Eleanor Friedberger Embraces the Past to Comment on Her Present

Eleanor Friedberger's latest album isn't a throwback.
Eleanor Friedberger's latest album isn't a throwback.
Chris Eckert

Indie singer/songwriter Eleanor Friedberger, who visits The Rebel Lounge on Saturday, September 22, is bold and straightforward when discussing the influences behind her latest album.

“I’m never afraid to say that we are not inventing anything,” she declares over the phone. “No one is doing anything new. Wearing your references on your sleeve is the nature of this music. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. The trick is to put your own stamp on it. Hopefully, I do that with my voice and lyrics.”

It’s refreshing to hear Friedberger’s take on songwriting. Rebound, her fourth album, is filled with dreamy synthesizers and lush vocals. It is reminiscent of something that vocalist Julee Cruise would croon at the fictional Bang Bang Bar on Twin Peaks. The record, which came out in May, is not some meaningless genre exercise. The songwriter discusses themes that are both intimate and universal.

After the election in November 2016, Friedberger, who was one-half of The Fiery Furnaces, packed her bags and headed to Athens. She had been going to visit family there for two decades, but the artist, who is half-Greek, wanted to have time to herself in the Mediterranean capital.

“Because I moved to New York in 2000 during the Giuliani days when everything was all cleaned up already, there’s part of me that feels nostalgic for that time in New York I never got to experience,” Friedberger says. “You go to a place like Athens, where it still kind of feels like you imagine New York might have felt. There is something exciting about that.”

Rebound shares its name with the dance club Friedberger visited on her trip. She documented her experiences and encounters among the stunning architecture and smoke-filled clubs on the album’s 10 tracks. Songs like “The Letter” hearken back to the thoughtful lyrics and shadowy soundscapes of Roxy Music’s Avalon. “In Between Stars” has bright, beautiful, electric rhythms that resemble a dance song Giorgio Moroder might have produced in his early '80s heyday.

While Rebound does have a retro sound, the 42-year-old Friedberger grew up listening to classic rock instead of the music that inspired the record. There came a moment for her when something clicked, and she embraced the contemporary, but she often looks toward music’s past in her search for something new.

“One of the fun things about music is you always keep discovering new old things,” she says.

One of the themes of the albums is about people trying and failing to connect with each other. The track “Make Me A Song” was inspired by a conversation with a gentleman she met while traveling through Greece. At a point in their conversation, she was taken aback when he declared that his songwriting was inspired by his love of Jesus Christ. In a way, the gentleman sent the nonreligious Friedberger on a journey to study spiritual music. She was unsuccessful in writing a hymn but her efforts filled her with a desire to write a song that everyone could enjoy.

“We need to find ways to connect to each other,” she says. “Even though we have these drastically different ideas about things, there has to be a through-line where we all connect. Music is one of those things and that’s never going to change.”

Eleanor Friedberger. With Pill. 8 p.m. Saturday, September 22, at The Rebel Lounge, 2303 East Indian School Road; therebellounge.com. Tickets are $15 via Ticketfly.

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