For Eleanor Friedberger, starting her own band presented some new challenges: Her former act, The Fiery Furnaces, were stylistically far-flung, making music that romped from dreamy psych-pop to sharp and bluesy rock. How would she recreate that, if she wanted to at all? Moreover, The Fiery Furnaces hinged on a collaboration with Friedberger's older brother, Matthew. How could she have such an intense connection with anyone else?
But Friedberger has pushed beyond the past by doing the logical—pinpointing her strengths, refining them, and making music that depends on them. The new Personal Record, her second solo effort, hitches her direct, intimate narratives to driving pop-rock. Friedberger spoke with the INDY about building confidence and focusing on the details.
It was easy to rely on him. It was easy for me to sit back and watch him. He's an incredibly prolific person, so it was easy to take a back seat.
At the same time, I felt like I was lacking some of the fun. There's a certain sexiness about being in a rock band that was lacking because I was in a band with my older brother. When you're in a band and are just pals, it makes for a more social environment. It seems more like the real world, which is fun. To me, a rock band should be like a street gang. I had never really felt that before. My band was my family, and that's a very different feeling.
It's still kind of weird to see my name. One minor regret I have is not just adopting some other name. I was just in Spain, and I met some really nice fans: 'Gosh, it's just so hard to say your name.'
I waited 10 years to make a record by myself, so at that point, I was comfortable—and now, more than ever, because I've been playing with so many musicians. I have a band that's based in the U.K. and a band that's based in New York, so I've had to take on this role as bandleader. It's something that I'm slowly getting good at.
I started immediately showing the new songs to the band I was playing with when I was touring last summer. We started playing half the songs in the set, just because I didn't want to play Fiery Furnaces songs. That's probably how a lot of bands do it, but I'd never really done it that way. After playing these songs for a year or so, I thought, "I'm going to do what makes the most sense and record these songs live in a studio with the guys who've been playing them for a year," so it would have that sound.
I wanted you to think that I was writing about an experience that you had. The more specific you are, the more people have to latch onto. It's about creating a sense of intimacy that's only found within these details. I don't know how else you would do it. It's just like any kind of writing: You should be very specific in the details.
That's what comes naturally to me. That's what I like. The first thing that I listen for when I'm reacting to somebody else's music is usually the sound of somebody's voice and what they're singing about. Of course, I can like songs that have shitty lyrics, but it means a lot more to me when it's good. I'm lacking in some musical ability, but I think one thing that I have going for me is this unique voice. I hope that it's recognizable and unmistakable, and I'm trying to go for that more than ever.