Interview: Ezra Furman

“I’m sick of ordinary life,” Ezra Furman laments. “It’s supposed to be extraordinary.” Rallying against every preconception, crying out just to be heard, ‘Halley’s Comet’ isn’t the only song on ‘Big Fugitive Life’ to indicate towards the musician’s outstanding worth.

“It would feel lazy if I wasn’t trying to be serious and talk about things I really mean in my work,” Ezra confesses. “To only sing about girls, cars, surfing…” He breaks off, laughing. “I guess I’m thinking of The Beach Boys right now,” he grins. “But it just seems like a waste not to talk about what you really mean.” Tackling deep, divisive, and often intensely personal topics in his own writing, the sincere nature of his songs give them the characteristic ability to speak to whoever cares to listen to what they’re saying.

Ezra’s resolute sense of character inspires just as much as his music. With bright lipstick and even brighter hair, often taking to the stage in skirts, dresses, and pearls, he wears his eccentricities and quirks of personality as a badge of honour – because, frankly, why should anyone have to do otherwise? “Everything that you think is wrong with you is actually the best thing about you,” he affirms. “Embrace your fucked-up-ness and go crazy.” A message he learned from punk bands in his early teens, Ezra perpetuates that same self-acceptance to audiences in the way only he can.

“I want to be like one of the greats,” he admits. “I’ve never had that instinct of embarrassment about being too close to home, or too personal. I just have the drive to confess things. I want to be a really good songwriter, so I’d feel silly if I didn’t go there.” With a deep-rooted appreciation for artists such as Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, and long-founded adoration for groups like Green Day, Ezra Furman isn’t one to shy away from dreams of greatness, “I have trouble treating anything like it’s not the last thing I’m ever going to do,” he explains, matter-of-factly, “so it always has to be the greatest thing I’ve ever done.” Sure, he might not be endeared to the masses in the same way as Tom Waits quite yet, but with a flair for poignant sentiment and poetic statements, Ezra Furman’s music is a declaration of self-affirmation for anyone who’s ever felt less than their worth. For those who heed its call, the music resonates with just as much meaning. “It never will be the greatest album ever made,” he states of his work, “but you can aim for that, I think – it helps me make it better.”

Talking on a sunny morning in California ahead of his new EP release, every thought is geared onwards and upwards. “I have a lot of crazy ideas that I probably shouldn’t say,” he laughs, turning the conversation towards the past. “It felt like there was this era of ‘Day Of The Dog’ and ‘Perpetual Motion People’, and they are all like the same mood. Now it’s like that period has passed.” With change in the air, the future is certainly looking bright. Stressing how important it is “to not linger on being the exact same type of band,” the musician is approaching the next step in his evolution.

Marking the end of this chapter is ‘Big Fugitive Life’, a six-track EP made up of songs that “didn’t find their home” on previous album releases. Part all out rock and roll, part heartrending acoustics, the EP is, as Ezra poetically depicts, “like an old log.” “The top side is shiny, manic rock’n’roll,” he explains, “the other side is rotting and filled with bugs – that’s the sad, acoustic guitar side.”

Indeed, ‘Big Fugitive Life’ homes a lot of sadness. So what prompted the cover choice of a perky looking pet dog? “The real answer is sad, pitiful, and embarrassing – I’ve got to think for a second if I want to make something up,” Ezra mumbles, pausing. “I’m not good at designing what things should look like,” he eventually starts to explain. “It was like ‘we need to know NOW what the album cover is going to be. You’re the only one who can make it.’ I was sort of in the midst of a deep depression, and I was like ‘I don’t fucking know. I don’t care. Stop, PLEASE. I can NOT make this decision.’” He stops for a moment to let the exasperation fade. “I was like ‘just put a goddamn Dalmatian on it and send it out!’” he half-chuckles. “So, to tell you the truth, it’s a result of depression and having no idea how to present myself to the world.”

Questioning himself and his own nature, and questioning it aloud in his music, Ezra Furman gives voice and outlet to the best and the worst of life. It’s not always pretty or bright, fair or hopeful, but likewise it’s not always dark or confused, angry or chaotic. Strikingly candid and unconventionally expressive, ‘Big Fugitive Life’ is an intimate portrayal of the artist who wrote it. “To me, part of the point of these records is that life is very big, and has all this stuff in it that contradicts itself. It’s all just a big mess,” Ezra exclaims. Whether raging against unfounded assumptions or recounting heart-breaking tales, the record is as lost, hopeful, driven, and confused as every one of us. All crucial ingredients of the final creation, the music doesn’t try to hide anything.

“I feel like I’m often writing about being on the run, and not having settled anywhere, and maybe being someone who is pursued in the world or who is not safe,” Ezra explains of the title (which was initially intended to be used to name ‘Perpetual Motion People’). “That’s imaginary, but that’s how I often feel about my place in society.” Wrestling with the thoughts and notions in his head, on this record it’s not just his own demons he faces.

Closing track ‘The Refugee’ is an imagined rendition of Grandfather Furman’s childhood spent fleeing Europe as a refugee from the Nazis. “He never really told anyone that much about his early life, so I wrote this imaginative thing,” Ezra illustrates, as he hammers the story home. “My life would not be possible if it weren’t for the United States taking in refugees after World War II. It scares me how many people and nations are so against trying to accommodate refugees.”

An ever imperative voice of reason, Ezra Furman’s music breaks through notions of distinction and prejudice with a message for everyone. “You’ve got to remember what’s real and vital about what you’re doing,” he advises. “If that starts to get whittled down, (the music) will probably become terrible, or turn into something really bad. So you don’t think about success. You think about being really good. Not that I know anything,” he laughs.

For someone who knows nothing about making music, he’s sure proving successful at it. Preparing to headline London’s Roundhouse on Halloween, the sense of excitement feels “happily rapturous.” “There’s no use in telling you about it, but we’re going to make it special. Come, see what happens,” Ezra teases. With support coming from Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon (a darkly anthemic rollercoaster ride through everything from Nine Inch Nails to Amerie), the night will no doubt prove a spectacle to behold.

And there’s even more to get excited about. “I decided to work on some new things that feel very different,” Ezra hints. “I’d like a water park show, with dolphins that catch fish. That’s our next project,” he announces. Not one to drop a ball once it’s rolling, he continues to sell the premise. “No music at all, just dolphins. It’s a concept album done entirely through dolphin tricks.” Sure, the idea might be a little out there, but could the band pull it off? “We’re thinking of doing it for Halloween,” he continues. “We’re going to have to take a lot of the seats out to put in a giant pool. We’ll probably have to set that into the ground, actually. It’s actually going to be very dangerous – for the audience. They might fall in. It’d be hard to avoid that.”

Muttering through the logistics of inserting a large body of water into the Roundhouse for one night only, Ezra Furman’s conviction to his ideas is impossible to fault. When questioned on what else the future might hold, there’s a stilted pause. “Oh, you didn’t believe me?” he smirks. Maybe pack some armbands, just in case.

Ezra Furman’s new EP ‘Big Fugitive Life’ is out now. Taken from the August issue of Dork – order a copy now.

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