Bright Eyes is singer-songwriter Conor Oberst and his revolving-door cast of collaborators, which has included longtime friends from the independent Saddle Creek Records collective as well as luminaries such as Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch. Oberst gained fame in the late Nineties as one of an ongoing string of artists proclaimed the "next Dylan" — a list of ragged-voiced singers and wordy songwriters that has also included Bruce Springsteen and Beck. What set Oberst apart from the others was his youth; he was just 15 when he began recording as Bright Eyes.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, on February 15th, 1980, Oberst is the third son of Matthew Oberst, an information manager with Mutual of Omaha, and Nancy Oberst, an elementary school principal. At 10, he learned a couple of guitar chords and began writing songs. Outside of school, he would hang out at Antiquarium Records, a hip music shop specializing in indie rock and electronic music. Oberst was 14 when he began singing and playing guitar with the band Commander Venus (which included later members of Cursive and the Faint) in 1994. His older brother and friends set up a label, which eventually became Saddle Creek Records, to release the band's first album, 1995's Do You Feel At Home? After a second album, Oberst left the group to concentrate on his Bright Eyes project, which kicked off with a set of solo experimental music called A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997.
Bright Eyes' first album as a full band was 1998's Letting Off the Happiness, recorded with a cast of Omaha musicians including the group's sole mainstay other than Oberst, producer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis. Oberst briefly attended the University of Nebraska before dropping out to go on tour. Bright Eyes released their second album, Fevers and Mirrors, in 2000, followed by some singles and EPs. But it was the third album — the long-winded Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, released in 2002 — that earned Oberst his "new Dylan" accolades and profiles in major papers like The New York Times. Lifted sold more than 250,000 copies (good for such a small label), nudged its way into the Billboard 200 and reached Number 11 on the Top Independent Albums chart.
In 2004, Bright Eyes appeared on MoveOn.org's Vote for Change tour alongside R.E.M. and Springsteen, with whom Oberst sang some duets during the shows. The attention helped sales of two Bright Eyes singles, "Lua" and "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)," which wound up rocketing into the top two spots of Billboard's weekly Hot 100 Singles sales chart. The songs came, respectively, from the folky album I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (Number 10) and electronic-based Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (Number 15), released simultaneously on January 25th, 2005. Before those two releases, Oberst relocated to New York City and started up a new label, Team Love, with his manager. Oberst and company continued putting out EPs, and the live album Motion Sickness, recorded during Bright Eyes' Wide Awake tour, came out in 2006. A month after the April 2007 release of the group's next studio album, Cassadaga, Oberst and friends performed a seven-night stand at Town Hall in New York, along with a laundry list of guests including Lou Reed and Norah Jones.
Oberst's experience with the MoveOn.org tour apparently tapped a political nerve. He sang a protest song, "When the President Talks to God," during Bright Eyes' performance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in May 2005. That October, at an awards show in Los Angeles, Oberst criticized the Clear Channel media conglomerate for making touring hard for independent acts.
In early 2008, Conor announced that he would be releasing his first album in 14 years under his given name. The self-titled Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band was released in August to rave reviews from fans and critics alike further cementing his own road in Music History.