The Drop: Conor Oberst

Sponsored by Amoeba Music

Singer-songwriter Conor Oberst’s debut album for Nonesuch Records, Upside Down Mountain, is, as its title implies, a study in contrasts, a glance up to the heavens and a glimpse into the abyss. Themes of loneliness, dislocation and regret repeatedly surface. Yet, its making was far from solitary, as Oberst gathered friends old and new for the recording, including producer Jonathan Wilson, engineer Andy LeMaster, bassist Macey Taylor, multi-instrumentalist Blake Mills, and the Swedish sibling folk-rock vocal duo First Aid Kit. On hushed ballads like “Double Life” and “Artifact #1,” the instrumentation is often stripped down to voices, guitar, and ghostly keyboard; those songs are juxtaposed with tracks like “Governor’s Ball,” which sports practically buoyant horn charts, and “Kick,” which is exuberant rock and roll. A squall of electric guitar at the end of “Zigzagging Toward the Light” segues into a Johnny Cash shuffle on “Hundreds of Ways.” The overall warmth of the sound tempers the starkness of the stories being told and Oberst renders his carefully detailed lyrics with an easy intimacy, the still youthful quaver in his voice poignantly underscoring the rueful, decidedly mature words. Though only 34, Oberst has been a recording artist for more than two decades, starting with raw, acoustic guitar-based bedroom tracks he cut as a young teenager and initially released on cassette. After his early Omaha-based band Commander Venus broke up, Oberst recast himself as Bright Eyes, an umbrella name for Oberst, producer-keyboardist Mike Mogis and multi-instrumentalist/arranger Nathaniel Wolcott, and a shifting group of collaborators. By the time he released Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground on Saddle Creek, the label he helped found with friends in Omaha, Oberst was a word-of-mouth success, with an avid young audience that helped to sell out his tours. Please join us as we celebrate the release of Upside Down Mountain, with an interview, moderated by Vice President of The GRAMMY Foundation and MusiCares Scott Goldman, and special performance.