Conor Goes Country

Like many young, hip kids nearing the end of their 20s, Conor Oberst is slightly torn, a little jaded and mighty contemplative.

Like many young, hip kids nearing the end of their 20s, Conor Oberst is slightly torn, a little jaded and mighty contemplative. "I look back on the good old days with fondness, for sure," he says over a beer at a bar in Manhattan's East Village. "That type of freedom doesn't exist now-rolling into town and playing at some kid's house, that's an amazing thing. But on the other hand, it is nice to get paid."

Of late, Oberst has been channeling his quarter-life crises into another thoughtful, slightly melancholy album. Oberst recorded his new self-titled Merge set with the Mystic Valley Band, whose members include Jason Boesel and Nik Freitas. While Oberst's vivid narratives are front and center as usual, the record borders on country territory at points, especially on the foot-stomping "NYC-Gone, Gone."

Hailed as the second coming of indie rock in the early 2000s, Oberst never quite managed to become the next Bob Dylan, but he didn't do too badly for himself, either. (His albums have sold 1.7 million copies combined in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.)

When asked why he chose to split from Saddle Creek, the label that had been his home since he was a teen, Oberst cites a need to give something new a whirl, and that because he signs deals on an album-by-album basis, he had the freedom to switch things up. "I've admired Merge for a long time," he says. "The Saddle Creek folks are all still my friends, and I'm still involved with [sister label] Team Love."