I have to admit that I did feel, as Homer Simpson would say, “giddy like a little school girl” when I found out that I was going to have the opportunity to interview Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October. I think he is an amazing songwriter. There are layers upon layers of depth to his songs that run the gauntlet of emotional exploration. At times they are happy, at times they are sad, but they never lack for the ability to connect with their fans.
The band was about to play the third show in their Quiet Mind Tour at the Fillmore in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was able to catch up with Justin before the band’s Meet & Greet with their fans at the venue. Our talk proved to be an emotional one as Justin opened up and shared quite a lot with me. This was definitely one of the most moving and personal interviews that I think I have ever done.
Johnny/RR: Hey Justin! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. I will try my best to be professional and not go into “fan boy mode” as I am a big fan of yours and of Blue October. I have mad respect for you and your songwriting skills.
Justin/BO: It’s no problem at all and thank you so much. I appreciate that a lot.
Johnny/RR: Let’s jump right into business here. Your latest album Any Man in America has been out for a while now. It’s a very raw and emotional album. Was there ever a point in the writing process where you thought to yourself, “Maybe I need to pull back a little?” You really seemed to open up about your divorce and custody battle and didn’t hold anything back.
Justin/BO: Yeah, there were plenty of points like that when I was writing the album. This album is definitely not made for little kids to listen to. I think there are other fathers out there who may have been through a similar situation. If there are kids involved when you go through a divorce, then you shouldn’t play games and use them in the games. There’s anger in my writings and I wanted people and especially other fathers to hear it as well. This album is the closest thing to a documentary about what I was going through that I could make. If I held back, I felt like it would be an injustice.
Johnny/RR: I totally understand where you are coming from. You see it way too many times when it becomes a game and the child, who usually has no clue as to what is going on, becomes a pawn in the game.
Justin/BO: You’re absolutely right, they become a pawn and it’s sad. This has been really hard on my daughter. The last time that I saw her, she asked me why people were so mean to me. She’s so young; she doesn’t even have a clue as to what’s truly going on.
Johnny/RR: Let’s switch gears and talk about your label situation. You signed with Universal back in 2000, then you were dropped, then re-signed in 2004 and then they offer you a 360 deal. I was shocked! You guys have been around for over 15 years and they offered you that deal. Can you tell us what happened?
Justin/BO: Yeah, we were not going to say yes to a 360 deal. Basically, that gives the company 20-25% of everything you make. That includes merchandise sales, album sales, and the whole nine yards. We said no to that and started our own label called Up/Down and we got a distribution deal through Sony.
Johnny/RR: You worked with Tim Palmer on the latest album and he’s worked with the likes of The Cure, Concrete Blonde and Pearl Jam. What made you go with him?
Justin/BO: I had met him before and had really wanted to work with him. When I found out he had moved to Austin (Texas), then I knew it would be easy for us to do. It was great working with him. He was the person who kept telling me to not stop and to just say what I was feeling.
Johnny/RR: Speaking of which, when you are writing, is there a method to the madness? Do you have a writing process?
Justin/BO: I tend to write a lot and sometimes it just happens. It’s taken me two years to write a song before and sometimes it takes five minutes. If I find myself needing to finish a song because of a deadline, then I lock myself in the house for two or three days and shut myself off from everything until it’s finished. I love writing. I love placing syllables and trying to figure out how to disturb grammar and still make it sound interesting. I guess there is a method once it starts to flow out. Then, I have to tell everyone to shut up so that I can get it down.
Johnny/RR: Being the type of deeply connected songwriter that you are, do you find it difficult to make music videos? Do they come out they way that you want them to?
Justin/BO: I love making music videos. I’ve really liked all of our videos, well except for ”Calling You.” Have you seen that one? It’s the one with the baby. If you don’t remember it, that’s a good thing (laughs). That’s the only one that I wish we could have a do-over on.
Johnny/RR: So this tour runs into December. What’s after that for you guys?
Justin/BO: We’ll hit the studio and start recording our new album. It’s almost 100% written already. We’re going to bring in David Castell, who worked with us on Foiled. The album should be out by next summer and there should be new songs available in February on iTunes.
Johnny/RR: That’s awesome news! I know the fans will be excited to read about that. Speaking of David Costello, you guys scored a major hit on the Foiled album with “Hate Me”, but it came with a price. Are you sure you want that to happen again?
Justin/BO: A hit single is great, but I pray that we don’t get another one. It brings you to a level to where you have to answer to alot of people. “Hate Me” blew up huge and we ended up touring for three straight years because of that one song. None of us had any time for our families. A hit single just pumps your ego up and none of us need that as this point. We’re just focused on making great art, kind of like the Cowboy Junkies.
Johnny/RR: You know, you guys have been doing this for almost twenty years. Did you ever think that it would last this long?
Justin/BO: Oh yeah, I knew that this was what I would be doing. I told myself that I had a backpack full of songs and that if I had to, I would travel the world so that they could be heard. You really have to separate yourself from the people who tell you that it’s not going to happen. Those people will bring you down and they get in the way of the creative, writing process.
Johnny/RR: I know it must be hard sometimes relaxing and being able to sleep because even though the body is exhausted, the creative mind that you have is still hard at work. What do you do to relax and unwind?
Justin/BO: You’re right; it’s like two different beasts. I meditate a lot and I also like to hang out with my daughter. I remarried and I have a beautiful wife who I love dearly and we have a new daughter, Sadie Bell. She hasn’t met her older sister Blue yet, but she will soon.
Johnny/RR: Hey, congrats on that man. I know that having such a caring person by your side really helps during those tough periods of your life. I forgot to ask you earlier during another question about negativity in your life. You definitely have to cut that negativity out and disassociate yourself from it. If you don’t, it can suck you right down with it. Life’s too short for that to happen. Justin, you are definitely a very genuine person. When it’s all said and done, how do you want people to look back and remember you?
Justin/BO: I want them to think of me as a guy who kept it real. I was the guy who told them what they might not necessarily want to hear, but needed to hear.
Johnny/RR: That’s awesome man; I love that! Justin, this interview has been an honor. Thank you so much and I really am looking forward to the show tonight. Good luck with everything and stay strong my friend. Your time with your daughter is coming; just don’t give up on your fight.
Justin/BO: I really appreciate that, thanks so much. Thanks again for wanting to talk to me. This has been really good.
~ Johnny Price, Contributing Writer
~ Photo of Justin by Lauren Voneper