Matthew Friedberger's 83-year-old grandma corrects his grammar, and he throws her into the Fiery Furnaces.

Family Business 

Matthew Friedberger's 83-year-old grandma corrects his grammar, and he throws her into the Fiery Furnaces.

Siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, who together are the songwriting and performing nucleus of New York City's insanely productive the Fiery Furnaces, can claim to have been compared to plenty of acts with cult followings of varying sizes and mental stability. Frank Zappa (ambitious and prolific, but dead). They Might Be Giants (prolific, barely alive). The White Stripes (a fake brother-and-sister team with a real divorce decree on file). Of course, attempts to find analogues often signal that the group in question sounds unlike anyone else, and indeed, the Friedbergers aren't merely the latest noblesse quirk. Their music resists pigeonholing (but has proven largely irresistible to indie wonks) -- it's synthy, then organic, naifish, then blunt. Not that these turns are always swift (except live, when the group collapses its lengthy opuses into a kind of Stars On Fiery Furnaces experience); the typical Fiery Furnaces disc lasts about six hours (OK, this year's EP, titled EP, is only 41 minutes long -- but, you know, it's an EP) and is followed up with another album every three days (expect two full-lengths before 2006).

SW: Do you get paid by the minute or what?

MF: "All the people on their laptops without deals, it's insulting to them not to put out as much as you can when you have the chance. If you think in terms of ideas, then you'll worry about running out of ideas. But if you think of it as a game or as just something you go do, go play, you're going to go out there and not think about it."

Is the idea to make enough money from each album to do the next?

"The idea is not to give them a chance to figure out that you haven't sold enough of the last album. And get them to give you the money at the beginning of the year, before they do the accounting and figure out the budget. We just did a record with our grandmother -- she narrated -- and I'm mixing that now. It's 58 minutes -- short for us. That and something we recorded in January will hopefully come out July 19. That might not happen together. And in May we're recording something I hope will be out in November. Lots of love songs, three-minute songs that go into each other and tell a story. Very up-tempo and colorful."

Has your grandmother [Olga Sarantos] heard her album yet?

"Yes. She was the choir director at her church from 1939 until last year and played the organ. She's a good musician. She did correct my grammar a couple of times. She didn't want to call someone [in the lyrics] a thief."

Did you record live?

"We had the music first, then Eleanor and our grandmother recorded the vocals in Chicago, where she lives."

You could do all your relatives.

"I don't approve of that. My Uncle Bill has a great voice, but he won't be offended if I say he doesn't need to make an album. Actually, he's talented, and I don't want him to be upset ... maybe he should make a record."

The EP is longer than some albums. Do you want your favorite acts to put out long albums?

"One of my favorite albums was Sandinista. I was never bothered by things on it I didn't like. People get upset at the idea of filler. I never understood what that meant. They're just songs you don't like or that you skip. I'm not saying there's any filler on our records. Definitely not. But the more, the merrier. I don't believe in the discipline of a rock album, a sense of proportion. Unless it's a Ramones record, which would be spoiled by five more Dee Dee country songs."

Are you cleaning out the closet every time you release an album?

"No. We had to leave things off Blueberry Boat. There were things that wouldn't fit on a CD. We haven't put out anything that one of us doesn't like a lot."

What makes a love song for you?

"Words about relationships and love [laughs]."

What is your ideal love song?

"'Reach Out, I'll Be There,' 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine,' 'Try a Little Tenderness,' Dylan's 'Absolutely Sweet Marie.'"

You seem like a side-two-of-Abbey Road guy, not side one.

"Definitely. McCartney is a difficult one. He was aware of the fact that he was balancing out the Lennon songs. He used the Lennon songs to express a different part of his personality. McCartney also had a closer relationship with [producer] George Martin. He could use the other Beatles' songs to do god knows what. That said, I don't really like hearing McCartney sing. There's a huge gap [of quality] between [his and Lennon's] voices."

Your albums sound like the work of people who like to tinker.

"For the records, we wanted to see if we could make a record we wanted to hear. For Eleanor, it was more about a band. She always wanted to play in front of people, was always confident enough. We were both living in New York City, and she recruited me to help her. In the beginning, we would make things up, finding phrases from books and imagining you're finding things and putting them together. She would write down conversations people were having at work. Records of guitar songs have a limited importance. We're standing on the shoulders of giants. You're not building a ship -- you're building a model of a ship. That's the relationship of our records to Stevie Wonder or the Who."

Given the jigsaw approach, do you tend to write in the same keys?

"We often play in the same key because it's easier to perform, but on the records the fun is doing a stupid key change at the end, where you expect it to resolve in the same key. It's good to play 45 minutes in E, though. We play medleys live. In April we will stop and start again. The point is that the transitions are supposed to be as much fun and as much what you listen for as the songs. The gimmick is that you listen for the transition, whether the parts go sweetly or rudely into each other. And they don't have a chance to boo you if you don't stop."

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Interview

Facebook Activity

All contents ©2014 Kansas City Pitch LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of Kansas City Pitch LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.

All contents © 2012 SouthComm, Inc. 210 12th Ave S. Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of SouthComm, Inc.
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Website powered by Foundation