Bright Eyes' Nathaniel Wolcott Talks Album Reissues Ahead of Cincinnati Performance

Bright Eyes will be performing at the Andrew J Brady Music Center on June 1.

click to enlarge Bright Eyes - PHOTO: SHAWN BRACKBILL
Photo: Shawn Brackbill
Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes composer/arranger/multi-instrumentalist Nathaniel Wolcott admits the last two years have been “pretty wild.”

An extremely prolific musician, Wolcott did not sit by idly after touring came to a halt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, he turned his focus to The Stand soundtrack he recorded with fellow Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis. He also worked on an ambitious Bright Eyes album reissue campaign that involves the production of nine companion EPs for which the group recruited guests Waxahatchee, Phoebe Bridgers, M. Ward and Becky Stark (of Lavender Diamond).

“Mike [Mogis] and I have been really busy,” Wolcott says via phone from Omaha, where Bright Eyes is rehearsing for a tour that will bring the band to the Andrew J Brady Music Center on June 1. “That was nine hours of music. That certainly kept us busy that year. Luckily, I’ve been able to work on a lot of music remotely. Last year, we were lucky enough to do a short run on the East Coast. That was really fun. It was a way to dip our toes back into the world of touring and now we’re hitting the ground running for sure.”

“I’ve just continued to make music and record music, and we eased into the Bright Eyes EP project and are recording a lot of the material,” Wolcott continues. “We started it about a year ago. It’s been really fun and really cool. The first couple of EPs date back to when [singer] Conor [Oberst] was just a teenager, recording on a four-track in his basement.”

Wolcott says the group has taken a “very modern perspective” to recording older Bright Eyes tunes that date back to the late ’90s.

“We think of it as turning the whole thing upside down,” says Wolcott. “It’s like if the material were written now, how would we approach the arrangement and recording. It’s an interesting process. As we get into the later material, it’s definitely fun to again turn it upside-down and approach in a completely new and different way.”

Wolcott says Bright Eyes has announced the release of the first three EPs and plans to release nine.

“We have taken totally different approaches with each one.”

A talented multi-instrumentalist, Wolcott first learned violin when he was 5, followed by piano, Suzuki piano and trumpet.

“I got really into jazz when I was a kid. I got pretty deep into that stuff. By the time I was in high school, I also just really liked the idea of playing rock music too,” Wolcott remembers. “I was lucky enough to meet some people including Mike [Mogis] when I was in high school and start recording and being in bands around that time.”

Wolcott says Lincoln is a small college town with a lot of opportunities to perform and record.

“I think I was in tenth grade when I first started going to Mike’s studio and started working on the early [indie band] Lullaby for the Working Class records. Those experiences were amazing,” Wolcott says. “It was about the time I met Conor. I remember him opening for a Lullaby show around that time. It was a cool and fertile scene and had a lot of crossover with the Omaha bands.”

Back in 2006, Bright Eyes evolved from being a Oberst project to being a band with Mogis and Wolcott as members. The shift “didn’t affect how we approached anything because we had consistently been a part of the live show and making the records and all that stuff,” Wolcott says.

To build anticipation for the upcoming reissues, the band has released the tune “Falling Out of Love at This Volume,” a beautiful ballad that makes good use of retro-sounding synths.

“That was one of the few that had been a staple in the live show for a while,” Wolcott says. “It was almost a pretty straightforward documenting of how we had been playing it live.”

A new version of “Contrast and Compare” features vocals courtesy of Waxahatchee. It also includes some subtle pedal steel courtesy of Mogis.

“We were lucky to have Katie [Crutchfield] from Waxahatchee sing on that,” Wolcott says. “We wanted to make it different and interesting. Rather than be guitar-based, we recorded the piano first. We wanted to involve people from the current scene and people we like and admire. Mike has got a great touch on the pedal steel for that tune.”

Wolcott describes “Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh,” a track that features Phoebe Bridgers, as a “deliberate attempt to do the song differently.”

“One of the ways we did that or achieved that goal was we had our friend Clark Baechle [founder of The Faint] program the drum beat for it,” he says. “It has a more electronic element, and that was fun.”

Wolcott says the band continues to tweak the setlist for the tour.

“We’re still figuring out how much of the EP stuff we will incorporate into the set. We are also duly focused on playing the material from the last album and adding songs from that record that we didn’t play last summer,” Wolcott says. “The new record is tricky. There is a lot to sort out, and we have our hands full.”

Bright Eyes plays the Andrew J Brady Music Center (25 Race St., downtown) at 8 p.m. June 1. Proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test is required for entry. Info:

A version of this interview originally was published by CityBeat sister newspaper Cleveland Scene.

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