Though only 34, Conor Oberst has been a recording artist for more than two decades, starting with raw, acoustic guitar-based bedroom tracks he cut as a young teenager and initially released on cassette. After his early Omaha-based band Commander Venus broke up, Oberst recast himself as Bright Eyes, an umbrella name for Oberst, producer-keyboardist Mike Mogis and multi-instrumentalist/arranger Nathaniel Wolcott, and a shifting group of collaborators. By the time he released Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground on Saddle Creek, the label he helped found with friends in Omaha, Oberst was a word-of-mouth success, with an avid young audience that helped to sell out his tours. The critics soon followed. Rolling Stone called him "a true American original: the ghost of Walt Whitman setting up shop in the wraith-white, rail-thin frame of an acoustic-strumming Nebraska Cure fan." The 2005 simultaneous release of two markedly different Bright Eyes albums-the more singer-songwriter-oriented I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and the darker, computerized Digital Ash in a Digital Urn-displayed the breadth of his talent. Time Magazine listed I'm Wide Awake among its top 10 albums of the year. Since then, Bright Eyes has continued to evolve, its lineup morphing with each successive tour. While supporting his 2007 Cassadaga album, Oberst took over New York City's Town Hall for a week of sold-out shows, with his large, string-augmented ensemble outfitted spectacularly in white suits. He's also recorded and toured with Mogis, Jim James, and M. Ward as Monsters of Folk as well as with his own Mystic Valley Band. For the first leg of his summer 2014 tour, he's bringing along Wilson's other pals, the Southern Californian quartet Dawes as his support act and backing band.
"I feel lucky that I have been able to do this for as longs as I have," declares Oberst. "I've seen so many talented friends come and go, for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes they stop making music because they can't pay the bills or they lose the passion for it. At this point it is my life. I don't know another way to live. There is something fundamental in myself; I have to be this way. It completes what I am."
Upside Down Mountain features many other friends of Oberst's, including producer Jonathan Wilson, engineer Andy LeMaster, bassist Macey Taylor, multi-instrumentalist Blake Mills, and the Swedish sibling folk-rock vocal duo First Aid Kit. What started as exploratory demos with producer-musician Jonathan Wilson at his Fivestar Studios in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, in a home Wilson rents from Oberst, became the first de facto album sessions. Returning to his native Omaha, Nebraska, Oberst kept rolling with the help of frequent collaborator, engineer, and friend Andy LeMaster at his own ARC Studios. Even more tracking followed in Omaha last November and December. Then Oberst and Wilson moved south to Blackbird Studio in Nashville.
"This is a return to an earlier way I wrote," Oberst says of the songs on Upside Down Mountain. "It's more intimate or personal, if you will. Even if all my songs come from the same place, you make different aesthetic decisions along the way. For me, language is a huge part of why I make music. I'm not the greatest guitar player or piano player-I'm not the greatest singer, either-but I feel if I can come up with melodies I like that are fused with poetry I'm proud of, then that's what I bring to the table. That's why I'm able to do this."
1. Time Forgot
2. Zigzagging Toward the Light
3. Hundreds of Ways
4. Artifact #1
5. Lonely at the Top
6. Enola Gay
7. Double Life
9. Night at Lake Unknown
10. You Are Your Mother's Child
11. Governor's Ball
12. Desert Island Questionnaire
13. Common Knowledge