Eleanor Friedberger was a member of experimental rock band Fiery Furnaces with her brother Matthew from 2000 until 2011, when the act went on indefinite hiatus. But while it was a going concern, the Friedbergers seemed to try out any crazy, creative idea they pleased from record to record, establishing Fiery Furnaces as one of the most adventurous bands of that time. Admirers and critics alike dubbed the music and the lyrics "askew" and "unusual," drawing comparisons to Captain Beefheart.
“Maybe I don't listen to enough contemporary music to know what they're comparing it to,” says Friedberger about the phenomenon of critics reaching for comparisons. “I mean, I don't find it to be odd. I find my lyrics to be plain and straightforward. Maybe there's a mystery around the actual meaning, but the vocals are very up front. I've been accused of having clear diction. I don't think it's weird at all. If anything, I accuse myself of being the opposite. I try to write lyrics the way I talk or the way other people around me are talking. Maybe that is weird.”
Friedberger's solo albums, including her latest, 2016's New View, have forged a slightly different path from that of her previous band. The songwriting feels focused and very direct, which has garnered descriptions such as "stripped down" (New View); in addition, Friedberger's work has been described as the stuff of great breakup albums, on the apparent assumption that she is writing about distresses in her own life. Friedberger says that the album's sonic quality reflects what she and her bandmates are able to execute on stage, including the bank of synth sounds. And regarding the notion of this solo effort being a breakup album?
“There's got to be a better, more interesting or creative way to describe an album of essentially love songs,” muses Friedberger. “But they're more than that. It's not a breakup album; I'm totally fine. And I'm not complaining or upset or heartbroken all the time.”
At this point in her development as a person and as an artist, Friedberger is less concerned with others' expectations or her level of notoriety. She no longer feels a need to reinvent herself constantly or to conform to some artificial standard of how she's supposed to look or the art she's supposed to make. While this quality often comes with age, it is more a product of being comfortable and confident in one's abilities.
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“People have had a lot of good will toward everything I've been doing,” confesses Friedberger about the source of her confidence. “That was the initial step. I don't know what it took me to get to do that exactly but I think had it been a total disaster, I probably would have quit doing this. That's easy for me to say now but had it gone poorly I probably would have tried to do something else for a living. If you don't feel like people are on your side, I don't know how you continue.”
One thing that has aided Friedberger along the way from childhood to the present is visualization, a side of her active imagination that has consistently served her as a performing artist. As an adult she has often imagined herself as some of her own musical heroes.
“I've always kind of acted out in that way, just in my imagination,” reveals Friedberger. “I think that comes from playing sports as a kid. If you're hitting a tennis ball against a wall or shooting hoops or whatever you're doing that play-by-play thing in your head. Joe Strummer was one of the most charismatic front-people of any band. I just identify with his combination of aggressive presence and the way he dressed. I've always admired him as a front-person. Joey Ramone? That comes more from Fiery Furnaces days of singing really fast and trying to keep up with the band. Neil Young is more of a recent thing. I'm not talking about contemporary Neil Young, necessarily. His posturing and again the way he dressed. I feel like he's a good person to try to embody.”
Eleanor Friedberger with Ice Water and Lizzy Rose, 8 p.m. Sunday, February 28, $13-$15, Larimer Lounge, 303-291-1007.