Better Oblivion Community Center

Better Oblivion Community Center

For a project so shrouded in mystery in the run-up to its release, the origin story behind Better Oblivion Community Center isn't particularly enigmatic at all: Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst started writing some songs together in Los Angeles, unclear what their final destination would be until they had enough good ones that a proper album seemed inevitable. Plus, the anonymity and secrecy allowed them to subvert any expectations that might come from news of high-profile singer-songwriter types teaming up. “We just realized that the songs were their own style and they didn't sound like either of us,” Bridgers tells Apple Music. “I don't think that they would have felt comfortable on one of my records or one of Conor's records. And even the band name—Conor came up with it and we didn't think about it as a real thing, and then people were like, 'Whoa, clearly it's this elaborate concept,' and we're like, 'Really? Cool.'” Let Bridgers and Oberst guide you through each track of their no-longer-enigmatic debut. “Didn't Know What I Was in For” Oberst: “When you sit down and write a song with someone, you kind of find out pretty fast—even if you're friends with them—if you gel on a creative level.” Bridgers: “I think it's really important to be able to have bad ideas in front of someone to create with them, and realizing I could do that with him was really important to our dynamic. We were able to tell each other what we actually thought about style and all that stuff, starting with that song.” “Sleepwalkin’” Oberst: “That was one of the first ones we started recording with a rhythm section, and I knew it was gonna be fun and actually be rock music, and I got excited for that.” Bridgers: “We did mostly real live takes of the band stuff, which was really fun. When I record my records, I overdub into oblivion because I like deleting and reworking and rethinking halfway through, so it's pretty different for me.” “Dylan Thomas” Oberst: “That was the last one we wrote, so we kind of had our method a little more dialed. It immediately felt like a good thing to put out there first, as far as people getting the whole concept quickly: that it's two singers and maybe more upbeat than people would think. I guess [Dylan Thomas] is a kind of antiquated reference for 2019, but he's always been one of my favorite poets.” “Service Road” Oberst: “That one is kind of like a heavy song, lyrically. I don't know if I would have been able to get to all that stuff without Phoebe's help—she's very empathetic in her writing.” Bridgers: “It's funny, I didn't really think about it like, 'Oh, helping Conor write something heavy'; it was just immediately pretty familiar territory and I didn't really have to think twice about it.” Oberst: “It's cool when you find someone to write songs with, where a lot of it can go unsaid and you can be automatically on the same page without having to explain a bunch of stuff up front. 'Cause I feel like other times when I've been in co-writing situations, if you're coming from super-different places, it takes a bunch of legwork to even get to a starting point.” “Exception to the Rule” Oberst: “That one changed the most from the demo to the actual recording. It really came into its own in the recording, with all the pulsing keyboard—that was not at all the way the demo was. That's always fun, when something changes in the recording process.” “Chesapeake” Bridgers: “I kind of started it as my own song with my friend Christian helping me out. We were getting together, ranting about music, and we were like, 'What if we wrote a song about what we think is stupid in music?' and kind of ranted for hours over those chords. And then Conor, who was tripping on mushrooms, wanders into the room, like, 'Are you guys gonna just talk about writing this song or when are you gonna actually write it?' We were kind of brushing him off, and then he started writing with us and then it immediately became real. And yeah, he gave us a run for our money on mushrooms.” “My City” Bridgers: “I think it's funny when people call LA 'this town.' It's fucking so corny and funny, and the amount that I hear it is really disturbing. Like, 'Yeah, this town spits you out in a heartbeat.' We started talking about that and then it became a lyric, and then weirdly kind of started being about Los Angeles. One of my favorite ways to write with Conor is just to go on a rant about something and then he spits out beautiful lyrics with whatever I said.” “Forest Lawn” Oberst: “Yeah, I guess there are a lot of LA references on this record. Phoebe would talk about when she was a teenager they would hang out and party and smoke weed in Forest Lawn. Every teenager in every town ends up going to a cemetery. Youth and reckless abandon amongst dead bodies—there's something kind of nice about that image to me.” “Big Black Heart” Bridgers: “I feel like—well, I know—that I subliminally stole the riff from a Tigers Jaw song. An early 2000s emo band...” Oberst: “She's like, 'I wanna email them and ask them if we can use it.' And I was like, 'Damn, Phoebe, you're extremely ethical. I really appreciate your ethics.'" Bridgers: “They were very sweet, and they were like, 'What the fuck are you talking about? That's not stealing it.'” Oberst: “I think Phoebe has a great scream and she never uses it, so I convinced her to bring that in, which is cool.” “Dominos” Oberst: “That's a cover. Taylor Hollingsworth is a songwriter from Birmingham, Alabama, a guy I've played with a lot, that we both love as a person and as a musician. We just love that song. I had called him and got him to record those little samples on the phone of him talking. I kind of lied a little bit, like, 'Yeah, Taylor, I'm making this sound collage for a song I'm working on.' When we finally played it for him, he was totally floored and got a little teary-eyed. He's like, 'I can't believe you guys recorded my song.' So, that was really sweet.”

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