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Interview with Bright Eyes Frontman, Conor Oberst
By Holly Day
(more articles from this author)
2001-07-24
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Talking to Bright Eyes' frontman Conor Oberst is enough to make anyone feel crusty and jaded--especially if, like me, you are a crusty and jaded old fart. There's something about the way he chooses his own words in conversation that makes one uncomfortably aware of the absence of crass, four-letter words in his speech, and of the increasing presence of the same in your own.

Despite the major hoopla his album Fever and Mirrors has drawn both here and overseas, including a full-page spread in UK’s NME, Conor is still so beautifully and honestly just a 20-year-old kid from Nebraska, and a Jesuit high school graduate to boot. He even adopted a puppy two weeks before last year’s tour, and confesses that the hardest thing about going back on tour is leaving little Alyosa behind again. "I just found her, and now I'm going to keep her," he says excitedly. "She's about the size of a football, but she's going to be really big. She's really cute. We were going to take her on the road with us--I really wanted to--but I think she probably wouldn't like it that much."

After this build-up, surely you're expecting to hear about a singer-songwriter that creates sappy love songs about cornfed, God-fearing girls in knee-length cotton sundresses, but no, this is where the sweetness ends. Conor's music captures that pointless, useless feeling you get right before you get your heart broken after hours or days of trying to avoid it. His songs are best described as emotional exorcisms, punctuated by painfully stark lyrics sung by a quivering, vibrato voice that seems both angry beyond speaking and numb beyond caring at the same time, drawing heavily on both Midwest background and religious iconography alike in his songs. One song, "Arinette", could have come straight from the bleak pages of a Willa Cather novel, while "Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh" mixes images of a painful breakup with losing faith and the rejection of everlasting love. Conor's songs encapsulate and define longing itself in 4-minute cycles of highly listenable remorse, penitence, and regret. Released on Saddle Creek Records--founded by Conor and his former Commander Venus bandmates—this, his third album, has managed to incorporate a degree of pop sensibility into the formula as well.

In 1999, when Bright Eyes went overseas to Japan to support the release of their EP "Every Day and Every Night", over 150 people crowded into a tiny record store in Tokyo to see Oberst's acoustic five-song set-the rest of his stay was spent talking to Japanese reporters from 10am to 9pm for six days straight. Domestically, sales of the new album have put the new album on CMJ's Top 20 chart and in the playlists of college radio stations everywhere. Despite all the attention, though—including a series of rejected courtship from several major labels—Conor has managed to keep himself amazingly grounded. Conor's homelife is surprisingly sedate for an international pop star. A college dropout and former English major, he works at an elementary school as a paraprofessional. "It's like a teacher's assistant type of job," he explains. "My mom's the principal at the school I work at, and when I'm in town and not touring, I get to work with her. I think teaching is a really honorable profession. It's something that leaves you with a good feeling inside you at the end of the day. I'd really like to teach someday, maybe when this is all over."


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