Blue October a Furstenfeld Family Affair – The Full Interview

Blue OctoberTwenty-five years in and Texas rock band Blue October seem as fresh as the day they formed in 1995.

For lead vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist Justin Furstenfeld, it’s almost a family affair. He’s been in the band since forming it with brother Jeremy and on the latest album they’re joined by a new generation of Furstenfelds.

Justin’s daughter Blue Reed makes her debut on the song Fight For Love off the new album This Is What I Live For.

In a phone conversation with Justin, we couldn’t say no when he invited Blue Reed into the conversation. It became her first official interview.

There was also plenty to chat about with Justin – the new album, the band’s documentary Get Back Up, which came out earlier this year, and how Blue October became the Furstenfeld family business.

Even though we’re in a pandemic, you’ve got a lot going on. A new album, a podcast and the documentary earlier this year. Some people picked up new hobbies, but it seems like you’ve been working your ass off.
I’ve always kind of been obsessed with making music and making art. Whenever, I’m on tour, I love it. But I love, love, love, love being in the studio and creating, and so when all of a sudden you’ve got all this time, I looked at my wife and she said, “Well, I’ll go out in the studio,” and I’ve been out there every day.

I just started a podcast. I started a media center, and we finished the documentary. We released it so people could have something hopeful to watch during such a dark, weird time. Then released an album, just because I’ve always been a fan of if you give people something to sink their teeth into, they’ll take their time and really feel what the album’s about, what the art is about. So why not better just keep moving the ball forward during these weird times, and try to touch people while they’re having a difficult time? Shed a little light, a little bit of color, and just keep building on that. I see it as an opportunity to really move forward, than to use it as an excuse to let it hold me back.

With the creativity and being positive about the pandemic and everything, how has that affected you and your family personally?
For the first time in my life, I’ve gotten to stay home for longer than two months. So I’ve gotten to be a father, been able to take my kids to the school and pick them up from school, go to volleyball games, go to all these things that I only got pictures of when I was on the road, you know?

And I’ve gotten to really be a family guy, which is crazy, because I’ve been doing music for 30 years now, and it’s literally the first time I’ve ever been home for more than two months. I’ve been home for nine months, so it’s crazy. It’s affected us in a way that I choose to see the light in everything, so it’s kind of annoying. I’m more of an always positive guy, and some people aren’t. So I might be that annoying guy that’s like, ‘Geez, Justin. Can’t you be negative?” And I’m just like, “Come on, man.” It’s a time that we can really learn other things. I’m choosing to eat healthy, and my kids and I get to spend a lot more time together, and it’s pretty cool. It’s pretty damn cool, but I can’t wait to get back on the road.

The family must be really excited that you’ve been around for nine months?
The family’s excited. My 13 year old is like, “Okay, dad. Get on the road now.” I’m Mr. Throw Down the Law and Mr. Rules, and I’m a hardcore dad. So I’m sure she can’t wait for me. She’s in the car looking at me right now. I’m sure she can’t wait for me to get out of the way, and let her go on with her social life.

This is What I Live For is Blue October’s 10th release. Was there something unique or different that you wanted to get across with this album?
With this album, I didn’t want to necessarily worry about a popularity contest in this music business, because it’s not about, for me, being the most popular or being the thing that’s the most popular at the time, because that comes and goes. I just wanted to really make a good piece of art that sounded like what my head sounds like, and I really like where my head is, even though it’s dark and colorful and nostalgic and romantic. I wanted to put all of those colors into an album, and I really think we did.

I also wanted to make an album that sounded consistent, like The Cure’s Disintegration album. So I wanted to be able to start it from start to end and be like, “Aww, man. That felt good.” So I would have to say it’s our most consistent, our most romantic, our darkest and our most nostalgic album, and colorful album, of our whole career. I wouldn’t say it the most popular album, or the most fun album, or the most radio friendly album, but that’s not what I made it for this time. I wanted to make a really nice piece of art, and I feel like we did as a band.

It’s the first full album with guitarist Will (Knaak). He seems to fit in well with the band’s sound. Is it hard to record with a newer member with all the pandemic restrictions and no physical tours?
It’s not hard, because I’ve got so many people around the world that I write with, that I work with. So not only is it Will that gets to be on the album, and Steve Schiltz from the band Long Wave. We all worked together on Blue October album. Steve Schiltz and Eric Holt are like the sixth and seventh member of Blue October, because I’ve always been a fan of whoever has the best ideas and whoever can bring the best to the table, let’s do it, you know?

