cackblabbath.online were honoured to speak to Blue October frontman Justin Furstenfeld ahead of the band’s sold out gig at London’s Koko. We caught up with Justin while he was getting inked, adding a union flag and a red rose to his tattoo collection.
We’re here with Justin from Blue October, welcome back to the UK man.
Thank you very much for having me here, I really appreciate it.
You guys are quite busy just now. The new album has just come out, it’s getting some cracking reviews. You’re really pulling it all together?
Thank you very much !! It’s been a while, we’ve been doing this for 17 years now so we’re very grateful and very blessed to be still doing it.
You went down the PledgeMusic route for the new one, and it didn’t take you long to get the target?
Yeah, that was actually quite a blessing, we just put it out there, I paint paintings for fans, I go to their houses and play for them while they have dinner or I teach music lessons, or I teach creative writing lessons or, whatever they want you know. Or play private parties, they help us fund the album and the videos that we make.
It’s cool, I got the three vinyl albums.
It’s a good idea.
You helped us, thank you !
The whole pledge thing works, Blue October are a band that people who know them, know them but a lot of people outside the clique don’t. You’ve got your fans, your friends who know who you are but you’re not a mainstream band, but you’ve still got a big following. You come over here and you sell out tours, that must be quite a good situation to be in?
It’s quite amazing because we’ve done the whole mainstream corporate thing and then we decided to go do the “our own label” thing and it just seems that the more that we are honest, when we just put out good music, quality music that we work hard on then the more people just keep showing up.
Do you think Up/Down gives you more control? You don’t have to please anyone else
Yes, yes and I’m powerless over what people think of me. That’s like the first rule I ever learned, that I’m powerless over what people think and I’ll not change anybody. But, you know, as long as I’m happy… and free…
I guess for a record label Blue October would be quite a difficult proposition, because, because what you do as a band.. and I don’t want to.. is very tied in to where you are as a person. You go back to Approaching Normal and there’s bits of it that you think are autobiographical, you listen to Say It and you think yep, then you get The End which you hope isn’t.
But it’s all tied into that. Then you got Any Man In America which is a very different sounding album, a different feel. Is it all down to Justin as a person, or is the band a separate entity. Is it all tied into where you are in your head at the time ?
It’s all been autobiographical at the time, until we got to Sway. After I did Any Man In America I couldn’t go any darker than that. That album needed to be made because of my daughter, that I don’t get to see because in America the legal system is different. I thought making Any Man In America would be a big change, it would put a staple in it but, you know what, nothing changed.
When I saw all that happen I began to drink alcohol, and towards the end of that I just knew, there was no change at all. So I said “I can’t live this way, I’m going to stop drinking, I’m going to stop doing anything bad to myself, begin a spiritual life”. I worked 12 steps, alcoholics anonymous, and I find that life is not so hard. I just stay sober and I pray for my daughter that I don’t get to see, and I go make an album about peace, about serenity, about hope and about justifying who I am because of all the crap, you know.
It’s not about how hard you get smacked in the face, it’s what you do afterwards. I love and I pray for my daughter every day. Sway is the answer to it all. It’s the *exhales* “Let that shit go dawg, it’s gonna kill you”.
Just going back to Any Man In America for a second. You buy things today on download, you buy them from iTunes and you listen to it and you think “is it a theatrical tale or is it a true story. Then I got the album through and you see the dedication on the album and that changes, well for me as a fan, that changes the whole perception of what that album is about, because one day Blue’s going to listen to it, she’s going to hear it?
Looking back now, obviously you’re calmer, you can tell from the music you’re more relaxed, you’re slightly happier in your own skin maybe ?
Do you go back and think “Maybe I shouldn’t have said those things”, or is it something that’s set in time and you’re comfortable with it ?
Set in time and I’m comfortable with it. I’m a realist, you know, I’m a realist. It was a moment in time that I will always be proud of, saying “That’s who I was, yes that’s how crazy it drove me and yes those were the things I was thinking because it was so hard being away from you. You know. I don’t want to quit because of something like that, she’s much too important”.
