I thoroughly enjoyed doing this interview with Matthew Friedberger from the Fiery Furnaces, and hopefully you will too. You’ll come away with valuable bits of trivia and conversation starters, which may give you that extra boost you need to dominate the discussion at your next party. For example, did you know that you may be able to hire the band to babysit your children or paint your house in the near future? I’d also like you to leave this interview thinking about what you’d be doing if Y2K had been for real. It’s a serious question which should generate serious responses. Because let’s face it, if that had been for real, there would’ve been serious implications. No iPhones, no Twitter, no Real World DC. If any of this sounds confusing and/or like I’m on crack, you should continue reading. It may or may not start to make sense, but either way, Matthew has some interesting things to say.
So you guys are originally from Chicago, right? I dunno if you caught that perfect game for the White Sox last week or not…
(Laughs) Yes of course! I’m a White Sox fan and Eleanor is too. Yeah it was a great day.
And Obama actually called the pitcher to tell him, like, thanks for winning keep up the good work. When do you guys think you’re going to get that call from Obama to say you’re doing good things, thanks for playing a crucial role in America?
How do you know we haven’t gotten that call already?
I don’t know, do you want to give us the story?
Well his Blackberry is very secret, you know, and he’s not allowed to give out his email address. So I think we’re not at liberty to discuss any confidential presidential communications we’ve received about how great we’re doing. (Laughs)
So I’ll take that as a ‘definitely we’ve gotten that call’ then.
We hope that the president is not listening to too many new records these days. I hope he just stays with his old favorites, his old comforting favorites.
And with the economy and everything, how are you guys doing with the band financially? If you don’t mind me asking?
Well that’s a very interesting INTERESTING and personal question. (Laughs)
Yeah, I guess it kind of is…
But yeah it’s going fine…we have no income outside of the band at present. If anyone would like to hire us as babysitters or personal shoppers or in-home teaching assistants for their developmentally disabled children, then please write to the website.
Awesome, I’ll definitely hook them up with that link so they can seize that opportunity.
You know, that’s an interesting idea, actually…maybe we should work for fans of the band as a period. I mean, because it’s an old joke, like Jason Loewenstein who plays with us and had a band called Sebadoh that was…or is…popular. People have come up to him and said, or no one’s actually said this but this is the idea, “I’ve listened to your records for at least twenty hours, now you have to talk to me for twenty hours.” You see what I’m saying? And of course they can’t really do it, but they have people who’ve spent time, mostly it’s the time because obviously people aren’t spending much money on the music they listen to. (Laughs/guffaws) But they’re spending a lot of time having you invade their brain or whatever, or their environment, whatever you want to call it. So maybe it would be interesting for us to work, you know, be bossed around. I mean, be paid by people who like the band. You know, we’d have to verify that they’ve spent some so-and-so many hours listening to the band and then we’d have to work so-and-so many hours for them.
Yeah you’d definitely have to have people logging all their listening hours to verify.
Yeah, and it could be working at their place of work or it could be working for them at home or it could be some project they didn’t know they were going to do yet, but now they have this man power, or woman power, at their disposal. And so maybe that’s a good idea and then we could get some good songs out of those experiences of indentured servitude.
I think that sounds like an excellent idea.
So if anyone would like to do that, it doesn’t have to be the jobs that I mentioned earlier. Again, I think it would be however many hours they’ve listened to the band is how many hours we would work for them. So I guess it would be best to have just really really casual fans so we could get off early. (Laughs)
You mentioned earlier about how people don’t pay much for the music they listen to. I know you guys talked about doing a silent album in response to the illegal downloading that’s been happening.
Yes, well, illegal downloading…if no one gets arrested is it really illegal? But I guess some people have been arrested.
Yeah, like two.
Ha, yeah two.
So obviously it’s affecting everyone in the entertainment industry, but have you guys really been able to see it affecting your sales?
Well, exactly. We have to go clean our fans toilets right now, that’s what we’re talking about to survive. They’re not buying the records. No I mean, I don’t know. Presumably. I think in the old days maybe bands that were talked about a lot got a lot of impulse sales. People read about it or heard about it and they went out and bought it. I mean what can you say? I don’t blame people, it’s just that the technology…I used to like to buy records because it’s habitual, so if downloading music is habitual, you know, why wouldn’t you? I mean there’s nothing really to be said, you can’t cry about it or complain about it.
Right. And I mean, I’m only 21 but I still remember how amazing it was to go to Tower Records back in middle and high school and just being able to physically take the music home. I mean obviously there’s a lot more access to bands and different music now, but I just think it was nicer to have a surprise. I remember buying random stuff and thinking, fuck why’d I spend money on this? But then you’d find gems sometimes so it was just kind of more fun.
