Conor Oberst on The Morning Mix
Conor Oberst talks to Cindy Howes about his new solo album Upside Down Mountain.
Aside from his work in the indie-rock band Bright Eyes since 1995, musician Conor Oberst has released a few solo albums in the past, but his newest work ‘Upside Down Mountains’ marks the first album to be released by the major label Nonesuch Records owned by Warner Brothers.
Since he was 13 years old, Oberst has been writing songs, but being a musician involves progressing through trial and error, and he did so by through many performances. “A lot of my earlier songs — a lot of that was based off of not being able to hear yourself on like a terrible PA in a weird punk-rock performance space.” “You just learn to kinda scream over top of the band.” As time went on, and the sound equipment improved, Oberst learned how to “best use the limited resources” available to him, and his 15-year old “jump an octave” style singing turned into the now unique style he is recognized for.
Oberst was ready to switch labels when his old one “Saddle Creek Records” which released all of Bright Eyes’ albums was changing. “As time goes on, the real world kind of intervenes, and it’s not like I had a falling out with anyone, but I was ready for a change, and [Saddle Creek] turned into more of a traditional record label model in the sense that “there was one guy that ran the label, and we were all just kind of bands” so that collective spirit, in a very gradual way, dissipated as we got older.”
When asked what the name ‘Upside Down Mountain’ means, Oberst said, in a non-morbid sense, it’s about being content with the reality that at the end of the day “you’re born alone, and you die alone.” “So much of life is to try to find connections to other people and figure out a way to get down, or up, the side of that mountain.”
“We all have our own sense of self,” says Oberst, and this is expressed in a line “I hope I am forgotten when I die” from one of his songs “Hundreds of Ways.” The lyric is Oberst’s way of saying “once I’m gone, the real material me that can explain myself— I hope that people just don’t talk about me because they’ll have it all wrong.”
As well as his musical capabilities, Oberst has an interest in film as he auditioned for a lead role in the 2013 film “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and though the role went to Oscar Issac, the acting experience got Oberst thinking about “how incredibly difficult it is to be a good actor.” “Film is really interesting to me because it’s so collaborative. You can go into a studio or even your bedroom and make a record on your own fairly easily, but to make a film — to make a good film — involves hundreds and hundreds of people.”