The return of Bright Eyes: Conor Oberst on the new album, COVID-19 and the good ol’ days (in the column)…

Category: Interviews — Tags: , , — @ 12:30 pm September 10, 2020
Bright Eyes circa 2020 from left are Nate Walcott, Conor oberst and Mike Mogis.

In this month’s Over the Edge column in The Reader, an interview/feature on Bright Eyes wherein the fearless frontman Conor Oberst talks about the band’s new album, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was (2020, Dead Oceans), how he’s coping with the pandemic and his love of the folks he played with during the good ol’ days when Omaha was the shining star of the indie music world.

You can read it in the current print edition of The Reader, on news stands now (I picked up my copy at Hy-Vee, but you can find them all over town). You also can read it online right here at The Reader‘s website.

Some background on the interview: It was conducted Aug. 19 over the phone with Oberst calling from his home here in Omaha. We spent most of the 30-some minutes talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and what he’s been doing since it started. It’s all well-covered in the article. Discussing the new album actually came as an afterthought toward the end of the interview.

Among the content that didn’t make it into the story were his thoughts on the actual making of the album. I asked what was the toughest part of putting it together. He said it was effortless for the three of them — Conor, Nate Walcott and Mike Mogis — to jump back in after nine years away from the project.

“As you know, all Bright Eyes records are kind of different,” he said. “There’s different players, and so it was exciting to get to work with, like, Jon Theodore (of Queens of the Stone Age), Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers), and people that we had never worked with before. So I can’t really pinpoint something that was like really hard. As with all the records, you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a little bit of mystery and there’s a little bit of excitement, but that was stuff I love. I never thought that it’d be, like, Flea doing a slap-bass thing on a Bright Eyes record in my life, but it sounds cool when he does it.”

Check out the article here. I’ll also post it on this website in a few days…

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily (if there’s news) at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2020 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Bright Eyes drops another one; more depressing COVID music news…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:21 pm April 22, 2020

by Tim McMahan,

Yesterday Bright Eyes dropped the second song from their upcoming album on Dead Oceans. The track, “Forced Convalescence,” features a bevvy of guest players including Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jon Theodore from Queens of the Stone Age.

From the press release:

“’Forced Convalescence’ finds Conor Oberst at his world-weary best, picking apart the human condition and struggling to reconcile the past with whatever the future holds. All from the comfort of his bed. The slick, near-joyous sounding fever dream grows into a rich and languid swirl with help from a gospel choir. This may be as close to a Rat Pack-era lounge singer as Oberst has ever come. Albeit one with a head full of prose and existential angst.”

Check it out below:

No word on the album’s release date. I can’t imagine they’re in any hurry with touring on hold everywhere.

I’ve been mulling over how bars and venues are going to reopen and allow shows when things begin to ease up COVID-wise. There’s no doubt some states will be opening much sooner than others.

If you believe what it says at this COVID website, social easing wouldn’t begin in Nebraska (and Iowa) until July, whereas Missouri could start as early as June 7 and Minnesota would start May 30, all based on projected peaks, etc. Hot spots like California could begin in mid-May.

With such a random pattern — each state doing its own thing — how are bands supposed to book tours? I guess when you can’t even fathom how a venue will be able to even host a show, tour booking is probably not front of mind.

This NME article describes a show in Sweden where “a room that can hold 350, capacity is restricted to 40 punters – plus a sound engineer, two members of staff and the band, bringing the number up to the guidelines of 50 people in total.

Think about applying similar limitations at our clubs. How many could you allow in for a typical show at The Waiting Room and “be safe”? Fifty? Slowdown’s big room, maybe 75? How about tiny Reverb or fabulous O’Leaver’s?

That being the case, it seems more likely that we’ll see small local live shows before we see any big name touring acts. Or, imagine if you booked a band that would naturally sell out The Slowdown. Could you up the price for tickets knowing they would be limited to fewer than 100? It would be like an intimate performance, with people standing 6 to 8 feet apart… Still, very unlikely when you’re going to have a hard time just getting people to overcome their fear.

Arena shows and festivals now sound like they’ll be on hold until late 2021 or longer, if you read this Los Angeles Times article that pretty much guesses that you’re not going to see pre-COVID-style rock shows until about 70 percent of the population is vaccinated.

The margins in this business are going to be the 20% of fans who won’t go back to shows until there’s a vaccine. We’re at a point where fans can really lose a lot of confidence, and it’ll take more than a vaccine to re-engage them.”

Coachella apparently is still scheduled for sometime in October, but as the article states: Even if California does what it needs to prevent new infections locally, a 125,000-capacity music festival with fans traveling from all over would be an ideal scenario for new transmissions. Every expert interviewed said large concerts and festivals would be a terrible idea for the foreseeable future.


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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2020 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Bright Eyes signs to Dead Oceans, to tour in 2020; new Meth Head Steamroller…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 1:47 pm January 21, 2020

Bright Eyes in the recording studio.

by Tim McMahan,

The Bright Eyes eye chart clue from Instagram.

The clues were right in front of your eyes. Yesterday followers of the Bright Eyes Instagram site were treated to photos of cryptic concert posters that all but claimed a new record and tour.

Then this morning NME reported Bright Eyes will release a new album on Dead Oceans sometime in 2020. The End of the Road Festival in Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset, England, Sept. 3-6 will be just one stop on a world tour that likely will take Conor Oberst, Nate Walcott and Mike Mogis everywhere (but not to Omaha, not yet anyway).

A video of the trio in the studio with a chamber orchestra was posted on the Dead Oceans twitter feed. This from the Dead Oceans press release:

And while 2020 is a year of milestones for the band, it’s also the year Bright Eyes returns, newly signed to indie label Dead Oceans. Amidst the current overwhelming uncertainty and upheaval of global and personal worlds, Oberst, Mogis, and Walcott reunited under the moniker as both an escape from, and a confrontation of, trying times. Getting the band back together felt right, and necessary, and the friendship at the core of the band has been a longtime pillar of Bright Eyes’ output. For Bright Eyes, this long-awaited re-emergence feels like coming home.”

Kind of, but if they were coming home, they would be coming back to Saddle Creek Records.

No one really thought that Bright Eyes was a dead entity. The collective is just another Oberst incarnation; it just happens to be his best incarnation. There’s a story there somewhere about why two of the crown jewels — Bright Eyes and Cursive — parted ways with the label they helped build. It can’t be money issues — could they really make that much more going to a different label (or creating their own)? Not likely; not these days.

While Oberst’s other recording projects were released on other labels, Bright Eyes was — and will always be — considered a Saddle Creek entity, no matter what Dead Oceans says or does. Saddle Creek was where the magic happened. The fact that Bright Eyes didn’t return to that label is the only sad note in this good news story.

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Maybe just as important as that Bright Eyes news is that Meth Head Steamroller — a project by the mysterious Benny Leather and mad king renaissance producer Ian Aeillo — dropped a new EP in Bandcamp. Enjoy!

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2020 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.