What took Eleanor Friedberger so long to venture out on her own? Recalling her last decade of unending touring and recording as the sister half of the cultish avant-rock sibling duo The Fiery Furnaces, she admits, “I floated through a lot of it.” But now, at 34, motivated by the confidence acquired from years of writing songs, singing, and playing guitar—and, she reveals, a breakup that left her with more time to herself—Friedberger says, “I’ve just been throwing myself into uncomfortable positions. I’ve been doing things on my own that I’d never done before.” The biggest of those? Coming home to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, last year after a Fiery Furnaces tour and recording a set of demos that would evolve into the taut, twisty, sun-flecked pop songs on her recently released solo debut, Last Summer (Merge). “I wanted the words to be very girly sounding and very naïve—to put myself back in the frame of mind when I first moved to New York in 2000,” she says. That led her to craft a series of giddy lyrics about being young and free: watching Footloose with the “biggest bottle of vodka in the world,” waiting for a dealer in the days before cell phones, even heading out to Coney Island to buy used bicycle parts on Surf Avenue. There’s a disarming guilelessness to these anecdotes that makes it easy to overlook the artful way Friedberger nails the feeling of being young and new to the city. Though simpler and more direct than the Furnaces’ sonic crazy quilts, the songs carry a richness with eclectic instrumentation that includes sax, harmonica, and keys. While Friedberger may have been attempting to capture a certain feminine energy, don’t expect her to get all girly when she performs the new material. “On stage I feel more comfortable looking masculine,” she says. “If I play guitar, I will wear pants. I don’t like seeing a woman in a dress and a guitar. If someone else can do it, fine, but it’s not for me.”
Photo: Eleanor Friedberger in New York, June 2011. Dress: Prada. Socks: Falke. Shoes: Church’s. Hair Products: Oribe, including Maximista Thickening Spray. Hair: Brent Lawler for Oribe Hair Care/Streeters. Makeup: Kaoru Okubo for Nars Cosmetics/Management Artists. Manicure: Jackie Saulsbery for Chanel/De Facto Inc. Set Design: Lou Asaro/ Marek & Associates. Special Thanks: Milk Studios.