Conor Oberst’s Chemistry Set

Conor Oberst is a man known to take on any and all musical ventures, starting when the 13-year-old Omaha singer-songwriter self-released an album, Water, recorded on his father's four-track. Most know Oberst as lead man in Bright Eyes, his most popular project, which cemented its spot in the indie consciousness with 2005's I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. But when you're as prolific as Oberst, and as headstrong, it makes sense that you'd always be moving on to new projects.

In fall 2007, Oberst decided he wanted to start a new band with like-minded indie star M. Ward. They were to play some shows that December in Minnesota, but it never came together, so Nik Freitas and Jason Boesel, two longtime Oberst collaborators, stepped up. Their efforts would see them on an international tour, ending up with the release of the album Conor Oberst in August 2008 — on which Boesel played drums.

Boesel describes it as "Conor Oberst's solo record, which he asked all of us to contribute to — to back him up on."

Where Conor Oberst was a bit of a rushed effort, evolving from uncertain circumstances, Outer South, slated for May release, is Oberst's first album under the Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band name. Band members, including Boesel, ramped up their collaborative efforts.

"[Outer South] is like a band record that kind of came about through touring and writing a bunch of new songs while on tour," Boesel says. "[Oberst and South] are different, but it's all the same personnel. It's more of an intentional band record, the goal behind it to make a band record versus a band backing up a solo artist. "

The 2008 tour lasted five months, a time during which Oberst did not want to play Bright Eyes songs. Having only one album to play from, the Mystic Valley Band was forced to play cover songs and write songs, which would form the groundwork for Outer South.

The Mystic Valley Band contains an eclectic mix of musicians from all over the United States. Boesel is from Los Angeles, Oberst from Nebraska, and other members hail from Birmingham, Alabama. When asked how such a group of regionally diverse musicians influenced the new album, Boesel is candid: "I think the mix of people in the band really culminates in the specific sound. We do have a couple of Southern dirtbags in the band; inevitably, there is going to be a Southern twang to it."

Yet Boesel recognizes the true collaborative effort of Outer South, made possible by such a large group of talented musicians. "I think it's kind of like that group of people make that music, and we kind of have no control over it. I play drums differently in [the Mystic Valley Band] than any other band and I don't know why, but I can't stop it." Boesel also noticed the influence of the Mystic Valley Band on Oberst himself, having played with him throughout his career. "Conor sings a lot different and talks about different stuff. It's like a very specific chemistry we all have."

That chemistry makes the Mystic Valley Band feel, outside of the obvious presence of Conor Oberst's vocals, like an effort wholly different from anything he has ever done. It's fascinating to watch a prolific artist like Oberst collaborate on a project like the Mystic Valley Band. The optimism and hope in Boesel's voice indicates that the current tour will be another memorable and successful project. It seems that Oberst, the prolific indie-rock icon, has outdone himself yet again.

 
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