Better Oblivion Community Center
Lala Lala, Christian Lee Hutson
Wed, April 10, 2019
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pmTrees
$23.50 - $25.50
This event is all ageshttp://www.treesdallas.com/event/1820310/
A conversation with Phoebe Bridgers & Conor Oberst
It’s so great to see you guys. Phoebe, I like your hair yellow like that. Is it Manic
It’s got a sort of grunge vibe. Did you know that in dream analysis the color yellow
is symbolic of intellect, energy, agility, happiness, harmony, and wisdom?
Phoebe: Of course.
So, first thing’s first: Better Oblivion Community Center. I heard you guys were
visiting Forest Lawn Cemetery - which we’ll talk about again in a minute - and you
took a selfie to post on Instagram, up by where they have that statue of David
there, it’s bigger than the actual statue of David in Florence, I think, and you guys
noticed in the location tagging that there were a lot of geolocation options in other
languages...I guess...Armenian? Mandarin? Korean?
Yeah! Burmese. Right?And then you tagged your location but later on you typed
those characters into Google Translate and it turned out not to be tagged from
“Forest Lawn”. It actually translated as “Better Oblivion Community Center”. Is
Conor: (laughs) No.
Really?! Cuz I heard that and I thought that was so cool! Where did the name come
Phoebe: Do people care where the name came from?
Alright. We can leave that in, I guess we answered it... So let’s get to when you two
met. It was a show at the Bootleg in LA, and Conor you were playing a secret show
and Phoebe, your friend at the venue got you to open for them. This was July 2016,
so before Stranger In The Alps was out, and Conor, you were there early enough to
watch her set. And afterwards you asked her to send you her record. You must’ve
really been impressed with her set.
Conor: Yeah. It was a weird thrown together show. A lot of people played short sets, like Gillian
Welch and Jim James. Kyle, who put on the show, said Phoebe was his favorite songwriter in
LA, so I was excited to check it out. I was immediately struck by her voice. There are not a lot of
people whose voice stops you in your tracks like that.
I bet you get people trying to send you their music all the time. Everywhere you go,
But you actually asked for hers.
Conor: I did.
And then you invited her to open for you on tour.
That was the Salutations tour?
Right yeah, Ruminations. And you guys would do “Lua” together on the road?
So then you guys would guest at each others shows, right? And Conor, you were
spending a lot of time in Los Angeles around this time. Cuz you’ve been in Omaha
mostly the past few years but you have a spot in LA, on the West Side.
Conor: East side.
Right, and so you guys would show up and guest at shows. And you’re on Phoebe’s
song “Would You Rather”. So really early on you started collaborating on music,
right? That was kind of an immediate spark, this instinct to perform and sing
together. And your voices, they really compliment one another. There’s something
really special about when you duet. Particularly when you sing in unison, it really
works. Phoebe, you have a really sweet, crystal clear voice and Conor, yours is
more world weary and raspy, so there’s something really striking about them
Conor: I guess that’s one way to look at it. I wouldn’t necessarily say Phoebe’s voice is crystal
clear. At least not in a Mickey Mouse way. I think it’s textured in a very unique and interesting
way. In that she can sing anything and there is a certain gravity to it that other voices don’t
Phoebe: I do agree that Conor’s voice is pretty raspy.
Right, yeah. That’s true, “gravity” is a perfect word for it. And you know, I say ‘in
unison’, it’s from the Latin. It means, literally, ‘one sound’ but when you guys sing
together it’s really not, it’s incredibly rich because you get both these different
emotions from the exact same lyrics. The sort of clear eyed optimistic sound of
Phoebe’s vocal and then the more seasoned sound of Conor’s.
The first song you wrote together is the first song on the album, “I Didn’t Know
What I Was In For” and at that time you weren’t really thinking it would be a whole
album but you knew you wanted it to be its own thing, not a Phoebe Bridgers &
Conor Oberst album of acoustic songs?
Phoebe: Yeah, we didn’t know if it would be a single or an EP or what, but we knew we wanted to
try writing together and for it to have its own identity with a band name.
