Justin Furstenfeld
of Blue October,
The TVD Interview

Justin Furstenfeld is anything but ordinary. At an incredibly young age he realized he was different from others his age and possessed a unique artistic sensibility that most around him failed to appreciate. Over the years, this once-in-a-lifetime talent became one of the most prolific songwriters of our generation. However, Furstenfeld’s journey was never easy. He battled a constant stream of anxiety, depression, and a host of addictions that chipped away at him.

Now, clean and sober for almost 8 full years, Justin has reimagined his life and lives it to its fullest with the support of his loving wife, family, and lifelong friends. Although he has not fully won the war from within, it now appears much more manageable, and Furstenfeld has been able to channel the remaining fury into transcendent storytelling that has offered hope and inspiration to countless Blue October fans all around the world.

Let’s get going, Justin—how did you get your start in music?

I would have to say it was when I was five years old. I saw a movie called Empire of the Sun. Christian Bale was the kid, and he walked around, and he sang. It was this crazy high voice thing. And I was out in my front yard, and I remember I was five or six, and I was just belting out this high-pitched opera, right? And the mailman kept coming by, and neighbors kept coming by, and they were just like, “Wow.” And everybody kept telling me, “One day, we’re going to see you on TV, and one day we’re going to hear you on the radio.” And I was like, “Whatever.”

But I was always enamored by music. I heard Roy Orbison’s “Crying” for the first time when I was six—I just started bawling because I didn’t even know what it was about, but it just made me cry. It’s just a powerful song. And then, at age 10, I got into The Cure and The Smiths…heavy. And at age 10, getting into The Cure and The Smiths is so fucking sad, right? And, every time I’d hear a song, I’d be like, “Wow, I don’t know why they wrote that. I could do better than that.” I was really competitive, and it just became this hobby. Wherever I went, I was always writing songs.

I remember from the youngest of ages, from second grade on, I was just always writing songs. And, I remember hearing the Pixies and going, “That shit is so simple, but it’s so cool,” and being like, “Wow, if they can do it like that, holy crap.” And I just have always been obsessed with making up melodies with emotion because I truly believed that the two things that keep people going were smell and sound. I have always been a sensory guy, so I’ve always created. And I’ve gone through everything—I loved hairbands, I loved rock, I loved George Winston, I loved classical. As long as it was sad, I fucking loved it. And that is how I started.

What was it like for you the first time you performed on stage?

It was truly cool. I remember I was in second grade, and we were supposed to write a poem about something that makes us happy. And I went home, and I wrote a song instead of a poem just because I had to win. And I came back the next day, and they liked it so much that they told me at lunch that I was going to sing it in front of the whole school. And I was so nervous… I was like, “Are you kidding me?”

And I remember I got up on stage—and it was something that I had written—it wasn’t just like singing, “Jingle bells, jingle bells.” And I got up, and freaking sang, and I just remember everybody in the school stopping and looking, and really paying attention, and liking it. And I just thought, how cool is that? Something that I wrote last night that I really loved just affected them all and made them smile. It was just a cool moment in my life.

Your new documentary, Get Back Up, is slated to be released in May. Can you give us some background on the project?

Well, I got sober about seven years and 11 months ago, and when I got sober, we always wanted to make a film about how long Blue October has been around. But I didn’t want to make it about Blue October and how cool we thought we were—you know what I’m saying? I just don’t like shows like that. I wanted to make it artistic and uncomfortable. So, I knew I was fresh out of rehab, and I knew I didn’t know how to live a sober life. So, I thought, “Wow, let’s put cameras on me so I’ll stay sober. Because if I had cameras on me, there’s no way I’d fuck up and use again because I don’t want to look stupid and fall down on camera. So, it was kind of an insurance policy to keep me sober. And we kept filming over five, six years of my sobriety.

What I kept noticing is that life just kept getting better, and easier, and more amazing, and more passionate, and more colorful. And it was so beautiful to see all these relationships that had been broken from selfish ego come back together and mend, and to see all the relationships that you didn’t need in your life separate on camera, and watch this whole group of people grow together, including the fans. So, the documentary didn’t end up being about how many number one hits our Blue October had. It turned out to be a movie about rebirth and second chances, and how to just live right and enjoy life and take it one day at a time—and nice and peaceful. It’s beautiful. I really love it. It’s the best piece of work I’ve ever been a part of.

Rumor has it that your tenth studio album is near completion and might be ready by late summer. Any updates on when this may drop and what fans might expect from the release?

Oh yeah. Every single month we’re going to be releasing a new song from the album. So then we can release it, probably be in July, August, or September. It will be great. I can’t wait. It’s called, This is What I Live For.

What were fans’ reaction to the first single, “Oh My My”?

They loved it because we’re all in this place where we’ve all talked about the bad things in life, and we just, for once, wanted to enjoy a good song with some good heart and soul to it. And I think that I wanted to release a lighthearted one first—and then I’m going to give you all one that just socks you in the heart called, “Moving On.” But, I wanted something lighthearted so people can enjoy themselves and laugh right now. For some reason, I thought the world would need something lighthearted, and thank God I put something lighthearted out because of all this COVID-19 stuff. It’s nice to know that someone could just pop on that song and dance and not think too deeply.

Coronavirus has turned everyone’s world upside down. How are you and your family holding up during these extended periods of self-isolation?

