Interview with Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October
Sep 02, 2017 08:42PM
By Leslie McCarroll
Justin Furstenfeld at Cargo, Whitney Peak on May 14, 2017
My eyes welled up with tears that night. I wasn’t prepared for how the lyrics and the music would hit me so hard and how I would be touched and moved by Justin Furstenfeld’s performance in the 2015 “Things We Do At Night Show- Live from Texas” at the House of Blues in Dallas on iTunes.
Of course, most people are familiar with their platinum singles "Hate Me" and "Into the Ocean" from their 2006 platinum album, Foiled. I hadn’t really known most of their other songs until I was recently introduced to them by my boyfriend. I instantly was drawn to Justin’s performance and the lyrics because of the authenticity and rawness of the subject matter in his songs. He holds nothing back about his own personal struggles throughout his life and I felt ok about being NOT OK with what I was going through or had struggled with. His personal struggles and life experiences are what makes up most of the material on his platinum singles.
It’s brave, raw, compelling and uncut. Everyone of us has been through a lot of shit but how many of us want to talk about it and put ourselves out there in fear of being judged or scrutinized so publicly? Not Justin. It seems he has no fear and no inhibitions; Justin exudes rawness, vulnerability pain, laughter, frustration, resent, depression, and ambition in all of his captivating performances. I just knew after watching him on iTunes I would have to see him live and get an interview with him to find out more about this amazing human being that had touched so many people. It just so happened that Blue October would be playing at Cargo inside Whitney Peak Hotel on May 14th in Reno, NV.
With a little bit of belief and determination in myself, I was able to secure a 20 minute phone interview with Justin to get up-close and personal. He was funny, joking, serious, thoughtful and most of all very kind when we spoke. I didn’t know what to expect interviewing this amazing rock star. Thank you, Justin, for taking the time out of your busy “Heart Go Bang Tour” promoting your new EP “Home” and allowing me to connect with you on a personal level. You are an inspiration to many!
As the Universe would also have it, I was also able to work with the amazing Martin Gollery from Incline Village, NV. Martin was one the teachers at the High School of The Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas where Justin Furstenfeld and Ryan Delouse went to high school. What are the odds? Martin was able to photograph the Blue October show on May 14th at Cargo. He got some really great shots of his former students. I hope you enjoy this interview and the amazing photography of Blue October by Martin Gollery.
“Fear in itself, Will reel you in and spit you out, Over and over again, Believe in yourself, And you will walk. Fear in itself, Will use you up and break you down, like you were never enough, I used to fall, now I get back up.” Fear -( Lyrics) Blue October// SWAY (Album)
Leslie McCarroll: Who was your most influential teacher in high school? Was is Suzanne Phillips Jennings or Sharon Ferranti? Why? What did you lean the most?
Justin Furstenfeld: Both of them were influences, but I spent more time with Suzanne Phillips Jennings and she was my mentor. I learned so much from Suzanne Phillips just on acting. With Sharon Ferranti, I learned a lot on movement and to get rid of my inhibitions. Sharon was more of a physical type of teacher and she was my movement teacher and director on ‘Age of Discretion’ and I have so much respect for Sharon Ferranti. Suzanne Phillips and I had about 4-5 hours a day with her for four years. If there was one person that I could think of that has influenced me the most and where I am today it would be Suzanne. Suzanne Phillips was about how to get into your character to really live the part. I liked Suzanne because she was an out-of-the-box kind of teacher. She really expected perfection from each person and if you didn’t give it she’d kick you out of the room. I loved that about her! She taught me how to run my business today. You either show up 100% or get out of the room!
Some people call me an asshole for it but I learned it from the best and I get what I want out of art because of it. She taught me to connect with myself and lose my inhibitions and go for it and not be scared.
LM: Having toured as a very young man on a stage production “Age of Discretion,” how did it prepare you for the rigors of what was to come with your success as musician?
JF: It prepared me because it was such a serious subject matter about AIDS and what it was doing to the world. It brought me into the power of touching people for the right reasons; the power of touching someone’s heart not for attention but for the better good of making them aware of something bigger than themselves.
LM: The Last Wish (Justin’s band in high school) vs. Lead Character in “Age of Discretion”: Are you typically drawn to those types of characters?
JF: I would say back then I was. Back then I was a teenager living with depression so I didn’t know how to get it out; I guess I was drawn to the tragic characters. These days I love my life so I try to make people laugh now.
LM:Is fatherhood what you thought it would be? Do you feel like you’re a different parent that your parents were?
JF: I think it’s more than I ever thought it could be. It’s a whole amazing, brilliant life and I try to be as good as a parent because my parents were amazing.
LM:Friendships, band members, life changes…how has your relationship evolved and maintained so well with Ryan Delouse after all these years? What do you love about it now?
JF: I love that we’ve come full circle and we’ve been through hell together and we’ve both done horrible things in life and we’ve both lifted each other up in our darkest times and we’ve just always been honest with each other.
LM:What is your favorite charity and why?
JF: Music Cares: They help addiction and they put kids and musicians in rehab. Sky High for St. Jude in Texas, and anything dealing with Cancer. I love all charities.
LM:For parents of children that struggle with mental health issues, I’m empathetic to the experiences you’ve openly shared through your art and music. How can we can do a better job creating awareness and support as parents and society at large?
