INTERVIEW: Ezra Furman | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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With a new album, live shows and yet another new name for his backing band (now The Visions), Ezra Furman is back and itching to get out on tour again, which is fitting because his latest LP tells the story of a road trip – albeit a slightly unusual one, alongside a celestial being.

Transangelic Exodus is billed as a ‘queer outlaw saga’ in which Ezra is in love with an angel and on the run from an oppressive government because angels are illegal. Why an angel, you may well ask? “In a way that’s like asking why did you have a dream about a dog,” says Furman. “It’s like something bubbled up from my unconsciousness, but I realised after having those angel songs around for a while that it’s probably some kind of feeling like I need more protection, or like I wish there was a guardian angel for certain people like myself.”

The album opens with Suck The Blood From My Wound, a glam rock whirlwind of words and Springsteenian saxophone imbued with such passion and melody that it immediately lodges itself in your brain. As it draws to a close, Furman wails a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: ‘A plague on both your houses’ – which he says would be his current political message. “It felt like people might say it’s a political song or a politically charged album and I think I only meant it as accidentally or incidentally political. But I was thinking what would I say, and that’s what I thought of,” he laughs. “Sometimes it seems there’s a conflict raging between two elite groups like in Romeo and Juliet, and then Mercutio who speaks that line is the guy who gets caught in the middle and he’s not on either team but he gets destroyed by the conflict and that’s my guy. My sympathy lies with the vulnerable people, not with either of the giant teams and I feel that way about a lot of things – I’m not on either of those teams.”

The distinctive animated video which accompanies the song was directed and illustrated by Newcastle’s own Beth Jeans Houghton, also known as Du Blonde, who drew each frame by hand. “I met Beth on tour and we just locked in,” explains Furman. “She’s one of those people you become friends with quickly and deeply and I’m also just amazed by her whole visual world, like it’s so integrated and she has such an interesting style – I’m jealous!”

Sometimes a piece of art just opens a door in your head when it hits you at the right time and suddenly it’s possible to be a different kind of person. I take that power seriously

The songs on Transangelic Exodus veer between defiant, raucous battle cries like The Great Unknown and gentler, stripped back numbers like No Place. In conversation, Furman seems as eloquent as he is on record, but it must be difficult to share such intense and personal thoughts and feelings with the world – or perhaps he finds it cathartic? “I think it’s a lot like dreaming actually. Or, erm, like vomiting,” he laughs. “I think the stuff that goes in – the music I hear and the experiences I have in my inner life – combines in unpredictable ways and stuff comes out. I don’t know if it’s cathartic; it’s really hard work – I mean, me trying to write a song that’s not written yet is pretty much the same as it would be for someone who has never done it. There’s a lot of ‘this sucks, why do I do this, how could this possibly be a worthwhile use of my time?’ until after a while something’s there and you’re like ‘wait, this is cool!'”

Asked whether there’s a difference between his onstage and everyday personas, he says: “Everybody tells me that I’m totally different. I mean, I guess it’s not surprising – why would you be the same, you’re in a very different situation. I’m not sure, I think they’re starting to integrate a little more – some of the things in my life are starting to show up even more so on records I make, like my spiritual side was usually pretty repressed in songs and it’s coming out more. I guess I slowly realised that it’s more important than I thought to be public about it for the same reasons that people come out of the closet about other stuff and then the other reason is…” he pauses thoughtfully. “I guess I had the default perception that my spiritual life was my private business and nobody cares about it or needs to know about it, but then I started to think that it might be worthwhile for some people to show up in public talking about things like the dignity of human life or the biblical idea that God is on the side of the oppressed and troubled, the broken-hearted, because I can see that kind of thinking being lost or totally trampled.”

So with what he refers to as an outsider’s perspective on life, does he think that he can use his powers for good by influencing people’s views through his music? “It’s a good question, it’s really hard to tell. I mean, that’s not my aim. That would be a weird goal I think, and my goal is to burn brightly as myself and find the best in me and bring it out and put it on display. I don’t know, but I think about the art that I’ve gotten into and it does change my life around, you know. Sometimes a piece of art just opens a door in your head when it hits you at the right time and suddenly it’s possible to be a different kind of person. I take that power seriously but I don’t know if you can do it on purpose.”

Ezra Furman plays The Boiler Shop, Newcastle on Wednesday 29th August.

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