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October 2019
Feature

Ezra Furman: What can you do but rock'n'roll?

The world is on fire. No shock there, then. But what do you do if you’re an artist quickly approaching the levels of ‘prolific’? Keep quiet? Play it cool? Worry about being too ‘on the nose’? Naaah. Not Ezra Furman.
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Published: 1:45 pm, August 30, 2019Words: Jessica Goodman. Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
Ezra Furman: What can you do but rock'n'roll?

"There's something so great about when a punk band just knows what they are." Painting his nails in the early afternoon sunshine, Ezra Furman is a musician of many moods. In the past 18 months alone he's released a book, soundtracked a TV show, starred in said TV show, and now he's about to release a brand new album. 'Twelve Nudes' is a knee-jerk reaction to the shitstorm of a world that surrounds us, delivered with driving rhythms, distorted riffs, and no shortage of acutely felt emotion. "To be so openly angsty, most of us would stop short of that because it's a little cliché to be so on the nose," he comments of the punk ethos that influences this new record. "There's something about the bands that lean into that that's satisfying."

Whether it's a battle cry within the chaos, a note of fervent desperation, or something else besides, Ezra Furman's music has always carried with it a sense of optimism and hope. "I was trying so often to be hopeful in a dark time, and be a voice of hopefulness," he mulls, "mostly just trying to tell myself it's not so bad, things will get better, things will work out for the best. I was trying to console myself," he admits. Affirmation is a powerful thing, but following the release of 'Transangelic Exodus' last year the musician opted to take a different approach to his writing. "At some point I realised I was neglecting to feel how bad it felt, to live in this broken world where all the emergencies are delivered to my personal cell phone every morning," he states. "I wanted to spend some time in a place where I can say 'it is as bad as it seems'."

Ezra Furman: What can you do but rock'n'roll?
Ezra Furman: What can you do but rock'n'roll?
Ezra Furman: What can you do but rock'n'roll?
"I wanted to spend some time in a place where I can say 'it is as bad as it seems'"
Ezra Furman

The result is a record that's as ticked off as it is switched on. Disappointment battles defiance, conviction duels against cynicism, emotions are scraped raw and exposed. Through it all, a new kind of hopefulness takes hold. "You go through the negative feelings. Then you go into them further," Ezra describes. "You dig down into the muck, then you get all the way through to standing upside down on the other side of the world where you can imagine a way for things to be different." Channelling the increasing sense of unease and fear at the state of the world around us, Ezra Furman has crafted a record that truly feels powerful.

"If you're willing to admit that there's an emergency, that's the necessary first step in addressing it," he affirms. "If you're always trying to be like 'I'm not in the mud, I'm still above the surface, emotionally,' you may be in danger." Forging affirmation not through expressing not hope, but disaster, this is Ezra at his most electric and engaged. "Tonight you've got fire in your bloodstream," he affirms on 'Evening Prayer'. "Deliver that fire in the real word, and tell them that E Furman sent ya." An anguished cry against "trying to stay in the world that is being destroyed," 'Twelve Nudes' is a record with the determination and ferocity to, in the words of Orange Juice's most celebrated hit, "rip it up and start again."

It's a fire that refuses to be extinguished, and one with a deceptively simple inspiration. "Before touring 'Transangelic Exodus' was over, I had this intense aching in my teeth," Ezra recalls. "[At first] it was just an ache in the background, but it was getting more and more intense," he describes. "It was like the frog in a pot of boiling water." For any not familiar with this fable, it tells us that a frog lured into boiling water will try everything to escape, while a frog placed into cool water and slowly brought to boil will not perceive the danger and will eventually boil to death. "It's the importance of noticing when you're in pain, and not just letting it be this thing you ignore," Ezra expresses.

The notion of not noticing when you're in pain or when you're struggling and letting it fester played a huge part in the writing and recording of 'Twelve Nudes', whether it's in the musician's own reaction to his gender dysphoria, or even the ongoing public reaction to climate change. "We're all sort of willing to not notice how much things have changed, and how bad they could get," Ezra laments. "It's like my shoes having holes in them or something. I'm like 'it's bad when it rains, but...'" he shrugs. "We're all like 'Well, it's not so bad - right now...'" The implications of inaction are clear. "That's a road to death," he states. "That's one of the many roads to death."

Ezra Furman: What can you do but rock'n'roll?
Ezra Furman: What can you do but rock'n'roll?
Ezra Furman: What can you do but rock'n'roll?
"As blood-drenched as it is, I have great affection for my country"
Ezra Furman

The result of "trying to practice stating my pains and grievances out loud," 'Twelve Nudes' is a masterclass in taking fear and confusion and forging something constructive. "I was, somehow, getting more angry and scared," Ezra explains, "I guess about the future of civilisation in general, America in particular." The latter reaches a head in quasi-national anthem 'In America', a tongue-in-cheek yet genuine ode to the USA in all of its wonderful, woeful glory. "As blood-drenched as it is, I have great affection for my country," Ezra proclaims. "I believe that it could be what it was supposed to initially promise to be, which is a place where all people are created equal," he expresses. "I don't think it's ever been that," he adds, "but to me, I still believe it could be."

Really, that's what this album is all about: a dissatisfaction and a rising anger at the state we find ourselves in, and a hope and a determination for something better, for something more. "I think why I'm into music in the end, instead of something else, is that listening to a record you can hear a whole way of being," Ezra enthuses. "Someone from far away, who has a totally different life from yours, brings in with them - when they do it right - a whole sense of a way of being."

"It makes it seem possible to have a different kind of life than you have," he continues, "especially when you're young, and your life has been sort of one thing." Affirmation. Acceptance. Strength. Tolerance. Change. Whatever it is you turn to music to find, one of the main hopes in writing songs is that someone, somewhere, might find a purpose and use in it when they hear it. "That's one of the highest aims of somebody who makes records," Ezra enthuses. "That's what I want to do: make it seem like a different way of being is possible for people who could use a different way of being."

Taken from the September issue of Dork. Ezra Furman's album 'Twelve Nudes' is out 30th August.

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