Music Interviews
3:05 pm
Sun June 2, 2013

Eleanor Friedberger Unashamed Of Her Favorite Sounds

Originally published on Sun June 2, 2013 7:18 pm

Eleanor Friedberger was born in 1976, a little too late to have experienced much of that decade's music firsthand. But the singer-songwriter says she quickly made up for lost time.

"I grew up listening to classic-rock radio in Chicago," Friedberger says. "Those sounds — a Wurlitzer piano, a very dead drum kit — those are my favorite sounds. I'm not embarrassed to say I love the sound of an Elton John record or I love the sound of a Carole King record. That's my taste."

And those sounds are all over her new solo album, Personal Record. Here, Friedberger — known until recently as the singer of The Fiery Furnaces, a duo with her brother Matthew that's on hiatus — speaks with NPR's Wade Goodwyn about the new record, writing lyrics and what she learned interning for the PBS show Austin City Limits.


Interview Highlights

On co-writing songs with John Wesley Harding

"When I started working with him, it became clear that we were going to have very complicated rhyming schemes. [On my last album] I wrote the words almost as long lists. It was more important to me how the words just sounded coming out of my mouth, more so than if they rhymed or if they made that much sense, really. This was a conscious effort to make it seem more like poetry."

On feeling like a late bloomer

"The first Fiery Furnaces album came out when I was 27 years old. And that seems late. You look back and you think about wasted opportunities and wasted time — and it's easy to say now, when one is a little bit older. I could never have made this album, certainly, without all that past experience. But I wish I had been playing at the Blue Flamingo in Austin, Texas, when I was 19, instead of watching from the sidelines, you know?"

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Transcript

WADE GOODWYN, HOST:

Once again, you're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR NEWS. I'm Wade Goodwyn. And it's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STARE AT THE SUN")

GOODWYN: 'Tis the season for light, bouncy, jangly guitar anthems. And one of the first to the summer comes from Eleanor Friedberger. This one's called "Stare at the Sun."

ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) If that was goodbye, then I must be high. You know I'll be seeing you soon. If that was goodbye, then the snow in July is handed in the middle of June.

GOODWYN: Eleanor Friedberger and her brother Matthew formed the band The Fiery Furnaces in the beginning of the 2000s. And after seven albums, they parted ways - temporarily - to work on solo material. And her second solo album - comes out Tuesday - it's titled, cleverly enough, "Personal Record." Hard to believe no one's used that one before, but it's true.

FRIEDBERGER: It was something I kind of had in my back pocket for a while. I just thought it made a - like you've said, I couldn't believe that it hadn't been used before. You know, I liked the sentiment behind what could be an emotional challenge but also a physical challenge, you know? And I like to work out my problems on the court, so to speak.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T WANT TO BOTHER YOU")

FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) I don't want to bother you, but there's something to say that I want you to hear.

GOODWYN: There are a quite a few moments on the record that took me back to the 1970s, which, I'm sorry to say, was when I was in high school and college. In terms of the instruments, like the electric piano, which you don't hear that much anymore or some of the echo effects like an old T.Rex song, was that something you were trying to do?

FRIEDBERGER: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I was born in the '70s, but I grew up listening to classic rock radio in Chicago and the sounds of Wurlitzer piano, a very dead drum kit. You know, those are my favorite sounds. And I still, you know, I'm not embarrassed to say that, you know, I love the sound of an Elton John record or I love the sound of a Carole King record. That's just - my taste.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T WANT TO BOTHER YOU")

FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) I don't want to bother you, but there's something to say.

GOODWYN: Let's talk about the song "She's a Mirror."

FRIEDBERGER: Mm-hmm.

GOODWYN: It has a very, complex rhyme scheme...

FRIEDBERGER: Mm-hmm.

GOODWYN: ...and I almost want to hear you recite some of that as poetry. Would you?

FRIEDBERGER: Sure. She's got a long, black cape, and you're trying to escape from the shape of the things yet to come. She's got a hammer and nail, and you feel like you failed when you inhale and offer her some.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE'S A MIRROR")

GOODWYN: This is a very impressive rhyme scheme, and I imagine you worked on it for quite a while. Can you talk about what inspired you and what you were trying to do here?

FRIEDBERGER: Is now the time to not take full credit for all these rhymes?

