That song was written at the height of an intense panic attack. I was in this sort of creepy German hotel room freaking out and I couldn’t get my heart to slow down, I couldn’t catch my breath. I calmed down by listing everything I could think of and its place in the world – not where I designed it to be, but where it is. ‘Why don’t you leave me here?’ is the idea that sometimes you have to sit still and be where you are regardless of any expectations or plans you might have made or things people want you to do for any reason. It’s about being content in your own skin.
—  Conor Oberst on “I Must Belong Somewhere”

“Was it true what I heard about the son of God? Did he come to save? Did he come at all? And if I dried his feet with my dirty hair would he make me clean again?”

- “Don’t Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come,” Lifted, Bright Eyes

This refers to the anointing of Jesus in the Bible. A woman named Mary (identified by Catholics as Mary Magdalene) bathes Jesus’s feet with expensive perfumed oil and dries them with her hair. 

We have a song on the “Fevers and Mirrors” record, called “When the Curious Girl Realizes She’s Under Glass,” that I wanted to sound like someone eavesdropping on their neighbor, like, in the next-door apartment. So the whole song is recorded so that it sounds weird and muffled. You can hear the neighbor walking around, and turning on the TV and looking for a station. Anyone who didn’t know the idea would probably think it was the most annoying song ever, but, for me, it captured my idea perfectly.
—  Conor Oberst

“I asked your name, you asked the time…”

- “Lover I Don’t Have To Love," Lifted, Bright Eyes

This line might be referencing a scene in the Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Holden Caulfield buys a prostitute from a pimp in an elevator. When she comes to his room, she keeps asking Holden if he has a watch on him. He asks her name - it’s Sunny. Holden gets nervous when Sunny takes her dress off, and he also suspects from her vocabulary that she’s lying about her age, just like he is (Holden’s lying about his name in this scene, too). 

(Chapter 13, page 124 in the edition I’m looking at)

Synesthete Song

Sound → color synesthesia

According to Richard Cytowic, sound → color synesthesia is “something like fireworks”: voice, music, and assorted environmental sounds such as clattering dishes or dog barks trigger color and firework shapes that arise, move around, and then fade when the sound ends.[3] For some, the stimulus type is limited (e.g., music only, or even just a specific musical key); for others, a wide variety of sounds triggers synesthesia.

Sound often changes the perceived hue, brightness, scintillation, and directional movement. Some individuals see music on a “screen” in front of their faces. Deni Simon, for whom music produces waving lines “like oscilloscope configurations—lines moving in color, often metallic with height, width and, most importantly, depth. My favorite music has lines that extend horizontally beyond the ‘screen’ area.”[3]

Individuals rarely agree on what color a given sound is (composers Liszt and Rimsky-Korsakov famously disagreed on the colors of music keys); however, synesthetes show the same trends as non-synesthetes do. For example, both groups say that loud tones are brighter than soft tones, and that lower tones are darker than higher tones.

Conor Oberst on fans
  • AVC: Do compliments from fans make you uncomfortable?
  • CO: No. When I run into a person or a kid that comes up and gives me the spiel about, "Hey, I got your record at this time in my life, and it really helped me," that stuff totally still rings true. If you're standing there talking to someone, it's really easy to tell if they're being authentic or not. And that's great. That's the reason to share music. Art is essentially communication. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. That's why people make art, so other people can relate to it. That's just part of the deal. But from where I'm standing, putting it out there, I'm kind of shooting it down this wire, and I have no idea who's on the other side of it. I just hope that it gets to them intact, and that maybe someone, somewhere, it makes them feel better, or makes them feel something. That's as much as I can do, I guess. And beyond that, it's like, try to have fun and do things that I'm interested in, and that sound cool to me. And maybe people will relate to it.
The best feeling I ever get is when I finish a song, and it exists, and it didn’t exist before, and now it’s there, and it makes me feel a certain way. That’s kind of it, and everything after that, from the recording to the releasing to the performing—those are all interesting in their own ways, and challenging, but I guess it’s not where my passion lies. Just the writing of the song—it’s still when I feel the best, really, ever, is when I have a new song. So I try to always just remember that.
—  Conor Oberst

