Conor Oberst releases his latest solo album Upside Down Mountain later this month (19 May) - currently streaming pre-release at NPR.org. Here's written Q this exclusive guide to the record.
Time Forgot It is a song about self-preservation on a fundamental level. I wrote it in east LA in a house with no furniture. Sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor. The two freeways sounded like the ocean so I pretended I was on the beach. My neighbor is some kind of science photographer and takes pictures with a special microscope camera. I had a look at his slides that day and was feeling particularly irrelevant.
Zigzagging Towards The Light It’s a song about the ground shifting underneath you in unexpected/expected ways. Or maybe waking up with a new face. I love Jonathan Wilson’s guitar on the track. It bubbles and sparkles like the best shroom experience. It's like riding that gondola with Farmer Dave in Telluride. It feels strange but right. All the way to the top of the mountain in the dark.
Hundreds Of Ways It is a song of encouragement. Maybe for myself or someone else. The idea that you just have to keep going even when you are covered in mud and shit. Your options are limitless once you take the yoke off and believe you are free. And the truth is everyone you have ever looked up to was just making it up as they went along.
Artifact #1 It is a love song. Plain and simple. Some people leave their fingerprints all over the scene of the crime. Some just disappear to where even the six o’clock news can’t find them. But real love trumps all. Paper, rock or scissors don’t stand a chance. Crushes. Wins every time. Even through a gnarly delay pedal.
Lonely At The Top Another love song. But also about the human condition. “I am a rock. I am an island” kinda thing. But mixed with the opposite of “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”. When you love someone or something you have everything to lose. You are scared of your own shadow.
Enola Gay It’s a character sketch. Can you imagine the kind of person whose nickname would be Enola Gay? Scary. I knew there was that famous 80s song called the same but I figured it was okay. Lambchop named a record of theirs Thriller after all. So I figure now anything is up for grabs.
Double Life This is the first song I wrote after I got married. It is a about transitions and fear. Everything worth doing in life involves some kind of leap of faith. No one can guarantee anything in this world. You have to take your best guess and trust your instincts and just get on with it. Follow your nose all the way home if you can.
Kick This song is total projection. I imagined what this person’s life might be like based off a few minutes I spent with her in a crowded bar and some scattered tabloid journalism. It is almost certainly and completely inaccurate on every level but, hey, it’s a catchy tune. And considering what her family has been through its surely not the worst thing ever uttered about them. Mad empathy is what I was going for. All apologies.
Night At Lake Unknown I still don’t have an iPhone, but my wife gave me her old one. It doesn’t do anything except hold some music and has a nature sound sleep app called Naturespace. Since I am a terrible insomniac and I am scared of silence I rely on that almost every night. My favorite preset is called Night At Lake Unknown hence the title. Maybe it's about C-list fame and staring at ceiling fans, I don’t know.
You Are Your Mother's Child I almost didn’t put this one on the record cause it was so much more sentimental and down the middle than the other songs but eventually I came around to it. I think it fits in its own way. It is a little darker than it sounds though. It is a father singing to his son but he hasn’t been the best dad. He is saying his son is good because of his mother’s influence not his.
Governor's Ball This is about a group of kids going to a big corporate music festival and one gets lost. Just a little vignette/story song. I like the horns that Nate Walcott arranged.
Desert Island Questionnaire This is a song about modernity and the good vs evil tug o’ war of the universe. It asks some age old questions and doesn’t answer them, which I hate. I think despite all our technological advances in communication humans are the loneliest they have ever been. I fear for the future. I fear for you. I fear for myself.
Common Knowledge This is the last song on the record. It ends with a suicide as most great things do. Everybody knows. Everybody cares. Everybody understands. Conor Oberst
For more head to http://www.conoroberst.com.