With acclaimed US singer-songwriter Eleanor Friedberger heading to the North West, MALCOLM WYATT asked about her forthcoming Lancaster Library date and UK and European links
Before I even reach Eleanor Friedberger, her Dad’s heckling about Lancashire’s County Championship cricket woes. I expect sledging from Australians, but not someone from Chicago, Illinois.
Turns out that he’s originally from Northamptonshire (whose own cricket form is hardly spectacular), while Eleanor’s Mum is of Greek stock, as her daughter explained.
“Mum’s American, but her family’s Greek. I started going with her over 20 years ago, then about nine years ago started playing in Athens, developing a great network of friends.
“In early 2017 I stayed for a month, doing the same later that year, getting a group of guys together as a backing band, playing a bunch of shows, with the idea of writing an album there.”
That eventually led to acclaimed fourth solo LP, Rebound, after eight more treasured albums alongside her brother Matthew, four years her senior, with indie favourites The Fiery Furnaces.
While Eleanor, 42, was born in Oak Park, Chicago, where I found her ahead of a show at The Empty Bottle, she resides in Ulster County, New York, and is very much a citizen of the world.
No borders or phoney walls for this talented performer, about to end a 17-date North American run.
“It’s hard to believe we just drove across the country in two days. Before that, in LA, a rather dramatic ending with a van I’d driven the last 15 years, hoping it’d get me around the country one more time.”
Next up is the European leg, eight UK shows followed by five more in the Netherlands and Germany.
“I’m playing with yet another band, a few Welsh guys, rehearsing in Cardiff for a week. And I’ve been clued into this whole Welsh scene since The Fiery Furnaces opened for Super Furry Animals.”
Before her New York move, there was a spell for Eleanor – who also recently film-scored a live Andy Warhol project alongside Martin Rev (Suicide) and Tom Verlaine (Television) – in London.
“I have family in West London, and when a cousin took me to Camden at 16, I had it in my head I wanted to live there, work on a film or TV set. That never worked out, but I went into a University of London student centre, saw a notice board and got a room for £55 a week with a bunch of medical students. I then wandered down the street into a health food store and was hired on the spot.”
That was in 1999, and inspired a visit to friends in Sweden, where she first performed.
“I went that following summer to visit them in Stockholm and was kind of forced to play in front of people in a bar. I was really nervous but felt it was something I had to do. It’s good to have a few butterflies. Sometimes the more awkward the situation, the more comfortable I feel!”
Her UK dates include a Get It Loud in Libraries show in Lancaster, for a project showcasing emerging acts that has delivered more than 240 North West library shows since 2005, past acts including Adele, Florence and the Machine, Jessie J and Plan B. Has Eleanor played a public library before?
“I played somewhere in Princeton University, New Jersey. Pretty sure we played a library there. But I was lucky to grow up in a place that had a very good public library, just part of regular life. Dad’s a historian, Mum’s a big reader, and my brother has a bookstore’s worth of books. There have always been lots of books around, and spending time with Dad, he’d be off to university libraries, so I’d spend a lot of time hanging out there.”
The UK leg includes two Scottish dates, my excuse to mention Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Eleanor Put Your Boots On’, written in her honour by Eleanor’s ex, Alex Kapranos. Nice to have songs written about you?
“Erm, of course it’s nice. But I’ve had several songs written about me. That’s just one, y’know.”
Before London there was Austin, studying film and American Studies at the University of Texas, ‘an amazing place to see live music’. Was she writing then?
“I’d just got a four-track recorder, but didn’t take it very seriously. I was dating another musician. I don’t know if I was living vicariously by him or something. But it was really formative, being with somebody touring and making records on a real label. Maybe without knowing it I was learning about other aspects of being in a band, learning a lot.”
Eleanor had already started playing with a university friend when Matthew joined her.
“We started by me kind of telling stories. I remember telling him one, him saying, ‘That’ll make a good song’. That was the first we wrote. He was the best musician I knew, so it made sense to ask him to join.
“There was no master plan. It was more, ‘All these other people are doing this, we can do just as well’.
“It seems kind of shocking I’ve been making records on my own for seven years, almost as long as The Fiery Furnaces. I’ve been lucky I haven’t had to have another job, just plugging away at this.”
Four solo albums have followed eight with her brother, with Rebound arguably her most commercial.
“To me it doesn’t sound that way. That’s cool, but I don’t even know what would make it that. So much of it was recorded at home. To say it sounds commercial is funny. It was definitely lo-fi.”
For Lancaster Library tickets (Saturday, October 27) try http://getitloudinlibraries.com/event/eleanor-friedberger/ and for Manchester Soup Kitchen (Friday, October 26) and other dates try https://www.facebook.com/eleanor.friedberger.official/app/123966167614127/
For more on Eleanor, her official website is at https://www.eleanorfriedberger.com/, her Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/eleanor.friedberger.official/ and her Twitter page is at https://twitter.com/EleanorOnly