Two-Wheeled Songs

The Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger speeds toward solo fame on a summer tour

April 18, 2012

Eleanor Friedberger in a rare moment not rocking or riding her bike.

Most artists work at a desk or in a studio, scribbling in an old notebook or noodling on a guitar. But Eleanor Friedberger — half of the brother-sister indie act the Fiery Furnaces — finds her greatest inspiration on her bicycle.

Her solo debut, “Last Summer,” released last summer, begins with an unusual statement of artistic process: “You know I do my best thinking when I’m flying down the bridge/Humming to myself and kicking up my kicks,” she sings on album opener “My Mistakes.”

“It’s hard to say I’ve written songs while riding my bike,” she says, “but I’ve hummed things that have turned into songs, especially when I’m riding over the bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan.”

“Last Summer” sounds like an album written on a moving bicycle, with wordy songs that cruise along at a downhill clip, bursting with observations about her Brooklyn neighborhood and memories of friendships old and new. “I tend to retell stores in my head when I’m riding my bike,” Friedberger says, “as if I’m telling someone else a story. I’ll just recount my whole relationship with one person, describing how we met and what all we’ve done together.”

The downside of this creative process: crashing your bicycle. About two years ago, Friedberger was riding home at 3 a.m. — “it was very stupid of me” — when she fell off her bike. “Nobody hit me or anything like that,” she recounts. “I was just six blocks from my house and I must have hit a bump or a pothole. It was just one of those clumsy things.”

Fortunately, a pair of good Samaritans helped her out and called an ambulance. “One of the guys was cleaning me up — my head was bleeding — and the other one said, ‘You’re in good hands. He’s a guru.’ I still don’t know what that means.”

That incident inspired the last verse of the track “My Mistakes,” which recounts the incident right down to the weird “guru.” Friedberger’s vocals sound breathless from pedaling as much as from her brush with the hard pavement.

These bike-lane songs have taken her away from the streets of Brooklyn and onto the highways for a U.S. tour. She can’t bring her bike with her, but she says it’s always nice to come home to it. “As soon as I get home and I go ride somewhere, I’m so happy.”

Inside Track

Like most of Friedberger’s songs, the playfully funky “Roosevelt Island” was inspired by traveling around the boroughs of New York, although by subway rather than bicycle. She wrote it about one friend in particular, but when she ran into the song’s subject recently, he hadn’t made the connection. “I don’t know if he even knows it’s about him,” she says.

Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; Thu., 8 p.m., $15; 202-667-7960. (U Street)
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Rudi Greenberg · April 18, 2012