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Friedberg - Defying and Redefining Genres, With More Cowbells

It’s extremely difficult to put the London-based, all-female band Friedberg into a musical box. The band blends traditionally dissimilar genres together into something new, creating music that stands out, which is becoming more of a rarity.


With nine singles and one EP, Friedberg has been making a name for themselves in Europe and even in the U.S., most recently coming off a tour in North America. Sonic Hub recently got the chance to sit down with frontwoman Anna Friedberg, taking a deep dive into her creative process, her deep love for cowbells, and the band’s latest single, ‘The Greatest.’


Anna’s musical journey begins in a somewhat unlikely place: a small town in Austria. Gravitating towards music from a young age, she spent her younger years singing and training as a classical guitarist, a genre and skillset that may be vastly different from her current musical endeavours, but one that she showed great prowess in. “I was at the peak of my guitar career when I was twelve years old,“ she jokes. Music provided a safe haven for Anna for most of her childhood. She spent her days locked in her bedroom writing songs and poems, treasuring them for herself, hesitant to share them with her family and friends, let alone the rest of the world. 


“I never played anything to anyone, until one day in the school band when I just had this feeling I had to jump onstage and perform a song, just to see how it feels,“ she recalls. “And then that's how it all started, I guess.“ From that moment on, Anna lived and breathed music. She moved to Berlin, and ventured into the music industry as a solo artist under the name Anna F, releasing two albums and even opening for musical legends like Lenny Kravitz, touring around Europe and the U.S.


Around 2018, after moving to London, Anna found that her songwriting was straying from the pop genre, towards a more rock-evocative sound that required a full band. “I was kind of bored of being a solo artist,“ she recalls. The search for band members commenced almost immediately. Anna connected with Emily Linden, a guitarist, and Laura Williams, a drummer, through a friend working for a record label, and after advertising her need for a bassist, she found Cheryl Pinero. Thus, Friedberg was born.


“It was basically the first few people I met, and I just met them for coffee, and then a week later, we went to the rehearsal room and tried out the songs that I’d written, and it sounded so good that we played the first secret gig in a pub in London,“ Anna recalls.


She didn’t tell anyone about Friedberg’s first performance, not even her friends and family.

“I just wanted to see what it felt like,“ she says, reflecting on the experience. “We played ‘Go Wild‘ as the first song, I remember that. And then at the end, people were kind of jumping up from the tables and cheering for us. I had this feeling that maybe there's something there.“


And there was something there. Since then, Friedberg has earned over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, receiving critical acclaim specifically for ‘Pass Me On’, ‘Lizzy’ and ‘Midi 8’ ‘Go Wild’ has been featured in the FIFA 2020 soundtrack, as well as BBC’s ‘Normal People’ and Netflix’s ‘Biohackers.‘ The band has even embarked on two U.S. tours, most recently opening for Berlin-based five-piece Giant Rooks in April and May.


Though Anna is no novice in the music industry, she says that Friedberg feels different from the other projects and bands she’s lent her creative mind to throughout her sparkling career; it feels special.


“It’s just more and more fun,“ she says. “We are more and more free on stage because we trust that we can do this. It’s just super fun to be on the road. And I have never had that feeling before, to be honest, that I enjoy playing live so much. But with these girls, yeah.“ The support Anna, Linden, Pinero, and Williams provide for each other, both in the studio and onstage, is truly unwavering and uniquely strong.


“It feels really good, the support we give each other on stage as women, and I have had other bands before where I was the only woman, but I didn’t feel that support maybe,“ she says. “I feel like we have this incredible support for each other, and also an incredible energy that multiplies when we’re on stage.“


Friedberg’s music originally caught my attention because of their refreshingly unique and genre-blending sound. The abundance of percussion and electric guitar is evocative of classic rock, but the band also incorporates electronic effects, electro-pop beats, and even cowbell and tambourine to create a sound that is almost entirely their own, standing out in a music industry that is growing more and more polluted with music that sounds very similar. Anna describes the band’s sound as “alternative pop with slices of dance-punk,“ a genre made up by her and one of her bandmates.


“I love the blend of the two genres. I don't like classic rock, I always like to mix it,“ she says, crediting LCD Soundsystem, a Brooklyn-based band, with perfecting the blend of rock and electronic pop, music that, above all else, gets people moving.

 

“I want to dance, as well. That’s why the grooves are, I think, also more interesting to combine those with the rock elements, like the dance elements with the rock elements,“ she says. “I think that makes it, for me, much more appealing. And also for all my cowbells, they love it too.“ Speaking of cowbells, the unlikely instrument is used frequently as a defining, prominent musical element in Friedberg’s discography. When I ask Anna why, she just starts laughing. “I don’t know! I’m just so addicted to cowbells. They make me happy!“ she says, talking a little bit faster and her eyes lighting up. The impact the instrument has on her is more than evident. “It just gives such a drive and such a thing to a song can be such an amazing thing, it’s just the best!“


She was first introduced to the cowbell as an instrument through the infamous ‘More cowbell!’ Saturday Night Live sketch starring Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell, something we can’t help but laugh about for a few minutes. When Anna saw ESG., the New York post-punk band, in concert, “...that got me absolutely hooked,“ she says.


The primary songwriter in the band, Anna’s creative process primarily consists of writing lyrics and melodies separately and combining them later; she estimates that she probably has thousands of voice memos of short melodies on her phone. 


