With President Bush’s approval rating hovering around 35 percent, the violence in Iraq going from bad to worse and the nation seemingly divided by issues like immigration reform and gay marriage, you’d think Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst would have songwriting material to spare.
Over the past year, he’s fashioned himself into a modern-day Woody Guthrie, belting out songs like “When the President Talks to God” on The Tonight Show and appearing at anti-war concerts like the Bring ’Em Home Now show in New York (see “Bright Eyes Slam ’Off-The-Leash Administration'; Give Details On New Albums” ).
But if nothing else, Oberst is unpredictable. So when he told MTV News that his new album wouldn’t feature a single political song, it wasn’t really that surprising.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any more overtly political stuff,” Oberst said. “I mean, obviously, we need to have some kind of change in the mid-term elections and in the next presidential election, but when I sing the songs now, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s too easy.
“Everyone knows we have an incompetent administration,” he continued. “Back in 2003, 2004, it was different. The idea of going out now and hitting people over the head with it doesn’t appeal to me [because] I feel that people are coming around.”
Oberst has been working on the new Bright Eyes album in New York; Portland, Oregon; and his new home studio in Omaha, Nebraska, with a band that consists of Saddle Creek producer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis and musician/arranger Nate Walcott. He said that he hopes to have all the recording finished by November, and that the album should be in stores by March or April.
“So far, the songs reflect all the things we’re into: The folky, storytelling aspect of the music, the psychedelic studio vibe and the rock we all grew up doing,” he said. “We have a lot of ideas. I write songs and Mike is great at setting up microphones to get specific sounds, and Nate is a great piano player and a great trumpet player, and he writes and arranges string parts, too. I bought a new house and we’re building the studio there, to finish the record. Mike and I have connecting houses, with the studio in between. It’s like a compound.”
Unlike last year’s double-barreled releases I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, the new Bright Eyes LP is shaping up to be a single-disc affair, which will be preceded by an EP featuring “at least” one song from the new album. There’s also an all-star group of guest musicians lined up for the album, including Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, fellow folkie M. Ward and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James.
“That’s the great thing about traveling around and playing music: You meet these incredible people that you have a connection with,” Oberst said. “I meet a lot of people I like and I’m happy to be friends with, but then there’s other people who — not to get super-hippied out or anything — but you feel like you have to do something with them, that you have to work with them.
“And our band, not having set members, we’re free to always change players and try new things.”
— James Montgomery, with additional reporting by John Norris