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INTERVIEW: Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October

The Next Chapter

Blue October first started in the mid-to-late ‘90s, when two former high school chums Justin Furstenfeld and Ryan Delahoussaye, set out to create an alternative rock band that has since gone on to have more than eleven Top 40 singles across eight studio albums.

Popularized by their platinum-certified album Foiled (2006), which features the hit singles “Hate Me” and “Into the Ocean,” the group has continued to evolve… shifting from a far more pensive sound to one that is more optimistic and reflective of lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Justin Furstenfeld’s transformation—which will also be the focus of his soon-to-be-released documentary film, I Want It.

Once known for their stormy dynamic and self-destructive tendencies, Blue October couldn’t be more distinct from the band it once was, which is why their forthcoming studio album, I Hope You’re Happy, looks to push the envelope even further with a whole new approach.

Salute Magazine recently caught up with Furstenfeld before a recent solo performance in New York City to discuss his transformation, the documentary, and the band’s ninth studio album. 

SALUTE: Where did the name Blue October come from?

FURSTENFELD: I had to think of some clever little name for a band when I was like 18-19 and October always seemed like the time in my life when something huge would happen. Something big and drastic would change. I was always a melancholy kid, listening to The Smiths and The Cure and stuff like that. October was just the season of change. It just wrapped it up in a nutshell. Blue October just sounded mellow and moody. No deep-seeded meaning, just the color and month together.

But we do get the whole Sean Connery movie thing a lot… what was it called? Red November or whatever?

SALUTE: How has your music evolved since the band formed in the ‘90s to now?

FURSTENFELD: In the ‘90s it was a form of self-expression… it was like a painting. I just took words and music and melody and threw it on a canvas. I didn’t really care about structure as long as I felt it all the way through and we recorded it and it was awesome.

But then you get into the world of radio and major labels and you learn this craft of writing a song. You can write prog rock forever. You can write seven-minute songs forever and that’s fine and dandy and I can do that all day. But I started learning from these producers and songwriters how to craft a song like most songwriters do “intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, out.” And it became this little present you could package and sell. “Holy s**t… you mean I can do this for a living? Wow, this is neat.” So I began to make these seven-minute ideas into three-minute and 45-second songs. But it came at around the time Korn and Limp Bizkit were huge and I was not really into that style. So we really didn’t sell that many copies because we were not as heavy.

I always found two or three songs I could go to radio with and then the other ones I could just be weird with. And as we went along it was more a self-reflection of what I was going through at the time and I was always brutally honest because I grew up on The Smiths, who were always way brutally honest. I would have to say that I took the whole self-biography in a song quite far. And the way that it has evolved today is that it has become a craft beyond just myself. Writing about myself and the things I’m going through. It’s become much more universally themed… that I can actually be inspired by other people and hone a craft to form a song that the world might want to hear. Not just this group of emo kids that might be going through depression. So I’m just constantly learning. Constantly evolving. And loving every second of it.

I think Blue October should never be limited to the instruments we have in the band. I’m always about bringing in whoever can play what’s best for the song in. I’m also a huge fan of Peter Gabriel, and if you were to him all you can have is a guitarist a bassist and a drummer, he’d go “what?!” That’s how I feel.

SALUTE: When did you first notice things were starting to have an impact your personal life and your music?

FURSTENFELD: It really wasn’t the stress of it all because I did this so young that my life had to form itself around the music. It was never like the music took me away from all this and I had to get used to being on the road. It was like I was born for the road. I was born for music. I was born to tour and whoever wanted to be in my life had to realize that that came before anything else.

Of course, the first time I flew to New York to sign with Universal I was nervous as f*** because I was playing in a seafood restaurant when I was discovered. I was 18 or 19 playing in a seafood restaurant. But this is what I’ve always done. I’ve always done theater since I was a kid. I’ve been playing music and recording music since I was 14.

It affected my life in an amazing way. I just don’t think I was a place back then to appreciate it. I am now. How it affects other people and how this is what I do for a living. You should be very grateful every day for anybody who comes up to you and says “take a picture with me.” Take a picture with them and say “thank you.”  

