Rev that engine
Ezra Furman possesses an increasingly rare quality that eludes most musicians: the ability to exploit a multi-faceted persona, reinventing and adapting from one record to the next. His fifth album (three with his previous band The Harpoons, and second as a solo artist) Day of the Dog was released late last year to rave reviews, further enriching the mystery as to how Furman’s name remains relatively hidden beneath the radar.
The Chicago-born songwriter’s influences run deep, and he metabolites them with exuberant style and substance. Lou Reed’s New York cool (Been So Strange), Jonathan Richman’s romanticism (Cold Hands), Tom Wait’s stumbling jazz and raconteur flair (Walk on in Darkness) and Plastic Ono Band-era John Lennon’s gruffness (Day of the Dog).
Day of the Dog is far from revivalist, instead a contemporary classic perfectly in tune with the now, delivered in a tone occasionally subdued, often outlandish, always passionate. Recorded with the members of his regular touring band The Boy-Friends, Day of the Dog is witty, clever and inviting. At the heart of each track is a well laid pop sensibility; handclaps and catchy choruses are stitched through the 12-track collection whilst dreamy saxophone coats tracks in a late night New York glow, creating a nostalgia-tinged rock ’n’ roll that quickens the pulse, dragging the listener on a whirlwind adventure.
A gaucheness and idiosyncrasy is reflected in Furman’s lyrical content, undiluted to transparent proportions. There’s a novel-esque emotional connection as he lays his soul to bare;
‘I came up in the world with a pain in my back / And I never could run with the wolves in the pack / But I been using my teeth, and I’ve sharpened my claws / And I’m lying in wait for the day of the dog’
It’s lines like these that give the album its clever, charming orientation. And it’s lines like these that can be thanked for the arrival of Ezra’s time to shine.
Alex James Taylor: You’ve just played a sold out show at London’s Scala, what was your outfit of choice this time?
Ezra Furman: I wore my nautical-looking skirt and a sort of tank top, and a cap with flowers on it. Red lipstick too, as usual.
AT: You’ve just finished your touring for now, have you got any plans for this time?
EF: Now we’re starting to record. I’m going to go live mostly at the studio. There’s a bed there for me. It’ll be immersive. Just music all night and all day. We’ll be like mad scientists, or whalers chasing whales or something. Monomania, trying to make the perfect record. I can hardly wait.
AT: Day of the Dog received amazing critical acclaim here in the UK, and so it should it’s an amazing album. How has the reception been from your point of view?
EF: Ah, it’s nice when they say nice things, but I already knew it was good, so it can only mean so much. I have a knee-jerk thing where I don’t trust the press, so it doesn’t mean much to me, for whatever reason, to hear positive things from someone who gets paid to write about music. But when I meet fans, that’s a different story. That means a lot more to me, that it got to them and they understood it, or got something out of it. That’s the goal. That’s what really revs my engine.
AT: There’s a great mix of instruments and genres in the album, did you have a concept planned out before you began writing it or did it just all come together spontaneously?
EF: I had been in a mode of intensely worrying about what people thought of me. I would play shows and overanalyse it and get really unsure of myself, trying to understand what people wanted and deserved. Then I read an interview with a band I’d never heard of, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and they gave some advice. Something to the effect of, never think about what the audience wants. Always do what you think is cool. And as simple as that was, it was what I needed to hear. Right away I went to the studio – no career plan, no record label, nothin’ – and I told my pal Tim, I want to record two songs and I know exactly what they should sound like. And it turned out to be Walk On In Darkness and Tell ‘Em All to Go to Hell, two of my favourite songs on Day of the Dog. From there, I understood that I just needed to make the kind of album I wanted to listen to. I know it sounds dumb, but that was the thinking.
AT: You provide an index on the liner notes of your record referencing influences and subject matters on particular songs. I love this, it’s a great touch and a great little guide for the listener to hear different artists. What gave you the idea to do this?
EF: I’m dating a nerd who is getting a PhD. This nerd is always surrounded by academic books. I got in the habit of picking up a book and looking at the index. I really started to like them. It gives you a different way to look through a piece of work. I thought my album should have one. I really like doing a kind of detective work with music, finding cross-references and clues and all that. So it was a way to encourage that kind of listening.
AT: So the physicality of a vinyl is important to you I’m guessing? How do you feel about the current download culture?
EF: Hey, whatever gets the music in your ears is OK by me. I’ve always preferred to have a physical, holdable album. I like the accoutrements. So I’m big on vinyl because it makes me enjoy music more. But the music is the most important part. I download stuff too. I use all avenues. I can’t get enough.
AT: Rock ’n’ roll is a big influence on your sound, there’s aspects of Dion & The Belmonts and Elvis and many more throughout your work, what are your favourite rock ’n’ roll records?
EF: You are asking a question with an endless answer. I’m gonna let you off easy and recommend Big Maybelle’s Ocean of Tears. If that don’t get ya, nothing will.
AT: I hear that you also write fiction, is this true? What are you currently working on?
EF: Where’d you hear that? My efforts as a fiction writer are not strong enough for me to want to show anyone. I’ve had a novel-length thing in the works for a couple of years but it’s a train wreck. I’ve never really excelled at things that are longer than five minutes.
Day of The Dog by Ezra Furman is out now on Bar/None Records.