In the late 1990s, a then-newly formed Bright Eyes sent cassette-tape demos of what became its second album, Letting Off the Happiness, to Merge, Matador and several other independent labels. Secretly Canadian founder Ben Swanson was the only person who called back; he expressed interest, but never made a firm offer.
Instead, Bright Eyes — frontman Conor Oberst, multi-instrumentalist/ producer Mike Mogis and arranger-composer Nate Walcott — released the project on Omaha, Neb.-based indie Saddle Creek, founded by Mogis and Oberst’s brother Justin years prior as a college project. And now, after a decade of critical acclaim followed by a near-decadelong unofficial hiatus, Bright Eyes is, in a sense, back to where it all began. At the top of the year, the group signed a deal with Dead Oceans (part of Secretly Group, along with Secretly Canadian) and on Aug. 21 will release its 10th studio album, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was. “It’s kind of nice to be at an indie label and put out a record in 2020 and it’s that one,” says Mogis of the full-circle moment. “It’s the [label] that approached us about signing us in [the late ’90s].”