Two for the Road: Ezra Furman and Grace Cummings Bond Over Bob Dylan, Birds, and The Beatles

The tourmates also discuss songwriting and looking at concerts as an "anti-loneliness operation"

ezra furman grace cummings interview
Ezra Furman, photo by Tonje Thilesen/Grace Cummings, photo by Pooneh Ghana

    Two for the Road is an artist-on-artist interview series in which we pair two tourmates to discuss life on the road. In the latest installment of the series, Ezra Furman and Grace Cummings get to know each other better before embarking on tour together.

    Most artists have a knack for storytelling, but few have the conviction and voices to match like Ezra Furman and Grace Cummings. Both women have strong, expressive vocals; they root their songs on guitar, only to let them roam free with wonder and curiosity. And, they’ve both mapped out a 2022 tour, with Cummings supporting Furman across North America on several dates this summer.

    Furman’s sixth solo album, All of Us Flames, is also due for release on August 26th, while Cummings has already been touring the globe in support of her second album, Storm Queen, which was released back in January. Her frequent travels led her to meet Furman in person at South By Southwest in March, where she had witnessed Furman’s magical performance qualities firsthand. “I heard something playing and I thought, who the fuck is this?” recalls Cummings, “And then I turned around and it was Ezra.”


    Similarly, Ezra certainly had some praise for Cummings. “I was driving in a car at night and heard ‘The Look You Gave,'” she says. “It’s a song and a performance that just makes you go, whoa! Wait! That’s happening now?”

    Furman has every right to be a little surprised at the immediacy and style of Cummings’ music — her husky voice and confessional songwriting feels lifted directly from the ’70s, echoing Robert Plant’s howl, Joe Cocker’s rasp, and perhaps most importantly, Bob Dylan’s intimate and poetic storytelling.

    Dylan is a big figure for both Cummings and Furman: Furman claims that he was a “formative character” for her, and Cummings shares a story of seeing his concert in Texas this year and likening it to a religious experience. But both artists excel at exactly what Bob Dylan was all about — they thrive in dissecting weighty topics through a personal lens, and never losing their authenticity while they do it. It’s clear that seeing Furman and Cummings play together is sure to be a special experience, one that prizes community and sensitivity above all else.


    Ezra Furman’s North American tour begins in Los Angeles this Thursday, May 19th, and already, the pair are excited to get to know each other even better. “I’m a big fan and I’ve also never seen you live, and I’m excited to see you live a bunch of times,” says Furman with delight. “We are forging a relationship, a friendship, potentially though the act of being watched and heard by strangers. Nothing wrong with that!”

    Check out Ezra Furman and Grace Cumming’s full Two For The Road Conversation below, and get tickets to their upcoming North American tour here.

    Consequence: Where did you first meet each other or hear each other’s music?

    Grace Cummings: Ezra and I did get to meet at SXSW. I actually knew that I was on the tour already, and then I heard something playing and I thought, “Who the fuck is this? This is amazing!” And I couldn’t see who it was. And then I turned around and it was Ezra. And I was like, fucking of course. So, it was really funny that I actually really liked the music that she was playing.

    And I think something that I was listening to a lot was “Point Me to the Real.” I am a massive fan of that song and I think that the chorus is just so Dylan to me, “Like a Rolling Stone” or something or like that. The way the chorus goes, I think it’s classic. So, I don’t know Ezra, if that’s true for you, but I think maybe that could be some kind of similarity between us.

    Ezra Furman: I had a sense that you, like me, were a Bob Dylan acolyte or lover. I started writing songs when I heard Blonde on Blonde. And I was like 13. But, yeah, we haven’t exactly met. Well, we met for like two seconds. This is definitely more than we have ever talked. And I’m really, psyched to meet you. I’m excited to meet you right now.


    I don’t really know when this was, but I think I was driving in a car at night and heard “The Look You Gave.” I guess on a playlist of some streaming service, somehow it crept into my life. And it’s a song and a performance that just makes you go, “Whoa! Wait! That’s happening now!” I’m a big fan and I’ve also never seen you live, and I’m excited to see you live a bunch of times.

    Cummings: Yeah, me too.

    Consequence: Grace, I know you’ve been playing tons and tons of shows since the start of the year, so what has it been like spending most of your year so far on the road?

    Cummings: It’s certainly different from the two years that came before it. It’s kind of… shocking, but it also feels really normal as well. Like, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Glasgow right now. I got here about five minutes ago. And I have to go to sound check in however long. And I feel like I am just constantly in that like, “Sound check is in a bit,” mindset, you know? And driving around and all that kind of stuff. But, I welcome it very much and it’s what I’ve been wanting to do and what I’ve been very sad about not doing for the past two years.


