Eleanor Friedberger, one half of the sibling duo that forms The Fiery Furnaces, is setting up the merch stand at the Opera House. The indie rock band from New York are just wrapping up soundcheck for their show Monday night, in support of their latest album Bitter Tea. While her brother Matt stays on stage testing out a keyboard, Eleanor comes over to introduce herself, before setting about the t-shirt display.
New tour percussionist Michael Goodman passes by, offering to help, and Eleanor makes sure to introduce us. Although the band’s releases are often characterized as concept albums – Rehearsing My Choir featured Matt and Eleanor’s grandmother narrating stories relating to her life- and can be overwhelming in the abundance of melodies and ideas being thrown at the listener, the atmosphere before the show is quite relaxed.
Soon, Matt walks over from the stage to the merch table. And then we talk.
Torontoist: Do you get tired of being asked how the tour’s going?
Eleanor: Only if something’s going horribly wrong… Unfortunately we don’t have anything funny or bad [to tell you].
Matt: We were in Buffalo and it was very windy. There was a fence up on the stage.
No Spinal Tap moments?
Matt: No Spinal Tap moments, no. It was like… vegan lasagna, you know, all-ages show. Not Spinal Tap.
I read you’re giving some of your song a “tropical” sound on this tour?
Matt: Congas, samba rhythm.
And you’re also doing a medley of songs from Bitter Tea… [The band posted on their website that all of the new album- saved for two songs- would be performed in one 30 minute block.]
Matt: We’re not playing a medley, really.
Eleanor: It’s like a medley.
Matt: I don’t think of it as a medley. But it’s one long song.
How much do you like deviating from the album when you’re performing?
Matt: We like it a lot. That’s what’s fun. Why do you want to go play the album live? Make it sound like the album? That’s cheating. And bands that do that are cheaters!
You released two solo albums this past summer. What inspired those?
Matt: Paul McCartney. There’s one record that’s poppy songs and it’s supposed to be versions of 70’s kind of rock-pop songs.
Why were those released separately from Fiery Furnaces?
Matt: Just because the Bitter Tea record hadn’t come out yet and it was going to be more than a year old. So we didn’t have any space, schedule-wise, to record. If we recorded in the winter, when the solo records were recorded, they wouldn’t have come out until January (2006). It would have been a year old. We don’t want to have old records. And this way it came out in the summer, four months later.
Some of the people you talk about inspiring you, like Paul McCartney had albums coming out a few times a year.
Matt: Well they didn’t really- 60’s bands, yeah, because they had to capture the novelty market. And maybe that’ll happen again. Now no one will buy music, probably just create music as advertising for whatever, your live shows; so you’ll have to release, in whatever form, more music to get people’s attention. As opposed to now, every 18 months for little bands or every four years for huge bands… you can put out material all the time.
And is that something you want to do?
Matt: Oh yeah, that’s what I hope happens. Bands wouldn’t put out records, they could just have a website, with songs every month.
At the same time, some people have said that downloading is putting more focus on singles or individual songs instead of albums. But your band’s really concept-oriented.
Matt: We like that, that’s what we’re used to- going and buying an album. People can just take little bits of what they like. But there’s no reason why people also won’t take 40 minutes of things, you know what I mean. If they like it.
I heard you have a live album being planned.
Eleanor: We wanted to do that.
Matt: Maybe now. After this trip. We should be able to edit it up. I don’t know how that would be released though. It won’t be a regular record [sold] in the stores.
Any plans beyond that?
Matt: Yeah, we’re going to record in January. So it’ll come out in the summer .