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A talk with Ezra Furman

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Ezra Furman in Cologne; Photo: Cardinal Sessions
A few months ago you were touring through Europe - how did you like it? What are the impressions you took back home and how was it to play solo shows without your band around?

I loved touring in Europe alone. Part of the reason I did it alone was because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to. It turned out I could really hold my own as a solo performer. I wanted to show in those concerts that you could be intense and punk even if you were just one person with one instrument. Also, traveling without any continuous companion made me approach the whole differently, which is a hard thing to explain. Being alone allows a certain purity of focus on what you're doing.

Your new solo album 'Year of No Returning' was released this week - what does the title refer to?

It just gives the right feeling. It suggests fearlessness and refusal to compromise or retread, which ideas were a big part of the driving force behind making this particular album. I also want people to be able to listen to it and draw strength. It's a strong title.

I read in a review about your new album that you said you wanted to make a record "a different way than in the past" - how did you make records in the past and what's the difference to 'The Year of No Returning' (besides making a solo album)?

There are a few differences between the way I made this album and the way I made previous albums. The issue of the general attitude I had while I was making it is the harder one to explain, but suffice it to say I felt more confident and defiant and adult while making this one. In terms of the recording process, the previous albums were always recorded as a band playing together, with overdubs following later. For this one, I would record the most basic track first, then add each further instrument separately later. It's sort of like a Russian doll that way, in that you can find the innermost layer. Doing it that way allowed for me to change my mind after I heard how it was coming out. It became more deliberate, methodical, and cerebral, musically. That said, I think a lot of it is also more simply arranged than past records. Some songs, like "American Soil," have mostly just guitar and drums.

 If you consider all the music you've written so far - would you say there were a lot of changes in the way you write songs?

I used to write songs like I was completing a last-minute assignment, and without editing hardly at all. I write more slowly now, letting them breathe, letting them become what they want to become.

What was the reason that made you actually start playing music and play in a band?

I met a kid at summer camp who could play all of Green Day's songs on the guitar. I wanted to be able to play punk music, though I was always happy with an acoustic guitar. I met so many kids at college who were good at playing music that I felt I had to form a band to see what we could do with our powers combined.

How does it feel to get responses from people who listen to your music (positive & negative) and how do you deal with them?

I love the negative reviews; they give me something to think about. I don't get a lot of negative reviews. I love positive reactions more, though, of course. It makes me happy that I can get people excited about music, just the way I've gotten excited about music that I'm a big fan of. It's being a part of a great conversation that music geeks have been having for generations. Thrilling, really.

Do you actually like talking about your music and perhaps 'explaining' it to some extent or would you prefer your music to do the talking?

I'm not the real authority on the explanations of the music. I can tell you some of what went into it, but it quickly becomes something beyond my understanding. I put things together in a way that pleases me; you can never really explain exactly why a piece of music pleases you. So I'm fine to talk about it a little, but I think fans who really love it are the people who really understand it--at least as much as I do, if not more.

If someone would ask you for an advice what great album (not necessarily a current one) he/she should listen to, what would you answer?

That depends on what you're after. I've been particularly partial lately to "Nilsson Sings Newman" by Harry Nilsson. It was a big inspiration behind my album and the way I made it.

What was the last book you read that really fascinated you?

Photo: Cardinal Sessions
I just finished "Letters to a Buddhist Jew" by Akiva Tatz and David Gottlieb. It's a very accessible book about Judaism that consists of some criticisms/questions of Judaism from a Buddhist perspective, and then responses to those criticisms/questions by an Orthodox rabbi. Learning about the Torah, which is in a subtle way the spiritual foundation of society, is really important to me. I recommend looking into it.

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