The teen coming-of-age story is a tale as old as time, but with Netflix’s Sex Education, it’s been tweaked in ways that make the comedy and tragedy of those awkward years feel deeply important — and relatable in a way few shows have done. With its frank discussions of consent, cliche-busting portrayals of queer characters and groundbreaking, shame-free depiction of female sexuality, it’s the kind of series many viewers wish they had when they were growing up.
The show also sets itself apart with its soundtrack, which features the music of indie-rock singer-songwriter Ezra Furman — including both never-before-heard originals and tracks from his most recent album, 2018’s “queer outlaw saga” Transangelic Exodus — in some of the its most memorable moments. With the show on pace to be watched by 40 million people in its first month (according to Netflix’s own numbers), it’s earned him plenty of new fans — many of whom are anxious to get their hands on new song called “Every Feeling” that appears in the third episode.
Below, Furman tells Billboard about his contributions to the soundtrack, filming his cameo and what the show taught him about his own music.
How did you first get involved?
I got an email from Sian Robins-Grace, who is the head of development for the production company that made the show, asking me if I would talk with her. They asked me to Skype with her and Laurie Nunn, who wrote and created the show, and they were like, “I don’t know, we’re into your music! We want you to be the Simon & Garfunkel to our The Graduate.” I think that’s how they put it — or maybe I put it that way. But I was into it. It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing for a long time. For years I’ve wanted to write things besides my own albums or help people make another project. And it fell into my lap in this beautiful, lucky way.
For the new songs you wrote for the show, how much instruction and guidance did they give you? Or did they give you free rein?
They sent me the scripts for the first three episodes of the show, and then they sent me this whole summary of what the show’s vibe and world was going to be like. They were like, “Let’s see what you come up with in this vein, and we can get more specific later.” So I started just to write some things and [unearthed] older songs of mine that I had never finished. I sent them a million demos of all these things and asked what they thought, which ones seemed to jump out to them. That’s the guidance they gave me. They were like, “This one is good,” or “Finish this one, this half-song you started.” But they gave me a lot of freedom.
It was a wonderful thing: I’ve been writing songs since I was a teenager, so one kind of song I’ve written a lot is about, I don’t know, teen angst feelings — feeling unsure of yourself and immature. And some of those songs, a lot of times I’m like, “Well, it’s too adolescent, I don’t know if it fits my album.” Like our last album, I was trying to be very adult, very serious, so there were some songs that got cut that I really liked where I was like, “They’re too teenaged.” So this was the perfect place for some teenage feelings.
What was it like seeing how they put it all together, and how they used those songs, especially the older ones?
I think they did really well at placing them. To make a song fit the show, usually you have to do a little editing, which I thought they just did really brilliantly. It’s like they come in at the right moment of the song. Usually songs are meant to go along with a lot of moments in your life, and it’s nice to see them have these emotional moments from the show be the accompaniment to this music.
What was your reaction to hearing “Body Was Made” play right after that great “I’m Spartacus”-style “It’s my vagina” scene?
Yeah, that actually was just the one I was just thinking of. That’s like one of the best moments of the show. I feel like that’s way more impactful and effective than our music video for the song. I love our music video, but they found the perfect moment where you want to hear that song. [Laughs] The whole thing reminds me of the joy in my music. They chose some really joyful moments along with the emotional ones. Sometimes I think of myself as [writing] a lot of angsty stuff, and the show is just kind of a joyful affair. It was a good reminder of, “Oh! I collaborated on this joy.”
You make an appearance during the school dance scene. What was it like filming that?
Very different from any other day of my life. I’ve never been on TV before, really. I guess a little bit, but I’ve never played a character. We were in Wales at a high school gymnasium where I think they told us Tom Jones had once played. It was just very nicely timed. We were going on tour in Europe right after that, so we just tacked on this one day of filming to the beginning of it. It was a lot of miming to our music that was playing over a loudspeaker — it wasn’t actually live versions. And it was very fun to have a room full of extras burst into applause for us again and again. [Laughs]
Actually, you know what the best thing was? I don’t think you can really see the shoes I’m wearing, but at the end of the day, I was admiring them, like “God, these shoes are great” — they’re like black and gold and they have these twisty gold patterns — and then the really nice lady at the wardrobe place was like, “You should just keep those. Just take them with you.” So I’ve still got ’em.
