Cowbells in Hollywood: Friedberg

Friedberg are a trippy-but-tight post-punk funk band fronted by Anna Friedberg, with basslines and riffs that bounce around your head for days, and poetic, mantra-like lyrics. The effect is hypnotic and infectious.

After the success of their EP YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH earlier this year, Friedberg are continuing their dazzling trail. Their recent video for ‘Yeah’, was a psychedelic cartoon trip inside songwriter Anna’s mouth, featuring her riding a giant cowbell and animated by Patricia Luna. It’s been swiftly followed up with Your Hollywood, directed by Megan Courtis and Antonio Pedro  In November, they launch their first European tour, at The Courtyard Theatre London.

The Demented Goddess: I get the impression that the Friedberg sound wasn’t really a predetermined thing?

Honestly, when I started had no exact idea or vision of what I wanted to do. Through trying things out, I figure out what I don’t want and what I want, so it’s lots of experimentation.

Anything is possible. I don’t want to limit myself. I mean if that synthesizer works in one piece, but normally we are just doing guitar, I’ll do it. Of course the vibe should always be the right vibe. But in the beginning, songs like Boom and Pass Me On only had this limited instrumentation in the desert, because we only had one guitar one bass and one cowbell, but later we were able to add more instruments. That’s how it worked.

 You seem to have an ability to take what is happening directly around you, and realize that idea with a quick turnaround. How do you make space to create and how did you learn to work like that?

That’s a good question. It’s so different all the time.

Traveling around is always a big inspiration. I did that a lot actually for the EP: I started in the desert in California. Or when I came back from Berlin. I spent one evening just writing, writing, writing, and I couldn’t stop. There were so many impressions from the journey, which made it onto a few songs.

When I work on my own I need lots of space. I have to put my phone on flight mode and get into that zone and concentrate to get that space. It’s really hard nowadays to feel that you really get that space.

I like to do it early in the morning when people are still asleep, or late at night, because otherwise, you always get distracted. You have to really fight for that space.

DG: Yes! Those are the best times to steal away a few hours for yourself. 

Especially in the morning when you’re still half asleep, or before you fall asleep; you’re in that special kind of cloud where you don’t judge that much. That’s a good moment for me to write. I get lots of ideas then. Do you know that feeling when you have an idea, and you’re half asleep and too lazy to record it because you think you’re going to remember it tomorrow, then you never remember it?

DG: Definitely! So with the line-up of you, Emily Linden, Cheyl Pinero and Laura Williams, when did you realise that you had the right combination of people, the right chemistry?What was your experience when you realised that it was all there?

I met Emily first, the guitar player. I didn’t know anyone in London. A friend of mine just saw her playing somewhere, and told me about seeing this incredible guitar player, who looked so cool with her glasses and curly hair. We figured out who she was and got her number. I met up with her and we got along very well immediately.

Friedberg.

She was living with this drummer, they shared a flat and were studying in this university in Liverpool. I asked if her friend was a really good drummer, or if she was just saying that because she was her friend. I’m super picky about drums! But she said “No! She’s super tight and amazing”, Ok, Good! Then we put up a note somewhere saying we were looking for a bass player, and then someone recommended Cheryl, who is German, and also used to live in South London where I used to live. I remember feeling “Oh my god everything makes sense already” even though I hadn’t met them yet.

We all met a week later. I gave them 5 songs to rehearse and for 3 days we locked ourselves into the rehearsal room.

Then Laura told us “In three weeks I’m gonna play at The Spice of Life in London, this pub in Soho. It’s just an open mic night but we could play there.”

I was like, “OK, let’s do that.” We never invited anyone, we just said, let’s test it and see how it goes. There was no soundcheck. No backstage room. Not one drink, I didn’t even get a bottle of water, but I guess that’s kind of the London way of doing gigs; pay to play. We played Go Wild first, and for the last section where it goes “I can sleep in the ocean” people were jumping up on their chairs while they were having dinner and screaming and stuff. It was a moment that I will never forget. That moment of realizing that maybe something is actually really working here.

