Bright Eyes Frontman Conor Oberst Goes Solo

The emo chameleon once again changes his tune in his newest, self-named album.

Conor Oberst seems pretty tightly wound, spring-loaded even. Under his main guise, Bright Eyes, he transformed confessional folk into harrowing performance art. For a lark he railed against the suburban rat race with his punk side project, Desaparecidos. So you have to wonder, now that he’s made the first album under his own name since he was 16—titling it simply Conor Oberst—just what he was holding back while Bright Eyes became a treasured indie-rock mainstay. Turns out the guy just wanted to unwind a bit.

“For selfish reasons, I thought it would be nice to go somewhere that wasn’t New York or Omaha,” says Oberst, referring to the recording setup he arranged in Tepoztlàn, Mexico, a town known for UFO sightings and far removed from the cities where he normally splits his time. Oberst holed up in a villa called Valle Mìstico with friends and musicians. Noticeably missing, however, was Mike Mogis, the longtime Bright Eyes producer and band member whose exacting studio techniques Oberst was looking to dial back a few notches.

The laid-back, mostly up-tempo result, recorded over a few weeks with breaks for “making fires and looking up at the stars,” is down-to-earth. Dirty, even: “I remain between her legs, sheltered from all my fears,” Oberst croons in “Sausalito,” a jaunty country-rock tune that speaks to both anxiety and sweet relief. “There’s a lot of escapism in the record,” he says. Most introspective on the whispery ballad “Milk Thistle,” he politely requests of the newspaper that it not ruin his morning coffee. So did Tepoztlàn’s supernatural reputation affect the tunes at all? “I do believe that places have energies to them,” Oberst says, “and those energies do find their way into the music.”

Check out Blender‘s recent profile on the former Bright Eyes frontman.