2016 Artist Survey: Ezra Furman
Furman on Trump, First Kisses, Scary Movies, Elementary School, and Memorable Fan Encounters
Feb 20, 2017 Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary
Find It At: AMAZON
For Under the Radar's 14th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2016. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2016 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Ezra Furman. Furman's last full-length was 2015's Perpetual Motion People, but in 2016 he released the Big Fugitive Life EP on Bella Union.
For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about Trump and the election, 2016's deaths, self-driving cars, Stranger Things, first kisses, scary movies they shouldn't have seen as a child, which Friends character they are most like, and much more.
Pick up or download Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue for Artist Survey interviews with Amber Arcades, Austra, Faris Badwan of Cat's Eyes and The Horrors, Boxed In, Caveman, The Charlatans, Cursive, Lucy Dacus, The Dears, C Duncan, Sadie Dupuis of Sad13 and Speedy Ortiz, Dutch Uncles, Ezra Furman, Robyn Hitchcock, The Invisible, Justin Lockey of Editors and Minor Victories, Lost Under Heaven (LUH), Lush, Midlake, Phantogram, The Range, Springtime Carnivore, Sunflower Bean, Surfer Blood, TEEN, The Thermals, Nick Valensi of CRX and The Strokes, Jenn Wasner of Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak, and Yuck.
A shorter version of Furman's survey appeared in the print version of Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue, this is the full unedited version.
Top 10 Albums of 2016
I'm not someone who stays totally up on new music. These are 10 records that came out this year that I like a lot. I'm sure I missed tons of great stuff.
1. Japanese Breakfast: Psychopomp
2. Beyoncé: Lemonade
3. Frankie Cosmos: Next Thing
4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree
5. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book
6. Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker
7. M. Ward: More Rain
8. Angel Olsen: MY WOMAN
9. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam: I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
10. Against Me!: Shape Shift With Me
2016 was regarded by many as a fairly tough and negative year. Was it also a hard year for you personally? If so, how? And also what were the high points for you?
It was a good year for me personally, all things considered. I'm getting better at being a person. I want to use that feeling of centered-ness and okay-ness to try to respond to all the ways that 2016 was a bad year for the wider world. I'm working on being a better citizen, a better activist, more political, more impactful on the world around me. The high point of the year was everything Chance the Rapper did. Did you see that song he performed at the ESPY Awards in memory of Muhammad Ali? Wow, oh, wow.
What are your thoughts on how the U.S. presidential election played out?
God help us. And if not God, then feminists, anti-racists, and people who care about climate change.
Let's discuss Donald Trump. What does the rise of Trump tell you about America in 2016? What concerns you most about a Trump presidency? How do you think his presidency might personally change your life? What message do you have for those who voted for Trump? What actions will you take over the course of the next four years to either protest a Trump presidency or support it?
I'd like to say hello to all the Trump supporters out there. Don't feel too self-righteous about yourself as some sort of underdog. Your guy won, and your worldview has gained a lot of ground. Not all of us anti-Trump people are against you as human beings. I want to get to know you better, and I would hope you are interested in getting to know the people who feel angry or vulnerable in response to Trump's election. You have, I'm sure, compelling reasons to support our president-elect, and I want to understand those reasons. As long as you agree to make a good-faith effort to understand why people like me are angry and frightened. The list of reasons why I am angry and frightened is long and each reason is complex. I fear for the safety of all non-white Americans, and Muslims and immigrants in particular. I worry about people who got health care under the Affordable Care Act (such as myself) who may lose their health care if it's repealed. I am more concerned than ever about climate change, the effects of which may threaten the very survival of our species. And I am so disturbed about the increasing normalization of blatant racism in American culture, and what that means for all the people white supremacists tend to hate. I'm one of those people, so I take it personally. There are more issues, but we have limited space.
What reality TV star would you have rather been elected president?
Don't talk to me about reality TV. For years I hated the genre and felt sure that it threatened the integrity of the human race in some way. Everyone told me to calm down. Now it's produced one of the most terrifying figures in American history. I knew it was bad news ever since Survivor.
If you were president, what would you try to accomplish in your first 100 days in office?
First off, I'd end poverty. Seems like its time someone did that. Next I'd move the moon. I want it to be way closer. Like so close I could touch it.
We lost three highly influential music icons in 2016. What are your thoughts on the passing of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen? And what are your favorite albums by each artist?
