Thursday, August 6, 2009

With fire in their bellies, duo to tell their story on the waterfront

By Meredith Deliso

Brooklyn’s The Fiery Furnaces, comprised of siblings Eleanor and Matt Friedberger, are known for their unconventional sources of inspiration, whether it’s been their grandmother’s spoken-word storytelling, fans’ reviews, or scraps of paper found in concertgoers’ pockets.

On their latest album, “I’m Going Away” (Thrill Jockey), Eleanor, who writes most of the lyrics while Matt handles the tunes, found inspiration while rummaging among the aisles of her local hardware store in Greenpoint.

“I tend to write things from personal experience or from direct observation,” says Eleanor, who for the song “Charmaine Champagne” observed the old-time regulars at the hardware store around the street from her, which she’d frequent when fixing up her apartment. “The same old guys hang out there every day. One guy was telling stories, saying, ‘I saw this black girl on TV last night. Her name was Charmaine Champagne. Can you believe that?’ Things like that are what I draw from. The neighborhood was definitely an inspiration.”

While Matt moved upstate this past winter, the band very much remains in Brooklyn, having worked on writing the songs to “I’m Going Away” in Eleanor’s apartment, recently dropping in with the Village Voice at Brooklyn Bowl, and playing the waterfront on August 9 as part of the Pool Parties free concert series. The band could be found there on a recent Sunday checking out Dirty Projectors.

“There were thousands of people there. It was insane,” says Eleanor. “It’s a beautiful spot. It was such a beautiful day, too. It made me feel so grateful and happy to live in New York.”

When the duo takes to the stage themselves, they’ll pull from their latest release, agreed to be one of their most accessible, poppy efforts to date, with hummable choruses, sweet-sounding melodies, and less-frantic storytelling.

“We wanted to do a much more casual-sounding record,” says Eleanor.

For all its accessibility and loveliness (just close your eyes and listen to the simple yet moving “The End is Near”), the band is still prone to defying rock conventions, with disjointed melodies and quirky lyrics coming from Eleanor’s straightforward delivery. With multi-instrumentalist Matt occasionally on vocals as well, live, their sound is rounded out by drummer Robert D’Amico and bassist Jason Loewenstein.

Always prolific (this is the band’s eight album since forming in 2003), the siblings are already wrapping their heads around their next effort, though “I’m Going Away” isn’t going away anytime soon; the duo plans on revisiting the album and doing their own solo versions of it.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a dual release or something that we just do on tour,” says Eleanor. “That part we haven’t figured out yet. But it’s definitely something that will happen this fall.”

Between now and then, the Brooklyn-half of The Fiery Furnaces plans on enjoying time spent in Greenpoint, bike riding around town and making those occasional trips to the hardware store for inspiration.

“I’ve been around a lot more for the past year than three or four years previously,” says Eleanor. “It really feels like home.”

The Fiery Furnaces play the Pool Parties at the East River State Park (located at the edge of Kent Avenue and North 9th Street) August 9. Also on the bill are Dark Meat, The Netherlands, and a DJ set from Simian Mobile Disco.


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