Conor Oberst :: My Favorite Artists/Bands

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Conor Oberst :: My Favorite Artists/Bands

I became enraptured by Conor Oberst singing and songwriting during a particular year that had a huge impact on my musical taste. It was the in the early aught’s, during the same time frame that I discovered Arcade Fire, Death Cab For Cutie, The Libertines, and Conor’s incarnation, Bright Eyes. I think it was Lua I heard first, a track discovered on a Mix CD that a good friend of mine made, and sent out for a musical Valentine’s present. Or, it could have been Lover I Don’t Have to Love, heard off of a Pandora station. I cannot recall which was first, but I do remember falling hard for both songs, especially the former. It wasn’t long after that I went out and bought I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and LIFTED Or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.

My next vivid Conor-esque memory was a trip to Chicago I took. The same friend who sent that quintessential Mix CD and I drove around the city listening to the album, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. It was that afternoon that I fell hard for the songs Gold Mine Gutted and Devil in the Details. On my return home to LA I would rush out and buy the album, playing it obsessively for weeks. Every time I heard a new album I would fall in love and decide it was my favorite, until I heard the next one.

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Cassadega was that next one, and oh my stars how I fell for it. Every song on the album resonated with me in a deeply personal way, and If the Brakeman Turns My Way, which became an anthem, of sorts, to me. I named two blogs after the a piece of the lyric, “I tried to pass for nothing but my dreams gave me away” because it hit me so deeply, the notion of trying to disappear into the ordinary and mundane, but your dreams, and poetry, and art, and music, or whatever you create exposes you, showing off your uniqueness, your weirdness, your authenticity. It is still a lyric that will bring tears to my eyes, and those all over chills on my skin.

I had the privilege to see Conor live twice. Once at the El Rey in Los Angeles, under the Bright Eyes moniker, and once on his own, with a huge hat on his head, under the desert sun of Coachella. I hope those two times won’t be the last.

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Conor’s music has inspired many pieces of writing I’ve done. His music has accompanied passion infused mixes sent to lovers, and various playlists shared with friends. He has been part of a soundtrack that played during happy moments, break-ups and losses, and while driving cross-country in hopes of a new life. I still listen, and turn to his albums, and songs, when I am in search of inspiration, solace, or just to sing-a-long to.

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Conor Mullen Oberst (born February 15, 1980) is an American singer-songwriter best known for his work in Bright Eyes. He has also played in several other bands, including Desaparecidos, Norman Bailer (The Faint), Commander Venus, Park Ave.,Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Arab Strap and Monsters of Folk. Oberst was named the Best Songwriter of 2008 by Rolling Stone magazine.

Conor Mullen Oberst was born on February 15, 1980, as the youngest boy in a family of three boys, and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, to Matthew Ryan Oberst, Sr., an information manager for Mutual of Omaha, and Nancy Oberst, an elementary education director for Omaha Public Schools.

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Oberst was educated at St. Pius X/St. Leo School in Omaha, Nebraska, where he was in the school choir and other musical groups, and Creighton Preparatory School, also in Omaha, Nebraska. He briefly attended college at the University of Nebraska but did not complete his course, dropping out after three semesters to tour.

One night in 1992, Ted Stevens (of Mayday and Cursive) invited Oberst onstage to play. Bill Hoover, who was in attendance, invited Oberst to come back to play with him a couple of weeks later. In that short amount of time, Oberst wrote enough songs to fill out the set, establishing himself as an artist. Shortly thereafter, Oberst began committing his new repertoire to tape in his parents’ basement with his father’s four track cassette recorder and an acoustic guitar.

In mid-1993, Oberst self-released his debut album Water on cassette tape. The release of the album was financed by his brother Justin on what they called Lumberjack Records, the indie label that would become Saddle Creek Records, making them founders and present day executives of the label.

Shortly after his two solo recordings, Oberst began playing with four friends; they formed Commander Venus in mid-1995.

Here’s to Special Treatment was followed by 1996’s The Soundtrack to My Movie, a cassette only released on Sing Eunuchs!. Kill the Monster Before It Eats Baby, a split 7″ vinyl with Bill Hoover, was also released around this time.

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In 1994, following a Slowdown Virginia show, Oberst, along with friends Joel Petersen, Todd Fink (formerly Todd Baechle) and Clark Baechle, formed a band called Norman Bailer, later known as The Faint.

