Conor Oberst's efforts on the politically charged Vote for Change Tour in October might have been all for naught, but at least fans can safely assume that his distressed reaction to November 2 will likely result in a few more tormented records.
"I ran the gauntlet of emotions following the election," the Bright Eyes singer said. "First disbelief and wanting to wake up, then devastation and anger, fear and then just sadness."
However, after his new albums — the traditionally folky I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and the electronically tinged departure Digital Ash in a Digital Urn — made their debuts in the top 20 on the albums chart this week, the Nebraskan emo folkie might have other concerns on his mind: first and foremost, his occupation as indie rock star du jour.
In early November, Oberst found his singles "Lua" and "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)" inexplicably at the top of the Hot 100 singles chart (see "Bright Eyes Slam 'Off-The-Leash Administration'; Give Details On New Albums"), beating out the likes of Jessica Simpson, Snoop Dogg and Chingy. He's scored a plum slot on Coachella (see "Coachella Snags Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, Bright Eyes, Wilco"), and is now plotting his next move — music videos that could potentially transform him from cult hero into bona fide indie superstar.
A minimalist video for "Lua" (from I'm Wide Awake) has already been shot, and a second clip, for Awake's "First Day of My Life," will be helmed by "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" director John Cameron Mitchell. "I used to be scared of videos," Oberst said. "But I am way more interested in making cool videos than I am with being on commercial radio, which is complete sh--. Videos can still be a cool [aesthetic format] that adds to the song."
Oberst is also trying to convince another recent indie darling, Oscar-nominated "Sideways" director Alexander Payne, to lens an upcoming video if they can sync up their schedules. "He's from Omaha, too, and we went to the same high school," Oberst said optimistically.
Having released both his new records on Saddle Creek — the independent label he co-founded — Oberst can't hide the pride he feels in trumping his mass-marketed opposition.
"I do think it's cool that something released on an indie can outsell [records] that have bigger budgets and a lot more promotion behind them," he said. "It's a testament to music fans that go out and find music they like and get into it and it's just not what they are being spoon-fed."
Those a little put out by Bright Eyes' past mopiness might be happy about the new album titles and themes.
"The idea [of Awake is] is like a rallying call to focus on whatever it is that you're going to do with this new day," he said of its carpe diem motto. Though un-morose, Digital's meaning is more oblique. "[Digital Ash] is the idea that the essence of something can exist without the substance or without the physical form. Like the Internet; how you can have all the libraries in the world and every blueprint existing in this invisible space."
As for fans wondering whether his Digital excursion was just a detour or a trend, Oberst says he likes to keep his creative future open. "I hope to just keep doing different things, whether it be more affected electronic stuff, or something more traditional," he said. "I'm equally excited about all styles of music, so I guess it's whatever suits the song."
Currently on the road in support of Wide Awake, a tour for the Digital Ash record with Saddle Creek electro-rock compatriots the Faint acting as his backing band is in the works for May.
Dates for the I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning leg of Bright Eyes' tour, according to Oberst's publicist:
- 2/3 - Miami, FL @ Olympia Theatre
- 2/4 - Tampa, FL @ Tampa Theatre
- 2/5 - Lake Buena Vista, FL @ House of Blues
- 2/7 - Fort Worth, TX @ Ridglea Theatre
- 2/8 - Austin, TX @ La Zona Rosa
- 2/10 - Phoenix, AZ @ Celebrity Theatre
- 2/11 - San Diego, CA @ Spreckels Theatre
- 2/12 - Los Angeles, CA @ Orpheum Theatre
- 2/13 - Los Angeles, CA @ Orpheum Theatre
- 2/15 - Berkeley, CA @ Berkeley Community Theatre
- 2/16 - Portland, OR @ Roseland Theatre
- 2/17 - Seattle, WA @ Paramount Theatre