There are two sides to every Ezra Furman & the Harpoons song. One listen to "Take Off Your Sunglasses" from the band's 2008 album, Inside the Human Body, demonstrates how this works.
The song is jangly, joyous guitar rock. But it's a rambling lyrical tale of self-doubt and resistance to love, told with benign indifference. "I woke up in the middle of the night one night," sings Furman. "I felt so unworthy. It didn't bother me too much. I think I am unworthy, and everybody's unworthy of everybody else these days."
Furman, 24, formed his quartet as a student at Tufts University. The Harpoons released two critically acclaimed albums in 2007 and 2008. They're set to release a new album next April.
Furman is a prolific songwriter who once offered to write customized songs for his fans. When I caught up with him by phone last week, he talked about the emotional contrasts in his music.
You were on tour so much last year that the band was said to be "homeless." Are you still touring that much?
No, we got tired. I came back to Chicago, which is where I'm from. I'm trying to make a go of it as a local musician.
How did you get the idea to customize songs for fans?
I like the idea of something being made just for you. I also write a lot. In college I would write a song every week and just throw them away. So I thought if people wrote in and told me what the song should be about, I could do something with them. I honored about 130 requests.
What's unique about your approach to songwriting?
I think one thing is that our music has no clear emotional stance. That's how a lot of people my age feel, I think. I've got my mental health wobblies, and I've been thinking lately that our music is analogous to bipolar disorder. It's a joke and a truth. It's bitter and it's optimistic. I think that's something we really pull off. I really feel we are not a knockoff of anyone, to say the least.