Incendiary interview The Fiery Furnaces, part 1

“Yeah, my mom worked in the zoo and she got thrown in to the dolphin tank her last day of work.  (Astonished Laughs) She said it was the most frighteningly amazing thing she’s even experienced. ”

“Yeah, my mom worked in the zoo and she got thrown in to the dolphin tank her last day of work.  (Astonished Laughs) She said it was the most frighteningly amazing thing she’s even experienced. ”


Incendiary interview The Fiery Furnaces

Jolly Carton Hotel, Amsterdam – 3rd April 2006


I got the opportunity to have a very pleasant late afternoon chat with the Friedberger siblings, aka The Fiery Furnaces.  We met up in the upstairs lobby hall of the Jolly Carton Hotel in Amsterdam to discuss Jell-O, grandmothers, their 5th and newest release Bitter Tea, music making techniques, Socialist Realist art and denim shirts.  They sat in the love seat mini couch together and awaited my interrogation, which started off in a strange and personal way… My mother grew up about 20 minutes from where they did and my mother and Matt Friedberger attended the same University.  Now the two live in my old hometown of New York City.  We all like music and take ourselves seriously, but not too much.


IN:  You guys are from Oak Park, Illinois.  My grandmother lives in Brookfield, IL.  When I use to go visit my grandparents with my mom we would do the whole Frank Lloyd Wright houses tour.  Was he born there?


MF: No, he was from Wisconsin, but he moved to Chicago to become an architect, then when he started to make money he bought land there.  He was in Oak Park for 22 years before he ran off with his neighbor’s wife.  First they went back to Wisconsin, but then the cleaning lady burned down the house, the woman he ran off with was killed in the fire. 


EF: You must have gone to the Zoo (Brookfield Zoo) a lot?


IN: Yeah, my mom worked in the zoo and she got thrown in to the dolphin tank her last day of work.  (Astonished Laughs) She said it was the most frighteningly amazing thing she’s even experienced.


MF:  They just batted her around or what?


IN: She said they were really BIG.  She still loves to swim so it didn’t traumatize her too much.  This morning when I was trying to get organized, I found this; it’s a recipe for a desert that that my grandma makes that involves Jell-O and pretzels.




(I read off the recipe, Pretzels, cool whip, cream cheese, frozen strawberries, Jell-O (email me for the recipe). They giggle.)


IN: Growing up in NYC we didn’t have so much Jell-O, but when I’d go visit my family in the Midwest, in Brookfield, there were always 3 or 4 different kinds of Jell-O deserts or dishes.


EF: We didn’t have that.


MF: Our grandparents would have that, but yeah, we didn’t have that.


EF: We didn’t even have pudding or anything like that.


MF: We had COOKIES! (Smiles)


EF:  Our mom was against packaged and powdered.  She liked to bake.  Hey maybe I can use your recipe.  For one of the French interviews we have to give them a recipe and a corresponding song that we would listen to while we make it or eat it.  Those French love to cook and eat.  What kind of music do you listen to while you cook?


IN: Well, earlier today I was listening to your new album Bitter Tea, but then I forgot to do something, I forgot to add the vanilla extract to the carrot cake mix.  I forget which song, one of them with the freaky backwards stuff! 



EF: Did it give you nightmares?


IN: No, I just got distracted & freaked out whilst I was making cakes today.  Normally, the cafe where I work we listen to world music, but I also like to listen to lo-fi and electronica while I cook.  On Monday’s we’re closed so we can listen to whatever.

EF: Nothing that is too distracting.


IN: Hey, back to your Grandmother and making Rehearsing My Choir, the last album you made.  I watched the clips on your website, they were really good, she is so CUTE!


MF: Good!


EF: No one we’ve talked to has seen them!  Is she like your grandma at all?


IN: No way.  My grandmother is like little, meek, not loud not as rambunctious, your granny seems rambunctious.  She seems a bit wild.


EF: She is and she isn’t.  She is very conservative in a lot of ways.


MF: She not wild.  That is understated.


IN: She just seems so fabulous, with the sunglasses and all.


EF: She is fabulous!  She’s got the most ridiculous collections of accessories.  She must have had 300 purses in her life, maybe more.  Maybe 500.


MF: In her life?  She has 300 purses right now in her house.


EF: She is sort of that crazy excessive.  Gross amounts of stuff.  The idea of giving to good will is mortifying to her and she would never do that, where as I can’t wait to get rid of things.


IN: Those clips on the site are really good.  Did you record a lot of video?


