Music

How Late Nights In A Greek Disco Shaped The Sound Of Eleanor Friedberger’s Astounding New Album ‘Rebound’

Getty Image

Shortly after November 2016, Eleanor Friedberger left America. “I’m really hooked on traveling around and being in motion all the time,” she explained. The election of Donald Trump to the office of President wasn’t the impetus for her departure, but it definitely help codify her decision to get out and see some of the world for a little while. She ended up in Greece, Athens to be more specific, but not the Athens you see in history books and travel brochures. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.

“Most people think of Greece in summertime, and you’re at the beach, and go to Aegean Sea and this incredible blue and all this stuff,” she said, but that wasn’t her Athens. In Friedberger’s Athens, “You’re dirty, you’re jumping in dog shit constantly, it even snows in the winter. It’s not what people have in mind when they think of Greece naturally.” In Friedberger’s Athens there’s a dank nightclub called Rebound where she discovered a new world of music that inspired a lot of the sound and attitude of her latest record by the same name.

“I’m a big fan of titles with double, triple meanings,” she said. “And I did have this very formative experience going to the club that to me summed up Athens in a lot of ways.”

While Rebound didn’t end up being as angry or angst-riddled an album as she initially conceived it to be, it’s definitely a sonic departure from her last, more pastoral record, the criminally under-appreciated New View. Whereas that album was informed by the ’70s singer-songwriter scene, Rebound is marked more by a certain electronic sound that she discovered and enjoyed late into the wee hours of the morning in Greece.

Recently I had the chance to talk to Friedberger about her time away from America, her songwriting process overall, and what she hopes people learn about her through her music.

As opposed to your last album New View which had a more traditional, classic rock vibe, this latest record seems to be more inspired by ’80s synth music. What made you decide to take your music in that direction?

In terms of the last album, I was kinda working on this trajectory and I thought I need to get to the pinnacle of that, which was, for me, ’70s singer-songwriter. I had this perfect opportunity to record with my band and I found a studio that was close to my home where I could record live-to-tape. I just wanted to see if I could do the polar opposite. I wanted to push myself and see what’s the opposite of what I had just done. For me, I wanted to do something that, in my mind, as opposed to this natural, organic sound, that was like, you just put on a record and you could listen to the whole thing, and it was a nice piece of music. I wanted to do something really aggressive and nasty. I didn’t actually do that in the end, but that was the goal.

I think you can hear that coming through.

I wanted it to sound really artificial, even though I was revealing how vulnerable I felt. For me, it was like a contradiction I’ve never really tried to think up before. But it turns out I’m not really that good at screaming, recording guitar feedback, or loud drums. I guess that’s just not in me. It turned out to be this much more quiet and meditative record that was a surprise in some ways even to me. I found this Casio keyboard that was a really late ’70s model, then I started immediately writing songs on the keyboard using the drum and bass machines on the keyboard and it just completely changed my way of writing. I ended up writing a ton of songs on it, and writing songs in a way that I hadn’t before, like writing the melody with my right hand on the keyboard, because I was using the drum and bass built-in. The songs were really simple because that’s just the way the keyboard works. So, even though the song might just be two basic chords, I would be able to write a more complicated melody with my right hand. Then I went back and did the lyrics afterwords. In the past I always started with lyrics and set lyrics to music, so this, to me, was a totally different process.

Was that exciting for you to stumble upon this new method of creating music?

Yeah, absolutely! I mean, I think it’s funny I know so many musicians, but it’s pretty unusual to sit down and really talk about songwriting techniques and methods. At least for me, I haven’t talked to too many people about really specific things like that. But I think if you ask other people, I’m sure that they would say that… usually you hear the person who says, ‘I don’t know it just comes to me,’ which, to me, I will never understand that way of writing.

It’s in the ether!

I hear Neil Young says that, you know? I mean, I’ve heard a lot of people say that, but of course, inspiration strikes sometimes, but then you have to sit down and do the real work. I’m sure other people would say that you have to keep coming up with new games, basically, new ways to do this stuff, and usually it does come in the form of a new instrument that has a new sound, that just jolts your creativity a little bit. It could be anything, you know?

