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Conor Oberst On the Future of Music

"It's inspiring to look at Springsteen and realize you can do this for a long time."

November 15, 2007
Conor Oberst
Conor Oberst
Wendy Redfern/Redferns

How were you exposed to new music growing up?
There's a store in Omaha called the Antiquarium. It was an amazing place. The top two floors used to he a used bookstore. The basement was the record store, and it was exactly what you would imagine an indie store would look like, mostly vinyl. Everyone sitting behind the counter smoking cigarettes and talking about music. It was where I learned about a lot of music of all kinds. It's sad to think places like that are disappearing.

Is there an upside to online music?
Think of the kid in some rural town in the Midwest who would drive somewhere every few months, to Chicago or someplace, and go to a store, and that was his musical outlet. But now, it is just all there at home – everything to discover, and that is powerful and inspiring.

There's a sense of apocalypse in your recent songs, such as "Four Winds." Are you pessimistic about the future?
It is a day-to-day thing. On good days, I can see the inherent goodness in people, and that human beings have a high capacity to learn and adapt. But things like the environment, nuclear weapons and ideas like peak oil – if you think about them too much, they can really freak you out. You can't let it consume your life, but if we block it out and don't address the problems, then we're sealing our fate.

How about the record business – is it going to survive?
It will, but it is just going to change. The people who have the most to lose are working around the clock to get it back. Most of the theories I have heard are like, "We will have a tracking system where you get paid for file-sharing the same way you get paid for getting played on the radio." But that makes too much sense – they won't go for it.

How did being on the Vote for Change Tour with vets like Springsteen and R.E.M. affect the way you think about your future as a performer?
It's inspiring to look at those guys and realize that you can do this for a long time. You can do it the way you want, and it doesn't have to change. The process, the enjoyment, the spirit remains the same.

And how about the fact that the public failed to vote for change?
It was a severe disappointment. I really believed that it was possible to effect change. I still do, but it was a hard lesson to learn because everyone was motivated. But I'm not discouraged to the point where I wouldn't do something like that again.

This story is from the November 15th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.

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