    Sometimes when I get fed up or tired or my bandmates are like really getting under my skin or something, I just remember how much I want to do this and how great an opportunity it is. Yeah, it was really hard. I don’t know what it was like for you, Ezra, with lockdowns and things like that. I’m from Melbourne, in Australia. We had the longest lockdown in the world. We had an 8:00 p.m. curfew. You couldn’t go outside, you couldn’t leave your home for more than an hour a day for exercise and stuff like that. It kind of does something to your brain, and I feel like I am getting to be more myself now. I feel like myself, if that makes sense.

    Furman: Yeah, it was definitely a heartache for me. Yeah, lots of canceled shows. At the same time I think I learned… I don’t know. I’m a parent now, it’s a different stage of life and I was longing to be home. My little one was born at the very end of 2018. And, so he’s three-and-a-half. So, I guess I’ve had this special time of never being away for this whole giant chunk of his toddler life.

    But at the same time, early on, when it was like real lockdown with no daycare, no anything and all of our work we had to do in our life… first it was canceled, but then it was work from home. A friend of mine lost their home and had to move into our living room for a while, so our house became a place… it wasn’t like the boredom that a lot of people described. It wasn’t boredom. It was like such crowded chaos.


    Cummings: Just some crowded nights, huh?

    Furman: Yeah, and just not able to think, not able to have a good day. I feel like everyone in the world, our methods for how to have a good day were taken away. That was almost universally true. So basically, yes, it’s been lots of yearning. Yeah. And I did take a lot of time and write some songs, which I felt good about that. Did you make your record — when did you record it?

    Cummings: I recorded it in a week, between a small sliver of time that we had free before we went back into a lockdown. And, I wrote a lot of the songs two weeks before that. I don’t really know why that happened. Because I didn’t really feel like doing anything. There’s one song on it that I’ve had for maybe three years or something like that, but all the other ones were just before I recorded it. And it felt like the songs that I was scrapping — because I had a bunch — the songs that I was leaving off the album, I just thought, “this isn’t what I care about anymore.”

    So, it felt really good to do something. Like, the immediacy of it was something that I really liked and I didn’t know how it was going to go, but you just fucking figure it out, you know? And made me have this energy that I wouldn’t maybe have otherwise if I knew exactly what I was doing.


    Furman: Yeah, I… I may have been on a track in the opposite direction. I guess I’ve just always been so, “I’ve got to have it written.” And I was having this thought, I watched most of The Beatles [docuseries] Get Back. I was just like, wow. They just trust themselves. They’re coming up with this brilliance… sometimes right before they record it.

    Cummings: There’s a bootleg of recording Abbey Road. They’re just sitting around talking and George comes up and is like, “I’ve got this line.” He’s like, “Something in the way she moves attracts me like, like a what?” And John is like, “Say anything. Anything that comes to your mind. Attracts me like a pomegranate.” He’s like, “It’ll come to you.” But George said, “I’ve been trying for six months!”

    And it made me feel so good that even George Harrison… because if I don’t get something there and then, I always just quit. And I get really annoyed with myself. And I’m like, it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to do it. George Harrison says, “It’s taken me six months. Attracts me like a what?” He said, “I can’t think of what attracts me.” But if it’s okay for George, it’s okay for me.


    Furman: Oh yeah, for sure. I used to also just write every song actually in one sitting. And then, I don’t know why, I stopped doing that. And then I became the opposite. Like, really edit. Too much, I think sometimes. But I’m not gonna judge anything. There’re a lot of ways to skin a cat.

    Cummings: I think both ways are pretty good. I’d like to be able to do both, really.

    Furman: I know, that makes me want to just like write something and record it the same day. The next day. I should try it. Scares me a little bit!

    We’re actually putting out a new song tomorrow, it’s the third single on the album called “Forever In Sunset.” I had a moment, well, like… Grace… guessed, I had a bit of a Bob Dylan moment. ‘Cause, I guess, Bob Dylan was like this formative character for me and somebody I’ve always been listening to. But, at some point, when I was still a teenager, I was like, “Okay, okay, I’m not going to be like Bob Dylan. How can I take Bob Dylan’s influence?” There’s no way to incorporate that. That’s how I feel about a number of things, like “Oh, I’m getting really into Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys.” Like, I’m not gonna make that. I can’t do that.


    Cummings: Good luck!

