Conor Oberst: ‘I never felt that young to begin with, and now I feel like I’m 150’
The Longitude headliner tells about going it alone for his new album, collaborating with First Aid Kit and writing a sci-fi screenplay for Monsters of Folk
‘I think my work often tends to be a reaction to the last project I did’
Upside Down Mountain is the first ‘solo’ album bearing your own name since 2008…
I know it probably seems like splitting hairs to most people, but I consider Bright Eyes a band – myself, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott – so when it’s not an equal collaboration between the three of us, I use my own name. Which was the case with this new record. Mystic Valley Band, Monsters of Folk and Desaparecidos are all bands, too, with specific members.
You’re a musician renowned for his lyrics, but this album seems to put an even bigger emphasis than usual on the language.
I think my work often tends to be a reaction to the last project I did. The last record I wrote before this was The People’s Key with Bright Eyes, and the language on that album was very dense, even cryptic. [This time] I was going for something that would unfold slowly with repeated listens and I enjoyed that challenge – but when I started writing this album, I found myself gravitating toward a much more conversational style of lyric-writing. Double Life is a good example – it’s very straightforward and less layered, and sung from just one perspective instead of many.
You’re a prolific collaborator – how much of that feeds into your solo material?
I think every musical experience I have informs the others, even if I’m not aware of it all the time. Monsters of Folk was very educational for me, because I think Jim [James] and M [Ward] are two of the best songwriters alive, and they are both great producers in their own right. It was awesome to have a ringside seat to see how they make records – I learned a great deal from them. Desaparecidos is a whole other animal: it’s very much a band, and is very physically demanding on me as a singer. But it’s a great way for me to cleanse my palette and write in a totally different style.
Swedish sisters First Aid Kit have been vocal about your influence over the years, and they provide backing vocals throughout Upside Down Mountain
Well, we had broken the ice long before the recording of this record. They made their last two records with Mike Mogis in Omaha, and I sang and co-wrote a song on their last record. We also have toured and sang together live many times now, so there was a comfort level there. They are so kind to always say how big of fans they are of mine in the press, but to me, it feels like we’re peers. They are two of the most naturally gifted singers I have ever come across and I’m amazed by how much they have grown as writers – especially considering they sing in a second language. I’m often in awe of their talent, and consider myself a big fan of theirs. So I guess the feeling is mutual.