Fiery Furnaces
EVERY FAN HAS that moment at a concert where, gazing up at the guitar-wielding icon in admiration, the little ticket-holder wishes he or she could be the one onstage, covered in sweat under a flurry of house lights, indulging in a roaring solo or conducting a grand finale sing-along.

Luckily, for fans of the indie-rock band the Fiery Furnaces, that coveted scenario may be closer to a reality than they realize, thanks to one of the band members’ own experiences as a fan.

“How fun is it being a fan of a band?” asked Furnaces’ multi-instrumentalist Matthew Friedberger, who, with his sister, Eleanor, makes up the group’s core. “I’ve been a fan of a band. But, also, it’s pretty passive and boring.”

To remedy that complacency and get their constituents more involved in Fiery Furnacedom, the group announced recently that its upcoming album will be, and will be called, a “Silent Record.”

Despite the title, this isn’t an album of 45 minutes of recorded nothingness. Rather, the songs made for the recording will never, uh, be recorded. Because music with audio is now “obsolete,” according to a July 29 post on the Furnaces’ Web site, the band’s new passel of songs are to be released as sheet music. You want do-it-yourself rock ‘n’ roll? You got it.

Replacing the role of a physical record will be a songbook sporting different types of sheet music from guitar tabulator to standard musical notation to make the music playable by you, the consumer. Along with the sheet music will come other educational tools such as examples of how each song has been imagined by the band as a kind of guideline for the less imaginative.

The idea is that once fans get a hold of this unrecorded record, they can learn the songs, interpret them and then come to a Fiery Furnaces show to play them.

Inspiration for the grand experiment, Friedberger claims, came not only from the desire to boost the fans’ role in the Furnaces’ music but to also shake them out of the musical apathy he believes has been generated by the digital era.

“Because people have so much more access to music, presumably they’re bored by just listening to it. They get everything for free,” he said.

Fiery Furnaces“I know when I was a kid, because I paid for it or I had to save up money to buy a record, I had to work harder at listening to it, almost. … But I think that maybe now that people have these huge music libraries for no effort, it becomes often less satisfying. So, I think people are bored with their music, with the experience of just being a spectator or a listener, and they want an outlet to participate in their band in a way that’s interesting.”

The only things that the “Silent Record” shows can promise are that the Furnaces’ involvement will be minimal and that certain fans who have gone through a screening process will be allowed to hog the Friedbergers’ limelight. Whether this is for better or for worse, the unpredictability that every night will guarantee is an added perk that Friedberger is looking forward to.

“It will be different, and that’s the fun of it,” he said. “Some things will only be successful as something ridiculous, and some of them, probably, the music will be interesting and not have anything to do with what I write, necessarily. Just people will be doing something interesting, [even if] it’s only involved with the stuff on the ‘Silent Record’ negatively, but what they play will be good. It’ll be all different.”

This mantra of “it’ll be all different” is one that seems to perfectly encapsulate the group’s nature. The quirky garage-blues rockers, who have dabbled in every sound from psychedelic to Egyptian-themed, have kept fans guessing with each release by employing unconventional tricks such as cuts with backward- (and, occasionally, forward-)switching lyrics (2006’s “Bitter Tea“) to full-length narratives from their actual grandmother (2005’s “Rehearsing My Choir“).

And there is no shortage of oddities in the group’s ever expanding list of projects. Currently, the Furnaces are also in the process of reworking their recently released LP, “I’m Going Away,” into two versions that will be handled independently by each sibling. Though it may be expected, this is not a case of sibling rivalry.

“I would be very proud,” said Friedberger, when asked how he would feel if Eleanor’s version of the record blew his out of the water. “It’s just like a parent would say, ‘It’s not about better; it’s about different.'”

» Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW; with Wye Oak, Sat., Aug. 8, 9 p.m., $15; 202-667-4490. (U St.-Cardozo)

Written by Express’ Topher Forhecz
Photos courtesy Lithe Sebesta