Erika from Rockin’ The ‘Burbs recently chatted with Chicago singer-songwriter Ezra Furman, whose new album Day of the Dog is due out on September 17th on Bar/None Records. His 2012 solo debut The Year Of No Returning is also being released for the first time on CD on July 16th (listen on Bandcamp). Below is the official music video for “Are You Gonna Break My Heart?” from The Year Of No Returning.
You can catch Ezra soon on his upcoming tour – he’ll be in town performing at MilkBoy Philly on June 27th along with Ha Ha Tonka and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (get tickets here). See all of his upcoming tour dates here.
Read the full interview below to learn about the thought process behind his music, his biggest influences, and his pensive yet forward approach toward interacting with fans.
RTB: Your new album Day of the Dog comes out on September 17th. How was the recording process?
EF: Well, I quite enjoyed it. We did it fast, did it more live than I have with recent records. We were all playing together at once. I formed a new band – I call them The Boy-Friends. The record is under my name, but they’re quite good. We drank whiskey and had a good time.
RTB: Where do you pull inspiration from when it comes to writing lyrics? Do you spend a lot of time thinking about them or does it come naturally?
EF: Naturally – that’s a good way to put it. Stuff doesn’t really come as a product of thinking. The good stuff just comes from the part of the brain that is not the thinking part. There’s usually a phrase that won’t leave you alone and seems to resonate in a way that you can’t describe. I think that’s why a lot of songwriters talk about just waiting for inspiration. It’s that voice that talks to you. These things just appear. You try to know which ones are good and write them down.
RTB: I saw a Twitter post where you asked for help with song titles. Is this normally a difficult process for you?
EF: I really think the title of the song is its own art – it’s separate from writing the song. I guess I was having some writer’s block. I am a little obsessive about song titles, I think it’s important. I love names. I used to name all my old shows with my old band, The Harpoons. It’s important to have the right name. It’s a mysterious thing – why are some titles right and some wrong?
RTB: You post a lot of songs on your Tumblr and said it’s both vindicating and embarrassing. Do you still feel that way?
EF: I was posting a lot of songs that were never – not unfinished, but were never deemed good enough for presentation to the world. I just thought, I’m not gonna finish it and it’s not gonna get better so I’ll just put it up. And it was sorta embarrassing because they’re not as good as the things that I want to be releasing, but there’s also this feeling that there’s some really good parts and I wanted someone to hear them. These are the artists’ demons. You want everyone to know what you’ve been doing but also you’re horrified that people see you.
RTB: I think it’s great though, to let the world see all those songs.
EF: There’s a lot more that’s not getting let out. I’m not so brave.
RTB: It appears that you really like fan interaction and really appreciate thoughts on your music. Can you describe what that means to you?
EF: Hmm, that’s a tricky one. I ask myself that a lot. The default approach is reaching out to you and thinking you’re just a regular person. I’d treat you the same as anyone I would meet – there’d be no distinction between us. I’m not trying to be separate from friendly conversations with fans. But then sometimes it’s like I regret it because you don’t need to be constantly making your voice heard. Maybe you stay a little further away and be a little more dignified with a little mystery to you. If you know too much… if you know a little too much about the creator of the art, it can spoil the art a little bit. But then sometimes it can make it better. It’s confusing. I just follow my heart.
RTB: I think it’s great to feel like you have a relationship with the artist while also having it feel like you’re just talking to a friend.
EF: Yeah, I think the thing of the remote artist who’s like above all people and is the special person – like a king among men, is on its way out. I prefer the punk mentality that we’re all a bunch of shit and nobody knows any more than you do.
RTB: So your sound can be described in many ways but in your own words, how would you describe it?
