How These Singer-Songwriters Used Scientology-Style Advertising To Promote A New Album

Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers unveiled their secret music project, Better Oblivion Community Center. (Nik Freitas)

"Better Oblivion Community Center" may sound like an Orwellian retirement center or a religious cult, but it's actually the secret project of singer-songwriters Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame).

Their debut album features 10 tracks — all of which were recorded at Oberst's studio in Echo Park. Though both artists are known for introspective songwriting, Better Oblivion takes itself much less seriously.

Leading up to the album release last month, Oberst and Bridgers teased the project with vague advertisements on flyers and bus stops — directing people to a sketchy hotline number.

Bridgers and Oberst modeled their ad campaign to resemble a Scientology-like organization. (Better Oblivion Community Center/Dead Oceans)

"We wanted it to look super new agey and vaguely Scientology-leaning... without being actual Scientology," Bridgers said. "We kind of just came up with the band name, liking the words strung together."

To promote the new record, friend and bandmate Christian Lee Hutson recorded a cryptic answering machine message under the pseudonym Rev. Marcus Gunn Jaw Winking Ptosis.

"He does my personal voicemail as well," Bridgers said. "And Marcus Gunn Jaw Winking Ptosis — actually my friend Marshall has it. It's when your jaw is connected to your eyelid. So, like, when he chews, he's winking all the time."

The ad campaign for the new record was tongue-in-cheek, but as Oberst explained, it was also out of necessity.

"Phoebe had such a crazy year last year, so there was kind of like a small window to fit this project in amongst all the different stuff we're doing, and so there's a bit of a logistics reasons behind it," Oberst said. "Like, OK, let's figure out a way to let people know something's going to happen, but not let the cat out of the bag."

Oberst — originally from Omaha, Nebraska — first came to prominence with his project Bright Eyes in 1995. Since then he's collaborated with a number of other groups, such as Desaparecidos and Monsters of Folk. In 2017, he released his fourth solo album, Salutations.

Bridgers is from Pasadena. She released her debut album Stranger in the Alps in 2017, which featured Oberst on the track "Would You Rather." Bridgers' trio, boygenius, with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, released its EP boygenius in 2018.

For Better Oblivion, Bridgers and Oberst co-wrote most of the songs. What makes them such a great duo, Bridgers said, is that when the timbre of their voices combine, "there is no blend." She explained, "We're so opposite sounding that we can sing in octaves, and it sounds like two people — instead of the people I gravitate towards, for my own music, is kind of people with similar voices to mine."

Oberst agreed: "I mean, I feel lucky just to be singing with Phoebe, because her voice is beautiful and amazing. And mine is... unique?"

Better Oblivion Community Center is available now.