Monday, September 29, 2008

(The Inquisition is the fancy-shmancy name we've given to our interviews on Stark.)


Stark recently spoke with Ezra Furman about his to-be-released album, Inside the Human Body ( Oct. 7. on Minty Fresh --) the interview situation was an interesting one: over the phone as Furman drove his parents' minivan down the East Coast, picking up band members (The Harpoons) along the way. Their final destination was Chicago, Ill. where Furman and most of The Harpoons call home.

Stark previewed Inside awhile back in eager anticipation, waiting for the album to drop. Well, it still hasn't been released, but we have streamed the hell out of it.

The interview follows and to preface, each ellipses denotes an approximate 20-30 second pause. Yeah. It was an interesting one as you will read. Below is just a taste of how Furman thinks -- this quote is in reference to the up-coming album.

Ezra: It’s like having a baby (laughs.) The feeling of like, “I don’t know what this baby is yet.” It’s like this postpartum depression… kind of alienating. I mean you don’t know what it’s gonna grow up to be, you know…what college it’s going to go to. I think (laughs) it might go to a good college.

(Interview not in full sequential order)

Stark: So you’re dealing with real life now?

Ezra: Well… I wouldn’t go that far. (Laughs.)

Stark: So you are all living together in Chicago?

Ezra: Well, this is the next big decision…we’re figuring it out. It might be Chicago, it might be Boston. Were gonna have “the talk” now that we’re on the road. Our drummer is in New York, and we’re picking him up along the way.

Stark: So you guys have to deal with the price of gas?

Ezra: It’s absurd! (Laughs.) Gas costs 80 dollars.

Stark: What are you guys drivin? A van?

Ezra: Yeah, a minivan— my parents' mini van, just sort of re-appropriated.

Stark: They make you pay for gas?

Ezra: Hold on. (Aside)What!? You forgot your shoes!? You’re crazy.

Stark: Someone forget their shit?

Ezra: Yeah, shoes.

Stark: You gotta have shoes. Can’t go anywhere without shoes.

Ezra: You gotta have the shoes, I know. Job didn’t bring shoes when we were going to SXSW a few months ago in march, and he figured it would be warm down there, and it was, but he also didn’t realize there would be a snow storm in Ohio. Yeah.

Stark: So, you have a new album coming out. You released Banging Down the Doors, which was awesome. We really loved that album. We are big Andy Whitman fans and we found out about you through him. We saw you during CMJ and at Pianos a few times and really enjoyed it. So where did you write most of those songs for that album? Did you have some pre-written and then just recorded them? Or were you were writing them while the album was in construction.

Ezra: Well, all of them were written before – some of them were really old songs. Let me think. They were, well basically, since I was 16 I wrote about 1 song a week. I kept them all in some form, you know, a lot of them on tapes on my crappy tape recorder. So when we started the band I sifted through all the songs I ever had. I found all of these old songs. Some of them were awful, some of them I brought in and was like ‘hey we should do this song.’ The last album and some of this one, the songs were written before the band formed.

More with Ezra after the jump.

Stark: Did you guys form mainly in college or high school?

Ezra: We met in college sophomore year. Our anniversary is Feb.19, 2006.

Stark: How did you end up getting linked with Minty Fresh?

Ezra: Well, that was...see we had our first tour that was just thrown together cause we have this manager who is just the best manager, allegedly that a band could ever have, or so we believed, and I’m like ‘ok,’ so he put this tour together for us. We booked all the tour ourselves – this is in the summer of 2006 and our manager was the type of guy who knows people in Chicago, so he got the Minty Fresh people to come out to our concert in my hometown, and then he, well we gave them a CD and we didn’t think much of it, who he was –

Stark: Was that Beat Beat Beat?

Ezra: Yeah, that was Beat Beat Beat and we got this call the next day on our way to St. Louis, and he said they loved the show, and I don’t know…

Stark: Then the next thing you know you’re recording with Brian Deck…

Ezra: I know. We were amazed. I think you can tell on our first album, you can tell we were amazed… just overwhelmed. We had to get it all down ya know? It might have been a looser constructed an album. It was made very headlong and very fast. We didn’t really know what we were doing, and that’s a good thing. (Laughs.) It can be a good thing.

Stark: You make it out of the studio ok this time? We read on your blog you couldn’t make it out of the studio the last time.

Ezra: (Laughs.) What?

Stark: We read on your blog that you couldn’t figure out how to make it out of the studio last time. All you had to do was push the door.

Ezra: Oh yeah (Laughs.) That’s sorta like the symbol (Laughs.) I mean I had never even see the inside of a recording studio before haha yeah.

