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Bright Eyes is a band consisting of singer-songwriter/guitarist Conor Oberst, multi-instrumentalist/producer Mike Mogis, Nate Walcott, and a rotating lineup of collaborators drawn primarily from Omaha's indie music scene.
While Bright Eyes remains signed to the independent label Saddle Creek Records, the band enjoys mainstream popularity that rivals that of their major label contemporaries: in 2004, the singles "Lua" and "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)" took the top two spots of Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Sales chart within two weeks of their simultaneous release. The band is often made fun of on the Three One G message boards.
By the time Commander Venus disbanded in 1997, Bright Eyes had become Oberst's main focus. In 1998, he released another 20 of the songs he had been stockpiling as the first official Bright Eyes album, A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997. The album saw Oberst beginning to experiment with drum machines, keyboards and other instruments. The sound of the album ranges from bleating vocals, which at the beginning were criticized as sounding like an inauthentic David Dondero, to acoustic guitar songs and techno-style synthesizer instrumentals. Critical reaction was mixed, with All Music Guide saying that many of "the songs disintegrate as his vocals are reduced to the unintelligible babbling of a child. Any balance the music maintained up to that point, however fragile, is lost and so, more than likely, is the listener."
Saddle Creek put forth Letting Off the Happiness on November 2, 1998, a ten track piece that boasted a much more focused and clear sound than the previous album. According to the Saddle Creek press release, it features members of Lullaby for the Working Class, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Of Montreal. Park Ave. bandmate Neely Jenkins contributed some vocals as well. It was predominantly recorded in the Oberst family basement in Omaha on an analog eight track reel to reel; with some work also done at keyboardist Andy Lemaster's Athens, Georgia studio. Although almost all of the tracks feature a full band, "June on the West Coast" is performed with only acoustic guitar and vocals. "Padraic My Prince" gives a dramatic account of Conor's younger brother drowning in the bath. Oberst references the song in "Cartoon Blues" on the Four Winds EP.
In 2000, Bright Eyes released Fevers and Mirrors, a demonstration of the immense improvement in production quality and musical vision of the band. New instruments such as flute, piano, and accordion were introduced into the song arrangements. After "An Attempt to Tip the Scales", a mock radio interview takes place. The mock radio interview features Todd Fink of The Faint doing an impression of Conor Oberst while reading a script that Oberst wrote. The man interviewing is Matt Silcock, a former member of Lullaby for the Working Class. In this interview, the fake Oberst intentionally presents a strange, contradictory explanation of his attitude towards his music. The interview acknowledges criticisms of his lyrics as overblown and insincere, which had begun to appear as the popularity of the band increased, but responds by stating that the lyrics are meant for personal interpretation. Near the end of the interview, you can hear Conor talking in the background. When asked about the mock interview in an interview with KittyMagik.com, Oberst replied, "It was a way to make fun of ourselves because the record is such a downer. I mean, that's one part of who I am but I also like laughing and fucking around."
With Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground in 2002, Bright Eyes became one of the year's most celebrated "new" artists, despite having been recording under that moniker for a few years. They received national attention, including in several notable pieces in the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, Blender and Spin, many of which proclaimed Conor Oberst to be a significant new artist. The album was a commercial success and has sold over 250,000 copies, a breakthrough for the label and for all of the band's peers at that time.
During the 2004 election season, Bright Eyes toured with Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. on the MoveOn.org "Vote for Change" tour, further pushing Bright Eyes into the public eye. Oberst sang numerous duets with the likes of Springsteen and Neil Young.
In early November 2004, two Bright Eyes singles, "Lua" and "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)", reached the two top spots on the Billboard Hot 100 Single Sales, a remarkable feat for a musician on an independent label. This was the first time this had happened on the list in seven years.
January 25, 2005 saw the release of two distinctly different Bright Eyes albums: the folky, analog sounding I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and the electronic/computer sounding Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. An extensive world tour followed the release of those albums. Part one of the tour was in support of I'm Wide Awake and the second part was in support of Digital Ash. In interviews, Oberst said the two-part tour was grueling and while they didn't regret it, they felt it took an enormous toll on the bands' health and well-being. By the end of January 2005, I'm Wide Awake was #10 on the Billboard charts while Digital Ash was #15.
On May 2, 2005 Bright Eyes appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and performed the protest song "When the President Talks to God". A 7" vinyl single of the song was sold at concerts soon after.
Bright Eyes has actively protested against the Clear Channel media company. Oberst has vocally advocated the boycotting of all Clear Channel events, venues, and radio stations, perhaps most publicly at the Shortlist Awards show at Los Angeles's Wiltern Theatre on October 5, 2003. On November 9, 2005, Bright Eyes cancelled their November 12 show in St. Louis, Missouri upon discovering that the venue was associated with Clear Channel.
Bright Eyes won Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for "When the President Talks to God" at the 2006 PLUG Independent Music Awards. and a Special Recognition Award for the video for "First Day of My Life" at the 17th Annual GLAAD Media Awards. Additionally, Time listed I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning as one of the top ten albums of 2005. Later in the year, the live album Motion Sickness was released, documenting the I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning tour.
Bright Eyes received a pop-culture honor on May 20, 2006 in being mentioned in an episode of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Kevin Spacey. The show was making fun of Neil Young's not-so-subtle dislike of George W. Bush, specifically on his album Living with War. Young was joined by Dixie Chicks and "indie sensation Bright Eyes," both of whom have been very public in their criticism of Bush. Conor Oberst was played by Andy Samberg and Neil Young was played by Spacey.
After releasing three albums in 2005, Oberst stated that he did not plan to release an album in 2006. However, on October 24, 2006, a compilation of rare tracks entitled Noise Floor (Rarities: 1998-2005) was released.
On March 8, 2007, Oberst appeared on National Public Radio's All Songs Considered, playing a selection of tracks in his collection, as well as several from Four Winds.
Bright Eyes released a studio album entitled Cassadaga on April 10, 2007 in the U.S. and April 9, 2007 in the UK, with an EP entitled Four Winds on March 6, 2007. The track "Endless Entertainment" circulated over the internet from the new official site, ThisIsBrightEyes.com.
In support of this album, Bright Eyes has toured North America from February to May, with a European and Japanese dates set for June and July.
On May 19, 2007, at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennesee, Conor Oberst performed a new song with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings entitled "Man Named Truth", during an encore. The song he said, was finished in the dressing room that night.
During a 7-night stint at The Town Hall in New York City, Bright Eyes welcomed the following guests on stage for special performances: Lou Reed on May 25; Ben Kweller on May 26; Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice on May 28; Norah Jones, Little Willie and Derrick E on May 29; Nick Zinner, Maria Taylor and Ben Gibbard on May 30, Steve Earle on May 31, and finally Ron Sexsmith and Britt Daniel on June 1. On June 4, 2007, they performed "Hot Knives" on The Late Show With David Letterman.
The song "We Are Nowhere and It's Now" appears in the movie "Knocked Up".
A double-single for "Hot Knives" and "If the Brakeman Turns My Way" was released July 9th.
Bright Eyes was also in Q magazine's top ten bands to watch for, coming in at number 6.
In August Bright Eyes postponed 3 UK shows due to sickness. A US tour was announced, and in September, the UK dates were canceled and not rescheduled.
Currently Bright Eyes has been playing two new songs live - "Man Named Truth" and "Roosevelt Room".