Interview: Eleanor Friedberger
Published on August 20th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Eleanor Friedberger has a string of UK dates lined up for the end of this month spilling into September, so we kept dialing random phone numbers until we chanced upon hers.
Fortunately she agreed to answer our questions about her recent second solo album Personal Record – “lyrical, humorous, melodic, invitingly quirky, sunnily disposed pop” we described it as in our four-quail review – as well as a cheeky one about her stuff-of-legend maiden project The Fiery Furnaces…
How would you describe your writing partnership with John Wesley Harding on Personal Record? Was it a case of sitting down together and starting from scratch, or would you bring ideas to him?
It was both. I’d already been playing most of these songs live, mostly to flesh out the set. You know, we played the first album and then we had to play more, so at the same time I was writing these.
I would show the songs to the guys, we would talk about the arrangements, go over them, and by the time it came to the actual recording we really had them worked out.
Last Summer and Personal Record have arrived quite quickly one after the other. Are you stockpiling material, and if so do you already have stuff in mind for the next album?
No, I wouldn’t go that far. I’m trying to work on new songs now but just a couple at a time.
To me it doesn’t seem like it came out quickly at all; I mean, it’s two years between the release dates. Last Summer was released about nine months after I finished it and it was similar for this album: I finished it in November and it didn’t come out until June. That’s a lot of downtime.
Two years is still fairly quick these days…
…although I suppose you pretty much released an album every year with The Fiery Furnaces.
Yeah, I don’t know how people do less than that! If you’re a full-time musician, what else do you have to do?
Are some of the songs on Personal Record based on real experiences and real people in your life?
Was it nerve-racking to open up like that, or more therapeutic?
It’s neither. For me it comes really naturally. I can’t think of it as therapeutic…I don’t know, it’s just a way of me dealing with it. It makes a certain sense to me.
There have been times where I feel like all I can do is write a song – I know, it sounds corny – but that’s happened, and it generally works.
It can be the only way to work out your feelings, even if it doesn’t end up in the words of the song. It’s just a good way of figuring something out when you’ve got nothing else you can do about it, I guess.
Am I right in thinking you usually start with the words?
Yeah, almost always.
Are there any exceptions on the new album?
Some of the imagery is pretty intriguing. What’s with the girl with the fourteen hands on “Other Boys”?
That’s an expression, the way you describe a whore.
Hmm, not heard that one before. And what scores were you checking in “My Own World”?
(Laughs) I may not have been checking any, but I know people who check scores. I play sports but I don’t really follow them that closely.
Which sports do you play?
I’m going to play tennis in a few hours.
You’re bang into your rhyming schemes, which we like at Rocksucker. Is it ever a challenge to come up with a good one without diluting the meaning of the song?
It is. That was the challenge on the new album; I wanted it to be very different from my last one, which wasn’t about rhyming at all. It was more about the way words sounded when I lined them up.
Going into each thing, you’ve got to sort of set rules for yourself and that was one of them. Once you have a script to work on, the songs come naturally after that.
I don’t want to say that the music is secondary to me but it does literally come second, so once all those rhymes are in place then I can start writing the music around it.
What’s Matthew up to at the moment?
(Laughs) I don’t know, you’d have to ask him.
Did you listen to his Matricidal Sons of Bitches album from last year? If so, what did you think of it?
I did listen to it, and I got to see him perform it a couple of times too. I like it. I thought it was funny that we both used this thing called the Optigan, an instrument which is like a toy version of a Mellotron, I guess is the way to describe it.
I bought one after my last record so I used it on my new one, and he downloaded tracks that sampled the Optigan and used that on his album as well. He also didn’t realise that one of the settings he used is on the last few seconds of my last record.
He hadn’t listened to that! (Laughs) Maybe he wouldn’t have used it if he had.
I’ve got to ask if you’ve talked about doing another Fiery Furnaces record.
We haven’t talked explicitly about it, but then it doesn’t seem like something we need to talk about. It’s just something that will happen naturally. I don’t know when but I can’t imagine it not happening.
Finally, what have been your favourite albums from 2013?
I don’t listen to that much new music, but I love the Unknown Mortal Orchestra record.
Eleanor Friedberger, thank you.
Personal Record is out now Merge Records.