Bright Eyes has partnered with PLUS1 to support The Florence Project and their work providing direct legal and social services for detained adults and children under threat of deportation. https://firrp.org
Sometimes it feels like you hear a Bright Eyes song with your whole body. From Conor Oberst’s early recordings in an Omaha basement in 1995 all the way up to 2020, Bright Eyes’ music tries to unravel the impossible tangles of dissent: personal and political, external and internal. It’s a study of the beauty in unsteadiness in all its forms – in a voice, beliefs, love, identity, and what fills up the spaces in-between. And in so many ways, it’s just about searching for a way through.
The year 2020 is full of significant anniversaries for Bright Eyes. Fevers and Mirrors was released 20 years ago this May, while Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning both turned 15 in January. The latter, a singer-songwriter tour-de-force released amidst the Bush presidency and Iraq war, wades through incisive anti-war rhetoric and micro, intimate calamities. On the title track and throughout the record, Oberst sings about body counts in the newspaper, televised wars, the bottomless pit of American greed, struggling to understand the world alongside one’s own turmoil. In its own way, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning carved out its place in the canon of great anti- war albums by being both present and prophetic, its urgency enduring 15 years later.
In 2011 the release of The People’s Key, Bright Eyes’ ninth and most recent album, ushered in an unofficial hiatus for the beloved project. In the time since, the work of the band’s core members – Oberst, multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis, and multi- instrumentalist Nathaniel Walcott – has remained omnipresent, through both the members’ original work and collaboration.
In recent years, Mogis produced records for beloved folk acts First Aid Kit and Joseph, among others, as well as mixed the fine-spun ennui of Phoebe Bridgers’ breakthrough 2017 debut, Stranger in the Alps. Mogis and bandmate Walcott also teamed up to write the original scores for The Fault in Our Stars, Stuck in Love, and Lovely Still, and Walcott worked as a solo composer scoring number of independent feature-length films. Walcott spent extensive time on collaboration; in addition to his arrangement work for Mavis Staples, First Aid Kit, and M. Ward, he contributed studio work to artists ranging from U2 to jazz guitarist Jeff Parker, and also traveled the world as a touring member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Oberst, who’s nearly 30 years into a prolific musical career, spent the last decade in similarly productive fashion. Across three years he released a string of solo albums: Salutations (2017), Ruminations (2016), and Upside Down Mountain (2014), as well as guested on records by First Aid Kit, Phoebe Bridgers, and Alt-J. His punk band, Desaparecidos, emerged from a 13-year hiatus in 2015 with the thunderous sophomore LP, Payola, a white-knuckled disarray of hollered political fury. And at the top of 2019, Oberst and Bridgers debuted their new band, Better Oblivion Community Center, digitally dropping the critically-lauded eponymous debut LP alongside a surprise performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
The heart at Bright Eyes’ songwriting still looms culturally, in films and TV shows and through re-imaginings by other artists. Mac Miller covered both “Lua” and “First Day of My Life”; Lorde’s version of the penultimate The People’s Key track, the funereal-waltz “Ladder Song,” was a focal point of The Hunger Games’ soundtrack; The Killers covered “Four Winds” for their Spaceman EP; and Lil Peep’s “Worlds Away” samples “Something Vague” while Young Thug’s “Me Or Us” samples “First Day of My Life.”
Bright Eyes’ expansive catalog has traversed genre, sound, and countless players; unpolished demos or fuzzy folk, electrified rock or country twang. The sharp songwriting and musicianship is all anchored in Bright Eyes’ singular ability to flip deep intimacy into something universal. For so many, for so long, listening to Bright Eyes has been like hearing yourself in someone else’s song – a moment of understanding or illumination, knowing you’re on the same team looking for a way to move through of all this shit.
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.
A glance at her worldwide touring schedule in 2019 shows little sign that Lucy Dacus is slowing down, and in fact, she will release a series of songs titled 2019 to celebrate. Recorded in here-and-there studio spurts over the last two years, 2019 will be released later this year as a physical EP, and will be made up of originals and cover songs tied to specific holidays, each of which will drop around their respective date: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day (and Taurus season!), Independence Day, Springsteen’s Birthday, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, Dacus has released a cover of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose,” sung in both French and English. Dacus’ clear vocals and faint vibrato float over the chiming piano, a starry-eyed, upbeat take on the classic tune, and a hint at her pop-star potential. “From the first time I heard it, I thought ‘La Vie En Rose’ was a perfect song. Hearing it, I knew that, one day, I would fall in love,” says Dacus, adding “I want someone to listen to this while running at top speed to the doorstep of the person they adore, ready to profess their deep, undying love. (PS, there’s a longer story about singing this song as a duet with my middle school janitor, but it is not concise).”
Dacus uses her gift as a songwriter to help understand and cope with the world around her, including making sense of national holidays, often more geared towards social media boasts and manufactured consumerism than authentic celebration. “What is going on,” she asks herself on these days, retreating from the heightened expectations of holidays to figure out what to make of them and to find her own meaning. “I’ve collected some songs from trying to answer that question,” she says, and “this series seems like the right place to put them next to each other. These songs are self-contained, not indicative of a new direction, just a willingness to do something different and sometimes even out of character.”
2018 was a milestone year for Richmond, VA’s Lucy Dacus. Her widely celebrated sophomore record, Historian, was met by a cavalcade of critical elation, with NPR, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, NBC News, Slate, The Atlantic, Billboard, Paste, Stereogum, and more choosing it as one of the best albums of the year. Her collaborative EP as 1/3 of boygenius (with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers) landed on many of those same lists, plus Newsweek, The New Yorker, Esquire, and the New York Times. She played revelatory sold-out shows at clubs and festivals alike, and appeared on television sets across the country on CBS This Morning, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and Last Call With Carson Daly.