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The ‘superpower’ that sharpens Ezra Furman’s punk perspective

Ezra Furman has moved back to Boston after scoring Netflix’s “Sex Education” and releasing a new album, “Twelve Nudes.”Jessica Lehrman

In conversation — when speaking to a journalist over the phone, for instance — Ezra Furman talks in slow, measured sentences, as though she’s carefully considering every thought as it travels from her brain to her mouth and maybe isn’t sure she trusts her listener with the information once it escapes. It’s in almost diametric opposition to the experience of Furman on record, a furious barrage of words catapulted through the wires via an untrammeled shriek. To hear the singer tell it, the two modes of communication are directly connected.

“There’s something a bit dramatic going on when I get my chance to say what I have to say and it’s being amplified,” Furman says. “Not only am I a shy person, I take a little while to say what I mean, especially in a social situation, and usually those move too fast for me to say anything at all. So when I do those songs to say the thing that I’ve prepared to say, I say it like my head’s about to explode. [It’s] this feeling of ‘Finally, my chance. This is my chance.’ ”


Hesitancy and urgency are just two of the competing forces fueling Furman, whose just-released “Twelve Nudes” is a marvel of chaotic, fragmented punk noise and straightforward songcraft. In a 2015 piece in The Guardian, the singer — who uses both masculine and feminine pronouns but prefers the latter — wrote, “Nothing sets me on fire like the walking contradiction.” It’s a theme that recurs again and again with Furman. Ask, for instance, about whether she feels any responsibility as a queer, devoutly Jewish performer to respond to this particular moment in American history and she’ll provide two answers in the course of one.

“I always maintain that artists do not have any responsibility to do anything except cause no harm and do whatever we want to do as artists. I don’t like the notion that artists have a responsibility to be political,” says Furman, a 2008 Tufts University graduate. “However, as a citizen and not as an artist, as someone who is trying to be a good citizen and an ethical person, I feel a responsibility to use my extra resources — things like a little bit of extra time, a little bit of money — and use those things when possible to stick up for people who need some sticking up for. And there’s always people who need that. So yeah, it’s a funny thing. I’m trying to be an activist, and I think of that as separate from my work as an artist. But it isn’t.”


That bleed-through made itself known recently when Furman — having just moved back to Boston in August after decamping for Brooklyn a decade ago, with subsequent stops in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay area — canceled a Sept. 11 show at Sonia in response to sexual misconduct accusations circulated on social media against one of the venue’s owners. The show was moved to Great Scott and rescheduled for Monday. (Joseph Sater, who co-owns Sonia and the Mideast nightclub with his brother, has denied the allegations against him.)

“Sonia was nice enough to say to us, ‘Listen, other people have canceled their shows here also, and if you want to cancel, we don’t think you should, but that’s OK if you do.’ So I commend the people working there for allowing the show to be moved,” Furman says.


The boundaries are also blurred in the way Furman sees those aspects of her identity as fuel for the songs on “Twelve Nudes,” either directly or as metaphor. “Blown” kicks off with a distorted howl of “Trans power!,” and “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” addresses the apparent disconnect between the singer’s gender and her body. “I think that being queer, it has built this outsider perspective into me that allows me to make punk music,” she says. “Being queer is my superpower, kind of.”

And Furman’s religion is reflected in “Evening Prayer aka Justice” and a recent Billboard profile, both of which liken live music to prayer. “There’s nothing quite like it, being present in a big group of people having something like a shared experience,” says Furman. “There’s something that’s analogous, or that I want to be analogous, where it’s like: Should it be something that repairs you, that gives you energy to do good in your life, do good in the world? Could the energies from the show be converted into [making] a better culture outside of the show as well?”

Furman has turned to television as another avenue for positive change, scoring “Sex Education,” the Netflix show about a British teenager who follows in his mother’s footsteps and becomes an unofficial sex therapist for his classmates. “I am usually a little annoyed with how much media represents sex, and especially young people having young sexual experiences,” Furman says. “And this [show] was about being realistic and being really healthy and positive about sex. I feel like I’ve been waiting for that show to exist, particularly for the teenage audience.”


Then again, as Furman declares, “I’ve always hated being marketed to. And when I have something recommended to me by someone who makes money if I like it, my brain goes, ‘Well, I don’t like that.’ ” It’s that walking contradiction standing up again, proud, almost defiant. It’s a reclamation of her right to be the one to determine who Ezra Furman is and a refusal to be hemmed in or defined.

“It bugs me because people are like, ‘I know what kind of person you are, so you would like this. The kind of people like you are people who like this,’ ” she says. “And I’m like, ‘You don’t [expletive] know me.’ I contain multitudes.”


At Great Scott, Allston, Sept. 23 at 9:15 p.m. Tickets $15, www.bowerypresents.com

Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com.