Blue October: Reality Radio

Blue October: Reality Radio

Blue October: Reality Radio

To say Justin Furtenfeld, lead singer and songwriter of Dallas rockers Blue October is an interesting interviewee is putting it mildly. Enthusiastic and talkative, his love of music and his willingness to be frank and upfront about his previous battles with demons such as alcoholism and depression is refreshing.

I caught up with him on the eve of the release of Blue October’s third major
label release Foiled. The first single, “Hate Me” has been a hit at alternative radio and in this revealing Q&A interview, Furtenfeld detailed the background to that song, the making of the album, his confessional writing style and his constant battle to find inner peace.

Hi, Justin. Andrew from Ink19 here. First of all, tell me about the process of making Foiled.

Hi Andrew. Nice to talk to you. When we got off tour two years ago, I was going through a lot of crap. I was trying to get healthier mentally and physically. I asked my manager if I could live in the studio for three months and just go and write. So I went to LA and stayed with my friend Chuck, who had a studio in his house and I just wrote there.

I got permission to produce it myself along with David Castell and there were really no rules. There were a lot of painful stories and a lot of really deranged things that were going on in my brain and I needed to put them out there somehow. I was honest about the process, and there was no format, just whatever made it sound like it was coming from the heart.

A perfect example is the start of “Hate Me” when you hear the crash of the window after the mother’s voice. The glass breaking isn’t a sample – it was a huge bottle of whisky that I had been drinking and I just got the mic and just crashed it.

The process was really organic. It was really beautiful going through messages from my mom who hadn’t heard from me in four months wondering if I was
still alive, for Christ’s sake!

I was just doing all I could do to make it a real honest album.

Honesty is definitely something that characterises all of your songs.

Yeah, my honesty sometimes gets me in trouble, but it’s all good, I’ve always been the type of person who is way too sensitive and way too deep to let
anyone give me orders. I am all about making what’s right for radio and stuff like
that for the label, but in my personal life it’s really good to be able to just get away and make an album for me. It’s like closure for me. Making Foiled lot of things were going on in my life that I needed to get out, so when this album was done, I was already sick of the songs, as they were so painful to sing and record. Now, it’s this big door that’s been closed, it feels so good. It feels like a clean slate. I’m not trying to be all dramatic and shit, but you know, that’s how it goes. I was closing the door on a lot of stuff, a lot of stupidity and a lot of deranged thoughts.

So are you happy with the way the album turned out?

I could not have been happier. We have never really been a “rock and roll band”, we have just been a band and that’s clear on the album. I grew up on everything from The Cure to The Smiths to hip-hop to anything, so why does a band have to conform to just one style? That’s one thing that always bugged me as a kid: “Why does this rock band just stay rock?” When I used to listen to The Cure or The Smiths, there would be one beautiful sad song and then the next song was heavy and just singing about throwing your body down to the rock below. I found that fascinating and I’ve never stuck to one style in my music.

I was going to point out that there is such diversity on the record. It runs the full gamut from the heaviness of “What if We Could” to the poignancy of “18th
Floor Balcony”.

Yeah, you can tell I have a pretty crazy swing of moods! One moment, it’s tense, one moment it’s mellow. One moment it’s sad and then smooth. Peter Gabriel
never conformed and I love that about him. I love that Universal give me the freedom to do it like this, and didn’t say, “We need 10 more tracks like ‘Hate Me'”.

Speaking of releasing singles, because of the painful song writing process you go through, is it difficult to release your material to the wider world?

I find it very difficult, yes. When I write a song as deep and honest as “Hate Me”, it just happens. There’s so much inside of me, I’m like, “I’m so sick of crying, I’m so sick of taking drugs, I’m so sick of self–medicating. Just get it out and shut up and stop whining about it!” It just comes. I never remember writing a song. Then when it’s done, I’m like, “Wow, it’s beautiful!” Then I realise, “Shit, I just handed it over for the world to see!” You know? I mean, I have got to look at the relationship I’m in now and respect that, and it is hard, but the one things I have always said, is “What would Johnny Cash do?” Would he put songs in a vault for no one to hear or would he share them? I want to share songs like “Hate Me” as I know there are so many people out there that struggle with suicidal tendencies, depression, drug addiction and relationship failures because of these problems, that it was a must for me to have it out there.

It was really hard for me to have it as a single. It was the most honestly creative song and on the album it’s six minutes long, and now it’s three minutes! I
never expected it to be a single. When it was picked to be the single, I was like, “Oh, man! Who am I going to offend? I’ve just opened up a door that I wasn’t ready
for.” I had to communicate with the people that I love to tell them that that’s not
how I feel now. That was me closing a door on a moment in my life. They understand that’s how I do it. I need time to write, otherwise I’m fucking touring all the time and I can’t get closure writing on the road.

So is “Hate Me” a confessional?

It’s a confessional to a person I was in a relationship with that I really screwed over with drug addiction, lies and selfishness. But it’s not just about a
girl and a boy anymore — it’s a broader aspect of me looking at myself and going, “Yeah, you screwed the relationship up, but it didn’t start there. It started with you and your mother and your father and all the stupid shit you would do and lie about.” It’s not just about love and loss. It was about, “I’m such an awful person, and I really need some help.”

So is the answer phone message at the start of the song still on the single?

