Eleanor Friedberger has recorded seven albums with the Fiery Furnaces, the prominent art-rock band she formed a decade ago with her brother Matt. The Friedbergers's songs together are often extravagant, wordy medleys full of surrealistic detail. Last week, Merge Records released Eleanor's first sibling-free album, Last Summer.
What did you want to do on your first solo record?
All the songs are about remembering things that have happened to me in New York since I moved here 11 years ago. I wanted to write songs from the point of view of someone who hadn't done all the stuff I've done with the Fiery Furnaces. But I wouldn't have been able to do this if I hadn't had all that experience.
Did you do anything else to separate the sound and concept of this record from your Fiery Furnaces albums?
I wanted it to be simpler.
The songs are very Brooklyn-specific, and loaded with personal details that the rest of us may understand in some way but not recognize.
That comes to me naturally, and has a lot to do with the way Matt and I started writing songs together. I would tell him stories, and we would turn those into lyrics. A good story has specific details, I think that's what people latch onto.
Your video for My Mistakes uses footage of you getting ready for a date when you were in university. How did that happen to be filmed?
One of my best friends shot that for an art class. I was just the actor, I had nothing to do with the concept. She found the VHS in her basement about a year ago, and we watched it and thought it was very funny. Britt [Daniel, of the indie-rock band Spoon]was my college boyfriend, so that's why he's in it. I did a few shows with Spoon right after their album came out, and I said, 'Britt, you should use this for a video.' We talked, but nothing came of it, so I thought, 'Now's my chance to use it.'
That was generous of you, to offer it to him first.
It was generous, and stupid of him not to take me up on it. (laughs)
Speaking of getting dressed, in the chorus of another song you sing, 'For my last ensemble, I'm wearing nothing at all.' What's that about?
I often say that. It sounds like it's sexy, but it's really about women and my girlfriends and getting dressed. Sometimes I wish I could be on stage naked. I feel naked up there, and I wish that I didn't actually have to wear anything. I can't believe I just said that.
The revelation for me, in the video, was that you have a very pronounced widow's peak.
Yes, I was once Eddie Munster for Halloween. Nobody gets to see my forehead any more. You wouldn't believe how many people I know saw that video and didn't realize it was me.
What did you think, back then, that you'd end up doing with your life?
I have no idea. I was in film school. I thought maybe I could be a journalist, or a film producer. I loved music, I had a fourtrack and a guitar, and I played music, but not very seriously or in front of anybody. My brother would send me songs sometimes. Whenever I'd see a band play, I'd think, 'I could do that better.' That was my attitude, kind of competitive, I guess from growing up playing sports.
When did you get serious about music?
It was the year I lived in London, after I finished school. I made some friends who also did home recordings, but they took it very seriously. They weren't really into in doing it commercially, more as an art form. I played in front of one friend, and he was really encouraging. It just took being around the right people, I guess.
What's next for the Fiery Furnaces?
We've been talking about doing a film about making an album, about the creative process. Matt and I would play ourselves, but exaggerated, or slightly different versions of ourselves. Matt would love to do a soundtrack, and there would be us making an album. The idea would be to make something that's good enough that you've don't have to know who the Fiery Furnaces are to want to see it.
When did you last perform with Matt?
We toured together in May. Now I'm going out alone, which is a bit terrifying. I've never gone on tour before without my brother. So it's like, "Wow, I'm really growing up," at the age of 34.
Eleanor Friedberger plays the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto Tuesday.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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