Though her last album was called New View, New York music legend Eleanor Friedberger has already dramatically shifted her sound again. After attempting a much grittier record in the wake of the 2016 election, a trip to Greece inspired a much more synth-driven album. We caught up with Eleanor Friedberger ahead of her May 28 show with The Decemberists at MTELUS in Montreal to discuss clubs, meta reflections on music and how a religious fanatic inspired her latest single.
Northern Transmissions: What led to the programmed drums and more subdued instrumentation on this record?
Eleanor Friedberger: Well it’s funny that it turned out to be subdued, because I wanted to do the opposite of my last album. At the end of the year of touring New View, that year ended with the election and feeling just completely fed up, sad and angry. I thought I would make an album that sounded really angry even though the last one was really organic. I’m not really capable of making something like that quite yet so I made the opposite of that and bought a Casio keyboard. I wrote these melodies on it at home so it really started with that keyboard. I wanted to do something completely different and not include anyone else. I ended up finishing the album with my friend Clemens, but it was the most work I’d ever done on my own before.
NT: How did your time in Greece influence this record, and how did the Rebound club inspire you?
EF: Going to Rebound itself was a nice moment, and my musician friend there had built it up. She told me about this place, and she told me that I had to go on my last weekend in Athens. It just symbolized a lot of things for me. Athens has a lot of history, and it’s very decadent. The club is very smoky so it’s hard to see, and the club’s only open after 3 at night, it feels like it’s out of a movie. It feels like things that New York used to be, and why so many people like me moved there. It’s just a romantic feeling there, and that’s why it made such a big impression on me. Greece also had this perfect balance of feeling foreign and familiar. My family is Greek but I don’t really speak the language, so it was a great place and a fertile environment for creativity.
NT: You also had a band in Greece for a bit?
EF: It was mostly for some shows that I had there so I wouldn’t just be playing by myself there. A lot of the trip turned into me practicing with them, and playing my old stuff and Fiery Furnaces material. I considered returning there to record the album with them but it was too impractical. Part of me wishes I had but I could definitely go back to play more shows with them because it’s great to have a band based out of Europe.
NT: Why did you decide to record Rebound mostly alone compared to your last album, and what did Clemens Knieper bring to the album in their contributions?
EF: Being on my own allowed me to really experiment in ways that I wouldn’t have in front of someone else, and that’s just because of my personality. If I wanted to make up my own guitar parts, I would spend four hours doing it, which I would never indulge in if I was paying for the time or had someone else listening. It was good to spend that time exploring. When it came time to work with Clemens I knew what needed to be where and what needed to be better. Let’s change this bass line and let’s get rid of this shitty drum-machine and do something better.
NT: Considering you recorded your last album in a barn, was there an acoustic place that stood out to you for this very aesthetically focused album?
EF: The idea, to quote myself, is that it’s supposed to feel like it could be anywhere and nowhere. That’s also a reflection of the fact that most of the sounds are made from my computer and brain. I can come up with ideas in Greece or New York but hard work always comes when I’m sitting down working at a table.
NT: How has it been trying to adapt this back to a live show considering how much of a solo effort this album was?
EF: I was doing a lot of shows by myself, and we actually just finished some rehearsals for a string of shows with my band and that was interesting. This is guitar, bass, drums and some simulated sounds, and it sounds really cool, it’s nothing too radical. I didn’t want to tour with a lot of keyboards though, because it just doesn’t suit my old material and it’s not that fun. I get more excited about guitar music and standing up, so I didn’t want that seated at a keyboard feeling.
NT: What inspired the sort of self-aware lyrics behind Make Me A Song?
EF: That was a song I’d started a long time ago, where I’d say “I could love you more but it wasn’t a traditional love song of any kind. It wasn’t “I could love you more, BABY” it was more “I could be better.” I had the chorus kind of, but I wanted to write a bigger subject and the power of music bringing people together. Singing a song and hearing music can bring people together from all stripes. The song came together because I had this really out of left-field interaction with this guy who told me how much he loved Jesus, and that he wrote music for Jesus. That knock to my senses really was the launching for this track.
Words by Owen Maxwell