‘I TEND to write pretty autobiographical songs. If something catches my ear, I take notice... I think of lyrics like a script. Then I set the words to music,’ says singer Eleanor Friedberger. .
(photo credit: JOE DENARDO)
Eleanor Friedberger understands the soul of rock and roll. She is a quintessential rock performer, writer and singer. After a 10-year career playing with her brother in the band The Fiery Furnaces, Friedberger ventured out on her own. She has since released three solo albums, the most recent of which is New View. Friedberger will bring her sound to Bascula in Tel Aviv on November 7. Friedberger sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss making music with siblings, the rock and roll attitude, and going to Athens.
When did you first encounter music?
I remember there always being music in the house. My mother played piano and guitar. We always had a piano in the house.
My dad didn’t play music, but he was a huge music lover. He listened to only classical, whereas my mom was more well-rounded.
She listened to the Rolling Stones and whatever was on the radio. My grandmother was the choir director in her Greek Orthodox church. For as long as I can remember, we would go. It never felt like a religious experience to me, it was just going to watch my grandmother perform. I would sit in the choir loft, sometimes right next to the organist on the bench. My grandmother had the loudest voice and was a very commanding presence. So there was always music around. I took piano lessons when I was a little kid, but my parents let me quit because I didn’t like my teacher. I didn’t start playing music again until I was much older. My brother bought me a guitar when I was 18.
Do you remember the point where you decided that music was what you wanted to do with your life?
It was more that in the spirit of rock and roll, I felt like I had the right attitude.What’s the right attitude?
I think rock and roll is about attitude first and foremost. I was more of a jock when I was a teenager and I was very confident because I was good at it. I was fairly aggressive. That’s something that my brother saw in me for sure; he thought I could be good on stage.
That didn’t mean I needed to be a great musician, [for] which you don’t need to be in rock and roll music. I started seeing lots of bands play when I was 18 in university. I went to school in Austin, Texas, which is a great place to go see live music. Just seeing lots of bands, and thinking that not only could I do that, I could do better than that. That’s when it started coming together for me, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York five years later that I actually played in front of people.You started playing with your brother in The Fiery Furnaces?
Yeah, he’s four years older than me. I moved to New York in the spring of 2000 and immediately started playing with a friend from college. Then my brother moved to New York nine months later. I don’t remember even having a conversation about it. My brother was just the best musician I knew, so it made sense for him to join the band. It started without much consideration really. We started writing songs and playing together all the time. It was wonderful playing with him because we have this deep connection that only we share and we have this shorthand for everything. Growing up, he was very much in control of the stereo. He was a voracious consumer of music. Everything that he listened to, I listened to. I joke that he brainwashed me. We don’t like all the same stuff, but there is a lot of overlap in our tastes.
He has a lot more natural ability than I do musically. I could ask him to do things that I wouldn’t know how to ask anyone else. He knows what I’m talking about. So in that way, it was very special. But 10 years and nine albums down the road, it became very trying. Traveling together got to be difficult because we never reached a level of success where we had a lot of comfort while touring.
It got really draining. The timing was right for me to find my own thing.Can you talk about your creative process, in terms of writing songs?
For me, the lyrics come first. I tend to write pretty autobiographical songs. If something catches my ear, I take notice.
A lot of times, lyrics will come from overheard conversations, my own conversations, email exchanges, or texts. That still interests me, but when I say that out loud it sounds self-centered and boring. But that kind of process is still working for me. I think of lyrics like a script. Then I set the words to music. The difference on the new album is that I was playing with a group of guys who were touring with me to promote the last album and they wanted to continue playing with me, so we made New View together. That was something I hadn’t done before; arranging the songs together, playing them in front of people, and then going to record. I know that’s how a lot of bands work, but I’d never done that before.Do you have a dream collaboration?
No, I feel like there’s this hip hop trend that’s been going for awhile, and even in rock music. I don’t really get that trend because I think it’s weird to ask a total stranger to do something creative. I’m friends with a lot of musicians and people ask me why I don’t ask some of them to get on a song. It doesn’t interest me at all. I’d rather have a clear vision and statement that’s my own.Will you be playing songs from ‘New View’ when you come to Tel Aviv?
I’ll play a lot of material from the new album, as well as other songs from my older records, and even some Fiery Furnaces songs.
I’ve never been to Israel before; I’m really looking forward to it.Is your father Jewish?
My father has Jewish roots, but he’s English and was not necessarily raised Jewish. Back a few generations, his family was Jewish. My father’s great-grandfather was German. It’s been awhile in terms of religious association.What’s next for you?
I’m trying to write new songs right now, so I’ll continue with that. I decided to go to Athens for a month in January to do a self-imposed residency. I’m going to take some Greek language lessons, which I haven’t done since I was a teenager, and try to do a bunch of writing. Although I usually start with lyrics, I’m trying now to do the opposite. I’m trying to play guitar more and make the next record a lot more aggressive in tone. So I’m trying to write stuff that I can play well live. I don’t normally think about that, I think more about singing.
The last album to me was very calm and groovy. I didn’t want it to be too jarring. It’s a record you can put on, and nothing will jump out at you. But I want a completely different sound on the next record. I want it to be louder and more chaotic.
For more info on Eleanor visit www.facebook.com/eleanor.friedberger.official. For tickets: www.tixwise.co.il/he/eleanorfriedberger.