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© 2019 MERRY JANE. All Rights Reserved.

Interview: Ezra Furman on Traffic, Obama and Music and Cannabis

MERRY JANE sat down with Ezra Furman at CMJ and heard what he had to say about music and marijuana.

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Outfitted in a skirt and floral sneakers, Ezra Furman’s stage presence at the Williamsburg Knitting Factory is eclectic and endearing at the same time, i.e. when he snaps his microphone stand in half from singing so feverishly.

Ezra prefaces every song with an intimate introduction. This one’s “for all of those who feel ugly,” and this one’s for those breaking away from systematic corporations to follow their passion. His equally eccentric lyrics (“Death is my own Tom Sawyer”) are accompanied with bright punk rock beats led by the soulfulness of a saxophone to make for an experience that feels as if the audience is spilling their pent-up guts to the blue-haired Ezra.

MJ: How would you describe your sound, Ezra?

I listen to a lot of punk rock and old soul music and singer/songwriters and it’s like those three things squished together. That’s what seems to be coming through in my band.

MJ: What are some of your favorite all-time artists?

Sam Cooke, the Misfits, and the Velvet Underground. They’re a touchstone for me. They’re the best band that ever was in my mind.

MJ: What has your musical journey been like? You used to have Ezra and the Harpoons, right?

That was a band I formed in college and we enjoyed ourselves. Those guys kind of went on to do other things in their lives than play in a band and I wasn’t done with it, you know?

MJ: Right, did you always think you were going to pursue music as a career?

I thought it was like a pipe dream, the kind of thing where like, why would that go well for me because there’s so few people. I only cared about writing songs, I didn’t ever bother to ever become a good musician, really. I just learned chords and was trying to write well, and I just wrote a million songs. That was the only thing I cared about. I started doing that when I was 13 or something.

MJ: What’s the inspiration behind your lyrics?

Mostly with listening to other music. A certain kind of brain starts to go mad with possibilities when you listen to music. So lyrics, it’s just like trying to crack a code of what would really be like a great thing to have in a song and you listen to tons of records and be like, “Oh, I like that but it could be, oh, like this, and if I heard that on a stereo, it could be like oh, that was an interesting song.”

I write down phrases all the time to keep phrases handy for when a melody comes to mind. There’s a lot of different ways to write a song. I’ve written probably 10 times the number of songs I’ve released. Maybe 20 times.

I don’t write so much anymore, once a week would be like minimum. I would be like if I didn’t write a song this week, I would be like what am I doing.

MJ: How would you know which songs to choose?

Are you over 18?

Sometimes you can tell and sometimes you can’t. It’s tricky to know. I found that a lot of them I dismissed, thinking it was embarrassing for some reason, and I don’t even show them. And someone in the band goes, “That one are you kidding, that's the best one,” and they’re often right, you know.

It’s hard because it’s a very embarrassing thing to listen to your own songs. It's just kind of like looking at naked pictures of yourself. I don’t know, maybe someone else would enjoy that.

MJ: So what are a few of your favorite songs of yours?

Some people like choosing pictures of themselves but I’m just like, “ugh don’t make me look at them anymore.” Not that I don’t like them, I’m really proud of them but there’s this feeling of exposure and’s actually for other people to hear me or look at me.

MJ: How has CMJ been so far?

So far, it’s a lot of driving in traffic. I just like playing shows, I really do and they’re all equal to me. The show to 12 people in Kingston, NY last night was very special and the show tonight will be very special.

Touring is a funny thing because you just spend 24 hours a day with the same people. It’s also very boring. It’s extremely exciting and extremely boring. Everything’s changing but you’re also just waiting. So much of your time is just sitting and waiting.

MJ: Sounds brutal. But what’s happening after this? Do you have anything coming down the pipeline?

Are you over 18?

I want to make the best album ever made that’s always been my goal and just plot ways to do it. That’s what I’ve been doing lately so I’ll just keep doing that.

MJ: So switching gears a little bit, do you participate in marijuana?

I’m a dabbler. I always try to remember where I was at musically when I got into it, which was later than my friends; it was about 5 years ago.

MJ: Does it ever influence your music?

I don’t think I can claim that it has really.

I think it more just often goes along with, people get into the experience of music, I just notice overlap. Maybe it’s a lifestyle overlap, where you’re like I’m kind of going and being an artist and setting myself apart from certain systems of authority and so you’re like that’s another way to.It seems like it’s actually just a pleasant thing to do and it’s also pleasant playing music. They’re both a little bit against the rules, marijuana less and less so. They’re just pals.

MJ: That’s a good way of putting it!

Actually, there’s a three-person contingent [of my band.] They adopted a name for their three-person group, which they got from Barack Obama. They call themselves the chum gang. Obama, when he was younger, he called smoking weed “chumming.” I just want to rep the chum game for them, they’re proud.

Are you over 18?