So I always reach out to all my artist friends and ask them for their input. I always want to grow, as a band and as a musician and as a writer. But Will Knack is probably the most talented guitarist that we’ve ever had in Blue October, and so when he got a chance to play on the record, it was so exciting to watch, because he is just a true professional guitarist. He can play whatever you wanted to.

I really like him because I’ve always been a fan of old school jazz, and he can play old Ella Fitzgerald stuff. It’s just crazy. It’s beautiful.

The album has a few guests on it, including your daughter. How did Blue Reed get involved in the album?
Do you want to talk to Blue and ask her? Hold on.

Justin and Blue ReedHi Blue Reed. How are you?
Blue Reed: Hi, I’m good. How are you?

I’m good, thank you. So you’re a guest on the album. How did you get involved in being on the album?
Blue Reed: Well, I’ve always loved singing like my dad, and I’ve always loved music in general, just anything with that. My dad he begs me all the time, just to make music with him, to be able to sit there and just be with him while he does it, so he can teach me and so I can really understand it. So it’s a song called Fight for Love, and it’s just really about family, just doing what’s best for your family. I think that was the one I probably should have been on, just because we’re family.

Is music something you’re interested in pursuing?
Blue Reed: Yes, it is. Like I said, I’ve always loved music, and I love playing the ukulele. That’s something that I love doing. Actually Will Knack, he taught me how to play a few chords, and then I just kind of learned them. In the past few years, I’ve learned more chords and more things. So I’ve been really interested with that, and lately I’ve just loved writing and journaling.

So if I’m in the mood for it, I’ll just like write stuff, and then after I write something, it just makes me feel better about maybe what just happened. I just really like it. It’s one of my favorite things.

It sounds like your house is a very musical home.
Blue Reed: Yes, very.

What are some of the things that happen in your home musically?
Blue Reed: Musically, my dad will play on his guitar and then we gather around, and just be with family. My sister sings all the time and my brother likes to sing too. So we’re just constantly doing something with music. It doesn’t matter what it is. And if my dad is doing a virtual show or something, we’ll just gather around the whole family, and some other family will come and we’ll all watch it. So it’s really cool that we’re all so musical.

It must be really great to have your dad around for the last nine months.
Blue Reed: Actually it is. He was making fun of me saying that I didn’t want him to go back on the road.  This is the longest time that we’ve ever been with him, any of us.

On the album, you also get to play with your uncle, Jeremy.
Blue Reed: It’s really cool. Just because my dad begs me so much to do that so and after I hear it, and after I listen to it, it makes me feel so much better, and it’s really just cool to see what we’ve all done.

I want to thank you so much for jumping in, and answering a few of my questions.
Blue Reed: Yeah, of course.
Justin: Wow, my daughter just did her first interview. Watch, one day she’s going to be this crazy big star, and I’ll be like, “I remember when we were in the car for your first interview. I’m so proud of you.”
That’s so cool. Thanks for talking to her. She’s smiling really big. Are you smiling over there? Are you nervous? Are you embarrassed? She’s so red in her face right now.

It must be different having your daughter’s voice on your album.
It is. I mean, it’s just another thing. I’m not some young kid anymore. I’m in my forties, but the whole meaning of life to me is completely different than it was a long time ago. It’s all about creating and being as compassionate and passionate with your art as possible. That’s what I believe that we’re on Earth to be. Happy, joyous, and free, and to enjoy the beauty that the world provides for us.

I think that art is just one of the most magical things in the world and romance too. Romance and art are just unexplainable, but when they’re done right, it makes life so precious, like a memory or like a smell that you smelled when you were a kid, and it brings you back, and that’s what life’s all about. So if I could share that with my daughter, and then have a piece of that where I can listen to it and be like, “Oh my God. I can’t believe that we did that together, and that’s you and me.” That’s really special.

So the fact that I got to do that with her is pretty amazing, and the fact that she went into the studio and did it so easily, and it was so effortlessly that I wanted her to see that she’s capable of doing her own music, too. She doesn’t need me to be there telling her, or to sing it with her. She’s better than me, actually.