Friedberg’s songs are typically written in one of two ways: first, Anna separately composes the lyrics and short melody ideas, and combines them later; second, she works with a producer to write a melody, and then she finds lyrics she’s already written that ‘fit the vibe’. “I hardly ever go in with lyrics and try to write a melody because it kind of limits me in the way I want to write melodies,“ she says. “And I like to write with a beat.“


The writing process of Friedberg’s latest single, ‘The Greatest’ was, in terms of the melody and production, extremely smooth, but the lyrics posed a greater challenge that proved to be ironically reflective of the nature of the song.


“I was super hungover, I think. I went to the studio and I had all these ideas. It was just a lucky day, I guess,“ Anna quips, giggling a little. When I start laughing, she jumps in with a mantra to live by: “Sometimes it’s good to be hungover, because you’re too dumb or too tired to doubt yourself.“


Whether being hungover was the key to the speedy songwriting process or not is beside the point; Anna was full of ideas on the day, so much so that her producer was almost too slow to take note of or even take them all in. “I was like, ‘And now this harmony on this one, and the tambourine needs to come in here!’“ she says, waving her arms about chaotically. “It was just super quick. I think maybe in two hours, the writing demo, the song, and even the first little recording was done.“


The lyric writing process proved, ultimately, to be ironically challenging and hilariously reflective of the song’s subject matter. Anna explains that ‘The Greatest’ is about not being able to make decisions and being overwhelmed by too many options. She ended up writing two sets of completely different lyrics for ‘The Greatest’, the alternative being about the more difficult and realistic side of the so-called glamorous rockstar lifestyle.

 

“When I came back to the studio, I had two completely different lyrics, and then I recorded both of them and afterwards decided which ones I’m gonna use,” she says. Despite the challenging process, Anna ultimately chose the version of the song that details the difficulties of indecisiveness and “wanting to be the greatest basically in everything.”


“You just want to be the greatest and you want everything, everywhere, all at once, like the film,“ she explains, referencing Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s 2022 Oscar-winning film. “But you lose your own identity within the process of taking on different personalities, or making no decisions. You just layer up more and more different identities and end up with nothing, basically.“


Thus, ‘The Greatest’ was born, a self-reflective and self-critical track, with electronic beats, lively tambourine, plucky guitar, and Anna’s blurry, slightly raspy vocals making light of the subject matter and deeply insightful lyrics. The sound of ‘The Greatest’ also lends itself, subtly, to the overall message of the song; it evokes a feeling of fast-paced chaos and crowdedness, which is what the singer is talking about in the song, being overwhelmed by too many options. 


That being said, the song sounds almost chaotic, but it’s also somehow perfectly curated. All the effects fit together well, the harmonies are beautifully sung and placed, and all the electronic effects work with, not against, each other and the more conventional instruments to create an upbeat, funky, almost club-like tune that makes you want to get up on your feet. 


While releasing new music, especially ahead of Friedberg’s highly anticipated debut album, is extremely exciting, Anna says there’s still a level of fear that she hasn’t managed to shake. “It’s scary because you know, I just want to do music. Of course, you want the songs, your babies, to do well and so yeah, that’s the scary part,“ she says.


In fact, ‘The Greatest’ is one of her favourite songs she’s ever written, with the others being ‘Midi 8’ and ‘Lizzy.’ Speaking of ‘Midi 8,’ in the last couple months, the song has evolved into an iconic one for Friedberg’s North American fans. The band enthralled audiences across the continent while on tour opening for Giant Rooks; crowds across the U.S. and Canada embraced it as their own, screaming every single word and dancing their hearts out to it. 


“It was our U.S. tour anthem!“ Anna laughs. “The weirdest song I’ve ever written became our tour anthem.“ I ask Anna if there’s a live version of ‘Midi 8’ in the works, a question American and Canadian fans have been asking for months now. Anna laughs, “So, we actually spoke to the label about that already, just because of the U.S. and Canada fans, so yeah, it is in the planning.“


At the end of the interview, I ask what Anna could tell me about Friedberg’s highly anticipated debut album, a project the band teased on tour. I tell her to just say anything she can, and she laughs nervously.


“What can I tell you? Oh my god, I don’t know what I can tell you!“ she giggles while trying to collect her thoughts. “There is one, right?“ I quip. She laughs and jokes back, “There is one! Soon! There’s gonna be one soon! Later this year, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. Yeah, I think that’s all I can say.“


To close out the interview, Anna says the most important lesson navigating the music industry and discovering herself as an artist has taught her is simple: trust yourself. “I think what it always comes back to, what I really, really learned is to trust your first gut feeling,“ she tells me. “And no matter what everyone else thinks, just stick to that feeling.“


Friedberg is here, they’re making themselves known, and they’re here not only to stay, but to both defy and redefine conventional genres. Under the leadership of the incredibly charismatic and wonderfully kind Anna Friedberg, the band continues to impress and surprise, exploring and defining the self-named genre of alternative pop with dance-punk, complete with more cowbell, of course. I know I, among many others across Europe, the U.S., and Canada, eagerly await the next chapter of Friedberg’s musical journey. The sky is the limit. Or is it? 


Follow Friedberg on Instagram and TikTok, and stream their newest single, ‘The Greatest’ here. Listen to their discography here. Listen to Anna F.’s discography here.

 
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