Backstage with... The Fiery Furnaces

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Photograph: Amy Giunta

Your 2005 record, Rehearsing My Choir, featured lead vocals from your grandmother. That's the type of thing that more rock bands should be trying, yet it seemed like a lot of listeners had an almost hostile response.
Matthew Friedberger: The record was very ghettoized. A certain group of people liked it, but for some, it's a famous reason why our band is a failure and doesn't exist anymore.

Your 2005 record, Rehearsing My Choir, featured lead vocals from your grandmother. That's the type of thing that more rock bands should be trying, yet it seemed like a lot of listeners had an almost hostile response.
Matthew Friedberger: The record was very ghettoized. A certain group of people liked it, but for some, it's a famous reason why our band is a failure and doesn't exist anymore. Like it was famous last words—we could have made a record that sounded like the Arcade Fire or Laura Branigan, but instead we made this thing that willfully tries to hurt listeners.
Eleanor Friedberger: I heard something on the radio today that really stuck with me. It was about the new Wes Anderson movie. They were talking about how "quirkiness" used to be seen as a good thing, and now there's a backlash against it. The director's response was that he didn't think of himself as being "quirky" at all—he's just trying to connect with people, like any other artist. I sympathized a lot with it.
MF: Yeah—we're just trying to make good rock records that don't sound like the latest Laura Branigan imitation.

Laura Branigan notwithstanding, I think you're selling yourself short. If anything, you're one of the few groups trying to escape the confines of a traditional rock band.
MF: We don't try hard enough. We don't have the solution to the rock problem of four people in a van coming to play in a club. We rearrange our songs in concert, but we still just go up and play. That's not very interesting.

A lot of fans get angry when bands dramatically alter their songs for the stage.
MF: They want recognition. People get excited when they hear something they know—that's why most people go to rock shows. They go to a personal appearance to affirm their allegiance. Rearranging our songs is something that doesn't even please the people who are well-disposed toward us! When we go on tour, we don't build a fan base—we reduce a fan base.

Eleanor, you worked as a model for a Miu Miu campaign. What was that experience like?
EF: That wasn't me! [Laughs] It was four days, surrounded by beautiful people and fancy food. The weirdest part was, I lived over here [Points toward Greenpoint Avenue] and they did the shoot right [down the street]—but I was forced to stay at the Mercer Hotel. If I had gotten just a fraction of the money that was spent on that, we could have made, like, four more records.

You date Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos. Which band is more interesting: yours or his?
EF: Mine! Well...his band is very interesting too. He's very smart and really good at what he does. But our band is better! There's no doubt about it.

The Fiery Furnaces play Hiro Ballroom at the Maritime Hotel Sat 3. Widow City is out on Thrill Jockey.

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