WEEK TWO :: FEATURE INTERVIEW
WEEK ONE :: PHOTO GALLERY
Words & Photos By Jason Anfinsen
Ezra Furman and The Harpoons greeted me in the baggage claim at the Minneapolis airport with four college faces and one plastic goose. During my two-day trek with the band of Tufts University seniors which began in Minnesota and took us through Wisconsin to Chicago, these harmless young men failed to walk anywhere near the deviant line of ghoulishness similar to the violent rowdies depicted by Anthony Burgess in his novel A Clockwork Orange, although Ezra Furman and The Harpoons are real horrorshow.
The Harpoons consist of Job Mukkada the bass banging, fast food munching joker, Adam Abrutyn the drumstick hunk, Jahn Sood the organized guitarist and singer/guitarist Ezra Furman, the spotlight spazz who writes all of the band's "high voltage rock n' roll anthems".
A young Furman was not hell-bent on having the manifestation of his detailed visions birthed by the collective senses of strangers, but The Harpoons with vaporous faces which illuminate picture perfect prom dates, have become a cogent garment of strength for Ezra, an article that the shy kid from Chicago now wears rather comfortably as the temperature rises amidst the escalading level of mania that this promising Boston band are beginning to be spun through.
Ezra Furman and The Harpoons' premiere ornament Banging Down The Doors is an effervescent album as mischievously significant as the eponymous debut from The Violent Femmes, but exactly what is the measure of potential inside the hearts of Ezra Furman his assembled Harpoons? What is the combined weight of their talent multiplied by the noxious results of the doors to the world being smashed to worthless bits by ruthless fists of four ordinary college dudes? The biggest task for these young scientists will be to quantity the outcome of their undiscovered musical future.
While mouthing repetitive declarations like, "I predict that we all won't die in a car accident today," Furman revealed a deep fear of becomming mangled remains intertwined with exposed metal of an obliterated automobile. The disorientation with which every Harpoon suffered while behind the wheel was beyond incomprehensible, allowing the possibility of such a gruesome vision of Furman's to possibly see the blinding light of day.
Let it be known that The Harpoons drove with accuracy seen only by Stevie Wonder. Their drifting spans of attention made them as effective as King Louis XVI after he was beheaded. Together they sniffed directions like McGruff the crime dog after mistakenly inhaling a suitcase of angel dust. For the sake of any God who will listen, please, create for these Harpoons a captain capable of effectively helming the mighty Furman family vessel!
The first day in the studio, I felt like I wanted to quit the whole thing.
After an hour of going one way down a "buses only" street, Job "drove" our frightened souls around the recent bridge which collapsed and over to the Soap Factory, an artist commune in the bowels of a desolate factory on the other side of the tracks, where the boys replayed highlights of a most disastrous drive.
In 2006, months after Furman was stabbed silly by The Harpoons, a special showcase was arranged for producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron and Wine), an engagement possibly more important than the reading of Ezra's Haftorah on the day of his bar mitzvah.
The mission was simple for the pubescent road warriors; complete the journey from Boston to Chicago and delight the regal producer atop his throne of glistening emeralds, as he silently judges the quality of the music ever so gaily while eating Venezuelan cougar eggs fanned by half-naked slaves.
"After a few hours on the road we pulled over to ask a gas station attendant where Buffalo was and he said that we were in Montreal," guitarist Jahn Sood told me in his deadpan delivery. "It took us 22-hours to finally get from Boston to Chicago and play one set."
And what a set it was, luring Deck from his heavenly palace of platinum and down into his workplace at Engine Studios in Chicago for the five-day session that spawned the rapturous knock Banging Down The Doors.
"The first day in the studio, I felt like I wanted to quit the whole thing," Furman said. "Yeah," Adam added, "we failed to realize how exhausting it was and I think we were all just unprepared and overwhelmed."
Indeed. At times during this low budget reenactment of Almost Famous, I found myself feeling the affects of what the kids called "carsy," an exhausted sickness acquired after extensive hours in the meager confines of a touring mini-van. Uninvited and with the thrust of a belligerent know-it-all, I generously filled the roles of road manager, abusive father, asshole older brother, drunken uncle, drink ticket thief and unheard navigator in the passenger seat without a shotgun.
The fork in the band's road bent to the side of sanctuary when Mr. Jim Powers at Minty Fresh, an independent record label in Chicago once aligned with the wallet and blockbuster name of David Geffen, wrangled up this net of tiny perch amongst a sea of legendary whales, most likely with a sharp focus sharp on music licensing, television and movie projects. The Harpoons had to scrap their Seattle gig to shoot a pilot in Los Angeles which was the spark for my two-day adventure with the unblemished barely legals.
After a rousing performance amongst a room of too cools at the Kitty Cat Klub on a brisk Autumn night, we awoke on the wooden floor of an apartment in Upton Minneapolis that belonged to a generous pixie who answered the pathetic cry of Furman blatantly asking if anyone could put us up. Salvation came by the name of Aubrey from Green Room Booking, who also paid the bill for any number of complimentary fruitinis that wound up in my alcoholic belly. I was, after all, with the band.
I still have never even heard Strangeways Here We Come but officially The Strokes are my favorite band.
We spent a great deal of time on the road, The Harpoons and the buffoon, joined at the hip with I-90, spinning iPod mixes, reading thick books, cracking tame jokes, sleeping then waking only to blearily inquire where we were, then back to catching more zzz's. While driving his parent's van and holding a cup of roadside coffee baking ever so raunchily in the afternoon Wisconsin sun, Furman took a sip of the foul tasting brew.