EF: I really don’t know. I’ve struggled to come up with a definitive sound. I was never really concerned with that. I just always wanted to write a good song – that’s my goal. Over the arch of albums I’ve put out, you can hear me. I always loved listening to an artist and taking in their whole career and discerning it, and their development and what they care about. I think I may have cast the net too wide – sometimes I get way too into all the styles of music I’m trying to play. I always wanted to be able to write any kind of song, master every single genre. I wanted to be a renaissance man. The new album is the most focused one I’ve ever had in terms of what it sounds like. It’s a rock and roll sound. It’s my vision of a half-joyful, half-angry thing. I hope it comes across more focused.
My biggest music influences are mix CDs and mixes my friends make me. And I realized that’s how I want my sound – that shuffle mentality.
RTB: You started to dive into my next question. What are some of your biggest musical influences?
EF: I listen to a ton of music. I try to get what I can with everything. I continue to notice there are a lot of things that fascinate me and there’s a certain kind of rock and roll that’s my favorite thing. It kinda communicates frustration and joy and anger.
I think my biggest influence is manic depression, or mild bipolar conditions that run a little bit in my family. That’s the number one influence – the manic highs and the crushing lows. More of the manic highs, all music that is manic. It’s more like punk rock and early Beatles and Chuck Berry for me.
RTB: What are some artists you’re currently listening to?
EF: It’s all over the place with the volume of music I listen to. The last album I bought is the new Vampire Weekend record, which is killing me – it’s great! I had a hard time warming up to that band but this new album is good.
RTB: Yeah, I remember you mentioning that on Twitter.
EF: Oh geez, there comes that embarrassed feeling.
RTB: For your tour next month, it’s just going to be yourself and drummer Sam Durkes, with the exception of one show with the full band. What determined that?
EF: It actually was a financial decision because we just couldn’t afford it. This tour is a lot of opening shows and they really don’t pay, and it’s a long drive to each of them. All these shows on the tour were going to be solo but I couldn’t bear it, I needed the back beat so the drummer is coming along. The one show with the full band is in Chicago and it’s a festival.
RTB: Do you enjoy the experience of playing live and touring?
EF: I go through times where I only care about making records. I wanna be like The Beatles and only make records, but I think that was an older feeling when I felt I couldn’t pull it off. Maybe I was just nervous. I used to get very nervous about live performances. But it’s grown into the heart and soul of it. I really like it now. It’s a tough thing to do but I like the toughness of it. I like how you just end up on somebody’s floor, don’t sleep, drink too much. It’s like you against the elements.
RTB: Is there anything you absolutely hate about touring?
EF: Well you see every negative about touring eventually becomes a positive. It’s like a game to me. I can’t think of anything I hate that I also don’t love about it.
RTB: So you’re playing here in Philly in June, and you play here quite often. Do you enjoy it here?
EF: Yes! I’ve had some quite interesting experiences in Philadelphia.
RTB: Is that good interesting or bad interesting? (Laughs)
EF: Good. Interesting is good (Laughs). I wandered around Philadelphia. I’ve spent a lot of time here. My old drummer in The Harpoons was from there so we took a lot of breaks there and got into all kinds of trouble.
RTB: Your tour wraps up in early July, any plans after that?
EF: Well, the concrete music stuff. The last album I self-released The Year of No Returning is going to be re-released July 16th. Then after that I’m going to put out a single in advance of the new record, which I’ve never done before. It’s called “My Zero”. Then there’s going to be some serious national touring once the album comes out and we might go overseas depending how things work out. Other than that I’m doing a lot of I don’t know… I don’t know what the hell I’m doing (Laughs).
RTB: Well sometimes that’s a good thing!
EF: Yeah, I mean I’m doing creative work, trying to write masterpieces. I always wanted to try and write songs for other people to perform. I write a lot of songs, I write a lot more than what goes on the album so I’m trying to look into writing for other people.
RTB: Well, I’m definitely looking forward to your upcoming show at MilkBoy here in Philly.
EF: It should be a good show. I think the duo is a magical thing. You only have one other person to communicate solely with, just me and the drummer. Looking forward to it!
– Erika Reinsel