Turntable Interview: Eleanor Friedberger
Last month, Eleanor Friedberger released Personal Record, her second solo album and the follow-up to her excellent 2011 offering, Last Summer. While Friedberger rose to fame working with her brother to craft tunes as the Fiery Furnaces, she co-wrote this album with Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding). The result is a sophomore album filled with witty, ebullient pop songs with a folksy, ’70s tinge that sounds both retro and wholly original. Eleanor hopped on Turntable.fm to talk about her new album, why she doesn’t dance alone, and whether or not Fiery Furnaces is a real band.
Melissa Locker started playing “River” by Akron Family)
STEREOGUM: Hi! Welcome to Turntable Interviews
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: If this is an exercise in making me feel incompetent, then it’s working!
STEREOGUM: Oh, I’m sorry! You’ll get the hang of it soon, I promise.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I DJ-ed for the first time recently. Maybe I should play some of the songs I played that night. I’ve never heard Akron Family?
STEREOGUM: Oh I really like them. I also really like your new album. It’s ridiculously catchy.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Oh, thank you!
STEREOGUM: And I find myself humming “If this is goodbye I must be high” over and over. The people on the subway would like to thank you for that, I’m sure
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Maybe you’re high?
STEREOGUM: I could be. High on life anyway
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Nice!
STEREOGUM: It’s like those Wham! shirts: Choose Life
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I wish you could see the queue and chat at the same time. When do i get to play a song!?
STEREOGUM: As soon as this one ends, It goes to your song. Where did you DJ?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: That was my complaint with DJ-ing. I was doing it with a friend and I never wanted to trade off, I just wanted to hear my jams. I was at the Ides at the Wythe Hotel
STEREOGUM: You only wanted to hear your jams?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER started playing “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley
STEREOGUM: That’s not very nice! Whoa Ace Frehley
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: DJ-ing isn’t about being nice. I heard this at the US Open last summer. I wish I could write a song that works best in a sports arena. Or I wish I knew how to do that
STEREOGUM: Really? Tennis is all about Aces, I guess
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: It’s all about the long rally. Aces are boring.
STEREOGUM: That’s why women’s tennis is more interesting. Fewer aces. Maybe you could do a walk-up song for a baseball player
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: That would be nice.
STEREOGUM: Are you a sports fan?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Yes, but I’m not a loyal supporter to any teams. I prefer to play. When I was a little kid, I dreamed of one day marrying a baseball player who was also rock star.
STEREOGUM: Wow. Has there ever been a baseball player who was also a rock star?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: There was a pitcher on the Chicago White Sox who also played music. I can’t remember his name. He would have to do winter tours.
STEREOGUM: He must have gotten a LOT of action
Melissa Locker started playing “Once In A Lifetime” by Talking Heads
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Oh, I love Down and Out in Beverly Hills
STEREOGUM: Ha! That is a great movie, but I would think “True Stories” more than “Down and Out”
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I was just talking about the movie. My dad took me to see it in the theater and during the opening sex scene he leaned over and said: maybe I shouldn’t have brought you to this. Elizabeth Pena on top of Richard D.
STEREOGUM: My dad that with “The Man With Two Brains”
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I’ve never seen “True Stories”
STEREOGUM: Oh it’s good! A bit dated now, but still good
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I saw the new David Byrne musical. I didn’t dance.
STEREOGUM: Why not?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Felt like a failure cuz he was there dancing
STEREOGUM: Oh, like you weren’t doing your part?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Yeah exactly. I don’t know, I was on my own, not really into dancing alone.
STEREOGUM: So going back to your baseball player/rock star marriage fantasy. Do you think you lived up to that old feminist trope about becoming the man you wanted to marry?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Oh yeah, definitely. I’m in love with myself too.