Stark: We just wanted to ask a few more questions about Banging Down the Doors before we move on to the new record Inside the Human Body. Is there an even mix of personal experiences as opposed to observed experiences in your songwriting? Like the song “Halloween Snow,” where does an awesome travel story like that come from? Or “Mother’s Day,” did you really know a whore in Chicago?

Ezra: Well, that did happen in a different version. I used to think that…I just consider it not my style, or tacky to talk about real things in your life in songs ya know? It’s just ah, it’s better to ah, maybe it’s that if you tell the real story of something, it doesn’t really tell what really happened inside for you – it seems – it doesn’t seem as incredible as when it happened when you try and re-tell – um – but to make a piece of art you gotta raise the stakes, because the stakes are much higher in your mind than your heart, than for some stranger. To get them to feel what you felt, you gotta try some tricks… (laughs) and you know present – almost like an exaggerated version of what’s going on. I knew a lot of, I don’t know, I think I knew a lot of girls in Chicago, that at the time, I referred to as whores (laughs.) They shall remain nameless. What I’m trying to say is that…well, that stuff really happened.

Stark: Right ok. In some form or another…sometimes it loses it’s sex appeal if you tell it straight up. So can we expect more of that kind of writing on the new album?

Ezra: Well, I think it’s, well, there are some stories on it. I think that they’re a little bit closer to the song.

Stark: Are we going to hear “Sunglasses” on this new record?

Ezra: Yeah, that’s on there – yeah – I like that one.

Stark: One of our favorite songs of yours is “American Highway” – and I think that what you were saying about how you want someone to feel how you felt at that time you have to write in a different kind of way, like the line, “she was about the age of Mary/when she had her wonder boy/ she’s an alcohol enthusiast who’s Dad is unemployed.” It’s lines like that that have critics hailing you as the “new Dylan” or “Dylanesque.” We were wondering if that pisses you off when people make that reference or is it redeeming in some sense?

Ezra: Well, I’ve always been a rock ‘n roll nerd. I would like go on the Internet and just read reviews, even of albums I haven’t heard, just researching them and finding out little facts about them, just learning about them. Then to read a review of what we made, I just kinda think of it in the same way, it doesn’t – I don’t know – I guess it gives me perspective on the other reviews I’ve read because you see how much smaller the music reviews can make something.

Stark: It sounds like you should be doing our job.

Erza: Well, I don’t… I mean it doesn’t piss me off. It just seems like – when they talk about Bob Dylan – it just seems like a blind thing to say. I guess you can hear a song with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica and think of Dylan as the first thing, but like – it’s different than – I mean Dylan was this weird actor/artist and he would do stuff and he would never actually be there. He would never be actually there talking you in a friendly way…kinda watching him or listening to him go into this poetic stuff. I mean I like – I’m very into poetry and into good songs, but more in a way that is grounded in a personal connection. I like Bob Dylan. But (laughs) – I mean he’s old.

Stark: Let’s change subjects and talk about your live performances. When we saw you live at Pianos, we thought your songs translated really well live. Even though they may be complex lyrically, you present them in a way that connects with the crowd – at least it did with us, which I thought was great. Where do you find that comfort and the ability to keep things witty and funny, but make people believe what your singing when you’re on stage?

Ezra: Well usually…I don’t know…I usually go to a concert and half the time they say things – the whole mood – a lot of time it’s just like – well it depends on the concert, but sometimes it’s like a dance tune and it’s just a fun experience – and not meant to hear a song. I always find that the best concerts are the ones you an get into…you can hear everything that’s happening. Then there’s most concerts where they don’t know what to say on stage, or they just say what they hear other people say like some sort of radio DJ. Things like, “how ya feeling!?” or “ready to hear a song?” But I’m like, “what are you talking about?” Some people…someone told me that I treat the crowd like it’s just a person that I’m talking to.

Stark: That’s what’s great… a good way to be.

Ezra: I think that’s a good way to be, cause I usually get scared at concerts. I just feel like that there’s no one there – no one can talk to me. It can be a lonely thing in a big crowd. I try to be more right there and nice to the individual audience.

Stark: When we were there you had a ton of your Tuffts buddies there rockin’ out…so that must’ve been pretty comforting.

Ezra: When was that? Oh yeah.

Stark: October, November. You prefaced “Sunglasses” that night saying “my girlfriend tells me never to wear sunglasses on stage” then you just started into it. That was the first time we heard it.

Ezra: (Laughs) Yeah – it must've been kinda new then?

Stark: So do you feel like you’ve moved on from those songs? Is that a new song or more of an old song for you now? Are they still fresh? It doesn’t come out until October?

