Gay rights activist returns to roots

In conjunction with his two most passionate interests, singer-songwriter Ezra Axelrod combines activism with piano rock in a unique mix.Born in Oregon, Axelrod has had many places he calls home. However, he still makes time for his alma mater Middlebury College and his college hangout spot, Burlington. He performed at FlynnSpace on April 9.At age 3, Axelrod moved to La Grande, Ore., where his parents taught English at a small liberal arts college. He was raised in an environment of creative writing and expressive thought in the small conservative town.”My parents are both professors.  I grew up in a really artistic environment … [they were] both authors and always in contact with famous authors,” Axelrod said.  “For as long as I can remember I would be surrounded by world-renowned authors.”Axelrod dabbled with music early on with the violin, cello and clarinet.  His instruments of choice have since switched to piano and vocals.By age 10, Axelrod had begun writing songs, a vehicle for discussing the controversial issues in his community. “[The songwriting process] is always a very natural thing.  I think maybe the first song was the setting of a William Blake poem, and then I started writing lyrics,” he said. “[In high school] writing was an escape, saying all those things.”Axelrod described the confined and conservative views of La Grande’s religious community as a place where things are unspoken. “It can be very dark.  On my first album I’m kind of exploring the conflict and darkness, under the façade that everyone and I were putting forward,” he said.Upon graduation, the valedictorian fell in love with Middlebury College and studied music there. “I love Burlington — always came up to hang.  I love Vermont.  I definitely see myself [here] if I had the opportunity to just do the creative work I would want to do here,” Axelrod said.Very different than the conservative west, Vermont continues to intrigue this musician of eclectic taste.  His interest in cinema, specifically the work of renowned Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar, has had a profound influence on his worldview.”He was a huge gay icon growing up, the way he represents the queer community.  [He] brought up the issue for me,” he said.Axelrod’s activism does not stop at his influences; his music and interviews reflect his work as a vocal gay rights activist, giving many lectures on queer issues.  On the three-part song cycle “Patria,” he touches upon issues of war and masculinity defined by violence.Over seemingly innocent piano keys, he invokes the reality that exists for many adolescents involved in war-related conflict.Currently, Axelrod’s largest endeavor has been the experience of managing his ongoing tour.  “I put the budget together myself, bookings, logistics … I had no idea before this how to book a venue.  I just think this knowledge is really valuable for an artist,” Axelrod said.