I totally agree. I mean it’s not the same sitting in your room getting links from your imaginary friend online who doesn’t exist. It’s not nearly as good as walking down the street and going in someplace. It’s not as good for me, but if if you think of it as having access to a huge library that you can borrow things from and check things out of, then I’m not offended. Because you know, I checked records out of the library and taped them when I was a kid. But it’s really too bad about record stores in general. And yeah it affects everyone and the way everything goes in the music business. You know, people used to have hits but they’d never play shows. Now it’s almost like you don’t even have a record, you just play shows. I mean, you have a record once every four years and you play shows all the time in between. And that’s probably really bad. You think maybe because people can’t sell their music they have to give it away at a much faster rate, and maybe that will be good for music even if it’s not good for the individual artist’s bottom line. But it is what it is, and it’ll have effects that we don’t know about and some of those effects will be good maybe. Like our silent record. I think it’ll be fun…it’ll be very nice to have a band write a bunch of songs and then to do shows where the people who like the band play the songs. It could be a lot of fun for the people who like the band, and you know, maybe we’ll have rock music become composers music, or so to speak, in addition to being about the performances and the recordings. And so not that that’s going to take over as the new model, obviously not, but we don’t know what’s going to happen. Some of the effects will be good, some will be bad, they already are, but some of them will be interesting. We’ll just have to wait and see what those are. (Laughs)
Yeah, definitely. So tell us a little more about the new album I’m Going Away. I heard that…well, I didn’t hear it, I read it straight from you guys, but you’re both going to do separate covers of that album? Because that’s genius and maybe I’ll do one too since I just got a new kazoo…hot pink, awesome. (Thanks Cale!!)
A new kazoo? Yeah that should sound pretty good, then. Yeah we’re doing that right now actually. I think that Eleanor was doing that yesterday…we’re in different places. But yeah, the new record is nice…nice rock songs.
Were there any specific influences?
Well yeah, I was thinking of TV show theme songs from the 70’s. That was a big influence on the music. And a couple songs do sound like TV show theme songs from the 70’s, hopefully. That was the main influence. But then when we were recording we didn’t think of that so much…we wanted to have it sound like people were playing pretty casually. So it’s spontaneous. A nice sounding record, and hopefully it is. But the other thing is that our other records in the past were very elaborate rock songs. And now, this time around they’re not very elaborated. People are going to have to use their imaginations to elaborate however they wish to on this record. It’s more work for the audience.
I think that’s important…you’ve gotta have that sometimes.
Yeah, you have to keep people on their toes.
So you guys were called The Suckers at one point? Is that true?
No, that’s a lie. That’s a Wikipedia lie.
Really?!? Who would make that up?
Well, I don’t know but it’s funny…I don’t know, that could come from the fact that I made a record too special to release to the public, and the band was named by my then twelve-year-old second cousin. And a lot of people have that record now because it has gotten out. So maybe that’s where it comes from. But yeah it’s completely false. It should say citation needed, but it doesn’t, does it?
Yeah I don’t know, it should say it at the top probably.
But now I bet they could find some other webpage that says that we used to be called The Suckers because Wikipedia said it first, and then Wikipedia could use that as a citation. That’s very 1984 right there. Pretty scary new world.
So tell me about being brother and sister in the band. Do you guys ever fight? Who’s the bigger tattle-tale, if either of you?
Uh, I don’t know…tattle-tale…I guess neither of us are tattle-tales because I don’t remember anything like that growing up. But obviously you have no inhibitions about arguing with your siblings, you know what I mean? You don’t stop yourself from arguing. But that’s the way it is.
What’s the worst show you guys have ever played? And how about the best?
Worst show we ever played…well one time Eleanor got sick and couldn’t sing, so I had to sing. But because that was special and funny that wouldn’t have been the worst show. I remember playing in Nashville once and that’s what comes to mind as the worst show. Or, maybe the show before Emily got sick, which was in Munich. So maybe being in Munich, maybe that was the worst show. But I don’t think we played badly at that show. I don’t know what the worst show was, that’s a tough question. It must have been a long time ago.
Yeah, well that’s good, let’s hope it stays that way!
Oh and the best show, the best show was when we played in a park in Queens in 2007 I think. That was my favorite show. And then we just recently played outside in Chicago in Grant Park, and that would’ve been my other favorite show.
Okay. And this is semi-unrelated but can we please talk about the amazing Maize Maze that you guys went to, the corn maze?
Oh, the Maize Maze was in Chicago. It was a corn maze, and they had people dressed up as The Cornettes, women who were dressed as ears of corn. And there were Abe and Mary Todd impersonators. But yeah, the Maize Maze was pretty amazing.
Awesome. And what year did you guys form again?
Well, kind of 2000 but more like 2002. That’s when we first recorded.
So where do you think you’d be if Y2K had been for real? I think I’d probably be dead.
Well, I think that Eleanor would’ve been a fisherwoman, out in probably South Carolina. And I would’ve been a dog musher in Quebec. Or, not Quebec, but in Michigan. Because if Y2K had happened it probably would’ve been another ice age. But Eleanor is really good at catching fish. No, actually she’s not a fisherman. I don’t even know if she’s ever actually fished. I don’t know what she would’ve done…she probably would’ve been the governor of Maryland, maybe. How about that? Yeah, she would’ve been the governor of Maryland, and I probably been a dog trainer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my own silver mine.
Want more? (Obviously…) Check out The Fiery Furnaces MySpace page, official website (be sure to check out the deaf descriptions and the plans for the silent album), and THE CONCERT @ The Black Cat this Saturday August 8th with Wye Oak and Screens. Mainstage 9:00PM, $15.