We got a good review in The Onion and I think a guy in Seattle likes it.
story by Michelle C. Liffick
The Fiery Furnaces, a brother and sister duo now based out of NYC, consist of Matt and Eleanor Friedberger. The Friedbergers are the children of an English father and an American mother who grew up in Chicago’s very own suburban Oak Park. Eleanor sings and plays guitar while Matt works the keys, guitar, and sings.
Their sound has been described as electronic folk. They’ve also been placed in other genres including garage rock, blues, nursery rhyme rock, bubblegum pop, and psychedelia. The Furnaces have named musicians such as Bob Dylan, Bo Diddley, The Who, The Replacements, Syd Barrett, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and the Showbiz Pizza Band as their influences. They’ve played on bills with bands such as The Kills, Jet, The French Kicks, Spoon, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Franz Ferdinand, The Shins, and Hot Hot Heat. The Fiery Furnaces signed on with Rough Trade, a British label that carries acts such as The Libertines and The Strokes, and released their first LP, Gallowsbird’s Bark, in the fall of 2003. Currently, Matt and Eleanor’s Fiery Furnaces feature the talents of “a bass player, Toshi, and a keyboardist and a drummer, Andy.”
Before heading out on the road in support of their forthcoming second album, Matt Friedberger took some time out to talk to Chicago Innerview.
Matt has a dry wit and is self-deprecating (as is the Midwestern way – the Letterman, Vonnegut, Twain legacy). He speaks like the well-educated, confident son of an English father and American mother who grew up in Oak Park playing music in basement and garage bands, wearing lots of black, and listening to rock records, while the kids who were already peaking went to football games and gawked at cheerleaders in preparation for lives spent pumping gas or pushing paper…same thing. I’m guessing about the black clothes. The rest is pretty much documented, kinda…
According to what I’ve read, Matt helped Eleanor get into music by buying a guitar and a drum kit for her. In exchange, helping Eleanor helped Matt to justify doing music again after he became disgusted by the music industry.
Asked about Gallowsbird’s, Matt once quipped, “We got a good review in The Onion and I think a guy in Seattle likes it.” But, this quote is the result of Matt being modest. One standout aspect of what I’ve heard, so far, from The Furnaces is that it seems they managed to keep control of the recording of the music – the style, the feel. Part of what’s interesting is the space, the chill, the starkness. In essence, it’s what’s NOT there that sets their music apart.
The Friedbergers manage, also, to mix politics with rockabilly and insurance-related discussions. That being said, some critics have argued that the tunes on Gallowsbird’s don’t all sound alike, but I would dispute this – to some extent. The vocals tend to move along the same rhythmic trail on each tune. Only rarely does Matt’s voice join his sister’s on Gallowsbird’s. But, the record was apparently Eleanor’s first opportunity to spend time in a recording studio.
The next record comes out July 13 and is called Blueberry Boat. Blueberry Boat has “long story songs on it in the style of The Who Sell Out,” yet Matt adds that it’s “not a rock opera.” The album does feature “long songs” – one song is seven minutes and another is 10 and another is nine. There’s “lots of pseudo-musicizing on it…a nice roller coaster ride.” Blueberry Boat is full of “music meant to sound like a Chucky Cheese [or Showbiz Pizza] animatronic sound.” These types of music are what Matt calls “the excuse for this record.” This new record includes “fake parlor piano interludes…and lots of singing by my sister.” Matt pitches in on the vocals more on this record “because the songs are so long.”
Matt has often (at least “often” as far as we press-people go) commented that he wants to play music that is “Catholic.” By “Catholic,” he means “‘universal’ or ‘eclectic,’ not Catholic like all the Italian and Irish kids I grew up with in Oak Park.” So, Matt aspires to make music that is “wide-ranging” and based upon “all sorts of American songs.” He’s also said that he wants to make music that’s “a big enough mess that whether it’s the old folks or the kids, they could find something amusing.”
For their third record, “we’re going to have Eleanor and my grandmother from River Forest singing duets.” He’s not kidding. Their grandmother is the choir director for the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church on the West Side of Chicago. And, for the fourth record, The Furnaces are planning to focus on “long verse songs for Eleanor to sing.”
As their Fiery music has brought them attention from the press, so too has it brought rumors about a sibling rivalry between the two Fiery Furnaces. “In Britain, the press writes about Eleanor and I fighting…We don’t hate each other.” Comparisons to The White Stripes have popped up. According to Matt, though, “we dislike each other like anyone else.” Two things that Eleanor and Matt have in common are their “attitude toward rock music” and their common interest in “casual lawn sports.”
“So,” Matt explains, “it’s good we’re in a band…it’s all we can do together. You often play pickup games when you’re traveling around with a bunch of guys.” According to publicized sources and some not so publicized former Oak Park contemporaries of garage and basement bands, they also share the power of a “disconcerting stare.” For further support of this idea, please go to www.thefieryfurnaces.com…or go check ‘em out at Metro.
The Fiery Furnaces play with The Ponys at Metro June 17.