STEREOGUM: That’s just good self esteem
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: But– more seriously, I never thought the rock star would be me.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I didn’t start playing music until I was 18
STEREOGUM: Right, but you and your brother must have shared somewhat of a rock star fantasy to start a band together
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER started playing “Love Street” by The Doors
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I think it was my fantasy. RIP Ray. David Bowie played this song on the BBC from the late 70s. He started his set with Love Street.
STEREOGUM: Really? It’s hard to picture David Bowie as a Doors fan for some reason
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Pretty amazing to hear him describe seeing Jim Morrison for the first time. I think it would have been hard not to be impressed with them. He was impressed with Morrison’s stage presence. Makes sense
STEREOGUM: True. It’s hard to remember that they were the first of their kind. Did you grow up listening to the Doors?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I had a boyfriend in high school who listened to the doors exclusively– which turned me off the doors for about 20 years.
STEREOGUM: That would do it! So you just got back into them?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: But yeah, they were a constant on classic rock radio. And that’s what I listened to.
Melissa Locker started playing “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn
STEREOGUM: This is for you
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: A death can do that. Good to hear some pop. I don’t know Robyn
STEREOGUM: You can think of this next time you don’t want to dance alone. You don’t know Robyn?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Nope
STEREOGUM: After her song was on “Girls” I figured everyone knew her
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Robin Gibb?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Oh yeah, I remember that scene. The coke episode?
STEREOGUM: No, that was Icona Pop. It was the first season closer with Lena Dunham literally dancing on her own to this song
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Oh whoops
STEREOGUM: So are you a classic rock fan? Generally?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: That’s safe to say. I’ve never been to a dance club
STEREOGUM: Do you think that influences the music you make?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Yes!
STEREOGUM: Can I take you to a dance club, please?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Sure. Where do you go? I’ve danced at weddings
STEREOGUM: Great! In between allllll the tour dates you have lined up this summer. The summer warm up series at PS1 has a lot of great dance acts coming through
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Ok, it’s a deal. Do people still take drugs before clubbing? Do people still say “clubbing”?
STEREOGUM: I have no idea. According to my sociological research of watching “Girls,” I will say yes
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Not that into Robyn. No offense
STEREOGUM: It’s okay. It’s a big reach from The Doors to Robyn
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER started playing “Jealous Guy (Live Version)” by Donny Hathaway
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: This is totally not a dance song, but I could dance to it.
STEREOGUM: Some of the best dance songs are like that!
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I rode my bike past the Dakota on Sunday afternoon. People still stand there and take photos of where John was shot.
STEREOGUM: So sad. Everyone who does that should be forced to watch that movie where Jared Leto plays Mark David Chapman
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Yikes. I haven’t seen that.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I love John Lennon, but I think I like this version better than the original
STEREOGUM: I can see that. So you wrote most of the songs on the new album while on tour for your last album, right?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Not while on tour, but mostly before touring for Last Summer started. And we played about half the songs on tour.
STEREOGUM: So you released an album, wrote another album and then toured for the first album?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: There was a long gap between the finishing of last summer and its release. About 8 months. Most of the songs were written during that period before the album came out. Hope that makes sense
Melissa Locker started playing “Red Eye (Explicit Version)” by Kid Cudi (feat. Haim)
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Is this really the kind of music you listen to?
STEREOGUM: Sometimes! I listen to everything. It’s my job.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: This is a judgment free zone. Just curious. This stuff makes me want to run out of a mall.
STEREOGUM: That’s okay, when I interviewed Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr they booed me off the stage. So you wrote the songs, but then you didn’t record for awhile.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Right. I recorded Personal Record last October.
STEREOGUM: Do you think the songs changed from the time you wrote them to the time you recorded them?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Yeah they changed a lot. The arrangements mostly. For some songs I had about 4 or 5 different demos; all different versions.
STEREOGUM: Wow. So how did you decide what ended up on the album?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I had to trust my gut and trust my producer, Eric Broucek. You gradually begin to see the light in these instances, and know what works and what doesn’t and what get over best.