How is it for the rest of the band, how do you think it is working with Justin. When you go in and you say “This is what we’re going to do next” and you show them Any Man In America, I know you’ve been friends for a long time, and your brother is there, do they look at it and say “lets go and do this” or do they try to sat “maybe we shouldn’t”, “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea” ?
On Any Man In America yeah a few of them were like “ermmmm”, but that’s how you make art. I was taught when growing up in art school that you..
OK, quick story.
I went to a school for the arts. Painters had to do senior projects right? Well this visual artist.. you walk into this room and you smell, it smells awful. There’s bamboo everywhere, he’s made this jungle out of this gallery. And each one of these, on this trail all the way through the gallery, through this jungle and each one had this dead corpse of an animal rotting and so it smelled awful, and then there was pictures of just brutal death. I mean it was horrible, but if you made it all the way back to the beginning there was a crib with this beautiful baby lying in it. It just showed you what he had to do to get from Cambodia to America.
But he almost got kicked out of school for doing that, but they didn’t as he did so good at representing what art is about. The smell was awful, the pictures made you throw up, it made you hate the artist until you saw that beautiful baby at the end of it and you go “I get it”. That’s how I have to see all harsh original art.
Yeah, I have to see it like that, and if somebody goes “whoa, this is uncomfortable” then I know I’m on it, then I know that I’ve struck a nerve. Now I just got to ride that nerve and not go overboard. Any Man In America… on the line.
Reading the dedication on the album it does make you realise how true it all was, it did make me go back and listen again. I like the album but it wasn’t what I was expecting after Approaching Normal it wasn’t what was expected ?
Well I wasn’t expecting divorce either *laughs* I thought I had a wonderful family and everything was great then suddenly.. Boom. That’s how life is.
That’s another thing about you personally, and you as a band. You’ve got a fan base that care about you. When the pick up the phone thing happened everyone was genuinely worried, were you OK, were you going to be OK, you know the stories of tortured geniuses going off the rails…
Well the funny thing is everybody thought I was just going crazy…
But you weren’t ?
And that’s when I just blacked out and everybody just said “Oh look at him, he’s so crazy”, and I’m like “no”, And after that it was nothing but Any Man In America. That’s when it all began.
It’s the only thing that’s helped me get through it, this music, and I think that’s why people have always backed me because I’m never bullshitty about it, I just say it and I’m just so grateful and blessed that people don’t actually go “You’re f*cking crazy”.
I’m just blessed that I get to be able to do music for people.
Wow, well thank you very much for that. I wasn’t sure.. I was talking to a friend before.. I’m really interested as a fan to know how you ended up here.. you know. I’ve been a fan since a friend dragged me along to a show, in fact you’re the reason I got into gig photography, on the Crazy Making tour you played Manchester
And I can’t remember the song, but you stared straight at me, but it wasn’t like a theatrical, it was a proper sort of.. unsettling almost.
*laughs* aww, sorry !!
I thought, If I had a camera I could have.. and that’s it, went out and got a camera and started photographing gigs.
Oh that’s great man.
Right, fast forward to the new album now, that’s enough of the history. When you started putting this together, obviously it feels more like an album with a collection of good songs on it, as opposed to a story. Is there a narrative that goes through Sway or is it all just about your place now?
Hope. Courage, yeah, hope and courage.
It’s done well, the singles have both done fairly well?
I’m blessed man, I’m like “It’s OK, it’s doing good, it’s still rising”, with that I’m really, really, really grateful. Bleed Out came out really good because, Bleed Out was written for my wife, I’ve remarried and had another child, and I’m so blessed to have her but I had to write Bleed Out in here eyes because at the end of Any Man In America, she was with me through that whole thing. We weren’t married yet but I put her through hell.
That must have been difficult for her, all this stuff going over your ex?
Oh yeah, and so that was written in her eyes to me because, you know, I had to clean my shit up you know.
Well, thank you very much for taking the time to do this, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Are you going to take pictures tonight ?
I’ll be right down there in the front with the camera !!
Yes !! I’ll give you that stare