EF: We didn’t film anything while we were actually working.  It was only afterwards.  I videotaped a lot of Matt and my grandmother talking at my mom’s house, going through the album and talking about all the stories.


MF: What was real and what was made up.  She is interesting.  (Eleanor laughs)  She’s a funny character.


EF: I wish more people would see those clips on the site.


MF: They make the record more…


EF: It makes more sense.  People who just listen and ask who is that person on your record?  They don’t get it, but if you see her for 2 minutes, it all makes a lot more sense.


IN:  Family is very important to you guys for obvious reasons.  On your biography, it really stresses that you guys never got along, and that you Matt would torment you (Eleanor).


(Eleanor smirks and then lets out a great big giggle)


MF:  Well… I mean… I don’t think of it as tormenting…


EF: It’s all true!  That biography is all true.  It is suppose to be funny, but it’s all true.


MF: We wrote a biography of all bad things, embarrassing things – I’m sure there are things that we left out.  It is all of the embarrassing things that we could say about ourselves including that we were bad brothers and sisters.  As a kid I never had any interest in family.  I liked my parents.


EF: You did? (Looking quite surprised)


MF: Yeah, I mean I thought they were nice.  Even if I wasn’t nice to them, I mean they are my parents and not other people, but I never had any interest in family.


EF: It is only as adults that we’ve (turns to Matt)… we were scared of our Greek family.


MF:  I don’t think we were scared.  They were so familiar that we weren’t scared.  Our mother’s family was all in Chicago, so all those people were around, so it was just like, I don’t want to go be with realities, those weirdoes.  Later you realize that you might as well be interested in them and find the interesting things about them instead of thinking of it as an imposition to have to go for thanksgiving.  That also applies to your immediate family too, it’s better to think of them as interesting then as a hassle. 


(Eleanor smiles at this.)


EF: They’re extremely supportive of us now.  They’ve never said like, “when are you going to get serious?” or, “when are you going to get real jobs?”  We’re very lucky.


IN: Bitter Tea is less rocky and more psychedelic & electronic.  How do you feel that this album communicates your evolution as a band?


MF:  We were going to make it was a companion record to the record we did with our grandmother.  It was suppose to be a girly record, dainty, delicate, but it was meant to be morose and something pre-adolescent, a very young woman’s record to go along with the older woman’s record.  It was easy to think that there wasn’t going to be as much guitar that there was going to be keyboards, like an 11-year-old girl playing keyboards.  Is the record more like “sissy psychedelic Satanism” or “psychedelic sissy Satanism”?  I was thinking if an 11-year-old girl were going to make Black Sabbath songs, what would they sound like.  Keyboard and lowered voice. 


IN: Is there a producer on this?  Did you guys produce this? (Slight sarcasm, since the answer is obvious)


MF: (quickly jumps back in) Yeah, Me.  I’m the producer!


(LAUGHS – Eleanor and I)


IN: Since you are approaching it from this mental state, does that make it a concept album?


MF: It has a notion by it.  It is suppose to go together, but it’s not a concept album.  Concept albums are like all the songs are about the same things, like Frank Sinatra, Come Fly With Me, those are all concept songs.  Or Johnny Cash songs, the ones that are all about Native Americans.  This is not a concept album like that, it is not a story, and so it is just an album.  Hopefully it hangs together, it is meant to especially hang together, and there was a silly dramatic scene to make up the songs.  It was meant to be this character making up these songs.


IN: So you were someone else; in you head, you became this… little girl?


(Eleanor laughs)


MF: Yeah, It gives you the excuse to exaggerate things in this way.  It gives you rules to play off of. 


IN: So is this your White Album?


MF: Backwards. Revolution #9.  It is more like… Joan Baez made records with PDQ Bach (aka Peter Schickele), he made this jokey, classical music; it was all like puns and silly things for Lincoln Centre matinees.  He produced or arranged a couple of Joan Baez records.  It is more like chamber pop, but if she made those records with Mickie Most, the guy that worked with Donavan, and turned the strings backwards.  Joan Baez sings in this pseudo objective style and Eleanor is the same way.  Does that make any sense?  (Turns to Eleanor) Go on, you sing the song.  I don’t know if makes any sense?  Does that make any sense?


(I nod, a bit confused)


EF:  It makes sense to me because I know what he is talking about.  I don’t really think about it.  I don’t know how other people feel trying to sing a song that they didn’t write.


part two of this interview (when the Furnaces talk about weird art) is here