LESSONS LEARNED: As I spent the last week or so talking to people that I usually talk to about music how a. they should really (for real) get excited for this Eleanor Friedberger record and b. they should really (for real) get excited for this Eleanor Friedberger show @ Black Cat (both the record and the show see the light of day/night today) I realized that despite all that I think I know about music dissemination in the world today, one should, by no means, assume people will automatically know who Eleanor Friedberger is.
- Despite the fact that she is (the nicer) part of a two-person band that has released A LOT (and we do mean A LOT) of very well received records over the last decade or so. (We here at BYT have interviewed them not once, not twice, but three times on various occasions-ed note)
- Despite the fact that she was part of one of the more talked about indie couples of recent history, resulting, among other things, in a popular song by a very well known band (that is not her own) named after her.
- Despite the fact that her inimitable style and phenomenal hair have landed her in ad campaigns and in numerous magazine spreads.
- Despite all that, somehow on the brink of the summer of 2011, her name itself is not instantly recognizable.
Well, those facts aside, if there is any justice, today’s release of “LAST SUMMER” (courtesy of MERGE) the first solo record from 1/2 of Fiery Furnaces brother/sister band Eleanor Friedberger will change all that. In fact, if there is ANY justice, this should be (one of) THE album(s) of the summer and she should turn as close to a household name as a smart, pretty girl with a killer record could reasonably expect to become.
After 10 years of scattered, ambitious (over ambitious?) and sometimes (purposefully) difficult Fiery fun, Eleanor lets her pop freak flag fly, recreating a time and a place which we can’t help but be nostalgic for, even if we can’t really pin-point when/where this thing we’re nostalgic for is. The vocals are somehow both retro sounding and perfectly crisp and enunciated, each song a very confident journey she takes us on. She lays on some sexy sax in “My Mistakes”, sprinkles some bass-y sparkles on top of “Glitter Gold Year” and reconnects to some serious AM radio roots on “Heaven”. NPR (which is streaming the whole record) called it “the perfect soundtrack for an afternoon spent sifting through a box of old Polaroids”, and I’d write a better description if I could think of one.
Needless to say, when the time came to interview her, I turned a little nervous. Why? Because she is obviously so (goddamn) unassailably cool and smart and hard-working and … well, because of all those things and a million more.
The good news is, not only is she so (goddamn) unassailably cool and smart and hard-working and all that, she’s also phenomenally nice. She has a good, throaty, easy laugh, and when I clumsily ask her “Is there a reason why DC is the show you’re playing on record release day?” she doesn’t even skip a beat and deadpans: “Yes, it is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITEST place in the world”, and you can almost FEEL her winking at you over the phone and I just want to buy her a drink so we can hang out properly, as opposed to stifled by these silly phone interview constraints. Still, I have an interview to do, and she has a record to promote and so over the next 10-15 minutes, we get back on track and cover the following topics:
- All joking aside-seriously, she has always liked playing DC, and she’s excited to see what the audiences that have been so go to her and Matt will think of the new record.
- And no, Fiery Furnace fans, there’s nothing to worry about: the band will live on (as long as we’re brother and sister, we’ll be a band too), and yes, she may throw in some Fiery hits into the live set tonight
- About the new record…she did it almost entirely by herself, and no, she did not show it to anyone before it was done, not even Matt. And yes, that was definitely a little hard, since she’d spent her whole adult life sharing in on the creative process, but it was really important that this project was just her own. So, her family will hear the record along with the rest of the world
- Why is it called “Last Summer”, you ask? While, sure, it was recorded last summer, she just wanted a record title that sounded simple, “almost naive”, and short…”If I could have thought of a good single word name, I would have gone with a single word. But this is as close as I got”
- More of that desire to capture this youthful naivete went into the video for “MY MISTAKES” which Eleanor made with musician/video-maker Sara Magenheimer. An old VHS tape found in a dusty basement was the starting point for the story . The tape revealed a forgotten art project shot 14 years ago at the University of Texas by Friedberger’s college friend Beth Lieberman (“She was 19, I was 20, it was a pretty cool time (at UT-Austin) then- Britt Daniel (of SPOON) makes an appearance too, we obviously wanted to make some kind of a feminist point with it, OBVIOUSLY”). In the footage, we see Eleanor preparing for a date, going through ritualistic motions: she works out, showers, shaves her legs, applies eyeliner, and fixes her hair… leading up to the climactic moment of the date’s arrival. The new video juxtaposes this tape with footage of Eleanor today, going through the same motions.
- Yes, she’d LOVE TO make more videos, and the songs on this particular record would lend themselves well to it, she thinks. Definitely at least one more with Scott Jacobsen (who’s responsible for some of Fiery Furnaces’ “Even in the rain”) and maybe a couple more, just super low budget, on the sly. She’ll have to see.
- About moving to Merge from Thrill Jockey, which is still Fiery Furnaces’ label and where Matt will be releasing “1000 records this year at” – she thought a new label would be a good way to reach a different audience, and she had friends at MERGE, and she sort of just went for it. How is it working out? Well, we’ll see.
- I mention to her that the record reminds me a bit of Patti Smith, even if not in the most obvious way and then ask the most obvious question: what was she listening to last summer? The same stuff she listens to always: Brian Eno, T.Rex, John Cale – and some of that smart disco sparkle got translated into the record.
- What is she planning to do this summer? TOUR TOUR TOUR and then go with her family to Greece (fun fact: Eleanor grew up singing with her grandmother, Olga Sarantos and family in a Greek Orthodox Church, which is where the official musical birth of the Friedberger siblings took place)
And then, our quick call is up and she has another interview scheduled in five minutes, so, as abruptly as it started, it is over too.