One of the many bands playing Lollapalooza this year was the hometown act Ezra Furman and the Harpoons. Early on Day 2, Ezra brought his sunny, catchy indie pop to Grant Park before the heat got unbearable and the concert goers got too fatigued to properly appreciate what was happening.
In between the release of their last album, Inside the Human Body, and recording their third lp, Ezra's music is musically upbeat and lyrically wordy without being convoluted. Propelled by Furman's yelping, urgent voice, comparisons to The Violent Femmes aren't completely off base. After his tenure on the dauntingly large Playstation stage, I got to sit down with Ezra in the shade and talk to him about his music, Kirsten Dunst and leaving Chicago for New York.
Your youtube video, Kirsten Dunst, got you quite a bit of attention for being hilariously creepy. Could you tell me a little bit about why you wrote a song about Kirsten Dunst in a bowl of punch?
Everything in it is a half rhyme because nothing actually rhymes with Dunst. I guess it was a poor choice of name purely on things that rhyme with it so that’s how you know it was really an honest, real crush. I wasn’t going for the rhyme angle. It was really because of the whole Spiderman trilogy, but especially the first one. When it came out, I was 16 and imagining myself as Spiderman. It stuck with me. I think I’ve moved on at this point.
That sort of answers my next question about whether you still carry a torch for Kirsten or if you’ve moved on to another unattainable Hollywood starlet?
You know, I think you can carry a torch in some way, but just kind of put it in your back pocket...except then you might set yourself on fire, so that’s what I’m doing. She hasn’t responded to the song, maybe one day she will. I guess it is pretty creepy. To me, it’s kind of sweet. I wouldn’t say I’ve completely given up hope.
You seem to have the theme in your songs of a fear or loss of identity and also of trying to be yourself and be original. Are these things that you struggle with?
Yeah. Don’t you?
I think everyone does.
The fear of loss of identity is a fear I have in a lot of ways in many aspects of my life. In terms of music, I just used to play acoustic guitar alone and I’d open for my friend’s band at college and you know that everybody is drunk and not listening and that’s when I got really into songs like (The Beatles’) "Help." There’s something about a plea masked by pop music that gets right at how I feel.
While we're talking about your songwriting, I have to say that "The Faceless Boy" was a song I was immediately drawn to. I read on Daytrotter that you wrote that at 15. Is that a song that’s still in it’s original form as when you wrote it or has it progressed over time?
I used to just play it alone and I didn’t know how to play the harmonica at all. The words and the tune are the same. It’s kind of simplistic but this kid who’s 5 years old asked me “How can a boy have no face?” That made me have ultimate faith in the song. It warms my heart. It’s like a children’s song but it turned into a song we play as a band even though it’s got the 15 year old heart at the center.
You’ve been playing guitar and writing songs for a while. When did you start taking an interest in music as a career?
Part of me wants to say I’m not really interested in music as a career. That seems like the most visceral response but I guess I am pursuing a career in music. Long before I played guitar or even took an interest in music, I’d make up song titles and albums and planned out a career as a musician at age 10. I changed all the song titles but there was always a TV junkie sort of dream to do it. I just kept playing music because I wanted to do it as much as I could and after a while, if you’re music is good enough and you’re lucky enough, people start telling you you can play it at Lollapalooza. If the concrete/financial/observable success mattered to me that much, I think I would have quit a couple years.
I saw that you worked with producer Brian Deck who has also worked with Josh Ritter and that's interesting to me because when I first heard your music, I automatically thought "Hey, I don't know if this is intentional but he's in the same vein as Josh Ritter." Is that more your producer's meddling with your own sound or is what you've released on record what you intended for your music to sound like?
You know, we recorded both records very quickly and we talked about how it should sound but we were kind of just like “Let’s just get these down because I don’t know who these people are that let us into this recording studio but as long as we’re here we have to get it all down.” We probably should have done less songs on our first album but we didn’t know if (we would ever be in the studio) again. I think I heard about Josh Ritter through Brian Deck and I guess the sound of the record was influenced in great ways by Brian Deck that I don’t even know about. He helped us along in the right direction.
You throw in references to Chicago every now and then in your music, sometimes as specific as talking about Lakeshore Drive in the Moon. How has this city influenced you as an artist?
I’m trying to figure out how much of it is the city and how much of it is how I am. That’s a hard question. I guess Chicago didn’t influence me at all really, it’s just the backdrop of my like so the references do creep it. Mostly Chicago has just influenced me in sustaining the band. Our biggest supporters are here.
You did vacate Chicago though to move to New York, right?
I just moved a little more than a month ago.
And you’re back already.
I was in Boston before that and that’s where our band actually formed. Maybe Chicago’s influence is apparent because it’s no secret that there’s a higher volume of pretentiousness in New York and Los Angeles. I’m not saying that everyone from those cities are pretentious, that’s not the case at all, but Chicago has it’s own unpretentiousness that is hard to pin down and maybe that’s the influence.
Your last CD, Inside the Human Body, was released in 2008. Are you working on a follow up yet or are you just touring a little and taking it easy?
We are working on a follow up. Actually, the day after we finished Inside the Human Body, I wrote a song that I think will be the first song on the next album. I’ve basically been devoting all my mental energy to working on this next album. I have this theory that third albums are the album a lot of the time. Like, the first one is really good and a band is exploding out there, on to the scene, and the second one sometimes has a sophomore slump or sometimes is even better but the third album, like London Calling or The Queen is Dead by the Smiths, have me trying to put my whole self into this album. I think we’re going to record it in the winter, maybe in December, I hope in Chicago. Right now we’re just in a stage of going to Brooklyn basements and practicing for hours. It’s really exciting. I think it’s gonna be good. It could be terrible but I bet not.