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Interview: Ezra Furman

Interview: Ezra Furman

“Sometimes I discover a deep, desperate disconnect between my inner life and the world around me. I think they call it gender dysphoria.”

(Photo: David Harris)

Ezra Furman’s second solo album, Transangelic Exodus, released in February, is his best work yet. It’s a bright, weird, funny and heartfelt work about love, Judaism, anxiety and growing up as a small-town queer person. I spoke with the singer via email about how everything from his favorite albums of the year, his 33 ⅓ book about Lou Reed’s Transformer and Goodwill-induced dysphoria.

Transangelic Exodus has been out for nine months now. How do you feel about the album now that you’ve toured behind it for the better part of the year?

I feel good about it. Upon its release I was a little concerned that the album was not quite legible – that people wouldn’t get what I was going for because of how intentionally vague I left the “concept” of the album. I wanted the perspective and emotions of the album to still be understood, and they were. The backstory was meant to be hazy, but the fear and solidarity were supposed to be vividly up front, and lots of people got that.

Is there anything you wish you could have done differently in the creation process for this album?

I sometimes wish we could have spent more time on some of the songs that got cut from the album, and actually finish them. We’ve got a number of tracks that we realized weren’t going to make it to the final record and we never finished them. It would be cool to get to release those someday but so far we haven’t had time to work on them, and we might never find the time since we are so busy.

Conversely, what’s one moment you’re incredibly proud of, either lyrically or sonically, on the album?

I love how “I Lost My Innocence” turned out, both musically and lyrically. It began as a kind of Beatles and Beach Boys-inspired mid-’60s rock thing, but the band helped turn it into its more original-sounding self. I love the low horns and the high filtered backup voices, the offbeat keyboard, just every element of the arrangement. It’s all quite subtle and interesting and I’m very impressed with the way my bandmates approached it.

What were your biggest non-musical inspirations when working on Transangelic Exodus?

This book called Reality Hunger by David Shields was a big influence on writing it. It’s a great book about writing and art. One main thrust of it is that it calls for treating forms, like “novel” or “memoir,” as totally flexible for whatever the author wants to do with them. Like, skip the conventions, skip the window dressing, just get to the heart of what you have to offer your reader/listener. It changed how I write, and certainly changed what I did or didn’t feel bound by in writing a conceptual album.

One of the most memorable and relatable moments on the album comes from the image of you dress shopping in “Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill.” Are you the type of person who goes into thrift shops with a game plan, or do you play it by ear?

I never have a plan and I often panic and feel awful about myself. A bit less often than I used to. I just like to discover what I discover there, and sometimes I discover a deep, desperate disconnect between my inner life and the world around me. I think they call it gender dysphoria.

How did your 33 ⅓ book on Lou Reed’s Transformer come together – did you pursue it, or did they come to you?

My friend April, who writes a blog called Love Letters to Rock and Roll, pointed out to me in 2015 that 33 1/3 had an open call for submissions. I had just been reading a Lou Reed biography and noticing all these ways I related to him as a person, especially at the start of his solo career. On top of that, the Guardian had recently invited me to write an article about anything music-related I wanted. I wrote about gender in rock ‘n’ roll, with particular focus on Lou Reed, and before long I was laboring on writing a pitch for a book idea to 33 1/3. I was very unsure about it then but I’m really glad I pushed through with it.

Since we’re about done with the year, I’d love to ask a couple “Year End” questions. What’s albums have you found yourself obsessed with this year?

Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES. Stranger in the Alps by Phoebe Bridgers. Capacity by Big Thief. White Reaper Does It Again by White Reaper. Some of these maybe came out in 2017.

What was your favorite discovery while touring this year?

I discovered that I love the city of Montpellier, France. We had two nights off in the summer and we spent them in Montpellier at our tour manager’s wise suggestion. It is a wonderful place to hang out and I found a secret synagogue there, full of people but totally invisible from the street. Almost everything in that town feels secret.

Who – either in your life or in the world at large – has been the most inspiring to you this year?

Probably my parents. They are really enjoying the hell out of their sixties and they’re some of the kindest people I know, to me and to their friends. And every year I appreciate more how well they brought me up and all they’ve taught me.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on next?

I’m making a punk record.

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