It’s harder than ever to be an anti-corporate musician, says Ezra Furman. Once, alternative music had a powerful seam of revulsion against ‘selling out’, but that dogged purity has faded as it’s got harder and harder to simply make a living by making art. In a post-pandemic, Spotify, Brexited world, there’s a lot of reluctant pragmatism about.
In Furman’s case, the emphasis is very much on reluctant. “I feel an anti-corporate streak flaring up recently,” the 36-year-old Chicago-born singer tells The Big Issue, speaking from her living room via video call. “All my music is protest music. I’ve always had my roots in punk music and trying to live a non-mainstream kind of life.”
Furman’s been navigating that non-mainstream world since she formed Ezra Furman and the
Harpoons at university in Massachusetts, back in 2006. She’s played with various band incarnations since then, but at the heart has always been Ezra Furman: one-off. A punk rocker with a Bruce Springsteen feel for melody, an observant Jew who’s “obsessed with God”, a trans woman who lifts up her community.
We’re catching up a couple of days after Taylor Swift’s latest release has sent everyone into a tailspin, a couple of months after Furman’s excellent latest album All of Us Flames came out, and a couple of weeks before Furman goes on tour in the UK. The convergence has prompted some… consternation. “Do we need to go back to the era of furious disdain for big corporate-friendly pop music? I’ll do it, so help me, just see if I won’t,” Furman tweeted just before we speak.
I’m pretty sure I can work out what’s prompted the question/threat. But just in case I’m wrong, can Furman confirm? “It seemed like everyone around me, in person and on the internet was talking about the new Taylor Swift album.” Ah, yeah. There it is. “And I was listening to [garage rockers] The Bug Club.
“And also, Kanye West was being super antisemitic. I was just like, why are we paying attention to pop stars when we have The Bug Club? When we have just all kinds of wonderful music that doesn’t have this baggage and is way more interesting than most pop music?