JF: That’s a really good question. I think we need to listen more and don’t judge a book by its cover. I think that as a society the whole mental health issue is hard because each person is different and everybody has their issues in life whether it be self-doubt, whether it be any insecurities…you know what I’m saying…I think that just being open and honest as you can about mental health and proactive in solutions on mental health. I don’t think there are enough hard asses out there that tell people with depression like, “Hey, get off your ass, go outside and take a walk… you know that I’m saying? Get outside, go get out of your head and let’s do this and I’ll go with you. Get on your medication, let’s take it every single day at the same time and let’s eat right and let’s not drink any alcohol anymore if you have depression because that’s going to make it worse. DO NOT do any drugs on top of depression because that will make it worse and all I’m going to hear from you tomorrow is ‘‘Im so sad” when actually you’re hung over. Know what I’m saying? I think the fact of the matter is with mental health is that you have to treat it like a heart disease. If you have a heart disease you’re not going to go out and smoke 10 packs of cigarettes and run 10 miles and sit around and eat chicken fried steak all day. You’re going to treat it right so if you have a mental problem with depression you’re going to take your vitamins and not drink alcohol, go outside and take a walk and cut all negative people out of your life. Include all positive people and find groups that you can talk with and make yourself available for positivity. That’s the best way I can say it! Wait! One more thing, you have to be proactive with depression. You can’t do what depression wants you to do and sit there in your own shit because you’re going to start stinking. Ya know, you have to be proactive with depression and kick the shit out of it!
LM: What has been your favorite part of your journey with your music and art?
JF: Seeing how the work ethic of it all and the more healthy I get…the longer I stay off of drugs and alcohol…and the more active I am and the more I live that life, like I just told you, of rigorous honesty and proactive positivity. The more the music becomes so much more of a blessing. SO much more of an amazing beautiful journey. Instead of this regurgitation of pain it’s this hole that just shines with light and I can just spray in on anybody. It’s amazing!
LM: You talk about your wife a lot. What about your wife makes her so strong?
JF: She’s a bad ass! She doesn’t take any of my shit! She met me when I was a full blown drug addict and alcoholic and she didn’t know who Blue October was when she met me, which was really hot. She said, ‘If you want to be with me you go and clean yourself up,’ so I went and cleaned myself up! I just love her and she is an independent woman who cheers me on but doesn’t sit there and feed my ego. We talk about real things and real plans. She’s a strong woman and the greatest mother I’ve ever seen. And she’s just beautiful!
LM: I know you painted two of your album covers early on. What do you fill your canvas with these days? Who are you inspired by as an artist?
JF: My favorite painter of all time is Jean-Michel Basquiat. Some people look at him and go “OH God” but I think he is just brilliant. I don’t paint much these days because I’m out there just living mostly and writing music but when I do it’s…I don’t call myself a painter. I throw paint on a canvas until I see something and then I accentuate on it. I would have to say I’m just a big fan of kelly green so whenever I’m painting these days I always put a lot of kelly green in it.
LM: What celebrity would you paint naked and why?
JF: Paint a celebrity naked who would it be and WHY?? Um….. oh man...wow...geeze that’s great question.
LM: It’s kind of off the wall…
JF: No, it’s awesome…let me think..oh man.. this is hardcore…
LM: Let's come back to it...What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you on stage with a fan or on tour?
JF: I was drunk way back in the day and hung over as hell so I drank 4 Emergen-C packs inside one water bottle and went on stage and during the first song I shit myself. I shit all over myself and I had to play the whole set with shit all over me. Great times! Pretty Cool!
LM: Regarding your most recent tattoo: I know that music from the UK was a big influence for you, hence the Union Jack tattoo on your chest. Now that Scotland might vote to leave the UK, would you modify your tattoo if that happens?
JF: I didn’t know anything about Scotland...Laughter...They are amazing and they have the best bands that came out of that!
LM:Canadian Bacon with Pineapple or Pepperoni and Sausage?
JF: Pepperoni and Sausage
LM: Your music is very intense, emotionally charged and theatrically delivered. Your fans have followed you on your journey. Some of them I’m sure are experiencing the same things that you went through. You probably helped so many that you don’t even know. What’s the one story a fan has shared that floored you regarding the way Blue October has touched their life?
JF: There’s so many. I would have to say, there’s a little boy that is dying of cancer and I’m calling him this week and he wants to talk to me before he goes. So I’m going to have to call him this week and I’m going to try to be as positive and as loving a possible and figure out what to say. That’s probably the hardest thing, ya know? There’s so many great stories but this is probably the hardest and most epic.
LM: Star Wars or Star Trek? Boxers, Briefs or boxer-briefs?
JF: Neither! I’m not a science fiction dude! It would be something like Gone Girl or like freaky like Forensic Files. I’m a huge investigative discover fan. I love for that shit! Like 20/20 or Forensic Files, Dateline 48 Hours, mystery, holy shit...I get excited thinking about it!
Boxers that are tight!
LM: We’re really looking forward to your return to Reno! What do you love about performing in Reno/Tahoe?
JF: I love the energy and the people there are so full of life. I love Reno in a much different way than I like Vegas. There is this style of Reno that is like an old, good Cadillac. Vegas is like a new Cadillac and Reno is like a drop top, old school, kelly green Cadillac. I love that shit! The energy and passion in Reno is just amazing!