An Interview with Justin Furstenfeld, mad genius behind the Texas rock quintet We’ve been really excited to see the album (History For Sale) taking off for you guys.
It’s slow but good; we like it that way, though. Wherever we’re playing, we’re gaining and gaining and gaining more ground. We’re definitely working for our pudding.
How did you get resigned to Universal?
As you know, we were dropped, but we kept touring for about two or three years. We were getting ready to either go in and make an album by ourselves or find a management company that would help us make it; we found Rainmaker Management and they really did wonders for us. They got us on the right path, signed us to their record label, and basically forked over some money and left me alone in the studio. We came back with this album and got one of the songs on the radio, and it just kind of took off.
It was Texas radio, but Dallas’s The Edge is one of the biggest competing stations in Texas. It just blew off the number one phones for about three months and so all these labels started calling, wanting to see us showcase. They started coming down, [and we were] meeting a lot of people—more than the first time. So we were talking to about four or five labels, and Universal was one of them. They came down and saw us, and out of all the labels—we went up to New York and showcased for about four of the labels—Universal was the one that brought 50 or 60 people to our showcase, the whole staff. Plus they already knew of us, they already knew where we came from. You know, business is business; they dropped us off when we weren’t selling a lot—I would do the same thing. So we’re in a different spot now, different team; same president that always believed in us. So instead of starting the whole thing over again with a brand new label and saying, “This is what Blue October’s about,” why not go with a company that can do it if they’re just behind you 100 percent, and these people were behind us 120 percent. They’ve done so many things for us in the past six months, I can’t even tell you. So we’re all a big happy family; we’re making music for a living, touring around, seeing the sights, and enjoying ourselves.
I can’t decide if this is better than the Wilco story or just as good.
[Laughs] We’ve been compared to that quite a bit. I don’t know; I’m just thankful. That’s all I can say. Because there’s a million, million, million people who want this spot that I’m in, and I’m not ready to give it up, and I won’t give it up. So I’m going to do whatever I can to be on top. We finally have some backing that believe that we have those capabilities, and believe in us 100 percent. So we’ve got everything that we need right now.
The album’s got some really beautiful love songs on it, and it’s also got some really loud angry songs. Why is there such a disparity?
Every album that we’ve ever made has been pretty extreme; one moment there’ll be the soft ones and the next moment, we’ll be killing you with the guitars. This album, for instance, had to be stronger than Consent [to Treatment] on the hard ones, like “Somebody” and “Razorblade,” lyrically and metaphorically speaking, just because selling off your history—you’ve got to get out there and admit to everything if you want to sell it all. You can’t sell half your history if you want to start a clean slate. So it was kind of based on that: the soft things, the intimate things were taken very, very sweetly and sincerely, and the hard things were taken pretty angrily when we were in the studio. So it just came out that way—it’s like a roller coaster—but then again, we’ve always been that way.
On “Come in Closer” there’s a range in your voice, a soulfulness that I’ve never heard before, and it’s just incredible. But it doesn’t seem to quite fit the album. How did this song—and the guest vocalist—come about, and tell me why you think it fits.
I think it definitely fits, because it’s my history; it’s a piece of my history. So it might not fight soundwise, but heartwise and meaning-wise, it definitely fits. It’s a song about lying, it’s a song about getting to the core of relationships and understanding where they fell apart. It touches in on a little bit of the more spaciness that I’m into, that I’ve always been into, that people in the past have told me that I really can’t do that on their album. But on this album I was left alone, so I could do whatever the hell I wanted to. I said, “You know what? That song that nobody liked? I’m going to put it on there! And if they don’t like it, so be it.”
Did they really not like it?
No; it’s not like that. I’ve been trying to put that song on our last two albums and everybody was like, “I don’t know,” and this time I was like, “I don’t care.” It’s definitely a lovemaking song.
On the disc, you really saved the best for last: “Amazing” is truly amazing. It’s so raw and intensely personal. Was that a really hard song for you to write?
Thank you. I remember recording that one; I was like, “Let’s just take it. Let’s set a couch up in the studio and get everybody out of the room.” It was the end of the night and I’d sung the other songs all day, so my voice was really tired, but it had to have that feeling of just, Everything is so tired. You’re just so weak from talking about all that stuff. So it had to sound really desperate. It came out that way, I guess.
Was that a harder song for you to write, or at this point, are you just pretty good at pouring it all out?
You mean harder, emotionally, for me to write, or harder constructively for me to write? ’Cause nothing’s really hard constructively; it’s hard emotionally. Like, “do I actually want to say this, do I actually want to admit this, because then it’s going to fuck up a few of my relationships if I go ahead and do this?” But then I always come back to, “Yeah, you’ve got to do this, or else you’re a half-ass.”
How do you know when to draw the line?
I don’t; that’s the thing. I just don’t say names. Like the other day, I was driving around in the van and I wrote this song called “The Weight of All the World Gone Wrong,” and it touches on a lot of things that I’m not necessarily going to have to be really careful about, but a few people are going to be pissed when they hear it, a few people very close to me. But then again, they can either sue me, or—art is not made to be beautiful all the time. There’s a lot of bands that’ll write songs, but we’re just more about performance art and really getting to the core of it. I remember one night we were playing in a predominantly Christian atmosphere, and we sang “Razorblade.” I got more into it than probably I’ve ever gotten into it, because I knew that they’d be probably offended by it, and when it was over, it was just dead quiet. Nobody knew how to react. And to me, that’s just amazing, when you see people with their faces red, like they just want to hit you for saying that.
In your opinion, is Blue October more of a live band or a studio band?
We’re both. I can’t really call us a live band, and I can’t really call us a studio band, because it’s another world we go into the studio. It’s very calculated, very precise, and when we get on stage, it’s like don’t you dare bring the calculations and precisions up there, just let loose.