Interview | April 13, 2016
Setting a New Tone: An Interview with Eleanor Friedberger


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Eleanor Friedberger’s beauty stands alone on Venice Beach. It is a crispy Thursday afternoon in DC when we called her up during her solo vacation in L.A. How precisely poetic that this was the occasion to discuss the arrival of New View. Her new album is not a new chapter in a dynamic discography, but rather that period after. Her previous record, Personal Recordwas an engrossing and engaging book. New View is that space after the book has ended and been shut. It is an album without pretension or pretense, even though more than plenty was happening in her life and career at its inception. It’s bold surrender. It’s leaving winter out east and running off to the salvation of the west. Read her thoughts on the album and more below.

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So before we begin I have to say you have this way of being this sage, slightly older female voice, learning from past mistakes and trying to convey the lessons through your song. You’re almost like a punk rock den mother. How do you approach your songwriting in such an open and empathetic manner?

The songs were written probably over the course of a year, but then I really kind of got my act together around November. Not this past November but the November before that. 2014. Nov 2014 was a very important month for me. And then the following January, I came out here to Los Angeles and rented a practice space and the guys who I’d been touring with three of them wanted to move to LA. So its just like they were kinda testing that out. And we rehearsed for seven weeks or so, starting April 1, so exactly a year ago and we were finished by June 1st.

 

Interesting that you can pinpoint November 2014. What was happening then and how did it affect the music you made?

A couple of things you know I moved out of NYC, the November before that. That took, that really did take a whole year to settle in, just both physically and emotionally I think. And then I was also working on this project that I had a lot of time to prepare for, it was with the Andy Warhol Museum, and I wrote some material for that, for these films and those shows were happening in the fall of November 2014 and I decided that when that was over I would have to go on to the next thing. And I also met somebody you know who was like a fresh start for me.

 

That is interesting because your lyrics deal with interpersonal relationships so well. I’m curious how you identify moments like that; how do you know that someone is a fresh start? Or even the right fresh start? Also how do they know?

They don’t know. You have to know when to accept them. That’s the one thing that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older. You do meet someone when you kind of least expect it but I actually think you meet someone when you most need to and you’re actually emotionally ready to talk. Literally like let someone in.

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Do you sit and think about these things, or rather feelings, when trying to distill them into lyrics?

I don’t know. I don’t like to overthink any of that stuff too much. I do believe in timing, not only as a musician. It does make a difference. And it was like writing one song kind of solidified that album for me, which ended being the first song on the album. I just kind of found the right tone, not only professionally but personally. Everything kind of jelled.

 

Is it all really that interconnected? Do you think that it’s all about this grand scheme of the universe unfolding in your life?

It’s not like “okay this is it, now I figured this out.” I know that there are constant ups and downs to all these things. It’s like I feel okay now but I know that I’m not always gonna feel that way. And you have to be okay with that.

 

So let’s talk about the song “Sweetest Girl”, which is this really perfect ditty for mournful exuberance. These songs exude such a presence and makes you wonder how did she know I was going to need to hear these words in this melody? Talk about how you wrote that song.

On the boring side of things, I made that up really fast, like one of my jobs that I had between albums was playing on the Late Night Show with Seth Meyers’ band. We had to write very quickly the things we played that night. And that was a really good lesson for me in coming up with just snappy little you know tunes and chord progressions and that was good example of that. But thematically you know its just I had that line stuck in my head, I don’t even know where it came from exactly. You know, it’s just like rhyming heart and start. It’s not exactly Shakespeare or anything. It was very simple, and it’s something actually that I held on to for a year and half before I knew what I was going to do with it. And then, and the rest just kind of came from there. And I really wanted to make an album that, compared to the last one, was more repetitive and a little bit more simplistic in terms of the lyrics. I wanted to be able to sing a song to you and to myself.

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It’s also like, the perfect west coast California jam song. You were on the Seth Meyers Late Show band with Fred Armisen, but have you seen his show Documentary Now?. There are two episodes called “The Blue Jean Committee” about this perfect west coast album made by this band. It raises the question of how to talk about music, but even more specifically this one type of specifically west coast mellow vibing, soulful sound. How would you describe the sound of this album?

I’m not good at describing music. I think writing about music is kind of a really hard thing and that’s why nobody does it. And I think that music that you are talking about, that they are kind of spoofing on, is some of my favorite music. I mean as specific as I can get, the drums is like, I love like a dry dead drum kit. I like the sound of a 12 string acoustic guitar which gives us this kind of warmth. The piano is a Wurlitzer electric piano which is also very warm, the electric guitar sounds pretty clean. Then there’s also this nice organ and keyboard synthesizer part that again like, at the end, has this kind of nice warmth and layer that I don’t know.

 

Sorry to subjugate you to doing what I should be doing. Can you contextualize this song within the album? What were you thinking?

I also kind of made that song very much in mind with the song that precedes it. And I don’t, I hadn’t done that so much since playing with my band, with my brother, as Fiery Furnaces, we cared very much about the kind of transitions from song to song and I had that song, knowing that it was going to be back to back with the song “Open Season” and I wanted that to be a totally fluid transition into that song. That’s also why it sounds the way it sounds. Because “Open Season” is long and kind of sprawling, to me its got a lot going on and there’s a very specific set of very detailed things happening in terms of the lyrics. “Sweetest Girl” was supposed to be more broad sounding and supposed to kind of answer to that conversation that’s kind of happening in the song preceding it.

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And then it also perfectly segues into “Because I Asked You” which is such a cool slow-burner about demanding consideration. So let me ask you, if New View were to be embodied walking down LaCienega Boulevard, what would it be wearing? Or even what are you wearing right now? Sorry for how that sounds.

Well I’m wearing blue jeans, very dark jeans, and I’m wearing a lighter colored denim button down shirt. And I’m wearing white sneakers and I’m also wearing a hospital lab coat I guess with like a cream color.

 

So you spoke elsewhere recently about how young people and music lovers and some the guys you play with consume so much music and media but never entire pieces of work. You kind of expressed how odd you found it that everyone knows every new band but has only limited attention span? Does this break your heart? Do you feel out of touch with the youth?

It doesn’t break my heart. I don’t think about it. I’m making the album for myself to be honest, I need to satisfy all those things and just hope for the best.

 

What does the best look like?

The best is like talking to you. And I talked to another guy a few hours ago, who was intelligent and you get to have those experiences and it makes a huge difference. Not everyone is as thoughtful as you are. But you know, I’m lucky enough to have these sorts of encounters pretty regularly. And that’s what makes it worth it.

 

So now that you’re figuring things out, how about some advice for the rest of us on how to deal with emotional distraction, like the stuff in the last record, Personal Record.

I am an obsessive person and I know that about myself. And I know when I’m doing something unhealthy, like checking something too much. And it is hard but I don’t know. I am like a strong believer in, I’m not good at exercising, but I like walking and I really like do physical things to get me out of my head. Something cerebral sometimes and it kind of helps me work that out. I think working out stuff like physically is my answer. Does that make any sense?

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DC: Eleanor will be at Street Music Hall this Thursday, April 14th.