Ezra Furman doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks of him, and that’s something to be admired. Since entering the music scene in 2006, the Chicago native has been tearing up stages with Chuck Berry-inspired riffs, raw vocals, and rock n’ roll ruckus. Actively expressing views on topics such as body image and acceptance, anti-labeling, feminism, and religion, Furman is making a mark in the music industry with his growing following of fans across the United States and beyond.
Known for his iconic electric-crimson lips, high skirts, and an ever-present string of pearls around his neck, Furman’s stage presence turns heads. “I wouldn’t describe myself. I dress feminine. For me, that’s something I do. I don’t need it to be something I am. And I don’t need the label,” Furman said. “Some people like the label, and that’s fine. Sometimes I use it too. Do I contradict myself? That’s cool with me. I’m large; I contain multitudes.”
Furman’s music career took off in the UK with 2013’s Day of the Dog, where it received rave reviews. Furman and his band were selling out gigs and playing to crowds who turned his high-powered performances into seething, sweaty dance parties. However, the reception in the US didn’t gain the traction as it did on the other side of the pond. This didn’t deter Furman, as he remained true to himself and his music. “I don’t know why the UK liked us more first. It’s not my job to know. I have one standard to live up to, which is my own standard of what I think is really good work. I refuse to hypothesize about routes to popularity. But I do think I deserve it. Although I don’t feel entitled to it. If that makes sense. Most people don’t get what they deserve.”
On a snowy Monday night in Cleveland, Ohio, Furman and his band, The Boy-Friends, kicked off their latest tour; a tour that will take them from the US into Europe and back again, in support of Perpetual Motion People. “I know we’ve got the goods. The band is ready to kill. I’m worried I’m going to get so tired I go insane, as usually happens. But that doesn’t make the shows worse. I’ve learned to go insane without much damage to myself or anyone else. I’m getting kind of good at it. My main thing is that I just hope a lot of people show up. People tend to like us if we can get in a room with them,” said Furman. Before the show, Furman playfully used the words “blood, flowers, candy, pleading, and screaming” as a way to describe that night’s performance.
The Boy-Friends, who joined Furman’s musical endeavors in 2013, include Jorgen Jorgensen (bass), Ben Joseph (keyboard, guitar), Sam Durkes (drums), and Tim Sandusky (saxophone). Together, the four members complement Furman’s raucous vocals and create a layered sound that make their shows so unique.
Donning blinged-out sunglasses, the red-lipped frontman flashed a mischievous smile, picked up his acoustic guitar and began to strum out the smooth, anthemic “Body Was Made”. The lyrics echoed Furman’s beliefs and truths about himself and others as humans in this world, and the fight against societal labeling. As he crooned into the mic, “Your body is yours / At the end of the day / And don’t let the hateful / Try and take it away”, he was met with nods of agreement and beers raised high from the intimate crowd as the room began to sway along to the beat.
When it comes to songwriting, Ezra Furman likes to be alone in his own world. “Alone, away from everyone. My bedroom is a good spot. Songs often come out in a panic or a sort of mad reverie. When that passes, then you start editing.” While his life inspires the songs he creates and lyrics like “I’m all fucking mumbles” reflects those moments of panic, his faith in Judaism also plays a significant part in Furman’s artistic expression and inspiration.
“Judaism has a lot to do with the written word and truths of the spirit. So it has plenty in common with songwriting. Performing the songs is also the repetition of elevated language aiming to cause a transcendent experience. Which is part of what prayer is.” He goes on, “The whole goal of Jewish practice, if you ask me, is to cause a person to habitually transcend our default mode of boredom with the world. That’s what rock n’ roll does too.”
While Judaism takes a strong stance in Furman’s world, he, along with the band, are staunch feminists. In one interview, Furman has been known to say “If you don’t actively oppose misogyny, you support it.” In this interview, Furman adds, “It’s easy for people to ignore the widespread sexism and misogyny in everyday life, because most men (whether they’re perpetrating it or not) don’t notice it, and many women tend to just be used to it, to accept it as the way things have to be.” But how does Furman attempt to counteract this in his shows? “I’m just trying to point it out as often as I can while I have a platform to do so, so that more people realize that opposing misogyny is an active process that we all can and must participate in.”
What would Ezra Furman have become if not a warrior for body positivity, feminism and the right to be who you want to be? “[…] I was going to be some kind of a prose writer when I was young… then a fiction writer, and then later I thought I’d be a comedy writer. But I got distracted by a guitar.” Furman has certainly found his platform to get his point across. His advice to those looking to do the same is simple; “Read everything, listen to everyone, devour it all until it makes you sick. You’re bound to vomit out something interesting if you take in enough volume.”
After playing an energetic set, Ezra Furman and the Boy-Friends closed with the introspective “Can I Sleep In Your Brain?”, that starts deceivingly slow, but begins to crescendo as the intimate audience crowded closer to the stage cheering on Furman and the Boy-Friends while they intensified the music until it ended abruptly, and those in attendance yelled for more as Furman stood in front, beaming.
“I want people to look at my life and draw courage to be good,” said Furman on what he wants his lasting legacy to be. And judging by the people who surrounded him after the show, thanking him, and telling stories of how his music changed their life, how his point of views brought them the courage to be individuals and stand up for what they believed in — it looks like Furman’s legacy is right on track.