STEREOGUM: Do the songs evolve on stage as well?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER started playing “Houses Of The Holy (Album Version)” by Led Zeppelin
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Yeah, of course playing them live made all the difference. I thought Stare at the Sun would be a folky ballad, but it was easier to play it fast and loud with the band, and the rock version is what stuck.
STEREOGUM: What was it like working with John Wesley Harding?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: This is first Led Zeppelin song that got under my skin. My friend’s mom had all these records and I randomly put this on when I was about 10. I liked the cover with the tenement building. It’s probably why I wanted to live in new york.
STEREOGUM: What was it like switching from writing with your brother to writing with John Wesley Harding?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: It wasn’t exactly like I switched from one to the other! There was a lot in between
STEREOGUM: I know, but what was it like working with John Wesley Harding?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: It was magical.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Only a half wink there. No, we just got along great and had a chemistry that’s hard to explain. It was kind of fast and furious
STEREOGUM: Would you work with him again?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Probably.
Melissa Locker started playing “My Love Will Not Let You Down” by Bruce Springsteen
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: He’s working on a book about a rock band. I think I’m going to write some songs for the book. I’ve still never seen Bruce.
STEREOGUM: Oh man Bruce is amazing live. How would writing songs for a book work? Audio book? Or just songs inspired by the book?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: There would be a corresponding album to the book. And the songs would be the ones by the fictional band. Except they’d actually be by me and other people.
STEREOGUM: Oh interesting!
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: We’ll see. I’ve written a couple already.
STEREOGUM: Do you think you would write completely different style of music.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I would like to be in a loud rock band where I’m not the center of attention! That would be nice
STEREOGUM: Are they similar to what you create on your albums? Or are they a loud rock band? Oh, you’ve already written some.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Oh you’re still talking about the book. No, the style is pretty consistent with my own.
STEREOGUM: And you don’t like being the center of attention?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: It would just be a nice change of pace to be in a “real” band where everyone gets equal billing. Does that exist?
STEREOGUM: Ask the bass players
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I should probably start practicing the drums if I want that to happen.
STEREOGUM: Exactly. Did you and your brother get equal billing?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER started playing “Withered And Died” by Richard Thompson (feat. Linda Thompson)
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: This is a sad song. I started playing it, but not so slow
STEREOGUM: Did you and your brother get equal billing? This is a sad song
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I opened up for Rodriguez at Town Hall last month and played it there.
STEREOGUM: Oh yeah? What draws you to cover a song?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: 3 different friends told me to buy I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, and I finally did. A friend asked me to cover this with him.
STEREOGUM: But wait, back to this question: Did you and your brother get equal billing?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Yeah, I guess we did. But that was just the two of us. I think a real band has to be at least 3?
STEREOGUM: I guess … actually, No. I’m not convinced. There are a lot of two-person bands
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Two person bands are never as good! Except maybe Suicide is an exception.
STEREOGUM: A million Fiery Furnaces fans just started crying. Suicide fans, too. And Tanlines.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: If only there were a million! I mean from a live perspective. 2 person bands just aren’t as good.
STEREOGUM: Are you guys going to make those almost a million fans happy and make another album?
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: One day.
Melissa Locker started playing “Watching The Detectives (Single Version)” by Elvis Costello
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I love reggae. Oh wait this is Elvis
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I used to practice singing along to Elvis Costello songs. That’s why I can sing so fast.
STEREOGUM: He does manage to cram in a lot of words per minute
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I have to go in a minute
STEREOGUM: I know.
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: But this is probably the best way to do an interview. No winks. For real
STEREOGUM: Music makes everything better! Even interviews at the beginning of what is undoubtedly a very long press run
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: I used to say that about pot.
STEREOGUM: And now you choose life
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Except when I say pro-choice
STEREOGUM: Exactly! Okay, thanks so much!
ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: Ok, have a great day. Nice “chatting” with you!
STEREOGUM: You too!
Personal Record is out now via Merge.