This is the part where we tell you how good Eleanor Friedberger's new solo album is. Eleanor, you may recall, is the feminine half of the Fiery Furnaces, which might just be the strangest power-pop band of the last 10 years. (Have you heard Blueberry Boat?) After what seems like a bazillion and a half albums with her brother and fellow Fiery Furnace, Matt, she recently released her first set of solo songs, Last Summer. The album is wistful pop at its finest: simple, catchy, based in real life, and revealing. Our favorite songs on it are "Scenes from Bensonhurst," "Roosevelt Island," and "I Won't Fall Apart on You Tonight," which is playing on repeat as we write this.
Eleanor is playing the Hotel Utah tonight as part of her first-ever solo tour. It'll be just her and a guitar -- no band or anything. We recently spoke her about this touring alone business, getting old, why she made a solo record (hint: those last two are related), and writing demo songs in the Apple computer program Garage Band, which is owned by at least 96 percent of the civilized computing world. When we called, she was finishing up dinner (a black-bean burger from a place down the street from her Brooklyn apartment), and she turned out to be kind of a sassy talker. Here are some snippets from our conversation.
So do you enjoy performing?
I do enjoy it. The performing part is the best part, and then all the other stuff is kind of tedious and annoying. I'm learning to enjoy the other two things [writing and recording] more and more, and that's been the best part of making this record -- getting my head around the other stuff.
Why make a solo record now? Did you always plan on it?
People had asked me in the past, "Are you ever going to do it?" I would just say, "I guess," or "Yes, if the time feels right." It wasn't like I had all these songs in reserve waiting. I wrote all the songs for the record except for one. But I did have to do this. It's now or never.
Because I'm getting so old.
How old are you?
Thirty-four, soon to be 35 [on Sept. 2]. I mean, that's old. That's like half my life gone. So I wanted to do it before I would regret not doing it. I just had the time to do it. It's almost like the same way it was when I first started playing music.
How old were you when you started playing music?
I was 18 when I started to play guitar and try and sing and stuff, but it wasn't until I was 23, even 24, did I really start playing in front of other people. The Fiery Furnaces is my first band -- not a bad track record. I mean well, it's not that great, but I wasn't in a bunch of crappy bands when I was younger. It was just one crappy band.
Was making a solo record easier, harder, or about the same as making a Fiery Furnaces record?
It's all of the above: It's easier because you don't have to answer to anybody and compromise. But that's what makes it harder and scarier. I made demos for all the songs at home, and then I worked up the nerve to share them with somebody. And I got lucky. The first person I decided to share them with [producer Eric Broucek] was the person I decided to make a record with. He turned my demos into recordings.
You did all that stuff in the demos -- that crazy bass sound on "Roosevelt Island" and the drums and everything?
It's clavinet. I use Garage Band to make demos. There were a handful of drum sounds in Garage Band I could tolerate, and one of them is Motown Drummer No. 3, which is the drum beat that's in "Roosevelt Island."
Your solo career doesn't mean the end of the Furnaces, right?
Not as long as Matt and I are related, which -- I don't think you can divorce your sibling. I don't know when we're going to make another Fiery Furnaces record. I kind of feel like I almost want to record another solo record before the next Furnaces record. The next Furnaces thing I would like to do is make a film. Matt really wants to make movie music, and I've always dreamed of making a film.