interview: andy friedman

January 21st, 2007 · No Comments · By

Andy Friedman is a songwriter, poet and artist from Brooklyn. His latest album, Taken Man, was recorded in Charlottesville with the help up Paul Curreri. He and his band, The Other Failures, will be playing along with Bottle Rockets on January 24th at Gravity Lounge. His last Charlottesville show at the Tea Bazaar was wonderful, so don’t miss him this time around. Click below for the interview.

Nailgun: You’ve been working as an artist in various degrees since your were very young. Has it been difficult to balance between paying the bills and pursuing your art? Has it become easier over time?

Andy Friedman: Nothing was ever going to take me from making my art, even if the balance was 80% work and 20% art, at first. The job I got when I was 23, as an office and mailroom assistant in the New Yorker, rescued me from working in a freight elevator and sweeping up vegetables in the Union Square Farmer’s Market. Point is, I didn’t see it as anything other than a day job to pay my rent so I could work on my art at night. That fact that it led to my becoming an art contributor for them, and many other magazines, is a whole other story, but the answer is that at first, yes, it was very difficult to pay the bills and find the balance, but when there’s no choice it’s easy.

N: Do you draw a distinction between commissioned work, such as your New Yorker illustrations, and more personal projects, such as poetry, painting and the Other Failures?

AF: Absolutely. I’m very proud of my illustration career, and a lot of love and poetry goes into each one of those drawings, and it’s fun. But, for me, the illustration is born from a different place than my songs or paintings, if only for the fact that in illustration I’m presented the subject by my clients. Well, I guess that’s the same in my art, if you call emotional pot holes and pratfalls “clients.”

N: How would you compare and contrast your visual art, poetry and music? Are their common themes that you find yourself focusing on? How different are your approaches to different types of media?

AF: To me, it’s like if I were a farmer and someone asked how I compare and contrast tending to pigs versus to chickens and cows. There are different tasks involved, but they happen under one roof, and they’re different beasts, for sure, but each one exists on the farm for a different purpose. For example, I certainly do more writing while I drive than painting. In the end, I don’t decide to write a song or make a painting — the egg is fertilized in me somewhere at some point and one or the other pops out. As for the thematic links in my work, I write about what happens to me, what doesn’t, what I wish would, and what might — almost 100% of the time.

N: The Other Failures is the first time that you’ve toured without visual accompaniment. What led to this decision?

AF: Well, actually, for a short time I was using the band to provide an instrumental backdrop to my poems and stories — like Luke The Drifter with visuals. But then I started playing guitar, finding some semblance of a singing voice, and writing songs. For a while, I kept the visuals going, but they seemed like set decoration, and really had nothing to do with the new songs. I let my pictures have the spotlight for a few years, and I naturally wanted to give the same respect to my songs.

N: What was it like to work for the New Yorker? What made you decide to leave a full time job there?

AF: It was a master’s degree, that’s for sure, and a place where I made many of closest friends. It was obviously an inspiring office environment, to say the least, and it encouraged everyone who worked there to do great things. By the time I left my job I was no longer in the mailroom, I was Robert Mankoff’s assistant. He is the cartoon editor there and a great cartoonist, and he encouraged me to go out and make a career at this. To do that, one has to leave the office job. And the other reason was because, in the fall of 2001, I put out my first book of art and poetry, “Drawings & Other Failures,” and conceived of a roadshow involving readings and projections. I booked a six city tour for myself and knew I wanted to stay on the road after that and I just went for it all at once. Back to your first question, that’s when money was real tough.

N: As a touring musician, do you still have a lot of time to focus on your visual art?

AF: It’s funny, but one thing that’s happened over the years is that as long as I’m creating — living and breathing in art and poetry — I am content. So, until someone asks me that question, I forget that I’m not really painting in the studio every day. So, the important thing is that I feel like I am, and it took me a while to forge that kind of relationship with other art forms than visual. But, that’s why I forged it, because, in fact, I don’t have a lot of time for painting, so it’s sink or swim.

N: One of the songs on ‘Taken Man’ is about meeting David Berman. I also saw a portrait of him on your illustration website. What are your experiences with the man?

AF: Well, that’s two separate stories. The story about meeting David Berman comprise the song lyrics, so I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t heard it yet, and the portrait was a job I got from The New Yorker. Just a coincidence. I will say this: he’s an exceptional racquetball player.

N: How did you get to know Paul Curreri?

AF: Paul was my first guitar student. Just kidding. Paul and I met at art school in Providence, it’s a long time that we’ve known each other now. We were roommates there and in NYC for a year, too.

N: Have you spent much time in Charlottesville? How do you like it?

AF: I think Charlottesville is a great town, and I have spent a lot of time there. Do you know anyone else from NYC who drops a Bodo’s reference in their liner notes? I first started visiting in college, actually, when Paul, who was from Richmond, would bring me there on spring breaks to hang out with his friends. I’m a big Plan 9 fan, and I like eating breakfast at Moore’s Creek Restaurant near the highway. There’s no smoking indoors in NYC, and a good whiff of second-hand smoke goes great with corned beef hash and eggs.

N: What was recording it like recording ‘Taken Man’?

AF: I recorded it in Paul and Devon’s home studio. Paul produced, engineered, and played many of the instruments on the album. So, it was like when Paul and I used to horse around on his 8 track tape recorder in college, except that the songs on “Taken Man” weren’t written on the spot. We used to drink a jug of Carlo Rossi and hit record. “Taken Man” was the result of drinking better wine and more tasteful overdub decisions. We had quite a good time. It only took 2 days of recording. Paul and I once drove from NYC to San Francisco in 3. So, when you look at it that way, we work well enough together that it would only take us 5 days to drive coast to coast and record an album.

N: Last time you came to Charlottesville you enlisted the help of Curreri and some other local musicians. Are you going to do the same for your show at Gravity Lounge?

AF: Well, I think that’s getting old. This time around I was going to invite Sissy Spacek up on drums, Mel Gibson on saxophone, and maybe John Grisham for some backing vocals and tambourine.

N: Taken Man is your first studio album. Do you have plans for future albums? Anything else on the horizon?

AF: I’ve got a whole pile of new songs that I’m sorting through now, and I’ve been plugging away at a memoir I’ve been writing about those slideshow years. I had some pretty strange times with that show, as you might be able to imagine. Also, slowly but surely, I’ve been working on another pile of paintings and pencil drawings over the past ten years, and I envision another book like “Drawings & Other Failures” on the horizon. So, I can see a lot on the horizon, but sometimes you don’t realize how far off something is until you get there.

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