A few days later, Oberst told the other members of the band that they had a show in two weeks at Kilgore’s. Despite having never performed together, they produced nine songs to perform. An album, Sine Sierra was released on cassette only in 1995.

Oberst formed the rock band Commander Venus in 1994 with Tim Kasher, Ben Armstrong, and Robb Nansel. They recorded two albums: Do You Feel at Home? (1995) and The Uneventful Vacation (1997). Kasher later went on to form Cursive and Nansel was the co-founder of Saddle Creek Records. Kasher left the group to focus on Cursive as they were about to go into the studio to record their second album, and was replaced by Todd Baechle. Commander Venus disbanded in 1998.

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The Magnetas were only active for a very brief period of time in 1996 in Omaha, Nebraska. Along with Oberst, band members included Todd Fink (The Faint) and Chris Hughes (Beep Beep). They recorded three songs, only one of which (Anex Anex) was released on Ghostmeat Records’ Parts compilation album. Two other confirmed recordings exist: Clatter and Science Fiction in Schools.

In January 1996, Oberst began playing drums in a group named Park Ave., alongside Clark Baechle, Jenn Bernard, Neely Jenkins (now in the band Tilly and the Wall), and Jamie Williams (also in Tilly and the Wall). The group only played between 10 and 15 shows and made a handful of recordings (several of them with Mike Mogis as producer). The group disbanded in 1998 when Williams, the singer and primary songwriter, moved to London, England. In 1999, Urinine Records released their only album, When Jamie Went to London…We Broke Up, which has also now been re-released under Team Love.

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Oberst originally founded Bright Eyes as a solo project in 1995, and after the disbanding of Commander Venus, released A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 in January 1998. This was followed quickly by Letting Off the Happiness, released in November of the same year. It featured members of numerous bands and was recorded in the Oberst family basement. One year later, Bright Eyes released its first EP, Every Day and Every Night. Bright Eyes’ third album, Fevers and Mirrors was released in May 2000; it was ranked 170 on Pitchfork Media’s list of the top 200 albums of the 2000’s.

With the release of 2002’s Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, Bright Eyes received national attention and Oberst was proclaimed a breakthrough artist by several notable magazines. On January 25, 2005 Bright Eyes simultaneously released two new albums: the folk I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and more electronic-pop Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Time listed I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning as one of the top ten albums of 2005.

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The Four Winds EP was released in March 2007, followed by their seventh album, Cassadaga in April. The song Four Winds was named a top 100 song of 2007 by Rolling Stone. Oberst spent the next two years focusing on other music projects, and in June 2009 told Rolling Stone he wanted to make one final album with Bright Eyes before retiring the group. The band subsequently released The People’s Keyon Conor’s 31st birthday, February 15, 2011.

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Oberst is a guitarist and singer for Desaparecidos. The music and lyrics of Desaparecidos differ greatly from Bright Eyes, having more in common with punk rock than Oberst’s usual folk rock. The lyrics are generally social commentary on the state of affairs in America and the pitfalls of the suburban lifestyle, as opposed to the more introspective lyrics of Bright Eyes. Desaparecidos was active as a band between 2001–2002 but have regrouped to play shows in the Omaha area. They had two releases in 2002: a single for The Happiest Place on Earth and the full-length Read Music / Speak Spanish, on Saddle Creek Records.

In 2012, the band regrouped and self-released the 7″ single MariKKKopa/Backsell, as well as continuing to tour. In 2013, they released two more 7″s independently, Anonymous / The Left is Right and Te Amo Camila Vallejo / The Underground Man, and complimented these releases with yet another tour. In 2015, the band announced the release of a new studio album, Payola, on June 23 on Epitaph Records.

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In November 2007, it was reported that Oberst would work on a solo record with Jake Bellows, and that he and M. Ward would start a band and perform two late December shows in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Contrary to what was believed, the shows were not played with M. Ward, but rather with Nik Freitas and Jason Boesel. They also played a show in February in Mexico City, Mexico.

On March 31, 2008, it was announced that Conor Oberst would play at the 2008 Reading and Leeds Festivals. In addition, he also performed at the Electric Picnic, in County Laois, Ireland on August 31, 2008, the Cains Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Austin City Limits in late September 2008, shows across Australia in early October 2008, and the Warfield Theater in San Francisco October 24. Conor also headlined the Friday night slot of The End of the Road Festival at the Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire, held over the weekend of September 12–14, 2008.