I don't know Prince that well. Mostly I've heard the hits, which are great. Bowie was wonderful. After he died I started listening to Low a lot, which I'd never heard before. I like the first side of it. He has a lot of great moments. But I never was in love with a whole Bowie album, and there's something about the guy that always left me a little cold. He doesn't seem human, which I know is a feature, not a bug. It's just not what I tend to be looking for in an artist. Leonard Cohen is a different story. He is one of the stars in my firmament. A hero to me and a guiding light as a songwriter since I started writing songs. My favorite album of his is Songs From a Room, which I borrowed from my mom when I was 14 and became addicted to. I read a great biography of him by Sylvie Simmons a few years ago and it really changed how I have been thinking about my future. I'm inspired by the way he united many different practices—poetry, songwriting, meditation, prayer, sex, fiction—into one seemingly unified effort to "be for real." I want to be like that.
What do you think Prince and Bowie's afterlife project sounds like?
I don't think you make many sounds after you die. Not that I would know. If the two had collaborated, it'd probably sound a lot like Prince. My instinct is that Bowie wouldn't stand a chance against the sheer force of Prince's vision.
Which Friends character are you most like?
Assuming you are talking about the 1968 Beach Boys album entitled Friends, I would say I'm most like the narrator of "Busy Doin' Nothin'."
What scary movie did you see way too young as a child, how'd you end up seeing it, and does it still scare you now?
I was one of four kids. My parents would put us all to bed and then watch rented movies, but I found that if I came back downstairs after I'd already been in bed, they'd be too tired to put me back to bed. Thus I watched Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King starring Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams when I was 5 years old—a kind of whimsical but also quite disturbing film—Williams gets his girlfriend's brains splattered all over his face when she's shot through the back of the head, for instance—and it became my favorite movie. I asked my parents to rent it again and again, which they were surprisingly happy to do.
Tell us about the most memorable fan encounter you had this year.
A girl in Copenhagen made me a plush doll of the "vampire squid" mentioned in my song "At the Bottom of the Ocean." I held onto it. It makes me so happy. A phrase I made up turned into a real thing I can hold in my hands, via the enthusiasm and warmth of someone who listens to my voice. What an amazing turn of events.
Tell us about your first kiss.
Awful. I went to a dance with a high school senior when I was just a freshman, and I slept over at someone's house afterwards with all these older kids, both guys and girls. I fell asleep early and one of the older girls started making out with me in my sleep. I think someone dared her to do it. I woke up and pretended to still be asleep because I was so excited that someone was kissing me. But it was horrible. I rather suspect that it warped me forever. Please, everybody, make sure to get consent, preferably enthusiastic consent, before you do sexual acts with others.
Under the Radar has been around for 15 years now, since December 2001. How do you feel the music industry has most changed in that time, both for the better and the worst?
There ain't no more rock 'n' roll stars. You don't get the big-money record deal anymore. That's okay. Those companies tended to treat people like crap anyhow. It's all a lot more DIY today. I like that. And we have more access to hear more music. But I'm not the type to get nostalgic for earlier times in my life. I get nostalgic for periods I never experienced. As for 2001, I was there; the music world is better off now.
What's usually the biggest stumbling block to your happiness?
Chemical imbalance. Or maybe selfishness.
What celebrity, musician, or historical figure, living or dead, would you most want to be stuck in an elevator with?
This is just off the top of my head, but I wish I could meet Willie Dixon. He seems like a fountain of wisdom and joy. Plus I get the sense I would become twice as good at songwriting just by hanging out with him for half an hour. This is perhaps a naïve fantasy.
What's your strongest memory from elementary school?
Sixth grade. I asked a popular girl if she would be my girlfriend. She gave me the run-around for weeks and weeks, sending friends to talk to me to deliver non-committal messages. All my friends told me to give up, that she obviously wasn't interested, but I felt I needed to hear it from her. Finally I got an audience with the girl herself. She told me she would love to date me, but she was going out with a guy from another school named Joey. I saw this as a huge victory—she liked me. But my friends told me she definitely invented a fake boyfriend to avoid having to tell me she didn't like me. Crushing. Unforgettable. Excruciating. I emerged as a new creature.
If you could be a musician at any point in history, when would you choose? Why?
I have thought about this. I wish I worked in the Brill Building, mid-'50 through mid-'60s. It was a building full of record label headquarters, recording studios, and songwriters working together in little offices. So many great songwriters worked there: Carole King, Burt Bacharach, Doc Pomus, Lieber and Stoller—it's a crazy list. And there would be all these musicians hanging out at the diner next door waiting to be called in for a recording session. A real scene of its own, and I totally fetishize it.
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