For better or worse, my stuff is all out in the open.And if you have any interest in what I do, or my songs, or the records I make, you can follow the whole trail.As Commander Venus’ time came to an end, Oberst’s home recordings took on a new focus, combining the hushed intimacy of folk with the emotional volatility of punk.Both his songwriting and his increasingly distinct vocal delivery — a quaking, often unbridled, underwater vibrato — radiated a post-adolescent anxiety that, in the event of 2000’s , saw Bright Eyes (and by extension, Saddle Creek) develop such a ravenous cult following that Oberst would never return to the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he studied English before dropping out to tour full-time.Late last year, Conor Oberst realized that he’d clawed apart his favorite guitar, a small, “parlor size” acoustic he’d bought from a boutique luthier in Austin, Texas.“I’d been getting that Willie Nelson thing going on,” he says, running his fingertips across its face one afternoon in late March.I absolutely don’t recommend that you do.”Written and recorded in the three years that have passed since he quietly married Mexican musician and engineer Corina Escamilla Figueroa, finds Oberst trading bombast for nuance, and white-knuckle verbosity for relatively calm, plain-spoken tones. It was called Oberst was just seven years old the first time he took a stage.It is not a major reinvention, but a work of immense beauty that both transcends pre-existing narratives and suggests that, even as an adult, Oberst can still connect. “Well, my first record was actually a cassette,” he says. His father played in a series of classic-rock cover bands on weekends and when the younger Oberst became especially fond of Ritchie Valens’ “Donna” by way of the 1987 film , he was brought out to deliver lead vocals with the band behind him. While still a sophomore in high school, he enthusiastically gathered his friends — then in college — to form Commander Venus, a post-hardcore outfit that would, for the first time, find them touring outside of Nebraska and landing on the same label as Creed.
“I mean, I wrote [those songs] when I was that age,” he says.And as he might have been in 2001, he’s also wearing a tight, black Cursive T-shirt, a show of undying support for that band of older brothers, bandmates, and mentors from his native Omaha.But at 34, his brown eyes are also offset by a face that has finally taken on the lines and valleys and visible hardness of a man’s: He looks as though he knows worry well, as though he’s seen a number of recent sunrises.“Do you guys want to move on to the interview portion?At 34, Oberst is an at times unsettling vision of himself at 20, the unlikely, porcelain-skinned pin-up that launched a thousand Live Journals.He is still delicate in build, still armed with an inky mess of fantastically disheveled, famously sculpted hair.The Nebraska-bred singer-songwriter has struggled of late to equal the emotional impact audiences felt from a defining run of songs that vaulted him from cultish obscurity in Omaha to unenviable Dylan comparisons to protest performances alongside Springsteen to a symbolic appearance in Jonathan Franzen’s 2010 epic novel, .For a generation of listeners who grew up without the Smiths, Oberst became a formative voice while at a formative period in his own life. Few artists grow up so publicly — their every transition, creative or otherwise, archived and shared online — without self-detonating, drifting towards irrelevance, finding themselves forever trapped in amber. “My public life and my career and all the music that I’ve made: You can find it all,” he says. I’m not a Mickey Mouse Club star that got to rebrand myself.The tour was canceled, and he would end up spending much of the month of January in Nashville, applying the final touches to , an album whose arrival has frequently been obscured by the conversation surrounding the case.Though Oberst has yet to publicly address the allegations at any length, a pending trial prevents him from doing so, interviews no exception.As part of a highly concentrated, four-day press blitz in New York, he and Bartolomei are making the radio rounds, uptown and down, satellite and online.One half of the room’s walls are stacked floor-to-ceiling with vintage speakers; the other, where CNET hosts an online show dedicated to gadgets, has been decorated with old legos, Nintendo cartridges, and a model of the Delorean.