Eleanor Friedberger of the Brooklyn-based brother-sister duo The Fiery Furnaces never abides by musical commonplace, and her style is equally uninhibited. Time Out named her among New York’s most fashionable, which for some could mean a laboriously premeditated morning effort, yet Eleanor’s approach to getting dressed is anything but, and refreshingly so. This week, Eleanor talked to us about thrifting in middle America, being in a band with her brother, and her approach to dressing for gigs.
Q: How would you describe your personal style?
A: Oh god, that’s my least favorite question in the world probably. Because I travel so much—I’m in a band—one of the highlights of traveling a lot is getting to go thrift store shopping outside of New York City. At least half of my things…probably three-quarters of my things are from secondhand shops. Because of that I’m pretty eclectic in my style. I don’t go for one type of thing; I’ve become so skilled at finding things that fit me right, so it doesn’t so much matter about the color or style so long as it fits properly. I’m not one of those people who are good at sewing, so I can’t alter my things. I don’t think I go with the trends; I wear a lot of 70′s-like things right now, but I’m open to anything. I have a lot of my mom, my grandmother and my great-aunt’s things. I’m really lucky that they saved a lot of their things; I tend to accessorize with hand-me-downs. That, coupled with cheap things I find at sales. I joke about, you know, my ‘vintage H&M’ that I bought ten years ago, or old Top Shop stuff that I got in the UK. I’m lucky that I have some friends that are really amazing designers, so I’ve gotten some of their pieces either as gifts or extremely discounted.
Q: Are there any past styles you’d wish to see resurrected? You said you wear a lot of 70′s things…
A: I just feel like I can pull that off. No, I feel like in New York people are pretty there. Anything goes, there’s nothing that I don’t wear that I wish I could wear. I live in Greenpoint, everyone around here seems to be getting more and more stylish. I have no complaints, there’s nothing that I wish would come back.
Q: How was your tour this year?
A: It was great. We were on tour for about twelve months, and we got to go to some amazing places this year that we hadn’t been before. Mexico, Greece, Portugual, Spain… and even places in the U.S. I’d never been to, like Little Rock, Arkansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma. We had some time off in Tulsa and I made a point to find some thrift stores. I thought I’d do some great shopping there. It wasn’t that great, actually. [Laughs] I actually did buy a crazy suede two-piece fringe outfit…I found it, it was really cheap and I was like “I have to buy this,” but I still haven’t worn it. I have a lot of things like that, that I think will come in handy someday.
Q: What do you wear on stage?
A: The last shows we did it was really hot, and we were playing a set that was an hour without any breaks, and I wanted to look a little bit more feminine for some reason. I was wearing short shorts and dresses. Normally I don’t do that, I tend to dress more masculine, just like jeans and t-shirts. I have a friend, Milton Carter, I wear a lot of his shirts. If I’m playing guitar I don’t feel comfortable wearing a dress for some reason. I’ll wear a button down shirt tucked in with jeans and cowboy boots or something like that.
Q: Do you see a correlation between how you dress and the mood or feel of the music you play?
A: My brother and I work together, and because we’re brother and sister, the band is just our personalities. A lot of other rock and roll groups have a brand, or they look like they’re part of a gang. So we don’t have that. Each record sounds pretty different, we sit down and talk about what kind of record we want to make and we sit down and execute that. So with getting dressed, it’s a similar thing. I don’t know that I really go through such a serious though process everyday, but I do think, “How do I feel? What do I want to look like today?” You do have to have that conversation with yourself to some extent, even if it’s a five-minute conversation. Depending on who I’m interacting with, I dress very differently. If I’m going out with my mother, I’ll dress differently that if I’m hanging out with friends. Some people don’t, some people have a look and wear the same thing every day. Which I like too, I do like that idea…Like my brother, for instance, was wearing Dickies shirts. He had like ten, in all different colors. Like three blue ones, three gray ones, a black one…and that’s what he wore, he had a total uniform. I respect that too, I’ve done that in the past, like one tour for a couple months I had a friend in Scotland who made a dress for me, and she made three of the same; one in blue, one in black and one in green. A shift, sleeveless, with a V in the back and the front, and I wore them every night on stage and just rotated.
Q: What’s it like being in a band with your brother?
A: Like I said, one of the drawbacks, it doesn’t feel like we’re a cool gang, like it’s us against the world. Well, sometimes it does feel like it’s us against the world. But we’re just very natural with each other. I can’t pretend to be someone other than myself. The cool thing about rock and roll is that it’s kind of like escapism, especially if you’re the performer. But I don’t get to do that so much because I turn to my brother, and he’s looking at me, and I can’t really pretend to be someone I’m not. But at the same time, it’s great because we can express everything. We have such a different level of communication than most band mates have with each other. We can say, “Shut the fuck up,” and the other person doesn’t get offended. [Laughs] Well that isn’t a very good thing, and we argue, but we don’t ever have to go through the process of apologizing because we’ve been fighting our whole lives. I think a lot of bands break up because someone finally tells the other person how they’re feeling. And then they can’t handle it. We don’t really have that problem.
Q: Do you ever read the reviews?
A: Yeah, I read reviews, I don’t mind them. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad. I think a good thing about our band is that we get very strong reactions. People either love us or hate us, it hasn’t been anywhere in the middle. I think that’s a sign that something is worthwhile.