Meet a Retro-Loving Indie Rocker Obsessed with Levi's and Leather
Indie rock fans are taking Eleanor Friedberger's new album Personal Record very, well, personally—and she couldn't be happier about it. "I think I've done a good job when people say they can relate to my songs," she says. "And that seems to be happening." Friedberger wrote Personal Record while on the road promoting her first solo album, Last Summer (2011). It's the Illinois native's second solo album while on hiatus from The Fiery Furnaces (her band with her brother Matthew). Friedberger says that for the first time, she wrote songs with a live audience in mind. "I had this period where I was learning so much and was more excited about music than I had been in a really long time," she says. "I was touring with a band, and showing this brand new material to the guys I was playing with. It was so much more collaborative than the last album had been. I played these songs live for the better part of a year, and once I got into the studio I knew exactly how they were going to sound. I'd never done that before." Inspired by '70s pop and recorded half in L.A., half in New York, Personal Record reverberates with catchy love songs and evokes the sounds of artists like Donovan, Sparks and Patti Smith. The upbeat first single "Staring at the Sun," with its chorus "If that was goodbye, then I must be high," is guaranteed to wiggle its way into your brain and stay there for days.
Like her new album, Friedberger's personal style is also '70s-inspired and laid-back. Friedberger is a worn-in Levi's kind of minimalist with an insatiable love of vintage duds and simple silhouettes. Read on to learn about Friedberger's best thrift store find, her favorite independent designer and the custom shoes she couldn't resist.
Lucky: Personal Record is your second solo album. How was the recording experience this time around?
It was better. It was different. It was kind of a continuation of the last one in a lot of ways. The last one really felt like more of a test just to see if I could do it. I really just started developing more confidence after that record. I worked with the same producer (Eric Broucek) and by this point we developed a great musical language. He's able to understand what kind of crazy shit I am talking about. If I say, "Oh, I want it to sound like this," now he knows what I mean.
So this is a more intimate album?
I wanted to play Last Summer live, and what was the easiest way to do it? With an acoustic guitar. As soon as I did that, I started writing new songs and playing other people's songs and covers. I knew I wanted to make a record as simple as this, I wanted the songs to translate and get through to people in this totally stripped-down way. I'd never tried to do that before. I thought the lyrics should be intimate as well. I've always loved using proper nouns and naming places in songs, and these places are very specific and they are universally appealing to people. People are identifying with these songs in a way that hasn't happened with anything in the past. All the songs I've written in the past are very autobiographical, so people think they know me from listening to my songs, which is great. And I think these songs, although they very much feel like me, people are just relating to them more. That makes me really happy.
How would you describe your style onstage?
It's pretty similar to how I dress in real life. I have yet to develop my stage costumes. There have been times when I am singing and not playing guitar, and for some reason, I swore I would never play guitar and wear a dress. There is something very uncomfortable about that to me. Now I've broken that. If I am playing an acoustic guitar I can wear a dress, but not an electric guitar. My rules have been breaking and changing. Last summer I played a concert in New York and I wore a dress and played an acoustic guitar, and that was the first time that ever happened. It seemed appropriate for that show. It was outside, it was hot, I was playing with another girl in the band and she was dressed like a tomboy and I was dressed a little bit sexier. There is never anything I wear onstage that I wouldn't wear walking down the street.
What inspires your personal style?
I think I am always drawn to the decade I was born in. I definitely like '70s stuff. I think I also have the figure for the clothes that were popular then. I am kind of lanky and tomboyish so I happen to look good in high-waisted pants. I definitely wear a lot of secondhand clothes and that's out of necessity because it's cheaper than buying new clothes and I don't want to buy cheap clothes. I feel like vintage is getting more and more expensive, though. It's also about creating a unique look. You aren't going to be worried that someone is going to be wearing the same thing.
Do you have a favorite spot to vintage shop?
That's a perk of touring. It's pretty common that there will be a vintage store near a rock venue. They kind of go hand in hand. It depends on how much time you have. I am a really good shopper for myself. I can go in someplace and look through everything in five minutes. I don't even have to try stuff on usually. I've gotten pretty good at it. I'm too good at shopping for myself.
What's your best vintage find?
I just got these jeans at this store called Narnia—it's one of my favorite vintage stores in New York. They're called AJs, and they have a diamond-shaped patch on the leg. And they have these snap pockets in the front, almost where you could put knee pads into the front. It's weird but I really like them.
You say you don't spend a lot of money on clothes, but do you ever splurge on anything?
I got these clogs at No 6.They're kind of expensive and I finally bought a pair. You can make your own custom clogs—they're really cute!
What are your three wardrobe essentials?
A pair of jeans, a button-down shirt and a leather jacket. I am into my vintage Levi's. I haven't found a better pair of jeans.
Where do you shop when you aren't shopping second hand?
In God We Trust in New York. They are independently owned and they make jewelry and clothes. They do most of the production in their store in Greenpoint, which is by where I live. They do a pretty good job of being independent and being successful. I admire them for that.
What's next for you?
My tour starts June 4, so I will be doing a lap around the U.S. and then touring throughout the year. I have been working on this short film for one of the songs. It's for the song "She's a Mirror." It's kind of like an extended music video. It's going to be a lot longer than the song, and it was shot on 16 mm film. It's going to be really beautiful.
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