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Conor Oberst released the self-titled album Conor Oberst, which was recorded in Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico with Taylor Hollingsworth on guitar and Macey Taylor on bass, on August 5, ’08 on Merge Records.

In about mid-October, the band sold a new EP, Gentleman’s Pact. It was limited to 1000 copies and was only available on tour. The band placed limitations on how many were sold at shows. It has four unreleased tracks. Three of them are pre-album songs while Corina, Corina is a cover of a traditional folk song.

Conor and the band released their second album, Outer South, on May 5, 2009 on Merge Records. They have also released a documentary, One of My Kind, following the band from Conor’s solo album to their most recent album One of My Kind.

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Conor Oberst is one of the four members of the band Monsters of Folk. Other band members include Jim James of My Morning Jacket, M. Ward and fellow Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis. The band members swap instruments and share vocal duties. The quartet released their self-titled debut album on September 22, 2009

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Throughout the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, Oberst embarked on a solo tour of North America and Europe performing with Ben Brodin on guitar and vibraphone. On the tour, he played songs from Bright Eyes, Mystic Valley Band, and Monsters of Folk as well as playing new songs.

Oberst released a new solo record, titled Upside Down Mountain, on May 19, 2014. He has been working with producer Jonathan Wilson (Dawes, Father John Misty) and Swedish duo First Aid Kit.

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Coming up with my top ten favorite songs from Conor Oberst was tricky, especially since so many songs have meant so much to me on a personal level, and so many of them are attached to memories. Listening to different songs and albums while writing this post I found myself thinking “oh my stars! That one! I love that one!” and adding yet another to the list that I had to narrow down.

Here are the ten I narrowed it down to, a list that could be easily three times ten, or more.

1. Lua :: Bright Eyes
from the album, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

“And I know you have a heavy heart,
I can feel it when we kiss.
So many men stronger than me have thrown their backs out trying to lift it.
But me I’m not a gamble,
you can count on me to split’
the love I sell you in the evening by the morning won’t exist.”

2. If the Brakeman Turns My Way
from the album, Casadega

“I tried to pass for nothing,
but my dreams gave me away.”

3. Gold Mine Gutted
from the album, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

“It was grass stained jeans and incompletes,
and a girl from class to touch,
but you think about yourself too much,
and you ruin who you love.
Well, all these claims at consciousness,
my stray dog freedom;
let’s have a nice clean cut,
like a bag we buy,
and divy up.”

4. Lover I Don’t Have to Love 
from the album, LIFTED Or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground

“You write such pretty words,
but life’s no story book,
love’s an excuse to get hurt,
and to hurt.
‘Do you like to hurt?’
‘I do! I do!’
‘Then hurt me.'”

5. Lime Tree 
from the album, Casadega

“When I hear beautiful music it’s always from another time,
old friends I never visit,
I remember what they’re like.
Standing on a doorstep full of nervous butterflies,
waiting to be asked to come inside;
just come inside.”

6. Land Locked Blues (featuring Emmylou Harris)
from the album, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

“And Laura’s asleep in my bed,
as I’m leaving she wakes up and says:
‘I dreamed you were carried away on the crest of a wave
Baby don’t go away, come here.'”

7. Cape Canaveral 
from the album, Conor Oberst

“I watched your face age backwards,
changing shape in my memory.
You taught me victory’s sweet,
even deep in the cheap seats.”

8. Bowl of Oranges
from the album, LIFTED Or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground

“So, that is how I learned the lesson that everyone is alone,
and your eyes must do some raining if you are ever going to grow.
But, when crying don’t help and you can’t compose yourself.
It is best to compose a poem,
an honest verse of longing or simple song of hope.
That is why I’m singing…”

9. First Day of My Life
from the album, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

“So, if you want to be with me,
with these things there’s no telling,
we just have to wait and see.
But I’d rather be working for a paycheck,
than waiting to win the lottery.
Besides maybe this time is different,
I mean I really think you like me.”

10. Easy/Lucky/Free
from the album, Digital Ash In a Digial Urn

“But I can’t help it now,
looking for faces in the clouds,
I got some friends I barely see.
But we’re all planning to meet,
we’ll lay in bags as dead as leaves,
all together for eternity.”

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