Do you write songs with specific people in mind?

You mean in terms of like, the subject matter?

Yeah.

Oh yeah. Not every time, but I’d say 80% of the time.

So, for example, is “Nice To Be Nowhere With You” about a specific person?

That’s actually more on the universal side of things. That line, someone said that to me and I wrote it down and thought, “That’s a great song title!” I think I wrote that down four years ago.

While working on this album, you took a trip to Greece, notably after November 8th, 2016. How much did the election of Trump make you wanna go off into a different world a little bit, and what did you find while you were there?

Well, to be fair, I was planning on doing something like that anyway, regardless of the outcome of the election. But I have to say, as soon as it happened, I was booking my flight.

Right.

I could’ve easily not come back, you know? I could’ve stayed much longer, too. I’ve had a long relationship with Greece, because my mother’s Greek-American. I started going there when I was about 20-years-old, but always more for like beach holidays and going to see family, and stuff like that, but not spending a huge amount of time in Athens. It was only in maybe the last seven years that I started playing shows there, but I’d only spend a night or two in Athens.

I developed these friendships from playing shows with other artists and musicians that and every year the friendships became stronger and stronger. I don’t know how to explain it without sounding kinda corny, but the city has this energy that I had never really felt before. You feel the weight of the history of the place, but it’s also so broken in so many ways because of the economic crisis. But it’s also so beautiful, and the light is so amazing, and people still kinda carry on like nothing is wrong in a lot of ways. This really vibrant night life, everyone eats dinner at 10 PM and stays up all night. I really just fell in love with the place.

How much did that time shape what you created on Rebound?

I didn’t actually write the album there. I didn’t record demos there. For me the hard work happened back at my desk where I sit at a table and that’s where I’ve written all of my songs, you know? I think I described it like a reconnaissance mission, or something, it’s just like a gathering of feelings and language and differences.

Can you talk about the club Rebound in Athens that I believe inspired the name of the record?

It’s like this club that’s in a basement, and the neon sign has been out for probably 15 years. It’s really dark down there, and everyone’s chain-smoking. For me, it was like that kind of thing, maybe it still existed when I first moved to New York 18 years ago, but not really even then. It’s sort of that romantic notion of dark nightclub that I’ve read about in books, and I’ve seen in the movies, and I’ve seen on TV. You could imagine your musical heroes hanging out in places like this. I never really experienced that, you know?

What are some of your favorite ’80s electronic touchstones or some of those records from that kind of time period that maybe were informing what you were doing this go around?

I have none.

Really?

Yeah, that’s what’s so kinda funny about it. I just never listened to that kind of music. It was something I had to guess at. I mean, of course I’ve heard it. You hear it everywhere still, and I heard it at the time. For me, as a kid, I listened to ’50s, oldies music, and then classic rock up until 1991 when the “year punk broke,” but up until that time I didn’t really listen to contemporary music

So, you never had a Robert Smith phase?

No. I mean of course I appreciate The Cure and other bands, but I don’t own a single Cure album. And I’m not criticizing it, I’m just saying it’s never been my thing.

When people finally get to hear this record, what do you hope that they take away from it? What do you hope that people understand about you more as an artist, or as a person?

I want people to be able to use it, you know? Sometimes I feel kinda jaded and, you know, what is the point of making music in 2018 and trying to put it out in the world? Or trying to sell it even, which is like a joke. I hope that it’s still useful for people to hear contemporary music, and music made by their peers because it makes us all feel like we’re having a shared experience.

I’m kinda searching for new ways to do something that’s relevant and I hope people can use in some way, use in their life, like driving to the grocery store or recognizing a lyric and say, ‘Gosh, this is how I felt.’ I hope people recognize me as a songwriter in a way that maybe they haven’t before, and say like, ‘She likes this particular brand of song that’s different in some way, and not like what I hear everywhere else.’ I hope people come away with that notion of me.

×