Conor Oberst enjoys his freedom.
It's a desire that goes beyond being the center of attention. It goes beyond the idea of being tied to one band, one style of music or even one home base. It even goes beyond the generally uninhibited rock and roll lifestyle.
"You devote a whole year to touring and it's like you're living in this little weird bubble," says Oberst, calling from a tour stop in Cleveland. "Then, one day the tour ends and you're free and you have to remember how to have a regular life."
At this point, Oberst is still in the touring bubble with his band Bright Eyes, supporting their adventurous indie-folk album "The People's Key" (Saddle Creek). Maybe that's why he says he's not even thinking about what will come next, even though he recently made a lot of fans nervous by saying "The People's Key" might be the final Bright Eyes album.
"We have zero plans right now and I think everyone's feeling a little hesitant to make plans," Oberst says of the band, which also includes guitarist/indie-folk heavyweight producer Mike Mogis and horn and keyboard player Nate Walcott. "I think everyone's like, 'Let's get through this, chill out through the holidays and then figure out what to do with our lives.' "
That's not to say Bright Eyes isn't still having fun on tour, which started in February and runs through mid-December, especially during the current summer run where the band is playing more unusual venues in more unusual places and matching the mood with unusual setlists. (Oberst says he was looking forward to his first visit to The Hamptons this month to headline the Music to Know Festival. However, the entire East Hampton festival was canceled.)
"The band is really tight and you can put us on any stage at any time of day and we'll do our thing," Oberst says. "We know a lot of songs -- maybe 50 songs, which is a lot -- so we switch the set list around a lot. I've been surprised actually at how easily the new songs have blended with all the songs from the catalog. Nothing feels that out of place to me, which is pretty amazing since we've played a song that I wrote in 1995 when I was 15 years old next to a song that we put out this year and they were not that strange of bedfellows."
On the current tour, the more anthemic songs of "The People's Key" -- especially the sing-along "Shell Games" and the aggressive "Jejune Stars" -- are even more energetic and more suited to large crowds and big spaces.
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"In any live scenario, with the adrenaline and just the crowd, I tend to push my voice more," Oberst says. "I think everything gets a little more muscular. It's also like being a stage actor in that you have to make bigger gestures in front of bigger crowds. It's just a natural instinct that you try to make it more dynamic to reach out to the 1,000th person back sitting in their tent."
Oberst says he likes the mix of venues Bright Eyes gets to play, still playing intimate club shows as well as graduating to massive festivals. "It would be tough for me to be in a band like U2 where every show is that big," he says. "I like being able to jump back and forth."
Oberst also likes being able to jump back and forth between rock-star life and normal life. "It takes a good month or so before life settles back down for me after tour," he says. "You have the shock of being in one place. There's a tendency to celebrate being back home and seeing everyone and saying 'hi' to everyone and that whole process takes a minute. For me, I have to go into deep storage for awhile, stay inside, not socialize, not party, kind of eat a lot of vegetables and drink a lot of water, kind of heal the wounds."
After that decompression, he usually gets inspired again. "You gotta rotate the crops, give time to have new ideas form and let creativity blossom again," he says. "That happens before I even know what the next move is."
WHO Bright Eyes
INFO $35; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com