When you’re out touring, you’re on the bus and you’re playing songs to pass the
time, right? There’s a photo of you in the album artwork, Phoebe you have a guitar
on your lap and you’re both surrounded by this incredible mess of the tour bus. A
lot of milk cartons, snack wrappers and piles of dirty clothes and just general
mess. Is channeling the chaos of a bus tour into the structure of a song something
you usually do?
Phoebe: I’m actually holding an acoustic bass in that photo.
Conor: We wrote in LA, mostly.
Ah, okay. But you wrote them together. It’s not like Conor would have a song and
send it to you, or you would have a song and he would just add bits to it. These
songs you guys sat down and wrote together. In the same room?
You guys obviously compliment each other vocally, we talked about that, but you
also feel an affinity with one another in that you admire each other’s songwriting.
And you both generally write alone, right? It’s not your usual thing to write a song
with someone else.
Phoebe: I write with my friends a lot.
Conor: I don’t have any friends.
Did you guys ever sit down and talk about themes or how you wanted the album to
sound? Did you discuss what kind of songs they’d be or did you just sit down and
start writing to see what would happen?
Phoebe: We knew we wanted to play with a band, so we kept that in mind while we were writing
Did you see that Nick Cave documentary? Where he’s in the studio writing with
Warren Ellis and he says if they’re not having terrible ideas that they have to walk
back they know they’re not getting anywhere? They call it the “Walk Of Shame”,
when you have to walk back an idea that didn’t work. Have you done the “Walk Of
Phoebe & Conor (in unison): Yeah.
One of my favorites is “Forest Lawn”. People outside of Los Angeles might not
know that it’s the largest cemetery in LA. And it’s very beautiful, I should add.
There’s something so sweet about the song but it’s essentially about losing
someone and wanting to get them back. “Dig you out”, you say. It’s not really about
exhuming someone. Or maybe it is? Maybe it’s the sweetest song about exhuming a
corpse ever written?
Phoebe: It’s not not about exhuming someone.
Music critics have spilled a lot of ink over your guys work. I’m not even gonna try.
about half the record. Conor, you’ve played with her before, haven’t you? She
played on the last Bright Eyes’ album The People’s Key.
Conor: Yes. She’s great.
And Nick Zinner is someone you’ve been friends with for years. He played a lot on
your record Digital Ash In A Digital Urn and toured as part of Bright Eyes back in
And you’ve got the rhythm section from Dawes, Wylie Gelber and Griffin
Goldsmith, who you’ve also toured with. They were your backing band on the
Upside Down Mountain tour.
And some other talented friends, songwriter Christian Lee Hutson on guitar, and
Anna Butterss on bass. They both played bass in Phoebe’s touring band at different
times, right? How would you compare them as players?
Phoebe: They’re both good, a lot different stylistically.
And you produced it yourselves with Andy LeMaster. Andy’s someone you’ve
worked with for almost your whole career, Conor. So he’s someone you trust?
There’s so many great lines on this album. A lot to unpack. You can really lose
yourself in it. Do you have a favorite lyric? Or maybe a favorite lyric that the other
one came up with?
Conor: We pretty much wrote everything together, so it’s hard to remember who wrote what.
You’re going to tour this record in March and April. You’re putting a band together
for it now, right?
I wanted to talk about “Dylan Thomas” cuz that’s the first single, right? It’s the first
single and the last song you wrote for the album. There’s a lot of death and ghosts
on the album, and mentions of illness and feeling unwell and being anxious - and
those are things you’ve both written about a lot - which is partly why this
collaboration works so well. Dylan Thomas, we all know, is the esteemed Welsh
poet who died in 1953 at the age of 39. He’s mentioned for ‘dying on the barroom
floor’ and you know, he was definitely a big drinker. He was drinking at the White
Horse in the West Village every night he was in New York before he died. And he
fell into a coma at the Chelsea Hotel and died soon after at Saint Vincent’s on 8th
Avenue. Did you know that he actually died of emphysema, pneumonia and
bronchitis? And that in November 1953, the month he died, over 200 people died
in New York City from air pollution? He probably died from smog.
