Burning likeflr

As BRIGHT EYES, he has wheedled his way into our hearts with his tragic troubadouric turns, but just who is the chiselled-Cheekboned enigma that is Conor Oberst? Words. Camilla Pia

here's a common misconception that male vocalists

who show emotion when they sing are all tortured

artist types. Like Jeff Buckley or Thom Yorke. Bright

liyes' frontman and songwriter ('onor ()berst is seen as a

fragile. depressive sort. Yet far from the tragic American folk

troubadour whose sotil is wracked with pain. the ()berst I call

at home in Omaha is polite and softly spoken. with a dry sense

of humour and a beguiling Nebraskan drawl. He is charming

from the word go. lattghing at stories of pop idol-esque post-

gig dratna in America where his tour manager has to plan

routes for him to avoid obsessive fans and the strange types in general that his masic attracts.

At the ripe old age of 22. ()berst has live albums under his

belt already. fottr with the ever-changing collective of

musicians that is Bright liyes. and one rockier. more political release. 300i 's Raul .IIusir/Spt'uk Spanish with l)esaparecidos. He admits to growing up on a rich mttsical diet of Bob Dylan. Neil Young. Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell. moving on later to the (we. Rli.\l. the Replacements. Pavement and litiga/i. btit has a blatant disregard for most tnodern music. "I‘here's a folk singer from Omaha natned Simon Joiner who is a big part of my life personally and as a songwriter. and he has definitely shaped a lot of what my music actually sounds like.' he says. 'lt‘s always hard to pack all your record collection into one sentence bttt I like a lot of (Ms and 7()s stttff. The only new record I'm really excited abottt is by a gtty called M Ward. It’s hard to find a lot of new stttffthat is stimulating. I guess.‘

At l3. when tnost kids are either glued to the TV or hanging around on the streets trying to scab the odd cigarette. ()berst begttn writing songs. ‘I pretty much always wanted to sitth he says. almost apologetically. ‘I'm sure there mttst have been a couple of dreams before that. like being an astronaut or something. bttt from the age of eight or nine. 1 really felt that mttsic was going to be a major part of my life. I didn't necessarily envision it as a career btit I thought endlessly abottt it and just wanted to play it as much as possible. As I grew up it was where I ptit all my nervous energy and all my time really was jtist playing in bands and working on songs.'

()maha-based record label Saddle (‘reek pttt ottt his first Bright Iiyes LP. a lo-fi set of home recordings. entitled A (‘Hiit't'lion (II‘SUH‘QS Il'l'illt'n uml R(’('UI'(]('(I l995-l997 in I997. followed a year later by Letting ofl’rhv Happiness; However. it was 3000‘s rim-x and .Ilirmrs that first brought him to the attention of the indie underground with its stark emotional vocals. intense lyrics and stunning melodies. Last year's Lilia]. or The Story is in the Soil. Keep Your [for lo [/16 Ground brottght his music to a wider audience. as well as seeing ()berst move from acoustic-based storytelling to more grandiose country jigs.

The ultra-prolific Nebraskan supplements his work with Bright Iiyes by working on other projects with different




collectives from the tightly-knit ()maha band community. allowing him to make music without the increasingly obsessive scrutiny over his lyrics and private life. 'I jttst think it's sort of silly and a little bit degrading for the music that you‘re trying to share with people when they try to pick through which line of a song comes directly ottt of your life or your friend's life and try to piece together other random information they have. which is for the most part completely flawed. to figure ottt what you're talking about. It’s also jttst a little unnerving to get people showing tip outside the house and doing loads of weird sttiff. I think the music maybe attracts a certain type of . . . personality.‘ he laughs.‘ I‘ve learned in the last year that I've had to change the way I do some things. At shows in the l'S. our tour manager devises a little escape route for me. Right when I get off stage I go directly to the back of the bus and stay there until it moves. It seems drastic and I did feel like I was in prison some of the time bill if I hung around to help pick up equipment or move shit or even get a drink at the bar it jtist cattsed a bunch of hassles.'

Despite the humour on Bright liyes records. like the spoken word excerpt at the end of the Ferns and .I’Iirrm‘s l.l’ where ()berst ridicules a brainless l'S radio I)J. people prefer to focus on the depressive sides rather than the raw unbridled joy in his work. labelling him the latest voice for the disaffected youth.

‘l'm glad you and some other people

picked tip on my humorous side. ()bviotisly we sing a lot of

sad songs and that‘s a pan of life bttt most imponantly I just think the tnore you can laugh every day the better off you are.‘

A split liP with Neva l)enova is in the making. a new l)esaparecidos LP is due to be recorded in January next year and work on Bright liyes material is planned for next Spring. Btit before all that (‘onor ()berst is back in (ilasgow after last year's incredible King 'I'uts gig. and this forthcoming foray will feature debut new tracks on his biggest l'K shows to date with a seven-piece country band featuring trumpet. vibraphone and pianos.

‘I think if you're going to perform. you should just do whatever you feel like doing at that moment. becattse if you start to do this total automatic performance where everything is exactly the satne and they ptit their little quarter in the machine and you do your dance and then everyone goes home. then that's a shame and that‘s when I want out.‘

()berst is an enchanting and complicated character. llis lyrics are either staggeringly honest. or filled with red herrings to keep tis at arm‘s length. We will never know any more about him than the character he chooses to portray at any given moment: the kind of unpredictable. intelligent and mysterious personality not seen since Mon‘issey. And we all know that those kinds of people always make the best icons.

Bright Eyes play Glasgow University Union, Tue 5 Aug.

1 Ji—T {A THE LIST 1 1