Eleanor Friedberger, of the brother-sister duo Fiery Furnaces, is on a solo tour for the first time, which opens for The Kills at the Fox Theater on Sept. 9. Friedberger released her premiere solo album titled Last Summer in July, a collection of songs featuring intimate lyrics over musical influences ranging from funk to Brazilian tunes.
Friedberger caught up with The Campanil via telephone while she sipped on “hurricane water” in New York, bottled water she had purchased in case Hurricane Irene affected drinking supplies. Friedberger dished about selling merch, love letters to friends and just how weird she and her brother Matt are.
The Campanil: How has it been stepping away from Fiery Furnaces, your project with your brother, to go on a solo tour?
Eleanor Friedberger: It’s been fun. Life is all about change, and it’s fun to try something new. I wasn’t disgruntled or fed up with the band, but I think trying something new is always good. Fiery Furnaces is the only band I’ve been in, and I’m turning 35 tomorrow. I wanted to try it out [while] I still had some youth left in me. It wasn’t like hitting a brick wall or trying to rebuild or anything.
TC: What was it like releasing your first solo album?
EF: Now that it’s come out, this is the easy part. I’ve never felt so busy in my entire life because I have to do everything myself. I looked at my calendar, and every weekend but one until Christmas is booked up. I made the record myself; I paid for it myself, then shopped it around. That was the worst and I felt extremely vulnerable. After I just felt such a huge relief. Putting a band together was extremely daunting. It always seems kind of impossible, and then you just do it. I’m seemingly laid back, but I’m actually pretty uptight. Touring is tiring and boring, but the shows are the best part of the whole deal.
TC: There seem to be a lot of different elements that go into Last Summer, such as the funky bass on “Roosevelt Island.” What are some things that influenced the record?
EF: (For) every song, I had a specific reference point, and that’s the way I’ve always worked, even with my brother. When you try to copy something, you create something new. I had made demos for all the songs and we used them as templates, and then I said I want them to sound kind of like this. For instance, “Early Earthquake” was influenced by a Brazilian 70s song, and does it sound like that? No, but that’s the feeling we were going for.
TC: The album’s title alone seems to describe a sense of nostalgia. How would you describe the general tone of Last Summer?
EF: I wanted it to feel nostalgic. The lyrics are mostly disjointed memories, so [I] wanted it to feel very sentimental, and I wanted to kind of present myself as who I was before the band started. When I first started making recordings at home, that was me looking backwards. I’m a sentimental person and I think the best pop music is sentimental.
TC: What do you think a solo record can accomplish that a collaborative project can’t? Can you get more personal?
EF: I think you get the total freedom and you don’t have to compromise with anybody on anything. When it’s all on you it’s scary but it’s also very exciting. There were a few things that I did that I never would have done if I were working with my brother, like improvising some of the lyrics. I would have been embarrassed to show them because they’re kind of goofy, but I was like, you know what? I’m going to keep this.
TC: Some of the songs on the album, such as “I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight,” seem especially personal. What’s it like to share some of these stories with an audience?
EF: That’s how I’ve always written songs. I think of them almost as like love letters to friends. For instance, the Fiery Furnaces song “Tropical Iceland” is a song I wrote about going to Iceland with a friend. I’ve always told personal stories and Matt does the opposite. That hasn’t changed much. I don’t want to make songs too obvious so there’s no imagination for the listener; it’s better for people to take what they want from the song. It fulfills a purpose for me to make sense of what has just happened.
TC: What’s your song writing routine like? Do you try to regularly write?
EF: It usually starts with words, but I don’t think I have a real routine. I’ve been trying to write on guitar more. I was writing most of Last Summer’s songs on keyboard, which has kind of been a problem performing them now. These songs I didn’t have lying around; I wrote them all over the course of a couple months. I’ll start with the words, then add a backing track. I wanted the album to end on a sort of upbeat note. I wanted the album to be full of different styles of music.
TC: Tell me about touring. Does it ever get lonely out on the road?
EF: You’re too busy to feel lonely. July was the first time I ever went on tour completely alone, and it was great. I stayed with friends and talked to people I normally wouldn’t have. I flew everywhere; in some ways it felt sort of glamorous. It doesn’t get lonely. I also kind of double as a tour manager, so I’m organizing everything and, if you’re driving, there’s a lot of driving. At the shows, I’m setting up the CDs and the shirts. It’s a job. The performance only lasts 45 minutes and the rest of the day is filled with tedious crap, so you just try to enjoy those 45 minutes.
TC: How did you hook up with The Kills?
EF: We’ve known each other for years because we were both signed to Rough Trade in the US and we both recorded a lot at the same studio in Michigan. I haven’t seen them in a long time, and now that Jamie’s Mr. Kate Moss, I don’t know how it’ll be or if I’ll be able to talk to him. (laughs)
TC: How do you think your music works with The Kills?
EF: I think it’s more about attitude. I think they have a similar rock ‘n’ roll spirit, and it’s great to play with a band where there’s a woman in the band; that doesn’t happen that often. I think we have a lot of common with our taste and aesthetic, but musically, I don’t think it matters so much.
TC: What should we expect to see from you in the future?
EF: I’m working on writing new songs, but hopefully this album is going to keep me busy for the next year. I’d like to have another record out by next fall. I’m going to see my brother in October and we’ll see what the future holds for us. I’d like to release another solo album now that I’m on a roll. My brother and I could release an album when we’re 60. Matt and I have a weird thing going on, and it’s not going anywhere.