Ezra: That one feels fresh. Actually they all do. The songs always feel fresh because I watch people and watch what they’re getting out of it. It’s a different mood every night…I usually never get bored. I’m never like, “ok let’s get this song over with.” In terms of that one (“Sunglasses,”) that song was written, I guess shortly before the Harpoons were formed. It was…it’s a weird one. I was in a friend of mine’s dorm room and she was like “play me a song” so I started just kinda playing the song. She didn’t know I was just kinda making it up you know. I basically played that exact song with all the syllables squashed together like that and she was like “is that new? You wrote that?” “I just made it up right now (laughs)” She said “you should go write that down.”(Laughs) I just played it into a tape recorder. I didn’t really edit anything about it.

Stark: It seems like you have the ability to pump out songs like that. Do you have a cache that you dip into when you’re coming up with a new album song-wise? Like you said you recorded a bunch on a tape recorder…do you have a bulk of songs that you can pick and choose from when making a new album?

Ezra: They’re on a bunch of scattered tapes. I feel like I don’t have any perspective on these songs. Some of them I get a good feeling about. I can’t really tell when it’s a good one. Writing a lot of songs… you write a lot of bad ones. That’s what I do instead of editing them – I just try to write better songs, but sometimes I’ll think a song is not very good for whatever reason, but then I’ll play it for the band and they’re like “oh we should play that song.” Although on this album, it was less the random “oh what songs do we want…” less the process of finding the old good songs. Since the last album, I started writing songs that had to do with some of the same things. The difference between this one and the last one is that there was less cohesion to the last one... it was more just grasping. It was like “here we are,” rather than deliberately constructed.

Stark: Is there something your most proud of on this new record? Anything that came out exactly how you wanted it in the recording process, that when you finished you were like ‘wow that was great.’

Ezra: Um well, about all of it.

Stark: That’s great.

Ezra: Maybe it’s not entirely true. I just really like the album. The first song on it, I feel like we… well, I don’t know. I feel really good about a bunch of different ones. I don’t think, again, that I have a good perspective on it. I have to get farther away from it. It’s like having a baby (laughs.) The feeling of like, “I don’t know what this baby is yet.” It’s like this postpartum depression… kind of alienating. I mean you don’t know what it’s ganna grow up to be, you know… what college it’s going to go to. I think (laughs) it might go to a good college.

Stark: (Laughs.) Well that’s what you want right?

Ezra: (Laughs.) It might be a neighborhood-favorite kind of kid growing up.

Stark: Not gonna be a ruffian is he?

Erza: Well, he’s got a sweet side and a mean streak.

Stark: That’s human you know?

Ezra: Yeah. It’s a good little metaphor for what the album is about… movin' inside the human body and coming out.

Stark: Well, there you go title of the album right?

Ezra: It does seem kind of hard to talk about. Sometimes I feel like other people tell me what our band is or where it came from better than I could. People keep telling us “oh your band reminds me of this” or like Jonathan Richman, but that’s how I learned about the Modern Lovers and now I really like them. When I was first playing music at open mics, people were like “oh you must love the Violent Femmes” – and that’s how I learned about the Violent Femmes. They’re probably right you know. This is a weird sexist metaphor, but I feel like I was impregnated with a song. Once I have a song, I don’t know who’s it is or where it came from. It’s like a bastard song – a lot of sexual politics in our band.

Stark: (Laughs.) You guys have plans on playing CMJ this year?

Ezra: Are we playing CMJ this year? (aside to band) I think it’s in the works...I think we are planning on it. I’m going to say yes.

Stark: Good because we are looking forward to seeing you guys again. So…what are you guys listening to these days?

Ezra: Well….I’m getting back into my first love band Green Day. I have all their albums. I don’t think it’s popular in the car. The other problem is the CDs are kinda scratched. I just discovered, like a month ago, Horses by Patti Smith which is just really good. In my mind, early rock ‘n roll and punk rock are fusing into a single genre, which is really the only genre I’ve been listening to.

Stark: Did this influence the new album?

Ezra: I think that this stuff I’ve been listening to…because I’m moving in my mind to stuff we might be doing on the next album… I know it’s very early to start thinking about that. I’ve just been writing these songs and have been really happy with them. This last album is more like…in a way it’s similar to that. I’m in some ways thinking of it as a cousin to the first John Lennon solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. It’s got some softer songs and it’s got a bunch of screaming crazy songs. We got more tender on one side and more wild and angry on the other.
Stark: We are really looking forward to it. We just listened to track one on your myspace. It sounds like your going in a more rock ’n roll/punk direction on that one.

Ezra: Yeah I’m playing more electric. Almost all electric on the new album.


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