"Ew," he gurgled, "I can't do it," he wretched. "I usually eat lunch between noon and one and then dinner between six and seven," Ezra said. He admitted openly to having never eaten a pickle. I didn't watch the victim of famine take a bite of anything but the neon green tips of his convenient store shades.
As Ezra drove with his skinny white body in a shirt with "I Know It's Over" lyrics scribbled in Sharpie across the chest, I sat with a hidden grin, cloaked in my green The Queen Is Dead shirt as "It's so easy to laugh, its to easy to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind" came from the mouth of the Moz.
"Oh wow," Furman said, looking down at his ragged apparel and NOT at the road like a good driver. "I never even realized that before, that it's this song and we're listening to it" he said with a smile. "That's kind of weird," he says. "I still have never even heard Strangeways Here We Come but officially The Strokes are my favorite band."
After the long trek from Minnesota brought us to the land of Lincoln, the need for instant energy was maddening. Furman jokingly mentioned that he wished to score some uppers. After the laughter subsided, I wondered and then finally asked him, "Ezra do you even know what uppers are?" He thought about it for a moment, slumping down into the back seat and from behind the safety of those dark sunglasses he hit me with, "I guess it means a delicious sandwich."
A mirror image of the introverted genius reflected in the early years of Morrissey or Stipe, Ezra Furman's subtle sex appeal is deeply hidden beneath his whimsical shyness, buried well under his endless allure and nervously pulsating down in the bottommost holdings of his passionate body, where the 21-year-old's truest wealth is just beginning to be mined.
"I haven't written a song in two months since we left on this summer tour," the screwball told me. While trying to find the perfect explanation for his lack of inspiration, his gentle face cringed as the overworked synapses of his sparkling brain franticly attempted to articulate some poetic reason. He mumbled something about "lack of placid tranquility" then spaced out to discomforting silence which brimmed with slight anger at the fact that the words which rang so clear in his head were heard muffled and distorted by the deaf ears of mine. Indeed, the spastic traveling of picaresque verbiage humming in the vast canals of Ezra Furman's mind is often accepted best through his quirky songs rather than his yet to be fluent prose.
"We must go there. There are many people that I must hug," he said of his childhood home in the North Chicago suburb of Evanston, a destination that led the band an hour away from their scheduled load in time of seven p.m.
At his Shangri La just near the Dempster stop on the purple line, Furman's hospitable family squeezed a giant poncho of affection around their son in the special way that evades the evils that consumed Joan Benet Ramsey's parents.
Furman, even though he quipped about becoming an English teacher by saying, "I think that I'd want to teach in my own school," couldn't stray from the arts if was written in the Torah to do so. This quirky kid is a jewel amongst pyrite with a voice that comes along once every four years like a new President or a college education.
If the band were to bust, I could easily see Job, Adam and Jahn putting down their electric equipment and picking up a copy of the Wall Street Journal to lay on top of their quarterly stock reports while on vacation in Maui after a "good year at the office."
In a moment of careless candor, seconds before the band's big homecoming fiesta that culminated the end of the 2007 tour and the release of the band's debut album, Job the bass player says "its almost like this show is already over. That's the way I feel about it, like it doesn't even matter."
After shooting a bent look of confusion back at Job, Ezra said, "Oh I strongly disagree." He was visibly frazzled before the gig, anxiously checking and rechecking his set list, as if memorizing for the big exam. This subtle lack of direction or dedication or determination of the band as a whole is the equivalent of a sinister plague slithering into a den of smiling babies and wanting to sink its venomous fangs into the necks of four future somethings.
With legions of family, friends and supporters in Chicago elevating Furman's rising ability to affectionately annihilate, I witnessed a tremendous shock of the future, a quick smidgeon of tomorrow, which portrayed these tykes as acoustic-folk-blues-rock's new-new cover children. He, as they say, has it. He writes the songs, penned and recorded a whopper album, looks like a young Dylan and bays like a Mountain Goat. All of the vital ingredients for the making of a star are in the pot and ready for the mix. So what's next for Ezra Furman and The Harpoons?
For nine flimsy months the boys will hit books instead of bongs with ankles chained to the halls of Tufts University in Boston, pigeonholing them into a small performance radius to penetrate - Boston, D.C., Philly, Buffalo, and New York.
In addition to earning those sheepskin parchments, I hope they also graduate from the frat dude date rape circus which fails to remain a novel lifestyle past the age of twenty-one. Adolescents such as The Harpoons I hung with made it a team effort to incessantly drag their feet when they walked, mumble their sentences when they talked and obsessively deny the reality that "all this" is their job.
Indeed there are no specific dress codes and the location of the office changes nightly, but what is most essential is the importance of being able to communicate with alarming new foreigners - yucky disc jockeys, lusty groupies, uncoordinated photographers, slimy booking agents, bumbling managers, hibernating record executives - and be able execute powerful decisions with a cement confidence that will determine their own outcome in this pell-mell adventure.
Nice as they are, these adorable lads are in dire straits of a striking sting from a syringe the size of the Seattle space needle that will flood limitless amounts of energy, passion, and commitment into the immaculate veins of these intelligent goofs as if by a dude named Ahab.
Faceless record labels and managers and musicians will whirl about like ideas for songs to a diehard writer like Furman. The vision for the future incarnation of his bubbling embryo of greatness, however magnificent or whacked, belongs solely to him. Only he and his current confidants can type their topsy-turvy future with barbs of flesh piercing confidence in order to accurately spear the intestines of this planet with the mastery of four ripened harpoons.
It takes a moment for the flames gurgling below the infernal surface of Ezra Furman and The Harpoons to emerge like butterflies from a volcanic cocoon. Is this band intent on setting the hands of fate forward and establishing their own destiny or are they too busy lollygagging in the moment, man, like, just chilling out and waiting to see what happens down the road, man?