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Conor Oberst is his first solo record in 13 years, a spare, predominately upbeat folk- and country-flavoured work that trades the apocalyptic, all-encompassing themes of last year's Cassadaga for more personal matters.Not that the new album is quite "and this is me", for Oberst still likes his smoke and mirrors.The singer from Omaha, Nebraska, has been described as a "lightning rod for his generation", and a "boy wonder" of indie songwriting, but it's a quiet charisma he exudes when you meet him in person.Today he's dressed all in black, and his boyish, almost elfin features are accentuated by a mop-top haircut.With the new album I knew I wanted the opposite experience, so we stripped things back to a basic band line-up."When I write my songs they tend to come in waves and have commonalities, and on this record there are a lot of songs about travelling."This here," says Conor Oberst, twisting off a turquoise-encrusted piece of jewellery, "is my Four Winds ring. If you read the inscription on the band it says in Hebrew: 'Father of the four winds fill my sails across the sea of years.'"Oberst, 28, is chatting outside the East London offices of Wichita Recordings, the label that puts out his work this side of the pond.
"There were pigs and wild dogs in the street; lots of people on horseback.
When he and his eldest brother Justin released Water on their own Lumberjack Records imprint in 1993, it laid the foundations for Saddle Creek, a label that now has distribution links with Sony/BMG.
His big breakthrough record was the Bright Eyes album I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, partly a caustic attack on the Bush administration, and a US No10 in 2005.
"Sometimes I daydream about having a farm and a wife and some babies and watching the grass grow," Oberst adds, "but you have to meet the right person for that." Whether or not this means he has recently split with his musician girlfriend Maria Taylor isn't clear, but Conor Oberst songs such as the heartbreaking "Eagle on a Pole" ("It's about infidelity, and acceptance of the way things are...") certainly offer food for thought.
Oberst says the last two books he read were Deloria Vine Jr's God Is Red, about native American Indian religion, and Hail Mary, Full of Holes, a novel by his friend Simone Felice (also the drummer with The Felice Brothers) that follows "half-black, half-Cherokee teenager Mary Washington into the violent heart of America".