Conor Oberst Goes Into The Desert

Conor Oberst

Conor Oberst occasionally sang from a hammock while recording his latest album. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Conor Oberst says he's not deliberately thinking about fleeing home — but it keeps coming up in his songs. He's written about a road trip, the healing powers of the road and escape.

"Traveling and movement has been a real big part of my life," he says. "To me, there's a lot of optimism in changing scenery."

For his latest, album, which is self-titled, he recorded on the grounds of a vacant hotel in Mexico. He went from his native Omaha, Neb., to a town known for its Aztec pyramid.

He says he did a lot of the recording for Conor Oberst outside and on the porch. "I sang in a hammock for some of the vocal takes," he says. "I don't know the science of it, but it sure was comfortable." He recorded at night most of the time, too, so crickets and fireworks can be heard in the distance on some songs.

Oberst says some of his songs come from a subconsious mix of things he's experienced and conversations he's overheard. He's says they all blend together and come out in "dream-like ways."

But some of his songs are explicit stories, like "I Don't Want To Die (In The Hospital)," which he calls "a jailbreak song." A 75-year-old friend of his requested that if it ever came to it, Oberst would bust him out of the hospital so he could die in the desert under the stars.

Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band In Concert

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Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band live at 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. Joel Didriksen for hide caption

itoggle caption Joel Didriksen for

Conor Oberst spent the past decade making a name for himself as the youthful, quivery-voiced frontman for the arty folk-rock band Bright Eyes. But from the moment he took the stage at Washington, DC's 9:30 Club, it was clear he'd put that persona behind him, at least for now. Slightly older and more confident, Oberst offered a loose mix of material from his new, self-titled solo album, with the help of the Mystic Valley Band — a group of close, longtime friends Oberst assembled for the CD and tour.

Wearing a black fedora and cuffed pants, Oberst sang with a more matured voice and a little swagger. He and the band gave an hour and a half performance for the sold-out crowd, working through Oberst's new solo album, along with a handful of songs by other band members, including "Reason Number 1" by drummer Jason Boesel, "Sundown" by guitarist Nik Freitas, and "Air Mattress" by guitarist Taylor Hollingsworth. The group avoided any Bright Eyes material all together.

Although Bright Eyes has essentially been a solo project for Conor Oberst in all but name, the Omaha, Neb. native decided to abandon the moniker he'd performed under since his teens for his latest CD, an eponymous sketchbook of introspective folk and rock, steeped in Americana. He also chose to work with a different producer and backing band. Conor Oberst is the first album in several years Oberst recorded without longtime producer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis.

"Since (Mike) didn't play on it, it didn't seem right to call it a Bright Eyes project," says Oberst, in an interview with World Cafe's Michaela Majoun. "I was in charge of this record. And my standards are quite a bit lower than (Mike Mogis'). I think you can hear that. I like the performance to be right. That's what I base my decisions on. I'm not as neurotic about getting the tones to be a certain way. I just check to make sure it got recorded, then move on."

Always restless, Oberst also looked for a change of scenery to make the new record. On a tip from friends, he traveled to Cuernavaca, Mexico where he set up a makeshift studio in a villa called VAlle Mistico (Mystic Valley). Guitarists Taylor Hollingsworth and Nik Freitas, bassist Macey Taylor, keyboardist and trumpeter Nate Walcott, and drummer Jason Boesel joined Oberst for the project, naming themselves the Mystic Valley Band after the recording location. All except Hollingsworth have played with Oberst before in Bright Eyes.

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