From the PLAYBACK:stl Archive: In speaking with Furstenfeld—he’s excited, animated, smiling broadly one moment and then yelling in anguish the next—it’s obvious that he’s a rare breed.
Justin Furstenfeld is not afraid. The charismatic and contemplative lead singer of Houston’s Blue October stares down his demons through songwriting, putting pen to paper and voice to words to express his emotions, be they fear or regret or confusion or, occasionally, self-loathing.
The band’s first two albums—The Answers, self-released in 1997, and 2000’s Consent to Treatment on Universal—were concept albums, and heavy concepts, both. (The third one is recorded but currently untitled; look for an independent release later this year.) Built around codependency, The Answers is filled with depressive stories told in third person; Consent to Treatment, with Furstenfeld having come more to terms with himself, is more about the getting better aspect of falling apart. Wrapped up in these big ideas, though, is some seriously good music which has been labeled both “eclectic” and “new rave” (though probably falling somewhere into the broad “modern rock” category). Ryan Delahousseaye plays a mean violin; other band members include Jeremy Furstenfeld (Jeremy’s younger brother) on drums, Matt Novesky on bass, and C.B. Hudson on guitar. For his part, singer-songwriter-guitarist Justin Furstenfeld pours himself heart, soul, and angst into the writing and performing of his songs. “It’s a big nervous breakdown for an hour and a half,” he said of performing. “And that’s the beauty of it.”
Blue October played an underpublicized set July 4 in St. Louis as part of this year’s Anheuser-Busch Rockin’ the Landing celebration. A prolific songwriter, Furstenfeld’s written nearly 300 songs—and he’s just 26. “My favorite thing to do is sit at my house and write more songs,” he explained with a boyish smile. “People ask me, ‘What are your hobbies?’ And I’m like, ‘songwriting.’ ‘Well, what do you do away from music?’ ‘Songwriting.’” He sees music as a form of therapy, having helped him through larger issues earlier in life but still there to keep him in check even now.
“For me, it’s a lot easier to say important things through a song because I don’t have to look you in the face and say, ‘You know, I’m really fucked up,’” he explained. “When I’m singing it, then I can go, ‘I’m fucked up!’”—shout-singing the words—“and it will be right in your face and I’ll be able to bleed it all over you. It comes out; you don’t have any walls, you let it all come out and you say the things that most people wouldn’t want people to know about.”
In between the first and second albums, Furstenfeld took a job in a mental ward in San Marcos. His goal, he said, was to “understand that part of the human mind most [people] simply dismiss as crazy.” In there, he gained a real appreciation for the little things in life. “By working in a mental hospital, I saw a lot of things that I’ve always taken for granted: being able to go home and lie next to the girl that I loved, and kiss her good morning, make breakfast and say, ‘I love you.’”
He described the schizophrenic patients as “some of the most magnificent artists, and some of the most mad people in the world. Confused, lost. If you can just try to understand them, and try to get on their wavelength, it is such a different world. Just their style of living and the way they see the world is an art form to me, because it can’t be explained. And people just call them crazy and blow it off because they don’t even want to understand. I think that’s why I try to do what I do. I don’t really understand [them]—I’ll never understand because I’m not in their head—but I will speak about it. I’ll speak about it until the day that I die because I think they’re misunderstood, and I think they’re mistreated.”
In speaking with Furstenfeld—he’s excited, animated, smiling broadly one moment and then yelling in anguish the next—it’s obvious that he’s a rare breed. Filled with an incredible appreciation of and enthusiasm for life, he’s also unafraid to dive headfirst into madness and pain. He explained, “In life, I think you need to see bad to see the good; they balance each other out and make a nice, calm, stoned feeling. You’re there, and you feel it, and you love the world.”
The band closed their Independence Day set with a new song, “Kangaroo,” Furstenfeld’s personal reaction to September 11. “That song’s really important to me,” he explained. “That morning, when my girlfriend woke me up, we were sitting in front of the TV and it was just like—” Furstenfeld makes a collapsing motion with his hands. In that moment, he realized, “I’ve got to stop being depressed about overdramatic shit—every person’s been through that. I’ve got to stop, turn to you, grab your face, tell you how much I love you and that I love life, because we might not be on it that much longer.
“We’ve got to live every day like we love it,” he proclaimed. “And, yeah, some bad things will happen, but just get up and go on again.”
See more photos of Blue October in the Photo Gallery