Home > Around Town > Andy Friedman — the “Hillbilly Leonard Cohen” — stops by The Brass Rail

Andy Friedman — the “Hillbilly Leonard Cohen” — stops by The Brass Rail

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-04-21


The songs on Taken Man, the first studio album by Brooklyn-based country artist Andy Friedman, boast the kind of lyrics that you have to pay attention to. They don’t so much demand your ear as draw you in and make you eager for what he’s going to say next. Literate, world-weary, and a little sardonic, and set off by stark, simple arrangements, the songs on Taken Man have lead to Friedman being described as a “Hillbilly Leonard Cohen” and an “erudite redneck.”

And Friedman is hardly complaining. “I think the association with The New Yorker and also someone playing country music, you put those two together and ‘erudite redneck’ or ‘hillbilly Leonard Cohen’ might be fitting,” he says. “The perceived high falutin’, highly academic with singing rowdy country music, but I’m not The New Yorker.”

Association with The New Yorker? Yes. See, Friedman’s other gig is as an illustrator/cartoonist, where he’s placed work with some very high-profile publications — The Los Angeles Times, a few covers of The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and several others. Under the name Larry Hat, he’s published cartoons in The New Yorker and The Utne Reader.

“I am really proud of my illustration career and I enjoy the work, but it’s not the poetic release the music is,” Friedman says. “It comes from two totally different places, but sometimes, you know, I’m stuck on an illustration and I use my skills as a writer to just be as economical as possible, to say the most with the steadiest quickest line. You know, ‘I’m spending an hour on this hand. Just draw the hand, you know.’ Just say it. Don’t think about it too much.”

He adds: “You have to submit a lot of one-liner cartoon ideas and a lot of them get rejected and a lot of them find their way into songs as lyrics. There’s a great link to writing a country song and being a New Yorker cartoonist. Saying a lot with a little.”

The accessibility and simplicity of country, blues, and other American roots music was what initially drew Friedman to the music; to paraphrase, trying to evoke that sense of wondering about big things in the world with an expression that bears the fewest marks. “(That music) is not really meant for people who need to go to Julliard,” he explains. “It’s meant to be your friend in the truest sense. All you need are 3 chords, even just one chord sometimes.”

Friedman sort of fell into making music. He used to read his lyrics as an accompaniment to a slide show, with a couple of instrumentalists backing him up. But a few years ago, he picked up a guitar and discovered playing, singing and writing music felt natural to him. “I was always a songwriter but I just didn’t know I was a musician until I picked up a guitar and started singing,” he explains. “It just felt comfortable. I almost felt like a person who was walking across the country, and someone said ‘have you tried a car?’ I think I walked halfway across the country, but I’ve been driving ever since. It feels a little more accessible on guitar, to me and to the audience.”

And then, as he says, “you hire a kick-ass band.” The Other Failures are made up of musicians from Brooklyn’s thriving country scene. “The guitar player’s name is Matt Rockteacher,” Friedman says. “That’s his real name. I’m not kidding you. With a name like Matt Rockteacher, you’ve got to be able to play good electric lead guitar.”

Indeed, the album Taken Man — released on Friedman’s own label, Salvage City Records (home to Devon Sproule)— has a singer-songwriter feel, but on stage, The Other Failures kick Friedman’s tunes into rowdy rockabilly territory. “This type of music, this rockabilly stuff, stirs up emotions which are greater than the lyrics,” Friedman laughs. “People couldn’t dance to the slide show, and they sure do like dancing to our songs. That is just a whole new thing, to be up there playing, and you’ve got the wallflowers like me sitting at the bar listening to the lyrics and you’ve got the people sweating and dancing.”

Friedman seems to love that kind of immediate, visceral reaction. He has no complaints whatsoever with the critical response to his album, but with song titles like “I Don’t Want to Die Like Andy Kaufmann” or “Guys Like Me Don’t Get Grants,” he says a lot of people think he’s trying to be funny, when he’s not. The former song, for example, is about Friedman not wanting to get so stressed out he gives himself cancer. “I guess it’s sort of tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not, to me, funny,” he says. “If you listen to the songs, they’re… well, they’re hopeful, but they’re kind of downers. I’m a fan of Loudon Wainwright, but I always thought if he didn’t write those joke songs I’d like him a whole lot more.”

Friedman’s next album is a full band effort and is slated for release in September. His visit to The Brass Rail in May will actually be the second time Friedman had visited our fair city. He says he has a big map of the United States on his wall with pins in every place he’s visited. “I do have a pin in Fort Wayne, IN,” he says, explaining he was just passing through at the time. “I ate at a Subway there, and they have those big maps on the wall of the New York subway system. I talked to the cashier and pointed out my subway stop to her. I kept saying ‘that’s really where I live’.”

Andy Friedman and the Other Failures (on tour with Blue Mountain)
The Brass Rail
1121 Broadway
Sunday, May 4

For more on Friedman, visit:
www.andyfriedman.net
www.myspace.com/otherfailures

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