I should ask why you released this as a surprise.
Phoebe: We love surprises.
I guess my last question is do you think this is a one off or do you think there will
be more Better Oblivion Community Center albums to follow?
Conor: Your guess is as good as ours.
Guys, thanks for your time. Are you gonna eat the rest of that donut?
Conor: It's all yours, man.
Chester Middlesworth (PHD)
West initially started Lala Lala as a way to communicate things that she felt she could never say out loud. But on The Lamb, her sophomore LP and debut for Hardly Art, she has found strength in vulnerability. Through bracing hooks and sharp lyrics, the 24-year-old songwriter and guitarist illustrates a nuanced look on her own adulthood—her fraught insecurity, struggles with addiction, and the loss of several people close to her.
Originally from London, West moved with her family to Los Angeles, where she spent her teenage years, and later to Chicago, where she enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Inspired by those cities’ DIY music communities, she started Lala Lala as an outlet where she could process her new experiences, which often involved toxic relationships and partying around the city with beloved friends. The turbulence in West’s life throughout that period resulted in an abrasive but tender debut album, Sleepyhead (self-released, 2016). West decided to quit drinking, and she began booking her own DIY tours across the country. Sobriety provided her with a newfound sense of self and clarity, and she began writing the songs for The Lamb while also starting the process of re-learning how to live her life.
Across the album’s 12 tracks, West carefully examines the skeletons in her closet for the first time, hoping to capture honest snapshots of her past selves. Many of the songs show West asking herself agonizing questions about her life with a clever and hopeful curiosity. On the album’s first single and opening track, “Destroyer,” she reflects on feeling self-destructive and the delayed realization something in the past has irrevocably hurt you. In “Water Over Sex,” West laments her old precarious lifestyle, while trying to readjust to her newfound sobriety, and ”Copycat” confronts her feelings of alienation and boredom. “Some of this album is about being frustrated that everything is always repeating itself and being bored with your own feelings,” she explains. “‘Copycat’ in particular is about how everyone talks exactly the same on the Internet and how it sometimes feels futile to try and be yourself.”
The catalyst for the starkly titled “When You Die” came when West’s friend Jilian Medford of IAN SWEET texted about the band getting into a car accident. In the song, she grapples with her lack of control over certain things and the inevitable regrets that come with it. Though that experience served as the song’s initial inspiration, “When You Die” also reflects on a string of three months in 2017 when West experienced several close deaths. The spare and stunning album highlight “Dove” further explores this tragic string of events; West explains, “It is very plainly about the death of someone I loved a lot and the guilt I had, and still have, afterwards.”
After testing a handful of the new songs while on the road, The Lamb’s final form came together while recording at Rose Raft Studio in rural Illinois. Performed by West with Emily Kempf on bass/backup vocals and Ben Leach on drums, the musical arrangements of the album—blending post punk with dream pop influences that incorporate vibrant synths, a drum machine, and even saxophone—find a balance between light and dark, reinforcing these dynamic and intimate songs that will surely resonate.
Hutson’s debut solo E.P. Will Never Break Up marked his stylistic shift away from the dustbowl-era sound of the recently defunct Driftwood Singers in favor of a more recent tradition of country songwriting in the vein of Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam. This lean towards the modern continues with Hutson's full-length debut The Hell With It, out on Trailer Fire Records in March. The Hell With It finds Hutson working once again alongside Grammy-nominated producer David Mayfield, who also produced the Driftwood Singers' debut.
Christian Lee Hutson still maintains the same rigorous touring schedule that took the Driftwood Singers across the U.S. and back any number of tread-wearing times, so come out and join him for a sour drink of some sort and some newborn songs that retain a feel so well-worn, weathered, and welcoming that they whimper and creak as they pull a stool out for you at the bar.
2709 Elm Street
Dallas, TX, 75226