Justin Furstenfeld is under no delusions as to where his band is at this point in its run. Nor is he under any delusions as to what his band’s goals and ambitions truly are.
“This band is 100 percent a well-oiled machine,” says Furstenfeld, front man for Blue October. “We don’t need No. 1 records anymore, to have Platinum status. We just want to play music, put a roof over our kids’ heads; to us, that’s the definition of success right there. We want to be on the bill with a bunch of young bands and make sure we kick so much ass, when we walk off the stage, they’re like, ‘Man, now we gotta go on.’”
Furstenfeld and his bandmates will have that very opportunity when Blue October plays the annual 94.5 The Buzz Bud Light Weenie Roast on Saturday at the Woodlands Pavilion. Other noteworthy bands on the lineup include Chevelle and 10 Years, among younger acts, including Missio and Dinosaur Pile-Up.
Blue October has played the Weenie Roast before, for a couple of reasons. For one, the band still gets a ton of radio play from The Buzz, which in turn helps them maintain a loyal local fan base. Second, any chance to play the Houston area marks a homecoming of sorts for Furstenfeld, who grew up in Houston and spent much of his youth surveying and playing in the local scene.
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His first gig was at the now-shuttered Boat Yard when he was only 13. Since then, Furstenfeld has both played and attended gigs at Houston-area musical institutions like the Mucky Duck, Fitzgerald’s, Continental Club, Satellite Lounge and Rockefeller’s.
“It’s insane how much love Houston has given us over the years,” says Furstenfeld, who now resides in Central Texas with his family. “The longevity of that Houston love has been a direct result of The Buzz supporting us and playing our music.”
Like many who grow up or spend ample time in Houston, Furstenfeld also feels our city gets slighted somewhat in terms of its reputation in comparison to other cities.
“Houston is dope; I mean, look what they’re doing with downtown the past several years,” he says. “Houston to me, as a city, has always been like performance art. There’s great hip-hop, really great obscure bands, just some cool stuff is just amazing...Houston has everything, and it’s just getting more beautiful. You’ve gotta respect that.”
If Furstenfeld sounds like a wildly optimistic, upbeat individual, that’s because he is. Once committed to a psychiatric treatment center years ago, and having spent much of his life battling depression and substance abuse, Furstenfeld now views life through a clear lens. He’s been sober for more than five years, regularly attends AA meetings, and is now married with three children.
In fact, having previously spoken with Furstenfeld seven years prior for a previous profile, I found it to be quite a contrast. Much of that interview centered on depression and negative energy, whereas our most recent conversation focused on family, playing music and essentially finding happiness.
“Parenthood has certainly whipped me into shape,” Furstenfeld says. “It’s not about me anymore; it’s about securing a future and being a role model. Every decision you make, I just pretend that my kids are watching. I stopped drinking and drugging, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I live life through the eyes of my kids; I try to be a good man for them.”
Furstenfeld’s outlook on life has also changed Blue October’s approach to music. The band has recorded on an independent label for the entirety of Furstenfeld’s time of sobriety. Working for themselves allows band members to profit from their music while also making a good living on the road.
Furstenfeld no longer expects to chart hit singles, though Blue October’s new music has fared quite respectably on the rock radio charts. Rather, it’s about maintaining a steady presence, both in the studio and on the road, not to mention a clear head.
“We’re not gonna be superstars; we’re not gonna sell millions anymore,” Furstenfeld says. “But we recoup more money and put it back into the business and keep moving forward. I keep reinvesting in myself, as long as I stay sober. If I were to go back to the old ways, no way I could do it. This business revolves around listening and learning, not griping about not selling records. You conform, or you fall by the wayside.”
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While Furstenfeld’s outlook on life is certainly far more positive than it once was, much of the band’s catalog – particularly its biggest hits, like “Hate Me” – aren’t exactly cut from a similar cloth. So, is it weird playing a bunch of depressing songs, when one is no longer depressed?
Not really, Furstenfeld says, and his reasoning is pretty sound.
“It’s like going to a really good AA meeting where everybody is sharing and everyone is learning from the mistakes they’ve made,” he said. “I sit back and I’m glad I’m not there anymore, but thank you for that experience, for making me the man that I am today. I see people in the audience that may be going through that, and we can play those songs, knowing it may really mean something to them.”
Blue October performs at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Saturday, July 22 at the 94.5 The Buzz Bud Light Weenie Roast, also featuring Chevelle, 10 Years, Missio and Dinosaur Pile-Up. Gates open at 3:30 p.m.