Bright Eyes is an American band that consists 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.
Bright Eyes is signed to Saddle Creek Records, an American label distributed by Sony Corporation. 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.
A founding member of Commander Venus – which disbanded in 1997 – guitarist/vocalist Conor Oberst turned to focus on his new project, Bright Eyes. The name of the band comes from a 1934 Shirley Temple film that Oberst watched on Turner Classic Movies in which the protagonist calls his love interest "Bright Eyes" as a term of endearment. In 1998, he released 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 to acoustic guitar songs and techno-style synthesizer instrumentals. Critical reaction was negative, with Allmusic 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."
Letting Off the Happiness
On November 2, 1998, Saddle Creek released Letting Off the Happiness, a ten-track piece that boasted a more focused and clearer sound than the previous album. According to the Saddle Creek press release, it featured members of Lullaby for the Working Class, Neutral Milk Hotel, and of Montreal. Park Ave. bandmate Neely Jenkins also contributed vocals. 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 fictional account of the death of his baby brother, a story with a multitude of symbolic meanings. Oberst references the song in "Cartoon Blues" on the Four Winds EP.
Every Day and Every Night EP
In November 1999, Bright Eyes released the five-song Every Day and Every Night EP, which included "Neely O'Hara" and "A Perfect Sonnet".
Fevers and Mirrors
In 2000, Bright Eyes released Fevers and Mirrors, a demonstration of the improvement in production quality and musical vision of the band. New instruments such as the flute, piano, and accordion were introduced into the song arrangements. After "An Attempt to Tip the Scales", there is a mock radio interview that features Todd Fink of The Faint doing an impression of Oberst while reading a script that Oberst wrote. In this interview, the fake Oberst presents a strange, contradictory explanation of his attitude towards his music. It 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. Oberst later commented that "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... \ "
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. Oberst stated that, before making this record, both he and Mike Mogis had an idea for a "sort of grandiose sound" that neither could really put into words. This was also the first album made after Oberst's break to play with Desaparecidos.
I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
During the 2004 election season, Bright Eyes toured with Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. on the 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 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. 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 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. The first part was more similar to past tours with an intimate band setting. The decision to split the tour this way was practical as it would have been a "logistical nightmare" in terms of equipment and staff to perform songs from both albums simultaneously. By the end of January 2005, I'm Wide Awake was #10 on the Billboard charts while Digital Ash was #15.
In early 2005, Bright Eyes supported R.E.M. in their tour of Australia, as well as headlined shows themselves.
In November 2005, Bright Eyes performed "True Blue" on the children's television show Pancake Mountain.
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 the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles on October 5, 2003. On November 9, 2005, Bright Eyes canceled 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 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.
In a skit on the May 20, 2006 episode of Saturday Night Live, Neil Young (played by Kevin Spacey) was joined by Dixie Chicks and "indie sensation Bright Eyes" (played by Andy Samberg), all of whom have been public in their criticism of George W. Bush.
After releasing three albums in 2005, Oberst stated that he did not plan to release an album in 2006. On October 24, 2006, a compilation of rare tracks entitled Noise Floor (Rarities: 1998-2005) was released.
Bright Eyes released the Four Winds EP in March 2007 and the studio album Cassadaga in April. The track "Endless Entertainment" circulated over the internet from the new official site, ThisIsBrightEyes.com. In a 2007 issue, Rolling Stone labeled "Four Winds" as a top 100 song of the year.
In support of this album, Bright Eyes toured North America from February to May, and Europe and Japan from June to July. The twelve musicians included two drummers, and they donned white uniforms in front of a video backdrop.
During an encore on May 19, 2007 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, Oberst performed a new song with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings entitled "Man Named Truth". He said the song 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 Johnathan 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.
In August 2007, Bright Eyes postponed 3 UK shows due to illness. A U.S. tour was announced, and in September, the UK dates were canceled and not rescheduled.
Zachary Nipper, the album's art director, was awarded the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.
In a June 2009 issue of Rolling Stone Oberst announced that he wanted to "retire" the Bright Eyes moniker and would be making one final album with the band: "It does feel like it needs to stop at some point. I'd like to clean it up, lock the door, say goodbye." The album is planned to release in the fall of 2010 on Saddle Creek Records.
The only official "permanent" members are Oberst, Mogis, and Walcott. "It's nice to always have new interpretations of the songs, and it’s nice to always travel with new people," says Oberst. As of November 2007[update], the live band consists of:
- Conor Oberst – vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass guitar
- Mike Mogis – banjo, mandolin, pedal steel guitar, electric guitar
- Nate Walcott – organ, trumpet, accordion, keytar
Notable past members and contributors
Includes artists featured on the sleeves of Bright Eyes' releases.
- A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 (1998)
- Letting Off the Happiness (1998)
- Fevers and Mirrors (2000)
- Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002)
- I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005)
- Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (2005)
- Cassadaga (2007)
Biography from Wikipedia