A new article in Billboard — published online yesterday — asks the question, “Has Bright Eyes sold out?” Oberst, of course, tells the writer to draw his own conclusions. And I’ve certainly drawn mine.
In an article titled “Bright Eyes Frontman Taking Care of Business,” (right here) Bill Werde writes a brief history of the band and the new album, all focused on the business discussion that anchors the piece. At the core, there may be more to that Polydor deal than it appeared on first blush when it was first announced in January. According to Werde, Oberst began sniffing around for a label in Europe after some unsuccessful tours over there.
“We were going on these tours, and we weren’t coming home with any money,” Oberst said in the article. “It was just this really frustrating cycle. The first times you go to Europe, it’s exciting — you don’t really even care if you get paid. But then … it’s hard to go be freezing in Germany in the winter, playing mediocre shows to people that haven’t heard of your band.”
The two-album deal, reportedly signed in August, was born out of contract negotiations that pitted Polydor against XL, with Polydor coming out on top. Billboard said Oberst recorded Cassadaga with his own cash (but then goes on to say that Polydor money fueled the orchestra heard on the record), and that Oberst didn’t sign the album to Saddle Creek, but rather, licensed it. “It’s a not-so-subtle distinction with business and personal implication. For one, the label no longer shares in sync licensing opportunities,” Billboard says, adding that the deal has apparently resulted in hurt feelings. “He probably did feel hurt, ya know? And it wasn’t the easiest thing to bring up obviously,” Oberst said in the article, referring to Saddle Creek label chief Robb Nansel. “But the situations with Saddle Creek changed … all decisions were done by committee . . . it just wasn’t practical. That was kind of the impetus to start Team Love. I felt we were missing opportunities.”
The above statement appears to be mixing apples and oranges. Oberst has said in the past that he began Team Love because Creek was too slow out of the gate signing acts that Oberst thought should be signed, including Matt Ward and Tilly and the Wall. I’m not sure what that has to do with Bright Eyes signing to Polydor. To my knowledge, Creek never signs multi-record deals with artists, so all the bands on the label always have a chance to fly the coop whenever they wish.
So what does it all mean? I’m not sure. Cassadaga will still be released on Saddle Creek in the U.S. and by Polydor outside of the US — old news. Saddle Creek UK appears to have had trouble working with Bright Eyes — more old news. Creek will not share in sync licensing opportunities for Cassadaga. That appears to be new news, but I’m not smart enough to understand exactly what it means. Did Oberst sell out? Sounds like he’ll be making more cash in Europe, but that hardly means he’s “sold out.” It doesn’t sound from this article that he’s had to compromise his artistic vision in any way to sign with Polydor… How will it all impact Saddle Creek financially? That’s yet to be seen.
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Two good shows tonight: At The Waiting Room, it’s Jagjaguwar artist The Besnard Lakes with Brooklyn’s Dirty on Purpose and Lincoln’s Spring Gun. $6, 9 p.m. Meanwhile, just down the street at PS Collective, it’s A Tomato a Day with Dereck Higgins and John Watt Band. That one starts at 8:30 and is $5.
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