“Hold on tight, beginner’s mind…”

- “Beginner’s Mind,” The People’s Key, Bright Eyes

In Zen Buddhism, “beginner’s mind,” or shoshin, refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even at an advanced level.  It’s also used in the title of the spiritual classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mindby Shunryu Suzuki. Suzuki writes, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

“Eva Braun went to dye her hair / Little Hitler sighs in his giant’s chair / And dreamed of nowhere” - “A Machine Spiritual (In the People’s Key),” The People’s Key, Bright Eyes

“One for the Fuhrer, one for his child bride. One for the wedding, one for his suicide.” - “One For You, One For Me," The People’s Key, Bright Eyes

Well, that’s where Hitler came from, Hitler came from that way. He was an outspoken, charismatic yeller. And, and all these people said, “Hey, we’ll use this guy, hey, look at all these people listening to this guy.” You know what I mean?“ - "Firewall” intro, The People’s Key, Bright Eyes 

Eva Braun was the longtime mistress of Adolf Hitler and, for 40 hours, his wife. They committed suicide together on April 30, 1945. 

  • Gigwise: You definitely seem to be equally concerned with the future as with past. The album’s lyrics allude to ancient religious symbols and future technologies in equal measure (“I want to fly on your silver ship/ while Jesus hangs and Buddha sits.”) The Canadian writer Margret Atwood wrote that sci-fi is a way of “acting out the consequences of theological doctrine.” Given the content of your lyrics I wondered what you’d make of that?
  • Conor: I think she’s a 100% right. Whenever you project into the future you obviously follow some line of logic from a doctrine that exists now, and you try to reach a place where that logic resolves. You use the progression of time to ask “What’ll happen if?” What if we keep using all the oil? Or if we let fanatics rule the world? You end with a pretty dystopian reality I guess.

“Call it luck or you can call it fate / But either way it’s how it happens / Not the way that you imagined / Or go out with a bang like Hemingway” - “Common Knowledge,” new song

“Go ask Hunter Thompson. / Go ask Hemingway’s ghost / It all catches up with you / Once you get just a little too old” - “Roosevelt Room,” Outer South, Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band

Both Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in their 60s during chronic illness by shooting themselves in the head. Thompson once traveled to Ketchum, Idaho to investigate the reasons for Hemingway’s suicide.

“I had the wildest dream last night, I was swimming with you in that cenote the heavens made of black fire, just woke up too soon.”

- “Haile Selassie,” The People’s Key, Bright Eyes

A cenote is a deep natural pit resulting from the collapse of limestone that exposes groundwater underneath. They are especially associated with the Yucatan Peninsula and were sometimes used by ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings. Cenotes were believed to be the gateway to the afterlife. 

Conor Oberst on "Fevers and Mirrors"
  • Q: Was there a specific plan in mind when you went into the studio to record Fevers?
  • Conor: A lot of times on our older records, if a keyboard part was lagging behind or there was an off-note from a guitar we'd just say 'fuck it' and leave it but with this, anything we left we had decided to leave it that way, you know. But for the most part we just played it again and again until it was as perfect as we could get it, which was a lot different than our other records. As far as the the general sound, like we wanted to sound really good and big and well orchestrated but at the same time maintain some intimate closeness. We didn't want it to sound like a big studio record, but like you were in the room with us. That's what we tried to do. There's boundaries that are hard to overcome with sound equipment. I'm happy with how it came out, it's the best recording we've done.
It’s very strange when people get so focused on what a song means, what actual events inspired a song. That gets people really excited for some reason…But that’s what’s great about music–however people interpret it, whatever they see, is what I want to be there for them. I don’t think my ideas or interpretation of a song is necessarily the night one. I want it to be open to everyone, and that’s kind of the conclusion I have come to after the years. There was a time when I was more concerned with people understanding what I was talking about, getting my specific notion to be understood. Now I’m happy with it being up for interpretation.
—  Conor Oberst