The Fiery Furnaces are brother and sister Eleanor and Matt Friedberger (both on vocals and guitar, Matt on synth and organ).
From late 2005, Matt and Eleanor are joined live by Jason Loewenstein (ex-Sebadoh) on bass and Bob D'Amico on drums. The two replaced drummer Andy Knowles and bass and synth player Toshi Yano who had been touring with the Furnaces since 2004.
Siblings Eleanor and Matt were born and raised in Oak Park, IL, but relocated to New York to form the Fiery Furnaces. As children, the two weren't particularly close, a dynamic that shaped their shaky relationship over the future years.
Before forming The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor earned a University of Texas B.A and worked as a telemarketer for the Texas Republican Party. She followed this by travelling all over Europe where she spent a year in London before going to France, Italy and Greece with her Mom. Matt, on the other hand, went to Germany at 17, and managed to learn not a word of German or even have a good time – paradoxically longing for what he set out to run from in the first place. After dropping out from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he moved back with his mother at 26.
After college and separate trips abroad Matt and Eleanor returned to their home in Oak Park and began working on music together. They mixed simple, poppy melodies with a dizzying array of wordplay, sounds, and influences, including the Who, Captain Beefheart, Os Mutantes; dashes of folk, blues, and garage rock; and Eleanor's adventures in Europe.
In 2000, they both moved to Brooklyn, took day jobs, and began playing as The Fiery Furnaces late in the year.
The Furnaces played their initial gigs at a small club called Enid's in NYC in November 2000 and branched out from there, going through several lineups of supporting musicians ranging from three-piece to five-piece as they played gigs with the French Kicks, Sleater-Kinney, and Spoon.
A series of early appearances throughout NYC resulted in them being discovered by British underground label Rough Trade, which they signed up with in 2002 on the basis of their demo. By the time they signed to Rough Trade, their debut, Gallowsbird's Bark was completed and the Fiery Furnaces were already at work on the follow-up. Released in the fall of 2003, Gallowsbird's Bark garnered critical praise for its clever wordplay and original songwriting.
A show at the Astoria in London on August 14, 2003 supporting Sleater-Kinney is considered to be the band's first proper concert afetr being signed with Rough Trade.
The band gained more momentum the following year, when praise for the debut album dovetailed with the release of the group's even more diverse and challenging sophomore album, Blueberry Boat, that summer. The Fiery Furnaces spent much of 2004 touring with Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Franz Ferdinand, and the Shins, but already had plans for their third and fourth albums, including an album of duets with their grandmother and a set of beatnik-inspired songs. Early in 2005, the group released the simply-titled EP, a mini-album gathering most of their B-sides along with a few new songs.
The "grandmother" album, titled Rehearsing My Choir and recorded with their 80-year old grandmother Olga Sarantos, was released in late 2005 and was met with mixed reviews - some called it a marvellous concept gem, others simply dubbed it a "senseless mess".
April 2006 saw the release of the Fiery Furnaces' fourth studio album proper, a collection of "love songs to dance to" according to Matt, titled Bitter Tea, which Matt described as "sissy psychedelic satanism". The album was supposed to be released at the same time as Rehearsing My Choir, however, financial issues prevented Rough Trade, the band's label, from doing so. The label's US parent, Sanctuary, was forced to licence the US release of Bitter Tea to Fat Possum.