No, the single has the message but it’s not as long. It’s chopped a bit, but
the nervousness and tension of it is still there. The video we are shooting in L.A.
has the whole message. It’s a very important part of the song. That’s what keeps it
from being just the girl/boy relationship. It doesn’t start with me breaking up with
someone because I lied and cheated and did a lot of coke. It started with when I
stopped talking to my family, started locking myself in the house, starting becoming
paranoid, antisocial, stared doubting myself, started thinking of suicide. There are
so many other things. It is just a big present to give to every single person that I’ve hurt and saying, “I am so sorry. I own up to it.”

So, if “Hate Me” is a way of apologising for things you have done and don’t
intend to do again, how will your writing change when these things aren’t there for
you to write about?

I totally know what you mean. That’s my worst fear ever that there’s nothing to write about, especially since Blue October is such a dark band. I almost feel that I’ve sabotaged myself to create this album. Almost like I did it to myself so
I’d feel that way. Almost that I hurt all those people on purpose. There is a side of me that goes, “You know you did it for the art!” That’s evil! That’s evil, but I’m sorry, that’s how I am. I didn’t create relationships for my art, but I will use my learning experience from them. Every aspect of it.

Your writing is so personal. Didn’t you start writing that way at like 14/15?

I was writing at 12 or 13. It’s weird as I still play acoustic shows where I
play some of those songs. Take a song like “Black Orchid”, I wrote it at 14 and it’s
a song about me sitting in a room with a gun and my mom walking in and trying to talk me out of doing it. I’m like, “God, I was even like that when I was 14.” I
never wrote songs with lines like, “I love you so much, my bubblegum pop girl” It
was always like, “Why did you leave me? I’ve got a gun to my head.” It sucks, but as I get older, I decipher it a bit more instead of, “Woe is me,” now I’m like, “I
fucked up. What am I gonna do about it?”

You asked earlier, what am I going to write on the next album. I’m just
going to have to see. It’s like, a lot of things are going to happen to inspire me
and a lot of things are happening now, I’ve written so much music — but no lyrics
are coming right now.

The song “Into The Ocean” is a song about jumping off a ship and once you
hit the water, you realise you never wanted to end it in the first place. What are
you gonna do? You fucked yourself. I wrote that on a cruise when I was supposed to be all happy. You go on a cruise to be happy, and I’m sitting on the balcony at night writing about, “What would happen if I just jumped off? I bet if I hit the water, I would totally change my mind.” I was like “What a song!”

I don’t know… It’s dark and evil; I don’t know how it comes.

The interesting thing about your writing is you go from writing a song like
that to something upbeat and happy like “Calling Me”.

It is strange because “Calling You”, yeah, was a love song, but if you listen to it there’s a lot of self-doubt. I listened to it about a year ago and there’s lines like “Do I try too hard to make you smile?”. It’s like, “Wow! You don’t think a lot of yourself, man!” It’s not a purely happy song. But then “18th Floor Balcony” is the first purely happy song I’ve written from part one to the ending. It’s a beautiful slow song and it’s the only happy song I’ve written in my whole life.

I’m not sad about that. There will be many songs to write about in the future. I’m sure if I have kids one day there will be lots of happy songs. If you
ask Steven King why he writes horror books, I’m sure he wouldn’t really know why. I
am obsessed with it, I’m that way. I grew up on The Wall and The Smiths — how much more depressing can you get?

Your songs have so much depth to them because of that honesty and that obsession.

It is weird, when I hear other bands, they have angst and I respect them for
doing it their way. But I am at a point where I never care what people think of the
songs. I am trying to do this for my own therapy so I don’t have to go pay a shrink
any more, man! I don’t have health insurance, so you can imagine taking meds and
going to a shrink! Why not just write an album about it? Damn!

There’s a thing called reality TV going on right now. What about reality radio, reality music? Why haven’t we touched into that? It’s not about drama; it’s
about being honest. Instead of saying you’re insane, tell them you have cockroaches in your brain? You got cockroaches clogging your brainwaves… I don’t know, I’m babbling!

The other thing about your music is the diversity and “Congratulations” is different to anything you have done before.

I was inspired with that song. I wanted it to be as simple as possible. I realised I could rope an eight beat into it. It was going to be just an acoustic
song, but then I realised when it goes “My heart…”, that you could drop a beat in
there, and it just builds it. It’s just nice and pretty, like raindrops. Thanks for
the compliment.

You started off your major label career with Universal, got dropped after Consent To Treatment, and got signed again by Universal after releasing History For Sale independently. It’s a rare occurrence in this business, so how do you look back on that situation now?

It’s simple. It’s like if I owned a shoe company and my shoe wasn’t selling, I’d fire the people that designed it. If they came out with a shoe that started selling, I’d rehire them. I am a businessman too, and I never got this feeling of
like, “Oh, my God, you got dropped!” You can either quit, and be a complete failure
or you can get off your ass, write more songs and do it. The great thing about it is
that a few labels wanted to offer us a deal. When we showcased, they brought over 100 people to the showcase. They already knew of us, they knew we were an eclectic band. If we had signed with Columbia, we would have had to start over explaining ourselves. Plus, the love was there. It’s a mutual respect. I have so much respect for them and they do for me. They are like a family.

So what’s next for Blue October?

Well, after the album release, we are touring by ourselves at first, hitting our markets. There are a few other touring offers on the table but I can’t talk about them yet. We’re also doing a video shoot for “Hate Me” with [director] Kevin
Kerslake. It will be a great experience, I can’t wait. My mother gets to play the
part of my mother in the video. I am really excited!

Foiled is out now on Universal Records

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