We’ve held up well. My wife is a very smart woman. She’s very, very, very particular, almost OCD, but not to a bad point, to the perfect amount of it. So, she’s very, very smart, and won’t allow me to go anywhere just because I want to go. In fact, she won’t allow me to go anywhere. I have to work from the office, which is at our house and studio. And I’m good because I’m always about inner peace, and working on my inner self, and working with the kids, and things like that. We’ve got it pretty good because we’ve got four acres of land so we can go outside and grow things and work in the studio. I just feel bad for all of these people who are in New York and LA where they just live in apartments and they can’t go anywhere. It’s just bullshit.

Any advice you might be able to offer to people out there who might be struggling during these unprecedented times?

I know that I live with depression, right? And I know that if I can’t get out of my head and off my ass, I have to keep myself busy. The one thing I do is I plan things out. I wake up, I plan what I’m going to do all day long. So, I don’t just sit there and do nothing. I’ve been jogging—which is bullshit, by the way. But I have to do it, and I’m kind of enjoying it, but it sucks. But I’m doing it to challenge myself. I freaking wish I could jog more than a mile, but I can’t yet. I can jog a mile and it’s huge for me. I’m also doing, I don’t know, 150 push-ups a day. And, I don’t know, only 60 crunches right now, but still, that’s awesome for me. And I’m eating right, and I’m trying to only watch positive things right now.

I’m trying to read more too. I’m learning more chords on the piano. So, what I’m saying is, step out of your box, step out of your head that’s just full of doubt, resentment, jealousy, rage, anger, and step into that part of your brain that you deserve to spend time with called joy, and peace, and quiet, and happiness, and confidence, and the will to learn something new. Holy shit—remember all that time you wish you had to learn how to fucking knit? Go learn how to fucking knit right now. This is the time now because in a month, or two months, or three, or four when it’s all over, you’re going to go, “Damn it. I should’ve learned how to tap dance. Fuck.”

So, do it. There’s no excuse. There’s no excuse. If you’re alone, man, I feel so bad for you. But, really get introspective. Really look in yourself. It’s amazing the things you can do with things like the 12-step program, like from AA or NA or CA, anything—the 12-step program is just amazing. You can never be bored with it because you can always peel back layers of onions on yourself.

On April 17th, Blue October live streamed 2006’s Foiled in its entirety. This is obviously a departure from your live performances, but much-needed these days. Tell us how the project came to be?

I’ve never played the Foiled album start to finish, and people have always begged me to. So, I thought that I would because they wanted it. I sang my little heart out, and the show sold out. I learned all the songs perfectly, practiced them, and I just gave them my whole heart. I even wore the damn suit because that’s what I used to wear back in 2007.

Tell us about your vinyl collection?

Mine is mainly jazz.

What are some of your most prized albums?

I would have to say Dave Brubeck. I’ve got three Dave Brubeck albums. Ella Fitzgerald…I’ve got six of those. Billie Holiday, Bill Evans, and then you move over to things like The Smiths. I’ve got an old copy of Louder Than Bombs and Meat is Murder. The Cure, Disintegration, of course. Just the best albums that have ever been made. And I’ve got Peter Gabriel—old ones—mainly all of them. And I’ve got some Idaho—there’s a band called Idaho that no one really knows about, but they don’t even press the vinyl anymore, but I’ve got them all. And I just adore them. And I’ve got Red House Painters and the Cocteau Twins…

Do you feel there’s a difference in the sound of vinyl versus digital?

Yeah, it’s more organic. It’s calming. It calms me. Vinyl makes me appreciate the simplicity of the senses. It’s almost like digital can be like spraying on way too much cologne. Vinyl is like spraying on just that little dab that when you walk by, you smell it perfectly. You know what I’m saying?

You still enjoy dropping the needle down on your LPs?

Oh yeah. It was my favorite thing to do from a long time ago when I had my first apartment after I play, because I’ve been playing live shows for 25 years. In the old days, I used to get back to my apartment and put on The Smiths on vinyl because they always sounded so good, because they always came out on mono and all cool. And I would light up a cigarette, and just sit back, and smoke a cigarette by my window. I still do that sometimes with vinyl, and just light up a cigarette, and sit back and listen to Ella Fitzgerald. By the way, “Play Misty for Me” on vinyl is the best song ever.

Next, we have some simple questions posed by your fans. One-word answers only, okay?

Absolutely, let’s do this!

Favorite movie? 

Basquiat or The Notebook (because I’m a cheesehead)

Favorite book? 

Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book

Favorite city to perform live? 

Prague (I Just want to go back to Prague!)

The Smiths or Bauhaus?

The Smiths (of course)

Michael Stipe or Bono?

Michael Stipe

Whataburger or In and Out?

Whataburger

Coca Cola or Big Red?

Coca Cola (Big Red is eh…it tastes like cough syrup.)

Salvador Dali or Pablo Picasso?

Picasso

Favorite album, Sway or Home?

Home

Favorite song, “I Hope You’re Happy” or “Hate Me”?

“Hate Me”

What would you like to leave us with?

Just that everybody, when they’re given chances like I’m being given right now to talk to you and to be given respect and time, just appreciate people’s time because right now time is very precious to people—appreciate someone’s time. When they give you time, appreciate it.

I really appreciate this, and just want to say thank you so much, and I appreciate everyone’s time that they’ve given me over all of the years because they could have spent it with someone else, and they chose to spend it with me.

Justin Furstenfeld will host the ultimate at-home experience—the live, virtual world premiere of Get Back Up on Thursday, May 21 on GetBackUp.TV.

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  • Keiv Spare

    Foiled was recorded in early 2005, and was ready to be released in October 2005. The record label kept delaying the release, but it finally came out in April 2006.
    Not 2016.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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