SALUTE: What first inspired this new project ‘I Hope You’re Happy’? When will it be available?

FURSTENFELD: It’s mixed and it’s going to be mastered this week and we’ve made our first video for it. And it’s off to the races… We’re no. 23 on the alternative charts right now and it’s incredible. We recorded it in our backyard and we knew what we wanted. We took all the tools we had gotten from working all these kinds of people over the twenty-year span and made a really good album and we’re super proud of it. It’s nice and colorful and positive and universally themed. It’s something you can really sink your teeth into and not get sick of. You can always discover little new secrets about it along the way.

SALUTE: What made you want to produce the album yourself?

FURSTENFELD: Because I always sat side-seat to all the other producers and that was like my dream job. I had a vision and I trusted these other producers and they were great and I love learning from them. This time I just finally wanted to take that weird angle that I always wanted to go to that I couldn’t do with another producer because we’re going to do some weird stuff. We’re going to try some different things. Things I’ve learned over the years that are going to happen, so let’s suit up and do it. And it was an amazing task. The best thing I could say is that couldn’t have done it without my engineer Eric [Holtz] and his organization. I know what I want and when I hear it I get chills. I hear it in my head before I even record it. So it’s like a blueprint. If you build a house and it comes out different, you know something f***ed up.

SALUTE: I also understand that you’re working on a documentary?

FURSTENFELD: Well about five years, 11 months, and two days ago I decided to get sober in this crazy industry because the relationships I had going in with the band and with my management and publicists and everybody in the world was not a good one, because I was a pretty bad guy. So I told my manager, Instead of making this big thing about how great we think Blue October is let’s put a camera on this journey of staying sober in this business. So we’ve been recording over the past five-and-a-half years off-and-on just about how doing the next right thing, you watch all these relationships get mended, and you watch these people have kids and turn into men, and girlfriends turn into wives, and families go through stuff together and come out the other side and make beautiful albums about it all and the team that we built.

It was supposed to be out three years ago, but I said “no” because the longer we wait and the more that we wait and the more that we record this, life just gets better and better, and I want to put it all in there. It will be out as soon as soon as I think it’s ready. We’re super proud of it.

SALUTE: Earlier you mentioned how the film focuses on sobriety in the industry. How has that journey been for you so far?

FURSTENFELD: Amazing. It’s been nothing but a positive rebirth into this beautiful world of many colors. Before it was just this solitude and I thrived on it. And now I want to get to know you and get to know him. And all these things around me are just available and they’re like fruit that I can pick and it all tastes so good. And that’s what sobriety is like for me. And it just gets better. Life tastes better every day I stay sober. It’s like I believe in Santa Claus again. You know when you’re a kid and that nostalgia you have for roller coasters and water parks? That’s like every day and it’s so great.

SALUTE: Has the filming been intrusive in any way?

FURSTENFELD: No. Maybe for some people but not for me. Like I said, I live for theater and I’ve been working on music and art my whole entire life. If I don’t have some art piece going on I am bored. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop so I stay busy.

SALUTE: If you had the opportunity to go back and look at your progress would you have pictured yourself how you are today?

FURSTENFELD: No. I would have told myself a long time ago get healthy. Because you’re just going to be smarter and better than anyone else if you get healthy now. And I would’ve said stop being such a selfish little bitch. There are other people in the world. The story’s not about you bro. It’s about everybody in this world. Life does not revolve around you. The sooner you realize that the better it’s going to be. Give yourself a break.

SALUTE: What’s next for Blue October?

FURSTENFELD: There’s the new album. Documentary. Starting new video blogs… I am working on producing another artist. It just never stops. I just want to keep going. I am working on the second part of my book and more Open Book [solo] albums. I just gotta keep going. And being a good father and husband. That’s very important to me… plus my wife is super cute.

Be sure and check out the band’s website for upcoming tour dates, video blogs and more on the upcoming album, I Hope You’re Happy, tentatively scheduled to be released June 22, 2018.

WATCH: BLUE OCTOBER – “I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY” (SINGLE)

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