Justin Furstenfeld, the 37-year-old front man, vocalist and creative force behind Texas rockers Blue October, has turned a corner, both lyrically and in his personal life. His band's new album, Sway, released today, is a far cry from 2011's angst-ridden Any Man In America, which was written while Furstenfeld was going through both a divorce and a custody battle for his daughter.
While on tour in support of the band's previous album at the time, 2009's Approaching Normal, Furstenfeld had an interview with the Houston Press, which, to put it lightly, didn't go all that smoothly. The interview and background behind it became John Nova Lomax's controversial "Little Boy Blue" cover story, which appeared in June 2010 and outraged many among the Blue October faithful. A little more than three years later, though, the singer-songwriter sounds content to let the past be the past.
"I'm in a different place now," Furstenfeld says. "The last time I was interviewed by you guys, I was in the middle of losing my mind. It was a really dark time in my life, and I kind of lost my way for a while."
Blue October toured extensively during the Any Man era. Furstenfeld was hoping that someone, anyone, would hear his story and that one day he would wake up, and things would be different.
"That was just an album that had to be written," he says. "It wasn't for album sales; it was an album about divorce and losing time with your child.
"I was hoping that album would change laws," Furstenfeld continues, his voice dripping with contempt for his own arrogance. Then he sighs, pauses and continues with a chuckle, "but it didn't happen that way. Instead, it came across as me fighting a lost cause."
He was on the road, away from home, from his family and, despite all his efforts, he still wasn't allowed to see his daughter.
"I began drinking heavily and using again, because it was the only thing that could fight off the pain," Furstenfeld says, "and I lost what I was fighting for."
So what changed? In a word, perspective. Instead of continuing to bemoan the way things were, Furstenfeld decided to change himself for the better. At the behest and ultimatum of his friends and family, he checked himself into rehab and reemerged with a new outlook on life.
"There's no excuse for it," he remembers his wife telling him. "Get off your ass. Be a real father and a real man."
Some kind of woman.
Furstenfeld says of his wife, "This is the first girl, the first person, really, to look at me and go, 'Shut up. You think you're all that? Not right now. But I know you have it in you.'"
His life has changed, and fans will hear as much in his new music.
"The difference in the music is that I didn't write another album about how hard life is for Justin Furstenfeld," he says with a chuckle. "I mean, you're blessed to have this awesome job making music, so show them where you are now, where the band is now."
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When Blue October reconvened and began the writing process for Sway, there was one rule: "Not one song could be about how hard Justin's got it."
An homage to his wife, the album's debut single, "Bleed Out," is written from her perspective. All the lyrics about taking everything but still wanting more are about the vocalist being selfish. He says that he couldn't move forward without recognizing the wrongs he had done to loved ones and making amends.
Brimming with positivity, Sway still feels like Blue October, but it's somehow completely different. Listeners will hear a stark contrast between the first two songs on the album, as the opening track was written while the band was on the Any Man tour, while "Sway" showcases how far they've come since then. Besides a bright outlook, this album is also unique in that Furstenfeld invited his bandmates into the creative process like never before.
"I got to see what it was like letting the band in," Furstenfeld says of the songwriting. "I was so controlling over all these works of art I had done before that I never let the band in."
But Sway isn't without Furstenfeld's signature grit. "Hard Candy" is a tongue-in-cheek rock ballad that sounds like a '90s-era radio single during the verses before becoming atmospheric during the choruses. And in "Light You Up," he speaks to his addiction and depression directly, as if they were former lovers or friends with whom he's cutting ties.
"I never knew that this was possible, that life actually existed like this (sober) and that I could enjoy it," Furstenfeld says. "But you have to be proactive about life. You can't just sit there and expect things to happen for you. Really take a hard, hard look at yourself and recognize if something you might be doing isn't really healthy.
"I still take meds for depression," he continues. "I still have my bouts with all that stuff, but today I can handle it. Now I can say, 'You know what, depression? You're not going to ruin my day. I'm going to be proactive about this.'"
Notwithstanding his newfound happiness and sobriety, Furstenfeld hasn't forgotten about his fans who might still be a dark place.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is now. You've gone far enough to get there. You've just got to enjoy every moment of your life, because it's short," he says. "And they're going to take it away from you one day... Why not enjoy it now?"
Blue October will be performing an acoustic in-store performance tonight at Barnes and Noble in the Woodlands Mall tonight at 7 p.m.
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