In that dance scene, you play “Origin of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which holds a special place in Eric and Otis’ friendship. Was that something they gave you background on?
Actually, yeah. Because I read the first three episodes’ scripts, I knew the characters. I knew that this was a song Eric loved. I think in the first draft, it was dedicated specifically to Eric, or I say something to him on the microphone, and I was very nervous about that. [Laughs] And then when it didn’t end up happening, I was very relieved. I’m not an actor.
You do have that great little moment, though, when the teacher asks if you know the “Macarena” and you kind of roll your eyes and then just play “At the Bottom of the Ocean.”
Yeah, we pulled that off somehow. Trust me, I was overanalyzing it. Everything you do, you do at least nine times because they cut to all sorts of different angles, and I was like, “Oh, this is a moment of acting. I’m gonna have to live with this for the rest of my life!” But everyone was really nice to us. They held our hand through the whole thing.
One of the songs viewers have really latched onto is “Every Feeling.” It seems like in everything I see about the show online, everyone’s like, “What is this song? Where can we find it?” Do you have plans to officially release it?
We have intentions. It’s all being talked over and worked out. I definitely want it to come out whenever possible. I do think they’re releasing some version of the soundtrack at some point. We’re just waiting to know about the details of it. That one in particular, I am stunned how many people are talking about it, asking me about it online. It’s very shocking. That particular song, we almost didn’t record it because I wrote it very quickly as I was walking out the door. I had to go somewhere, and I was in the grip of a significant depression. I guess I was sick of feeling all these bad feelings. It was like the umpteenth day of me feeling very depressed, and I had to be somewhere, and I was like, “I just have this idea that I should get down before I walk out the door.” And then it was that whole thing, all the words of it in a minute and a half. I guess it makes sense — it’s like this little uncut gem from a bad day.
Generally speaking, what’s the response been like to your work on the show so far?
A lot of urgent demands to release that song and that song called “Coming Clean.” Just a ton of people hearing about me and our records for the first time. I’m so delighted. I want to greet them. I want to show some more hospitality. I’m not sure how. [Laughs] I’ve just done weird Instagram posts. I’m not so adept at social media. It’s not my forte. But I’m just delighted to welcome them aboard.
Your cover of “The Good Book” by Melanie is also on the show, and it’s a cover that pre-dates the show — you recorded it in 2016. What was it about that song that originally drew you to it?
Oh, it’s a genius song. I had actually never heard a song that is about what that song is about: how an audience wants something from a performer and wants reassurance, like, “Tell us you love us with a book or a song or a poem because we need it.” And that was a time when we were putting out Perpetual Motion People, and we had really been pretty obscure. That was the first album of ours that came out where it felt like a lot of people were waiting for it to come out and talking about it and playing the lead single on the radio. So I was just thinking a lot about what can be emotional or tender or beautiful in the audience-performer relationship. That song is like, “Tell us you love us so we don’t feel alone,” and it seems like the best thing a song could do — to make someone not feel so alone.
Absolutely. And it fits so well with the themes of the show, too.
Yeah. I’m also flattered — that’s a little bit harder to find in our catalog. That’s not online. That was this special release for people who preordered our album, and then it was on a Record Store Day EP, but I’m so flattered that they dug a little deeper and found the most appropriate moments in our catalog.
Have you heard anything about a second season, and if so, have they asked you to work on it?
They have not officially asked. It seems like a popular show, though! I hope they make another one. I was just thinking about this — I would feel more confident going into a second season because now I’ve seen the show. It’s so strange to read a script like, “Okay, I guess I can kind of picture this, but I don’t know what anyone looks like, I don’t know the tone of how this line is delivered.” It seemed so vague going into it, and I was like, “I hope I’m giving them stuff that makes sense.” And now hearing the soundtrack of the show that wasn’t the stuff that I did, it’s kind of inspiring. Like, “Oh, I could come up with some nervous Devo-sounding music.” I hope they ask me to do it again. I would be honored.
Beyond Sex Education, what’s next for you?
You know, it’s been a little while since I did an interview, so I don’t have my answer to that question ready. There’s stuff coming up. Listen, there’s never a moment in my life when I’m not working on my next record, and yeah, I am. [Laughs] I can say there’s an LP coming out this year which I am very enamored of and think people will enjoy.