DG: We love the Friedberg visuals, and I noticed that your collaborations with Max Parovsky is a long-running one. What’s the flow like for working on these collaborations?

 The thing about Max is that he’s like a one man show. He can do everything: filming, editing, post-production. I like to be super spontaneous. Sometimes I have an idea, and then I call him. He’s also like that, so I call him and say “Oh my God! I have this idea. I could surf on this cowbell!”

For example, in the ‘Midi 8’ video we had already shot the performances, which was cool, but then I had the idea of surfing on this big Cowbell. You know I love cowbells. I felt this would be amazing with the wind machine. We had to finish it, and so he came to London the next day, from Vienna. He’s super spontaneous. And I like to be so flexible that I can immediately turn and, not just have the idea but actually make something out of it.

With bigger teams, you’re not that flexible. Our stuff may look DIY, but I think the silliness, not taking ourselves too seriously, comes across. That kind of humour. I don’t know if you felt that or if maybe it’s just in my head?

 

DG: The humour definitely comes across. It’s that warm feeling of artists having fun together, and you can see there’s a reason why they’re working together, and why it clicks.

Even though sometimes we’re limited with no big budgets. We can’t say, rent some great lighting. Each aspect could be worked on more if we had more budget, more people, but on the other hand we can maybe be more creative, more flexible. I always have to produce the whole thing as well, so I’ll be renting stuff from my neighbours, asking favours all the time. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun.

DG: The trippiness of Friedberg is wonderful; lines like “I feel I’m trapped in a poem by T. S. Eliot” , and this state of heightened awareness. Being awake to things seems to be the ‘Friedberg Effect’?

 Yeah, that’s true actually. Sometimes I feel like I don’t really know where I’m going but if you’re open, things happen all the time. Because if you know exactly what you want and you just want that, you maybe don’t see things on your left or right.

The trip with the surfing in the Lizzie video, I found quite funny. As a kind of visual translation of that state.

DG: For the lyrics of some of these tracks you’ve used the cut-up method, which is a great way to connect with a variety of artists, but also reveal something unsconscious.

 That’s exactly what it was for me. I was in a really bad relationship and was feeling super down. It was writer’s block basically, when you feel so down that you can’t even write.  My friend, he’s a film director who’s done some cool films, said why don’t you try that? The cut up method. I had also just been to the David Bowie exhibition a few years back in Berlin, which was amazing.

There’s clips on youtube where he shows how he did the cut-up method, and of William Burroughs who was the father of the cut-up method.  I took some random books and newspapers and copied pages and cut them out and yeah, exactly like you said, then you see the words that you want to see and what you actually want to write about and it helps you to find the essence of that, and how you’re feeling. It’s pretty interesting, because maybe other days you would see different words or phrases. It would be a completely different lyric. So I think really quite a good method! I like it a lot.

The last track on the EP, ‘Your Hollywood’, written with the cut-up method.  What has that song revealed itself to be about for you? 

For me it’s that relationship. I happen to be an actor as well which makes it even a double-meaning. But for me it means, ‘Your Hollywood’ is just his world basically. It’s so hard to describe it in words but you probably know what I mean. “I tried to find something better in your Hollywood” is just a metaphor for his world, and I was kind of co-dependent on him. You know when you feel so co-dependent and you feel like you are nothing on your own but you need him to be something. That kind of feeling.

So, to talk about your own Hollywood (as opposed to his), something else I want to ask is how do you feel about your work, as in your music, being used as soundtrack in film or TV? Is that something that is exciting to you or does it feel strange?

I think it’s super cool! I mean if it’s a great film. I would be so happy if my song would be in a super nice film like a Paulo Sorrentino or Luis Buñuel, who is already dead but I love Buñuel so much. I had the whole collection of his work and I started to watch it last year. Oh my god, it’s just so good. I mean that would be the dream to be in his films… or Yorgos Lanthimos. That would be my absolute dream! To be in one of his films, since he’s still alive! I mean he’s a god.

 Anna Friedberg of Friedberg was talking to Caoimhe Lavelle, Resident DJ of The Demented Goddess.

https://twitter.com/friedbergmusic

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