Friedberg plays the Mission tonight.Courtesy of Friedberg
Anna Friedberg, frontwoman of London quartet Friedberg, splits her time between London and Berlin. But the Austrian native says the band actually started about four years ago in Southern California — specifically, in room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn, where country-rock legend Gram Parsons died of a drug overdose in 1973.
She had been on a road trip with a pair of German synth-pop and techno musicians. They were following the path of the Beat poets, and ended up at the motel in the Mojave Desert for the night.
“They gave me the room where he died in the shower,” Friedberg says. “In the night, I was really scared. That’s actually where the band started, because I couldn’t sleep. I felt this ghost hovering above my bed or something.”
Instead of fighting the insomnia, Anna sat down and started writing what would eventually become the song “Boom.”
Fear of Gram Parsons’s ghost is a fairly unorthodox writing prompt, but Friedberg has traveled some unusual paths toward songwriting. At a party in London, she drank too much alcohol and smoked too much marijuana, then wrote a song based on the impromptu psychedelic side effects.
“I was also mixing up a joint with a cigarette on top of being super drunk,” she recalls. “I was kind of passing my cigarette around and smoking a joint on my own. Because I was so drunk, I didn’t realize that I was smoking a very strong joint on my own.”
She says she began to hallucinate that she was in T.S. Eliot's poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a text she enjoyed in college. The experience inspired the song “Lizzy,” which she started writing lyrics for on the way home from the party.
“I heard lines from the poem like ‘In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo,’” she says. “I kind of saw Michelangelo standing there with a gin and tonic. And one of my bandmates was talking to Michelangelo, and they were sharing a gin and tonic. It was a wild, wild night.”
The song “Your Hollywood,” employs the cut-up technique famously used by Beat writer William S. Burroughs, in which a piece of text is cut up and rearranged into a completely new piece of writing. She tore up pieces of newspapers and assembled them into a song that details a toxic relationship. (A bad relationship Friedberg had been in is heavily included in some songs on the band’s debut EP.)
“I was at a David Bowie exhibition in Berlin, and he also used [the cut-up method] quite a lot,” she says. “That’s when I actually first heard about the technique, even though it wasn’t invented by him. I was in a really bad state and didn’t feel like writing, and that’s when I thought maybe I should try that technique. It’s very interesting.”
Musically, the band plays a poppy, danceable brand of post-punk. Friedberg says she enjoys the post-punk revival bands currently popular in England and abroad — Sleaford Mods, Idles, etc. — but she also spends some of her time in Berlin, where electronic music is more popular. (She adds that live music is more fun to watch in London; Germans like to pretend they aren't enjoying themselves.)
“In Berlin, I’m hanging out more with people from the techno scene,” she says. “Bands like Brandt Brauer Frick. Twelve years ago, they started to do techno with classical instruments in a really cool way. One of them, Brandt, is the co-producer of some of my first songs. He introduced me to post-punk bands, so via him I found my way to post-punk.”
She drew from Beak, an English experimental rock band that features Geoff Barrow of minimalist trip-hop trio Portishead. The quirky songwriting and energy of Courtney Barnett also played a role in Friedberg’s lyric writing. She says that when she was forming her style, she was listening to a lot of music by ’80s dance-punk legends, ESG and LCD Soundsystem.
“I had never really listened to LCD Soundsystem when they were big,” Friedberg says. “When I started to write for Friedberg, I listened to LCD Soundsystem and became a fan after everyone else.”
Friedberg recalls seeing ESG a few years ago and being impressed by the use of percussion on stage. She has incorporated that into her band's live set, particularly the song “Midi 8,” which the band expands into a seven-minute-long opus on stage.
“I’m obsessed with cowbells and woodblocks,” she says. “That’s why I love ESG so much. We have this crazy ending of the set where we go completely mental on that song and have this super love version that’s kind of a remix of the song. I love it so much when we play that live.”
Friedberg appears at the Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop Street, at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 26. Tickets are $35-$85.75. Check out friedbergmusic.com for more details.
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