You wouldn't know it by listening to his music, but Ezra Furman is shy. The 31-year-old musician has spent the last 15 years of his life where he's most comfortable — on stage, behind a microphone. Here is where Furman says he can finally spew out the words that have been jostling around in his brain, waiting to find a home. His latest record, Twelve Nudes, finds Furman quite angry at the world, balancing frustration and tenderness on a tightrope.
Furman started writing Twelve Nudes in the summer of 2018, a time when misogyny and sexual assault were brought to the forefront of national conversation. "It's a frustration record," says Furman, "and I still feel frustrated." The record was made quickly, in a smoke-and-drink-fueled rock 'n' roll atmosphere that bleeds through in the finished product.
Furman explains that much of his frustration comes from growing up oppressed. "I feel like one thing that messed me up was living in a homophobic and transphobic society, and just being the object of mockery and disgust in your average sitcom or movie or person at school," says Furman, who identifies as queer. "In some ways it's extra poignant to be in the closet and be around all that. I think honestly it made me a different kind of person than who I would have been."
However, society's attempt to silence and quash queer voices had the opposite effect on Furman. He found that the easiest way to communicate exactly what he wanted to say was screaming or crooning or speaking into a microphone. "I feel like my consignment and fear from people pushed me to become a performer," Furman explains. "I'm really shy, I have trouble saying anything a lot of the time. I'm quiet. That makes a place that's just an open, raised part of the floor where you can prepare exactly what you want to say and then go up and say it so perfect."
Musically, Furman is far from quiet. In Twelve Nudes, he stretches his vocals to teeter between screaming and singing to get his point across. The album's first single, "Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone," reflects on Furman's state of inner turmoil. Referencing the multiple billionaires that have recently been accused of sexual assault, Furman wails, "Bad men push us into submission/ downhill sliding no more traction" with a desperation that can be not only heard, but felt.
Though Twelve Nudes is an almost entirely political record, Furman questions the efficacy of his music when it comes to sparking change. "There's a lot of stuff I can do," he says. "I don't know if making my record is the most effective possible way to fight climate change, for instance. But it's just what I do when I have feelings." That sentiment is echoed in the album's final song, "What Can You Do But Rock 'n' Roll," a nihilist take on the political powers that be. In this song, Furman points out many of the deeply troubling political agendas afloat today: "And the kinda sex you want is the kind they want to make illegal/ what can you do but rock 'n' roll?"
Contrary to this nihilism, Furman says he intends for the record to be an emotional release, using blatant negativity to make room for positivity and growth, like a two-hour crying therapy session that ends in resolve and hope. In addressing trauma and pointing out systematic flaws, Furman allows the listener to feel anger, solidarity and healing. "One of my goals in making music is to make the world seem bigger, and life seem larger," Furman says in the record's press release. "I want to be a force that tries to revive the human spirit rather than crush it, to open possibilities rather than close them down. Sometimes a passionate negativity is the best way to do that."
Ezra Furman performs with Stef Chura on Sunday, Sept. 8 at El Club; 4114 Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-279-7382; elclubdetroit.com. Doors are at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15.
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