Do you find it exciting or nervous seeing her possibly pursuing this as a career?
Oh, I want her on it now. I’m like, “Girl.” I’ve listened to her sing. I’ve listened to her do live shows with me. People ask, “Hey, Blue. Sing a song.” And then all of a sudden, it’s no longer about me. Blue October what? It’s this little girl who’s 13 singing Ella Fitzgerald. She’s got the smoky, jazzy, beautiful voice, and it’s just insane. I literally tell her that if you’re serious about this, we can start now, and I’ll call my friends at Universal Republic Records and we’ll get you a deal and we’ll start this.

But she’s like, “I don’t know. I’m going to run track for a little bit. I think I’m going to chew some bubble gum and maybe hang out with my girlfriends.” And I’m like, “What the hell?” You know? So I’m begging her to get serious about it.

I make beats all day long. That’s what I do during the day. Hopefully, she’ll come out and be like, “I like that beat. Can I write something to it?” And then I’ll say, “Yes. Here we go.” So we’re going to do it though, but she’s just got such a fantastic voice, and I would be more than honored if that’s what she decided to do for a living, because I remember how happy it made me feel at her age when I would write songs.

And I remember people would ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I would say, “As long as I have my guitar and a backpack full of songs and two or three people to listen, that’s all I need.” And I remember that being true. All I need is enough money for the night where I’m going to spend the next night, and that’s it. You can live that way and you can enjoy your life that way. I will push that to her a thousand times over, that music and art is a beautiful way to make a living, and a beautiful way to live. That’s what I think is so important. I could talk all day about the things that I want to teach her, about boys and about how I want to crush their skull. I won’t do that, but I will.

Having Blue Reed on the album makes it an even bigger family project along with your brother Jeremy who’s been with you through the entire 25 year journey. Do you see Blue October as a family affair?
I saw Blue October as me starting a band and my brother playing the drums, and that we would always grow up together. Our kids would play together. We would always be playing music together and traveling together. I always knew that. I know that my brother and I are different to where he likes playing in Blue October, and he likes being with his family. I liked playing in Blue October, then I like to go make films, and I like to go write other music for other people, then I like to go do the jazz project. I just can’t stop. It’s just how I was raised. So it’s cool to see that we can still do Blue October together, and now Blue Reed is in it too. It’s just precious. I love it.

This album seems like a return to sad lyrics. Was there a lot of emotions flying around when you were writing it?
I’ve always written sad lyrics, just because I’ve always been that way. Except this time, it’s the first time I got to write an album that was a sad album, but it wasn’t about being a victim, or how poor me or blah, blah, blah. This album was more about how there is a piece of me that is sad, and there’s a darkness, but I’m also kind of in love with it, and I’ve always dealt with it. I’ve always felt that way, and it’s who I am. It’s almost like asking Chet Baker to stop singing sad music. You can’t. That’s just what he does. I always loved that. I always loved sad musicians, and their beautiful, romantic song. I just think that this was a good way for me to write about the sadness, but in a colorful, vivid, romantic way, instead of it being so, “Look at Justin, poor him. Oh, I hate him today. I hate him tomorrow. Oh, Lord. He’s so depressed. Oh God.” You know?

The band is known for its upbeat music with an opposite approach to lyrics. It’s almost like most of the time you’re a bit leery about going into kind of a full depression mode with slow dramatic music to accompany those lyrics. Tell me about the unique mix you create on your songs.
I’ve just always been so damn honest that it makes people, either they love it or they hate it. I grew up on The Cure and the Smiths and Peter Gabriel, and Tom Waits, and writers alike. So when I think of music, I think of poetry and truth and honesty, as ugly as it gets. That’s what I love about making music with Blue October. So I’ve always written the way. I’ve never really seen a purpose in settling down on that. It’s always been my thing, I guess. I don’t know how to write fake. I don’t know how to write bland and vanilla. I just don’t, and if I do, I’m so eh.

I’ve done it before, where I’ve written for other people and I’m like, “Oh my God, that was boring.” But they love it. But I’m like, “Oh my God, I could never sing this every night. I would be so fucking bored,” you know? Excuse my language. Sorry, Blue. I didn’t mean to say that. You know what I’m saying though?
I could not just sit there and sing just blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It has to be something that makes me feel inspired and nostalgic.

Here’s the full unedited interview.

