Don’t like music mixed with politics? “Then don’t listen to our band,” says Conor Oberst, speaking not about Bright Eyes — his renowned, long-running indie-folk project — but Desaparecidos, the Nebraska punk group the 35-year-old formed in 2001. After splitting in 2002, Oberst and the band are back with second album Payola (June 23, Epitaph), a rousing set of songs about war, racism and more.
Is it possible you’re more pissed off now than you were at 21?
(Laughs.) Anyone that’s observant of the world and capable of empathy can always find a lot to be upset about. There’s something good about being able to get angry.
Are these songs for you or for kids in the audience?
It’s for both of us. Music has an ability, beyond other ways of communicating, to bring subversive thought into people’s lives. A kid in a conservative family in Utah gets his hands on a Rage Against the Machine CD, listens to it on headphones and starts to be interested in things. The idea of music getting behind enemy lines and affecting people’s hearts and minds is a powerful thing.
On “The Left Is Right,” you sing, “If one must die to save the 99, maybe it’s justified.”
I’m a pacifist. I don’t see violence as a good solution to anything. I’m speaking to the 1 percent. They may not need to die, but their insane wealth — which has essentially made our country an oligarchy — that does need to die.
This story originally appeared in the July 4 issue of Billboard.