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An Open Book: An evening with Blue October’s Justin Furstenfeld (Interview)

Posted on Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 10:01 am

Blue October frontman Justin Furstenfield. (photo by Zayra Alvarez)

by Pat Ryan

Justin Furstenfeld, vocalist/songwriter/guitarist for the Platinum-selling rock band Blue October, appeared Sunday April 14, at The Old Rock House in St. Louis. It was one of 24 stops on his current tour.  The shows, all presented in intimate settings, consist of spoken word, a Q&A session, and an acoustic set of songs never before heard, as well as stripped down and softer versions of Blue October fan-favorites.

“I always look forward to the spoken word/solo shows,” said Furstenfeld.  “The fact that I’m sitting just a few feet away from the audience, that there are no rules as to what they ask me, or that I don’t have boundaries on my answers, is what is exciting to me.  I’m hoping that the evening will give everyone a chance to dig deep, connect, and explore the dark corners of why honesty, no matter how brutal, remains one of the most beautiful aspects of being human.  Through poetry, music, and conversation, we heal.  Why not do it together.”

“An Open Book:  An Evening With Justin Furstenfeld” supports the release of “Crazy Making,” the expanded third edition of Furstenfeld’s book of lyrics, hand-written notes and personal photographs.  The book, featuring more than 80 new pages, includes all lyrics from Blue October’s albums and EPs, from 1998’s The Answers through to 2011’s Any Man In America, as well as lyrics from a dozen unreleased songs.  The new edition also includes some very personal insights into Furstenfeld’s creative thought process through the past few albums, not published in previous editions.  “Crazy Making” is available at all of the “Open Book” shows.

Furstenfeld is a captivating live performer, a gifted and complex songwriter who has poured into his songs intimate details of his many personal battles.  While he unabashedly wears his heart on his sleeve, his tribulations have provided a unique link to fans who share similar personal challenges.  Over the past year, Furstenfeld has worked diligently to change the course of his life, becoming substance-free and healthy.  He recently remarried, and he and his wife welcomed daughter Sayde Bell last summer.  He has been busy writing new material for Blue October’s next album, due out later this year.

I recently had to opportunity to chat with Justin about the book and the current tour.

Your last album Any Man In America chronicles your fight to be a presence in your first daughters’ life, and addresses the many roadblocks you’ve encountered along the way. Is it fair to say that record serves two purposes, to make an historical declaration to her that you made every attempt to stay present in her life, and to serve as a warning to other fathers who have found themselves forced into similar situations?

I think you nailed it on the head, that album was the only way I could express myself, which is through my art. Pursuing the situation legally I found to be counter-productive, I found myself in a spot where I was being accused of lots of awful things that were untrue, I found that the only way I could speak my mind was through my music. It took a toll on the band because at certain points they couldn’t understand why I wanted to sing about it. When you have kids and you lose a kid, you will fight tooth and nail for them, I was at a point where I would go to jail if necessary for my child, I would do anything just to be able to be with her. I wanted my daughter to look back and know that I was fighting for her, and that I always told her the truth no matter how harsh. I would express myself in my art only to have it used against me in court. They made every attempt to break me at this time, and they did because as a result of this I tried to numb the pain of not seeing her with alcohol. My current wife encouraged me to step up and be a better person, I lost sight of my entire purpose in being a presence in my child’s life. After I got healthy again I was able to explain all of the darkness, but also that through forgiveness, taking action, and not being lazy with your life you can make a difference. I wanted to finish the book on a positive note. I wanted to stop focusing on me so much and instead focus on the miracles that happen around us everyday.

Tell me more about the current tour which goes hand in hand with the release of the book. What catalog of music do you draw from?

