October 18th, 2007 | Interviews

alice rutherford

The Fiery Furnaces are anchored around siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger and have just released their new album Widow City on Thrill Jockey. Matthew speaks now to Nikki Darling as he makes a new mix-tape.

What was it like to make Rehearsing My Choir with your grandmother?
Oh it was easy and professional—she was a real pro. She was into it and it went very smoothly. Recording the vocals on that album was probably the most easy and fun session we’ve ever had. We made that record because our grandmother had such a strong personality—so aside from having such a diva persona, she was very professional. But she’d never done anything like that before.
Was it hard to receive the reviews since it was such a personal family project? What did you think of critics referring to it as ‘difficult’?
Well, first there were a lot of good reviews. The people that didn’t like it didn’t like it because it wasn’t a normal rock record—they didn’t have any use for it, so too bad for them. People like a record for different reasons, or don’t like it for different reasons. And that’s fine.
Has your music taken you in directions that you’re surprised about or weren’t expecting?
Well, it’s hard to say. We always think of each record as one at time. We don’t think of the band as a development of sound. So far we haven’t made a record that would have surprised me ten years ago—I mean, we think of each record as its own. Hopefully one day we will make a record I never thought we would make. This record and Rehearsing My Choir have been records I think we would make—the kind of rock record Eleanor and I can both agree on, so I’m not surprised by that.
Did you ever make a time capsule as a child?
No, I never made one as a child, but I like to believe in them—I think they’re very interesting. I mean—you go into a house and you find one! I think every day you find something junky and full of history and it’s a time capsule. Old records or old advertisements are the best—they’re the most interesting time-capsule elements—and hopefully on this album you can hear that. A lot of the lyrics—some are from looking at old magazine ads. So the everyday existence of time travel in objects is a time capsule.
Do you like mix-tapes?
Yeah, sure. I never made mix-tapes as a kid but I’m making one right now as I speak to you. That’s very strange—I’m making it right now to play in the clubs between songs.
What would be on your perfect mix tape?
Well, it depends on whom I’m making it for.
It’s an all-purpose mix tape.
Okay, there is no all-purpose. It’s for someone you’re trying to get to know better.
Yes, romantically.
Well, first I’d have Elmo—
Wait, who’s Elmo?
From Sesame Street?
Yeah, singing a bunch of songs because we could play it for our kids one day. Cut to the chase—a bunch of kid songs. Yeah, why pussyfoot around with romance? An Elmo song, let’s have kids, and then “Pomp and Circumstance,” you know—what they play when you graduate.
Because now the kid is out of the house and you have your life back?
No, more like the pride of a job well done with the kid.
Do you guys feel any connection to the Carpenters?
No, I feel no connection. But I admire their musicianship and I am great admirer of both Carpenters. Who likes people you feel alike with? That’s boring. No, I feel no kinship to them, so that’s so that.
Eleanor doesn’t have any secret eating disorders?
Well, if she did I’d keep it a secret. She has no faults of any kind. I can still beat her at tennis—that’s her only fault that I know of.
A lot of your songs are like masturbation—they build and build and then when they’re about to pay off, they don’t. Until the very end when they explode. Is this intentional and is it weird to make music with such sexual momentum with your sister?
I respectfully disagree. I would say lots of other bands do have a structure of masturbation. They gratify themselves—they have a song that introduces the tune as much as possible, and then the listener can feel the tune coming and it’s meant to gratify. Our songs are built on little pay-offs. I dispute what you say. What it sounds like I what you’re describing is an experience with someone else. I don’t agree with you. I do think that most rock bands—and people—think of rock bands in romance and sex metaphors and we’re as far removed from make-out music as possible.
But can’t you hear at all why some people would consider your songs sexually charged?
It doesn’t sound that way to me. All this music is—it’s much more story telling. And when it sounds aggressive, it’s story telling or it’s some kind of a musical pun. So for me, none of it is sexual. And I don’t listen to music that way personally, but I would be encouraged and interested if other people did. Hopefully, the music is real enough. I’m not saying like you got it wrong—that’s not what I’m saying. Hopefully we make the albums real enough that people can use it in a more traditional rock and sexy way.
Is there a question you’ve always wanted to be asked during an interview but haven’t?
I would want them to say, ‘How come you haven’t… you haven’t taken that million dollars?’ I want people to ask me about greyhounds.