After all the work entailed by the simultaneous release of the analog-sounding I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and the electronica-tinged Digital Ash in a Digital Urn a little more than two years ago, Bright Eyes mastermind Conor Oberst says he wised up.
"I think we had enough of the double record last time," he laughed. "It was pretty hectic, and the tour that followed, to promote both albums, ended up being a lot on us. We're trying to be a little smarter this time around. The idea was definitely to make one strong album that made sense."
That album, Cassadaga, will land in stores on April 10 (see "Bright Eyes Completing Politics-Free Album At Nebraska Compound"); it will be preceded by an EP featuring the LP's lead single, "Four Winds," on March 6. Oberst — who worked with his Bright Eyes cohorts Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, along with a ton of guest collaborators — says he began writing material for the record two years ago and headed into the studio last winter with more than 25 songs at his disposal. The 13-track LP was recorded off and on during 2006 and will include the cuts "No One Would Riot for Less," "Lime Tree" and "Soul Singer in a Session Band."
"The record is kind of about finding your own peace of mind, and it's somewhat about transitions and rebirth," Oberst explained. "It's into a lot of ideas about geographical location that have a sort of energy about them — where people concentrate their thoughts, whether it's meditation or prayer or something more like psychic energy.
"I tend to write about whatever's on my mind," he continued. "It's not really premeditated. Since we started with such a large pool of songs, we ended up with a pretty eclectic album, both sonically and thematically. I think it's less homogenous than certainly the last two records were."
All of the songs Oberst wrote for the disc were put to tape, he says. In time, those tracks that were left off the record will be released, perhaps as part of Bright Eyes' next LP. The songs on Cassadaga feature contributions from Tortoise drummer John McEntire, Rilo Kiley's Jason Boesel, Neva Dinova's Jake Bellows, Rachael Yamagata, M. Ward, Gillian Welch, Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss, the Like's Elizabeth "Z" Berg and several members of Eisley.
"These songs just came right out," Oberst said. "It's important to never rush it. You can't manufacture inspiration, so a lot of it is still a waiting game for me. There's still a lot of mystery to songwriting. I don't have a method that I can go back to — they either come or they don't.
"We worked a lot longer on this record than on our previous records, and we re-recorded a lot of the songs several times," he continued. "We'd record the song, listen to it and then say, 'Well, this can be better' or 'This song is better than this recording.' So we'd do it again, and that kind of freedom I think made for a better result. I'd like to think this album's a little more focused, a little more nuanced and more refined."
Bright Eyes will be touring soon to promote the Four Winds EP; that trek launches February 25 in Chicago and concludes March 10 in San Francisco. In late April the band will head out again for a full U.S. tour with openers Gillian Welch, Oakley Hall and McCarthy Trenching. But first Bright Eyes will film a video for "Four Winds," a performance-based clip to be directed by Patrick Daughters (Blood Brothers, Muse).
And there may be some exciting news for fans of Oberst's pre-Bright Eyes work this summer, the singer said.
The people at Saddle Creek — Bright Eyes' label, which was co-founded by Oberst — "are building this new venue and bar and office-space complex in downtown Omaha, Nebraska, right now, and it will be open for the summer," he explained. "We're trying to get something special for the grand opening."
The opening could feature a performance by erstwhile indie rockers Slowdown Virginia. And Oberst said that while nothing's been discussed yet, he thinks reuniting his former band, Commander Venus — which disbanded in 1997 after just two years — would make the night even more interesting.
"It would be very funny if that happened," he said. "I wouldn't imagine there's much of a demand for that reunion, but it's possible. We're all still around, but I doubt [guitarist] Robb [Nansel] would ever get onstage again." But Oberst says that reuniting with his other former outfit, Desaparecidos, is "certainly a possibility. I could see that happening at some point down the line."