What I’m basically doing is going all the way back to the first album (The Answers) and playing 2 tracks from every album up till now. In between the songs I read the intro from the book I give a brief explanation of where I was at that given time, When we get to the FOILED album I explain how the downward spiral started, through APPROACHING NORMAL, and ANY MAN IN AMERICA. After that I open it up to the audience for any questions they might have, followed by 7 or 8 songs that I never released because they were either too obscure, or didn’t fit any of the previous albums, I conclude with a sneak peek at several songs from the upcoming album, and where I’m at today. It takes them on a journey of where the band started up to where we are currently, and shows them that this isn’t a sad story, I’m not a victim, but a survivor.

Speaking of your past, you were in a band in high school called LAST WISH, and had a solo project called 5591, was there something about those projects that didn’t fulfill you artistically and made you want to create BLUE OCTOBER?

That’s funny because it’s one of the first things I talk about in the show. 5591 is a side project I’ve always had. LAST WISH was a band I was in that was doing really well but we didn’t share the same artistic vision, they would be writing happy songs about love etc.. and I was writing darker songs like BLACK ORCHID, THE ANSWERS, and FOR MY BROTHER. At one point all the parents of the band members held a meeting because they were concerned about me, and didn’t like the direction I was going in, didn’t feel it was appropriate. I quit almost immediately. I will never let anyone hider what I can or can’t say regardless if it’s a girlfriend, wife, band member, or manager, and they’re just going to have to understand that. This was important because it’s also the same time I met Ryan Delahousse (Multi Instrumentalist) and I took those songs and started BLUE OCTOBER.

How much of what you write become BLUE OCTOBER songs?

I first and foremost write for BLUE OCTOBER, When we started this current record we looked at approximately 60 + songs and narrowed it down to 16 or 17 that we actually recorded. At that time we listen through and pick the ones that best fit the theme of the record. Songs such as BEEN DOWN, and X AMOUNT OF WORDS were songs I had written in high school but didn’t make an album till many years later for that very reason.

Someone once told me “the worst thing that ever happened to this band was when they went platinum” how do you feel about that statement?

I totally agree, because you can’t help it if it goes platinum, we have always made music for the art of it, once your art becomes successful if the next thing you do only sells a ¼th of that it is considered a failure.  I laugh at that because I was always fine with if we only sold 100k copies, on the other hand what am I supposed to say? “No I won’t take that money”, “No I don’t want to pay my kids college”, that would be stupid. Going platinum was just an added bonus to give us a touch of what we really don’t need to survive, and I think that that was good. It was really great but I don’t write for radio, I’m smart enough to be able to put it in radio format, but I never consciously try to write for the sake of selling a million records.

When people tell you that your music has saved their life, or prevented a suicide, how do you take that? Isn’t it a heavy thing to put on yourself?

You know, after 20 years of doing this I still don’t know how to respond to that. I’m not offering answers here, sanctuary, or safety. I speak really honestly, if I save someones life then that’s great but I don’t know how to react to that, or put that on my shoulders because that would elevate me to some level of platinum crap that I don’t even want, I’m a normal person.

How was it to have original guitarist C.B Hudson back for the last few shows, and featured on the new recording?

We’ve been through so many different players that we try to constantly move on with what we have to work with. The new record featured myself on guitar, as well as LONGWAVE guitarist Steve Schiltz, bassist Matt Noveskey, hell, even my brother Jeremy (drummer for Blue October) played guitar on one of the tracks! I Love CB, and hope that he continues to want to work with us in the future again. That being said we will continue on as a four piece until we cross that bridge.

How does working the 12 step program affect your daily life and your interactions with those closest to you?

It’s a night and day difference. The 12 steps are not just for addiction, but it’s a way of living. It brought me back to learning how to live, I go to meetings every day. It has taught me how to be accountable for my actions, and showed me a better, new way to live with peace and serenity, which is something I never knew of.

Is it fair to say that the new record picks up where HISTORY FOR SALE, or FOILED left off?

The new record is it’s own thing, every release is different in it’s own way. As opposed to the last two albums this one isn’t focused primarily on me, it is all about the songs themselves. I specifically said to the guys I want to make this record not about me, we wanted to make songs that made us smile while we were listening to them. I’ll be making records for the rest of my life, I’m blessed to be able to do it with the guys I have around me.