It's a difficult life for Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, being the flagship band on one of the most respected indie labels on the planet; there's the pretty constant weight of expectation and the inescapable fact that people – least of all music fans – don't respond well to change. With that in mind, being renowned for your deeply personal brand of brooding lo-fi folk, putting out an album that not only reeks of optimism but is also 99 per cent electric guitar is a bold move. A move that I'm sure not everyone will appreciate. Still, perhaps the rumours of their impending retirement have eased the burden slightly. Dazed Digital caught up with the indie holy trinity to talk Metallica and retirement...
Dazed Digital: Are you still set on retiring the Bright Eyes moniker?
Conor Oberst: No...probably not. Definitely not. We're not retiring Bright Eyes - we just say that every tour. We're just trying to get the word out and sell a few CD's.
Mike Mogis: When we got done mastering the record, Conor said “We're just starting to get good”. As a live band we're taking ourselves more seriously; we practice more and we're getting better. I think it'd be a shame to stop as long as everyone wants to do it; as long as we can make good music I think we'll continue to do it, you know?
DD: You've got a pretty huge back catalogue now – you're playing songs that are older than some of your fans...
Mike Mogis: It's true, Falling Out of Love, I remember Ted Stevens playing me that song during the first Lullaby recording. It was on a tape he had when we were recording Blanket Warm in 1995. We were driving in his Oldsmobile.
DD: Is there anything you try to avoid playing?
Conor Oberst: I think there are some songs that stand the test of time better than others for sure. I think some songs go out of favour; I'll get sick of a song for a while and I wont play it then it'll make a comeback.
DD: A lot of your fans have grown up alongside your records but there's always going to be people who hang on to what Bright Eyes was. To them Bright Eyes is a sort of Peter Pan figure...how do you feel about that?
Conor Oberst: People resist change; if they like something then they want you to keep doing it over and over - but I think if you like what a particular band or artist does, then you should want to see what they're going to do next. I think a lot of people feel like “Oh, I like that, give me more of this certain thing”.
Mike Mogis: It takes a little bit of time for fans to accept a stylistic change. And, with Bright Eyes, we purposely create change with every record. Our fans are either very patient or very forgiving. Very.
DD: Bright Eyes has gone from being really introspective, maybe even self-indulgent, to being more about things that are going on externally. What prompted that? Just getting older?
Mike Mogis: I think the songs are written from more of a universal perspective. The earlier records are more confessional - there's something more personal about them. This is more open-ended and I think people respond to that sort of music. When it's not so cut and dry you can put yourself in to a phrase and take something totally different out of it than anyone else would. You can connect with a lot more people that way. I think that was a conscious choice with this record - to draw in more people. It's a more positive record. We're trying to spread positivity. We're nice people.
DD: What was it about this record that took longer to write?
Nate Walcott: I think it was necessary. It wasn't that it took long to write the record, but it was necessary for us.
DD: Do you think it helped – that time apart?
Conor Oberst: If you eat a real fancy meal they send, like, sixteen courses but they're all just bite-size and every so often they send a palette cleanser - some weird sorbet. I feel like we had to cleanse the palette; to eat some sorbet between our duck pâté.
Mike Mogis: What did that taste like, Mystic Valley Band sorbet?
DD: I'm sure it's taken time to cultivate the change on this record - it's a progression from Cassadaga but it's completely different to Letting Off the Happiness. Have you tried to preserve any of what Bright Eyes has been on the new album, or just tried to write a record?
Mike Mogis: When we did Beginner's Mind, we did think about it a little bit...that's the only song where Conor plays acoustic guitar. He didn't want it to sound that good, “Make it sound like a 4-track or an 8-track recording”.
DD: That electric guitar is the first thing you notice; when I was listening to it for the first time it sounded like a Metallica riff on Firewall.
Mike Mogis: That's what Conor calls it.
Conor Oberst: I have enough confidence in the essence of our band that we can use whatever instruments and it's gonna maintain that spirit. I definitely didn't worry about it not sounding like a Bright Eyes record. People act like we've moved away from making lo-fi records but we were trying to make as hi-fi records as we possibly could. It's just we didn't know what we were doing or have any nice shit. It's not like we were saying “This is cool lo-fi music”.