Singer Ezra Furman continues to push the boundaries between gender, sexuality and religion on his latest album Transangelic Exodus. The songwriter was born in Chicago in 1986, and said his parents supported his music career.
Furman talked backstage with Windy City Times about his latest work and rocking the vote.
Windy City Times: Where did you grow up?
Ezra Furman: Mainly in Evanston, Illinois. I first lived in Lake View when I was a toddler, then we moved to Evanston.
WCT: Did you study music in school?
EF: No. I took two guitar lessons when I was 13. I self taught after that and was not interested in music theory for years but I am now. I was a proud amateur and still am in some ways.
WCT: What artists did you look up to?
EF: I wanted to be in a punk band or to be a great songwriter like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Randy Newman. I was always big into writing stories.
WCT: Your album, Transangelic Exodus, has been getting great reviews. Is that fulfilling?
EF: What is fulfilling is that it came out as close to as good as I wanted it to be. The reviews are an after effect and nice to hear.
WCT: What was the concept to the album?
EF: There are a lot of references to an angel and escape from hostile authorities, with road-tripping across the country in fear and solidarity. It wasn't planned. I found it in my brain. It began with a song called "Suck the Blood From My Wound."
I was developing what I might do with the next record but that song just showed up. It was illogical and fascinating. It was like having a dream when I wrote that song. I was looking into my subconscious and its debris.
WCT: You have described the album as a "queer outlaw saga." Is that the experience of it?
EF: Yes. That gets at the fact that its a saga. There is a theme of queerness, but possibly grating against mainstream society.
Being Jewish and queer are both things that oriented me from a young age to be against the mainstream. It has placed me in a queer mindset and a queer culture that has something to say to the mainstream. It pushes against it.
WCT: How do you identify?
EF: Labels can be hard for me to define, but let's say I am a feminine-presenting man who is attracted to all of the genders.
I said I was genderfluid one time a few years ago and I became tagged with it. It is not quite accurate because I am male. I just do it differently. I am very attached to feminine presentation.
WCT: Is "Transangelic" a reference to the transgender community?
EF: It is really not a word. There is a sermon from the 19th century that I found it in that was about angels. That's not where I got it from. I made it up.
WCT: Aren't angels non-gender?
EF: That's a really interesting question. I have never been asked that before. They do have names that have a gender associate like Gabriel or Michael. They wouldn't be one gender or the other. They are pure energy. There a lot of different takes on what angels are.
The image of a person with wings is one of being terribly beautiful and out of place. There were times when I needed a guardian angel because of feeling threatened.
WCT: Where does the album cover come from?
EF: That was a photo taken in a small town in Virginia a few days after that Charlottesville riot. We went there to make a music video for the song "Driving Down to L.A." Fear was in the air because of the riot. After making the video we took a few photos.
I'm glad you asked me about that because there was real fear in that photo while wondering what was happening about my country!
It is a fearful record, but one with a lot of solidarity between the emotions of it.
WCT: Why did you change the name of the band to The Visions if it's the same lineup?
EF: Our mission and the mood has changed. It was the Boy-Friends before, and that is entirely too friendly for what we are doing now. It was too childish and there is something more adult now.
People have to come to us. We are not into playing music that makes people comfortable or is as easily classified. We are doing something a little weirder now. I think that is reflected in the name.
WCT: What do you want to tell people about your music that hasn't heard it yet?
EF: I face that all time. I tell people I am a musician and they ask me what I play.
I don't think it's a good idea to talk about music that you haven't heard. I hope they use an internet search engine and see what they find.
WCT: What are you working on for the rest of the year?
EF: I am putting out a book. It is a part of a series of books called 33 1/3. They are all by different authors and each one is about a different pop music album. They had an open call for submissions and I had idea about Lou Reed's Transformer.
It is a music criticism with a lot of memoir. It is about how having a public persona mutates you a little bit and how that interacts with being queer. The fact is I am obsessed with Lou Reed and I have to figure out why.
The other thing is I am trying to get voter registration at my shows. I am still working on it. I think every band should have booths at their concerts in 2018. I want to start a movement!
Furman and The Visions play Chicago on Saturday, July 28, at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., and Sunday, July 29, at the Wicker Park Festival, with ticket info at EzraFurman.com . In addition, Furman and The Visions return to Thalia Hall Dec. 1; visit EzraFurman.com .