Eleanor Friedberger: It was now or never for a solo career
Photo by Roger Kisby
For nearly a decade, Eleanor Friedberger was a name synonymous with the artful whimsy of the music she created with her brother in the Fiery Furnaces. But even after their output ceased, the public band crush on Friedberger endured as she an embarked on a confessional solo career, releasing her first album Last Summer, in 2011. Where her debut was a retrospective love-letter to New York City, her outstanding just-released Personal Record offers vignettes into the poignant songwriter's experience. It's a polished and nostalgic record that highlights the strides Friedberger has taken in focusing on herself.
Ahead of her Minneapolis stop at the Triple Rock on Saturday, Gimme Noise was able to hear about such exciting change straight from the artist herself.
Gimme Noise: The album release for Personal Record and the start of your tour is creeping up What kind of anticipation are you feeling?
Eleanor Friedberger: I don't get nervous, but I suffer from insomnia. Anxiety-induced insomnia where I'm able to fall asleep when I want to fall asleep, but then I wake up a few hours later and so forth. What's interesting is that you can shut it off but then it comes back to life when I'd rather it be just dead for eight hours. But, you know, it's a common affliction. I'm excited. I don't feel like everything is going to go wrong. I just think that anxiety is the word that covers it all.
As a person who played in a band for such a long period of time, what was the catalyst that really pushed you into your own solo material?
There wasn't really a catalyst or specific thing that I could describe. You know it's always hard to describe what makes good timing. But that's all I can say that it was in terms of writing. We had just finished touring for the last studio album that Fiery Furnaces did and I started to make recordings at home again after a really long time. I just began to feel like it was now or never. I don't know how else to describe it. I wanted to see what it was like to start over.
Thematically speaking, Last Summer had a fairly specific theme/aim. Did you have that idea from the start or did it take shape as you were making it? How does it compare to the framework for Personal Record?
I was conscious of what I was doing for that album and for this one too. I wrote these songs in a very specific way because I was suddenly having too present myself in this new way, you know, which was: "I'm a girl and I'm on my own now and I'm going to play acoustic guitar and sing these songs." But gosh, the album I wrote was mostly written on a keyboard, and I'm not a very good piano player. I had to figure out how to play them on guitar and then I ended writing some new songs on the guitar too. That was just kind of what happened.
What music were you listening to?
You know people really hate the term singer/songwriter, but I can't think of a better term for it. I listened to a bunch of singer/songwriters from the 1970s and then I tried to write songs like that. That's how I wanted to present myself. I was listening to Duncan Brown and then some more obscure English singer/songwriters. I've always listened to music from the '60s and '70s more than anything else so, that wasn't new, but I was listening to plenty of old music I hadn't heard before. It's more fun than discovering a new artist in my opinion.
Does it ever feel intimidating to have the focus be solely on you?
Yeah, not necessarily intimidating. Last Summer is so much about me and it was a pretty solitude creation in a lot of ways.
I'd write the songs alone in my room and show it to one other person. We recorded it for the most part just the two of us. But this next album is very different because there was so much more collaboration. The title is meant to be a little ironic. It's not just about me. I started showing the songs to some guys I was touring with for the better part of a year and they really helped shape the arrangements. This felt like much more of a band album
I read a Pitchfork interview where you said that you wished that Last Summer would have done better. What's the most validating mark of success to you?
You're not the first person to ask me that and I feel like it was taken terribly out of context. I think my first answer was "I'm so grateful and so happy to be making records" but when you're creating something you want your trajectory to keep going and going, you know? For me it's just trying new things. If that means playing on a TV show that's one thing I haven't done before. That's what I meant. If that means having a song be in a movie that's something I'd love to do. It's not about goals necessary but doing something different.
So there wasn't meant to be the hyper self-critical connotation?
Yeah. You know I feel genuinely lucky to be talking to you and having people listen to my work. As long as I can talk and sing I'll be happy.
Eleanor Friedberger and TEEN play at the Triple Rock Social Club on Saturday, June 8. Get tickets here.
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