New York

Crashing Kansas City With Conor Oberst and Crew

by

Dear Village Voice,

They are running us ragged.

Well, by “they” I mean: We are running ourselves ragged.

By “we” I mean: The collective Bright Eyes and Faint assemblages, an overlapping gathering of 13 musicians, performing various duties in each band, gathering in a second-floor practice space in a seedy Omaha, Nebraska neighborhood, with the requisite expired food and cigarette shop next door, a diner across the street that closes at three, and a wide array of shufflers and skulkers who loiter in the streets and the parking lot next door.

For the past two and a half weeks we have been meeting for daily rehearsals running up to 10 or 12 hours a day. We’re not always practicing. There is much computer programming work to be done, gear and tech preparations, coffee breaks and the like. But we are there, working at readying songs off of the Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash in a Digital Urn album. The performance of the Digital Ash album is particularly about interpretation, as much of the album was created in the studio. Our job is to work with music that, for the most part, has never been performed live before. Our task has been to distill the various recorded parts for ourselves onto cello, violin, trumpet, keyboards. Two drummers will work out the various clicks, beats and pings, guitarists will craft sonic landscapes, and so on.

In the hours between practice with both bands I’ve been dashing around town in tour preparation mode, picking up the various things I need to accompany me on the road—it has been hectic! I dream of band practice; I wake up humming the melodies of songs I have been practicing all day.

Gone are the days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sleeping bags on hard wood floors. These days, we greet tour from the open doors of a 12 bunk bus, complete with video screens, coffee maker, and weird, trippy-looking adornments. For the next three months we will live, summer-camp-style, in three-tiered bunks, with a communal bathroom and dirty socks strewn about. We will look into each other’s faces day and night, which can be fun and comfortable but can also create moments of suffocation and irritation. I’ve never traveled with a crew quite so large: There are 13 musicians between the two bands, several sound engineers, tour managers, merchandise slingers, techies, etc. I can’t even say yet what our final number will be. And, of course, there is the constant parade of visitors, friends, label and booking agents, all of whom will come for one night, perhaps more.

I know that you have several questions, such as:

What do you pack for a three month tour? Not much.

The contents of my suitcase:

25 undies

12 pairs of socks

6 pairs of pants

15 or 20 tops

3 sweaters, 1 jacket

1 dress, 2 skirts

toiletries in a case

I also bring things to entertain myself, such as an embroidery kit, my computer, my iPod, various books to read, including Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest and a book about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

I understand that your tour is three months long. Where are you going? Well, for complete dates, see saddle-creek.com. But, the short of it is: We are traveling all over the United States over the course of the first six weeks, including the 2005 Coachella Valley Music Festival. We are also playing two shows in Canada. Our tour through Europe, which will last approximately four weeks, will include several festivals and most of Western Europe.

Why should I read this tour diary? Well, there won’t be grand revelations here. Just a few humble submissions from a girl on the road. A girl who has hit the road many times before, has encountered some bumps along the way, but has consistently found herself in the company of good people, musicians and a supportive record label. We do it on our own terms, shunning the big guys, working with friends, and remaining consistently and fiercely independent. So I’m hitting the ground running for this one, totally exhausted but ready for the shows ahead. Tonight—the first show—is Kansas City. Are we ready? Almost. By the time we hit Coachella this weekend, I think we’ll be hitting our stride. I’ll be back soon with a report from the festival—the desert heat, the crowds, and, of course—the bands. Stay tuned.