Published Jul 06, 2015Few artists have charted a career path like Conor Oberst. The Omaha, NE musician got his start when he was barely a teenager, and in the ensuing two decades, charted a musical path that's touched on pretty much every iteration of modern rock that's up from grabs. Oberst recently revived one of his many long-dormant projects — Desaparecidos, his political punk band, just released their excellent sophomore effort, Payola, 13 years after their debut and subsequent split.
This month's Timeline gives readers an opportunity to dig into the many nooks and crannies of Oberst's life and extensive discography from his earliest solo recordings through the heady days of Bright Eyes' mid-2000s commercial and cultural heights and beyond. As a preview, here are a few things you might not already know about the always prolific Oberst.
Five Noteworthy Facts You May Not Know About Conor Oberst:
1. Conor Oberst played in a very early incarnation of Omaha dance-punks, the Faint.
Oberst and Clark Baechle form post-hardcore band Norman Bailer with Baechle's brother Todd Fink and Joel Petersen. They release the cassette Sine Sierra on Lumberjack. Oberst leaves soon after, but the rest of the members continue on. Three years later they change their name and release their debut as the Faint.
2. Commander Venus, Oberst's pre-Bright Eyes band, was briefly signed to Wind-up Records.
Grass Records is set to release Commander Venus's second album, The Uneventful Vacation, but the label is bought by Alan and Diana Meltzer, who previously owned distributor CD One Stop. They dub their new label Wind-up, which will later find success with Christian-leaning hard rock acts like Creed and Evanescence. "It became a joke of how much money we could pilfer from this record label," Oberst tells Lazy-I. "They bought us a van and sent us on these tours. They had all this money and didn't know how to run a record label." Recording reportedly costs $15,000, a massive sum for an indie record at the time.
3. An inability to sign new artists to Saddle Creek in a timely fashion forced Oberst to start Team Love Records.
Frustrated with Saddle Creek's glacial pace when it comes to signing new bands, particularly friend M. Ward, Oberst founds the New York-based Team Love Records with Nate Krenkel, who is now his manager. "Everything was a committee decision," Oberst tells Greg Kot, author of the book Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. "To sign a band there were about ten of us who had to agree…all the signings took forever and we missed some opportunities."
"Conor brought dozens of records through that he thought were great," Saddle Creek Records president Robb Nansel tells Lazy-I in 2005. "We didn't have the manpower to release all of them whether we liked them or not. It was suggested that if he wanted to put out all these records, he should have a label."
4. Oberst struggles with the personal connection fans have to his work.
While Oberst's success offers some financial stability, the fame that accompanies it is less welcome. "The goal is to get at some truth, not to necessarily convey my own experience as an individual to the world," he explains to the AV Club, while telling the NME that "people tend to obsess over what part of the songs have taken place in my life." He's also struggling with the weight of responsibility that popularity brings. "I get letters from these girls telling me every fucked-up thing that's ever happened in their lives. Seriously horrible details. What can you do? Do I send them an 8x10 with a signature going, 'Here you go, slit your writs!'? I used to write back and give just generic encouragements, but after a while I was like, 'This is lame, I have nothing to offer these people. I have no idea what I'm even doing, how can I possibly give advice?'"
5. In 2004, a pair of Bright Eyes singles sat at number one and number two on the Billboard Hot 100 sales chart, causing indie culture to freak the fuck out.
In November, Bright Eyes release two singles simultaneously. Both shoot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, unseating Usher and Alicia Keys' "My Boo." Reaction online is swift. Pitchfork runs the headline: "Bright Eyes Dominates Billboard Singles Chart: Universe Reveals Plans to Self-Destruct." Elsewhere, indie music fans' feelings towards their beloved subculture going mainstream are quickly summed up in a season two episode of The OC. "Bright Eyes has two albums in the top ten," remarks indie music nerd Seth Cohen. "I just feel like the rest of the world's finally caught up to me. It's a little bit scary … tell me I'm still special."