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Conor Oberst performs in The Current studio

Conor Oberst performs in The Current studio.
Conor Oberst performs in The Current studio.Nate Ryan | MPR
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by Bill DeVille and Conor Oberst

October 09, 2016

Conor Oberst - Next of Kin (live on The Current)
by MPR
Conor Oberst - Tachycardia (live on The Current)
by MPR
Conor Oberst - Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out (live on The Current)
by MPR

"Actually, I don't really like surprises," Conor Oberst says. "If you're doing the surprise, then it's better than when the surprise is on you."

Oberst had a chance to give a lot of people a surprise back on Labor Day of this year, when he, along with Frankie Lee, Jenny Lewis, the Watson Twins, Har Mar Superstar, the Cactus Blossoms, the Pines, and others gave a spontaneous show at the Clown Lounge beneath the Turf Club in St. Paul. "It was fun," Oberst says. "It was just a bunch of friends hanging out."

Now, with his upcoming release, Ruminations, Oberst is in anything but a crowd. Describing it as his first truly solo album "since I was 15 or so," Ruminations releases on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. Oberst stopped in to The Current's studio to play a few songs from the new album and to chat with Bill DeVille.

The album came about as something of a surprise. After health issues curtailed his tour with Desaparecidos, Oberst found himself back home in Nebraska, where he began writing and recording new songs. They were essentially demos, accompanied only by piano or guitar, with harmonica occasionally added. "I just recorded the songs, honestly, just to get them down," Oberst says.

But then he received a phone call from David Bither, senior vice president at Nonesuch Records. "He just really liked the recording and he suggested that we just put it out," Oberst recalls. "I thought it was an interesting idea."

One of the songs, "Next of Kin," references Lou Reed and Patti Smith. Although the song itself is not autobiographical, Oberst has met both Smith and Reed, and even got to perform with the late Velvet Underground co-founder. "He was cool, man," Oberst recalls. "One time I put out a record and he, out of the blue, sent me an email that said, 'Congratulations on the "Moonlight" song, that's a great song.' That was interesting. He was real cool, man."

Acknowledging Ruminations explores the darker parts of the human condition, Oberst isn't concerned if it seems a departure from his previous work. "To me, if you're trying to please people or regurgitate your old vibes, people are going to see right through it," he says. "It's going to be frigging phony — who wants to see that? So I just try to do whatever I'm interested in, and part of that is playing with new people and having new collaborators, and that's exciting to me."

Which could lead to surprises … perhaps surprises are Conor Oberst's friend after all.

Use the audio player above to listen to the complete interview with Conor Oberst, including his story about opening for Bruce Springsteen back in 2004, and about the action-adventure screenplay he's written for one of his other bands, Monsters of Folk.

Songs Performed

"Next of Kin"
"Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out"
All songs from Conor Oberst's 2016 album, Ruminations, releasing Friday, Oct. 14, on Nonesuch Records.

Hosted by Bill DeVille
Produced by Derrick Stevens
Engineered by Michael DeMark
Visuals by Nate Ryan
Web feature by Luke Taylor


Conor Oberst - official site