maintain your consciousness by uploading it to the next frame, which sounds spooky and weird but I think it's 100% achievable, especially when you think about how fast new machines invent newer machines, which invent the newer machines. It's exponential growth. A person doesn't have to sit down and invent every one of these steps. His vision is really utopian, like this is the way forward. Humans, we're obviously going to destroy our planet and destroy our physical form, but we'll continue in this way.Is working together ever difficult?MM: We get along really well obviously. We wouldn't have been doing it this long if we didn't. But it would be a lie to say it was rainbows and sunshine all the time.CO: Yeah, there's always moments throughout the course of making a record where we have differing opinions and you have to resolve those through communication.MM: Mostly just civil discourse, or trying the ideas.CO: If someone has an idea let's not rule it out until we try it.What new directions do you want to try?MM: I said salsa and tango. It was a joke, but I could see us trying it. But probably not, but [Conor] has been working on a lot of dance moves, which I appreciate, so it's possible.Who else are you excited about hearing at the moment?CO: I want to hear the Strokes' record. Mike might make a record with First Aid Kit possibly, from Sweden. If he makes a record with them, I'd be excited to hear that.In terms of the future, was any of this inspired by you possibly retiring the Bright Eyes moniker?CO: That rumor stemmed from an interview that ... we're not really saying that. We're going to wait and see what happens. After this record and after this tour, we don't have any plans. At this point, Mike, Nate and I have pretty separate existences. We all live in different cities. Mike produces records and has a family and works really hard on that, and Nate gets hired for string arrangements and he tours with bands. He was just on tour with Broken Bells with Danger Mouse and James Mercer, so he keeps busy as a musician. I have my own things going on.Will Bright Eyes make another record?CO: We have no plans right now. But I guess it's not that unusual because we just finished one.MM: I think it'll come up more naturally. "Oh, I have these new songs let's do something with them."CO: Let's just agree right now.MM: We'll make another record?CO: What do you guys say?[Band members shake hands]Catch Bright Eyes's SXSW Set on Saturday, March 19 at Auditorium Shores Stage (Riverside Dr & S 1st St.) 7:30PM.