GOODWYN: Now is the time.

FRIEDBERGER: I wrote these songs with my friend Wesley Stace.

GOODWYN: And he records under the name John Wesley Harding.

FRIEDBERGER: That's correct. And when I started working with him, it became clear that we were going to have very complicated rhyming schemes, as you just said. Unlike my last album, which was very much - I wrote the words almost as long list, and it was more important to me how the words just sounded coming out of my mouth, you know, more so than if they rhymed or they made that much sense, really. And this was very much a conscious, you know, decision and effort to make it more seem like poetry, I guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE'S A MIRROR")

FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) She's got a (unintelligible) box that lights up in the dark and his (unintelligible). She's got beautiful teeth and a (unintelligible).

GOODWYN: I'm speaking with Eleanor Friedberger. Her new solo album is called "Personal Record." I know you graduated from my alma mater, the University of Texas, and that you had an internship with the public television program "Austin City Limits," all of which speaks to your immense intelligence. Did you learn anything - learned as a touring musician from any of the folks that came through?

FRIEDBERGER: I think just the diversity of it was the most appealing and interesting thing. I got to see Lionel Hampton play. I got to see Los Lobos. That's the group that "Los Super Seven." You know, I wasn't just a country music show.

GOODWYN: And had you already decided to be a musician at that point?

FRIEDBERGER: No, not at all. I mean, I'd already started playing music, but not in any kind of serious way. I thought maybe I could do something like what you're doing. Or I thought maybe I would be producer or I thought I could maybe work in the movie business.

GOODWYN: And my favorite song - is it okay if I tell you my favorite song?

FRIEDBERGER: Yes, please.

GOODWYN: It's "My Own World." And...

FRIEDBERGER: That's one of my favorites too.

GOODWYN: It has a easy melody. I love the background vocals. And I wondered if we could take a listen to it.

FRIEDBERGER: Yeah, I could sing it right now.

GOODWYN: Yes, sing it right now, would you?

FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) I was living and breathing and sitting quite quietly watching the TV and minding my diet I...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY OWN WORLD")

FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) Moved from my desk, on to my treadmill and I tried to move mountains on nothing but (unintelligible) so what are you (unintelligible) interrupt this poor girl. Leave me in my own, own world, own world...

(Singing) In my own world, own world.

(LAUGHTER)

GOODWYN: I - it's so...

FRIEDBERGER: It's easy breezy.

GOODWYN: It is easy breezy.

FRIEDBERGER: It's supposed to sound a little bit like the Grateful Dead, believe it or not, a band I never listened to until recently.

GOODWYN: And it actually did kind of make me think of Boston.

FRIEDBERGER: Good.

GOODWYN: Maybe with a little REM thrown in it with the way you do the vocals and the background.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY OWN WORLD")

FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) Don't interrupt me girl. Leave me in my own world, own world.

GOODWYN: I know you said in the past that one of your frustrations with your career is that you didn't get started earlier. Although, you know, you started in your 20s, talk to me a little bit about what you mean when you said, I wish I had started earlier.

FRIEDBERGER: Yeah. I mean, our first album came out - the first Fiery Furnaces album came out when I was 27 years old, and that seems late.

(LAUGHTER)

FRIEDBERGER: You know, you look back and you and think about wasted opportunities and wasted time. And, you know, it's easy to say now when you're a little bit older. But, of course, I could never have - we could never made this album,, certainly, without all that past experience, you know? But I wish had been playing in, you know, at the Blue Flamingo in Austin, Texas, when I was 19 instead of watching from the sidelines, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM THE PAST")

FRIEDBERGER: (Singing) I am the past. You never forget me. I'd probably come back and stay if you'd let me. I am the past and you cannot ignore me. You've got no idea what happened before me.

GOODWYN: Eleanor Friedberger's new solo album is called "Personal Record." It comes out on Tuesday. But until then, you can sample every track from the record at NPR's exclusive first listen. That's at nprmusic.org. Eleanor, thank you so much and congratulations.

FRIEDBERGER: Thank you, Wade.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM THE PAST")

FRIEDBERGER: (Signing) I am the past so please fill your boots with memories you can (unintelligible) by the roots. I am the past, a glint in the eye... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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