The documentary that came out earlier this year showcased the personal demons you’ve faced. Do they still haunt you. What was the coping mechanism or trigger that got you to change?
Nothing haunts me. It was Depression and drug addiction. There is a solution to recovery, and that is being a good person and doing good things, and living in the right way and not lying, and living an honest, truthful life. Nothing in this world haunts me. I would have to say that I’m so grateful that I got a second chance at life, and that I had people around me to tell me that it was not looking good, and that I should think about changing. So I owe it to my band and my wife and my kids and my mother and my father, who really told me that I was going down the wrong path.

So recovery is possible. There’s always a solution. It’s just always in the person, and I just wanted it bad enough. I saw the negative aspects of it, and I wanted to try it the other way. Then, when I tried it the other way, it felt really good, and I liked who I was for the first time. So I stuck with it. Now, almost nine years later, I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I’m confident. I love who I am, and I’m writing the best music that I can possibly write, and life is freaking amazing. I don’t let any negative whiny people around me. If they’re negative and they’re life suckers and vibe trainers, I just remove myself from the situation. I don’t have to go to every fight I’m asked to because life’s too precious. I’d rather laugh and sit around and mope like a little bitch, you know?

You lived that life, but was it a shock to see when you finally got to watch the documentary?
Yeah, because I wasn’t allowed to watch it, or be a part of the editing for seven years. That was the main thing. That was the rule that Norrie set, the director who said, “You can’t tell me what to put in this documentary. I got to do it,” because I’m a control freak. So I got to watch it when everybody else got to watch it. It was a beautiful piece of art. He really made a beautiful piece of art, and it wasn’t about victimhood. It wasn’t about, “Oh, look. Let’s all feel sorry for Justin. Oh, Lord.” It was about Justin was a bad person and someone gave him a second chance, and he wanted it bad. I’m truly grateful to be a part of that documentary, and I’m just a little small piece in that documentary. The real stars are the people that had to go relive all the bullshit to make the documentary, like my brother and my mom and my wife.

You mentioned a little bit, but it must’ve been really difficult for you, being the subject of the documentary and not having any control over it. You left that all in the director Norrie’s hands?
Yeah, it was hard. It was hard as hell. I’m the most controlling person you’ll ever meet, when it comes to art. But I just had to trust the process, and trust that he’s not going to make me look like a total tool. But then, he made me look like a tool, and then he made me look like a person who changed that. So I was proud of it. As long as it’s honest, I’m fine with it.

Going back to your music. Tell me about the first single on the album. “Oh My My”, what inspired that?
I was dropping my daughter off at middle school, and when she got out of the car, I saw all these boys had turned and looked at her like, “Who is that?” It just brought me back to the nostalgia of going to school, and having that crush and wanting her to know just how beautiful I thought she was. It came from that. So I would always drive around, and I’d ask my daughter like, “What should I say? What should I say there?” And she kind of helped me write it, and navigate me through it, but it really got inspired by that, and then I just ran with it. Me and my hopeless romantic self. I just ran with it.

Was the lack of performance in the music video a COVID decision?
Yeah. That’s really crazy, because we couldn’t shoot any videos because of COVID. That was right when COVID hit, and nobody was even allowed to go to work. We had to make a video. So Johnny Choo, who’s an amazing visual artist that I know of he said, “Let me do it.” And I said, “Okay,” and I told him what I wanted. I told him that I wanted two people that were both lost from a darkness and they found each other, and the boy wanted to show her how much he loved her, so he cut his arm off and gave it to her. And he’s like, “What?” And I said, “Yeah.”  So that’s where that came from, and just the beauty of it is the guy did it in his apartment. I was so blown away. Of course people were like, Why aren’t you guys in the video?” and I’m like, ”because it was done in shutdown, motherfucker. The pandemic. It’s crazy. What a crazy time.”

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the band’s formation. 25 years in, what’s your take on Blue October now?
That we’re a song writing, art breathing, life loving machines that just will not stop making music, and we will not stop making inspiring products for people to listen to, and for people to relate to, and for people to fall back onto when they’re feeling lonely or feeling, like I said, nostalgic or sad, or they don’t have anybody else. They can always turn on Blue October, and be like, “Man. Those guys always know what I need to hear.”

What’s ahead for you and the band in 2021?
To kick ass and take names, and to tour, tour, tour, tour, tour, tour. And I’ve already written eighty more songs since COVID. So I’m ready to put four more albums out, too. So what’s up other bands? You’re not taking my spot. I’m going to pass your ass up.

Photo: Abel Longoria
Photo: Abel Longoria
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