Bright Eyes, formed in Omaha, Nebraska by brothers Justin and Conor Oberst, has been a band of many meanings and genres. Crossing over from the grunge-influenced emo Bright Eyes was known for in the early 2000s, the band moved on to signature rock music, power pop with a darker edge, reminiscent of REM and Arcade Fire. Conor Oberst's earnest voice is still the signature of the group. He is the band's remaining original member.
The band's name comes from the term of endearment, and not from the Bonnie Tyler song "Total Eclipse Of The Heart
," as some Bright Eyes listeners believe.
Justin and Conor Oberst founded Saddle Creek Records as a project in an entrepreneurship class. The label handled a growing group of Midwestern independent rock, electronic and pop music. Saddle Creek allowed Bright Eyes to produce and promote their music the way they wanted to, using house shows, local Omaha venues and DIY movement methods to spread their music. Though Bright Eyes received its share of criticism, the raw sincerity of the songs, which often dealt with drug use, loneliness, sex, and suicide, resonated with the millenial generation in a way that few other musical groups had.
Bright Eyes carved a name for themselves by experimenting with the sound known as the Omaha Twang, and adding rock, electronic and hardcore elements. Songwriter Oberst's famously poetic lyrics were also controversial. With his pale skin, large, dark eyes and black hair, he became the unwitting poster boy for early to mid-2000s emo music genre. Emo created a new breed of sensitive, emotional musicians, but paralleled classic rock machismo in the manner in which women and girls were side characters with few characteristics outside being addicts, heartbreakers and objects of desire.
Oberst shunned the representation of himself as a king of the emo boys, and mocked this characterization in a scripted spoken portion of the 2000 album Fevers and Mirrors. Friend and musical collaborator Todd Fink of the band The Faint read lines written by Oberst in which he parodied critics of Bright Eyes calling the lyrics insincere. Oberst states that the music, rich with symbolism, is meant to be open to listeners' interpretation.
The 2004 and 2005 twin records Digital Ash In a Digital Urn and I'm Wide Awake It's Morning built on the melodic, old-school country, storytelling songs of the 1998 release that had focused Bright Eyes' sound, Letting Off the Happiness. Their songs "Lua" and "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)" became popular quickly, and the band was cited on many Best New Bands lists, though they had been releasing music under that name since at least 1997. Bright Eyes toured with Bruce Springsteen and REM on the Vote for Change tour during the 2004 American presidential election. This increased Bright Eyes' recognition tremendously.
In 2011 the Bright Eyes bandmates included Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott. Bright Eyes released The People's Key in 2011, finally earning both widespread critical and fan acclaim, as well as commercial success. Their sound has changed as the members have grown up, with different priorities and life experiences. Mogis now has two children, and he and Oberst are both members of the large-scale band Monsters of Folk. Monsters of Folk has toured with Jenny Lewis and other well-loved acts.
Bright Eyes has taken several notable political stands in their music and music business. They performed against former president George W. Bush's reelection campaign in 2004. They speak out against the wide reach of the media conglomerate Clear Channel, and refuse to play concerts at venues associated with the corporation. Brights Eyes has also identified itself as a pro-love, queer-positive band. The music video for the Bright Eyes song "First Day of My Life," directed by noted film director John Cameron Mitchell, received special recognition at the 2006 GLAAD Awards for its positive representations.