The New York based musician—once city, now upstate—speaks with me from Portland, on tour for her latest album, Rebound, for which reviews described the albums first single, “In Between Stars” as:
“Once intimate and somewhat mysterious. Ditching the band to record mostly by herself, she floats her golden alto in a whirr of gleaming synths, crisp drum programming, and busy guitars, speaking in evocative but ambiguous metaphors.”
Now a few albums into an acclaimed solo career, she once had a band with her brother, Matthew, called the Fiery Furnaces, where she sang about many things including paw paw trees, rogue pets, and blueberry dealers from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
I got into them at the height of American Apparel at the suggestion of my photographer boyfriend who spent time in Brooklyn and prided himself on having superior taste in everything.
In the time that it took AA’s founder, Dov Charney, to build and destroy an empire, Eleanor has continued to grow and produce new albums that are as enchanting and as relevant as her first ones. To hear her say “She’s not very good at drums” is humbling and makes me feel better for not being a good interviewer.
When any artist you’ve been following for over a decade agrees to talk to you, it’s unnerving. Especially when she really does sound like Patti Smith.
The interview has been condensed. Missing parts include me asking if she remembers my drummer friend whose former band once opened for the Fiery Furnaces—Corey Fogel; Cryptacize. She does. Then suggesting that she meet Chris Koltay when in Detroit because he also has a notable record collection and is a great cook.
I cannot not be a fangirl about this. And that’s ok because considering the cultural moment I’m happy to be genuinely and enthusiastically crushin’ on a woman.
Detroit, Eleanor Friedberger has been to Detroit, is coming back to Detroit, and each time it is no less special.
Connection to Michigan?
I grew up in Chicago, and I started spending summers there [Michigan] from when I was a little kid. We used to go to this place called Watervale… My mom started going there when she was in college. Then we started taking family vacations there with some family friends. We did that for the first eight years of my life.
I started spending time in Southwest Michigan after that.
My brother and I recorded a bunch of albums at a studio in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
The studio everyone talks about!
Yes, Keyclub. I’ve spent a lot of time in Michigan, and I love it.
What was the first instrument you learned to play?
I took piano lessons from the time I was five or six. My brother also took piano lessons from the same teacher, and we both couldn’t stand her. She was really un-fun, kind of nasty. We both quit pretty soon after.
I pretended to play the flute for a minute. Just because our school district gave us free instruments to borrow.
I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 18. My brother bought me a guitar and wrote out some chords for me to learn.
Is that your favorite instrument to play? The guitar?
Guitar is awesome, but I love playing the drums. I would like to be better at the drums.
How do you listen to music at home?
Name an artist you’ve always wanted to work with.
J. Mascis. I would love to do something kind of heavy—a dark folk album but with really crazy electric guitar solos over it.
I think he might be into that too.
Favorite person you’ve collaborated with?
Right now I’m playing with a guitar player in my band who’s really fun to listen to. His name’s Ryan Dugre.
What’s your favorite part of touring?
Going to different places and feeling like you can slip into a new environment.
We just came from San Francisco. And just being in San Francisco even for the morning—it was 50 degrees, foggy. I loved being there. Even though I only had a few hours. There’s something special about that.
Most difficult part of touring?
Being tired all the time.
Characteristic you like most in a person?
Being funny helps.
Last book you read about music?
Astral Weeks [by Ryan Walsh]. Great book. A little bit about Van Morrison. It’s about Boston in the late 60s.
Best live show you’ve attended?
Jesus Lizard in 1994. It’s hard to say the best, but they were awesome. That was so good.
The last album you’ve listed to in its entirety?
A Nick Lowe record called Nick the Knife.
Eleanor Friedberger is playing Detroit’s El Club this Saturday, October 6th. Purchase tickets here.