    Furman: Right, exactly. Like, let’s set that aside and figure out, I don’t know… But I’m also really into punk rock and may actually go that direction. That seems a lot more doable. But, something happened with me listening to Bob Dylan, I just dove in. I especially dove into ’80s Bob Dylan. And I was imaging actually, as a thought experiment, if Bob Dylan’s first album was Slow Train Coming. I was imaging he starts as a Christian artist and then he starts to branch out beyond that.

    And, in that case, he would be a very interesting… I don’t know, he’d be like… this guy is good, but he doesn’t have all the legend baggage. And suddenly, I was like, “I could be influenced by that guy.” But what he still had in the ’80s and got better and better in a way, he had that grand tone. Just that tone of voice… I don’t know, he’s just… gallant.

    Consequence: That’s a great word.

    Furman: Yeah, poetic. Like John Keats or something. Old kind of poetry.

    Cummings: I just saw Dylan in Austin when I was there. And I went by myself with my little church thing, and I sat next to a man, I can’t for the life of me remember his last name, Richard something or other. But he wrote a book that is sitting on my bookshelf called Why Bob Dylan Matters. And he is the head of classics at Harvard University and he teaches Why Bob Dylan Matters as a part of the classics against the Greeks. And all that classic poetry and storytelling. Because he thinks it’s the same thing. So, according to professor Richard, you are absolutely spot on. And me as well, I think that too.


    Furman: Somebody gave me that book! I know that book, and I read about half of it. Yeah, so the new album has some of that, but then I was also deeply, deeply obsessed with girl groups from the ’60s. Especially The Shangri-Las. I just wanted these things to be next to each other. And then, I guess then I started writing a new something that felt like it mattered to me more than other little experiments I was trying out.

    Consequence: Besides Dylan, what other art has inspiring you both lately?

    Cummings: Oh, could talk about Dylan forever. I don’t know, just little things. Like, here’s something. That guy who sat next to me while I was seeing Dylan… I’m not a religious person, I was brought up that way but I’m not. And Bob Dylan is kind of like the closest thing that I’ve really got to that. And he played his song “I Contain Multitudes” and I started crying. And this man just put his hand on my shoulder. And just like, this kind of like knowing… he didn’t look at me, he didn’t ask me if I was okay or anything like that. He just put his hand on my shoulder to say like, me too. And those little snippets of real are few and far between. But if you have one of them, I think it can fill many pages. The feeling of it can fill many pages.

    Something that I think I’ve always been influenced by is… for want of a better word, because it’s far more magical than this word, but nature. A lot of it from the album, I suppose, was the Australian landscape. But also places I’ve been to and the kind of feeling that you get. The kind of very real feeling that you get from just seeing something beautiful. Like a Scottish green. It’s so green, I’ve never seen green like that in my entire life. And you look at it and you just go, “Fuck.”

    It’s kind of this unselfish thing, like the only thing that you can do in your life that’s not selfish is admiring beauty and then you just kind of go somewhere else and you don’t know where it is anymore. But that’s a real thing. So, a few of those things might happen in a large amount of time, but I will gather them up and put them in a box. And not use them necessarily as like, “That’s my memory that’s what I’m gonna write a song about.” But when you are sitting down, I find that all of those things are like stacked away and then they come out. Because that’s where they are. Behind that locked door.


    Furman: Are you gonna write about green? The color green?

    Cummings: I think I’ve written a few. My manager said, “Grace you have to stop writing songs about birds!’

    Furman: You need a new manager! That’s bad advice. I would listen to a whole album about birds. A whole album on birds alone.

    Cummings: So would I! There’s a book that I’m reading right now called 12 Birds to Save Your Life. And it is a man talking about going through a period of grief in his life and seeing these different birds, and where you have to be in order to see them. Like a lark, you are only going to see a lark and hear a lark if you are out in a big green meadow. You know, he’s from the UK obviously. And how each bird makes you feel like you are not a main character in your own melodrama. But a big part in nature’s great epic. That’s an influence as well.


    Furman: Yeah, that’s been an influence for me as well, something like that. Some kind of shift from “I’m the main character,” I feel like that’s the main thing I’ve been thinking and writing about. And those songs are kind of themes around… well, more in the sense of community. I have been using a lot of first person plural. “We” and “us.” Yeah, and I just… I didn’t even really mean to do that. It’s the kind of thing you just notice. Like, hey, I guess I am doing that.

    There’s an amazing thing about songwriting, at least for me and I’ve heard of other songwriters say this, that it’s like finding stuff in your brain. Important stuff that you didn’t know about. And it sometimes takes a while. I mean there’re songs that in retrospect, I didn’t understand what they were about. But I look back and see myself reaching towards something that I got to like a year or something after I had already written a songs about that. And it’s such a fascinating process that your own conscious can sort of be out in front.

    Cummings: I agree!

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