Blue October | Some Sort of Crazy

“I’m not tired of rock and pop music; I’m tired of playing it,” Furstenfeld says. “But I am at the point where I’m trying to treat music like a painting instead of a radio chart-topper. I want to do whatever I can to manipulate the sounds; there’s no rules.

 

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i’m reaching farther than i ever have before
leaving all who broke your heart upon the shore
i may be some sort of crazy
we may be some sort of crazy
but i swear on everything i have and more

“sound of pulling heaven down”

 

Blue October aren’t simply the major-label rock band you’ve tried to write them off as. Oh sure, they can throw it down like nobody’s business—but then singer Justin Furstenfeld’s soulful voice and extremely revealing and insightful lyrics tug at your heart and Ryan Delahoussaye’s violin brings tears to your eyes. Suddenly, it’s clear: There’s much more to this Texas quintet than its image would suggest.

By now, you’ve heard the backstory of this band, signed to Universal for its second album, Consent to Treatment, then dropped. But they did not quit. Rather, they returned with History for Sale on indie label Brando Records—an album that garnered so much acclaim, they were re-signed to Universal, who reissued History. Following last year’s gift to the fans, a double live CD and DVD Argue With a Tree (Brando), Blue October and Universal return with Foiled.

Gone are Justin’s rage and Ryan’s devil horns; back is original bassist Matt Novesky. C.B. Hudson’s booming guitar lines and Jeremy Furstenfeld’s hard-hitting beats are still there, yes, but they’re interspersed with gentle grooves and smooth melodies. And then it hits you: With Foiled, Blue October have created a pop album.

“I’m not tired of rock and pop music; I’m tired of playing it,” Furstenfeld says. “But I am at the point where I’m trying to treat music like a painting instead of a radio chart-topper. I want to do whatever I can to manipulate the sounds; there’s no rules.

“‘Hate Me’ is a great rock song,” he admits about the album’s first single, already making a splash on rock and alternative rock radio nationwide. “It has big, beefy guitars. But otherwise, the rest of the album is synth-pop, it’s electric pop, hip-hop beats; all different types of stuff.”

To create this collection of 13 songs, Blue October returned to the experience of working with David Castell. “We were actually told to work with a bigwig producer out of L.A.,” explains Furstenfeld. “It didn’t work out, and [we] came right back down to my boy. It’s so frustrating trying to have somebody get the picture and the vision when Dave already has it; he’s had it from the beginning. He went straight for what I wanted: less distortion and rock, and more lyrically inclined, nice big, fat beats, a little distortion. Everybody else wanted to make a rock album; I’m not in that space anymore.

“We finally got to make an album that we wanted to, a smooth, nice, cool, flawed album. Actually, a sexy album,” he adds.

Foiled ranges from driving rock (“What If We Could,” “Drilled a Wire Through My Cheek”) to smooth pop (“She’s My Ride Home,” “Congratulations,” “Into the Ocean”) to driving indie rock (“You Make Me Smile,” “Sound of Pulling Heaven Down”) to acoustic and dreamy (“Let It Go,” “18th Floor Balcony”). Throughout its 13 songs, the five players lend their immeasurable talents: A hint of violin kicks off the disc and provides a haunting melody throughout “Let It Go” and “18th Floor Balcony”; driving guitar penetrates “Drilled a Wire Through My Cheek”; while bass and drums ground the hard-rocking “What If We Could.”

Despite rampant tales of the artists selling out to major labels or being stifled creatively, Furstenfeld has no complaints. “I know as a writer and a producer that I have to conform [somewhat], so I make the three-minute, 45-second song that has, of course, a good bridge—I make about four or five of them, so they can choose it. And then the rest of them I just go crazy creatively. You want to be able to have people like you, even the masses, so I don’t look down on them giving me notes at all. I look at it as a family and as advice being given to me; a good business team. If I wanted to make a concept album, I’d go in my garage and make it. If they’re funding it and they’re my label, I need to step up and make it marketable.”

Make no mistake, though: Furstenfeld holds the reins, his voice reflecting the changing moods of the disc. He growls, he soars, he croons, he seethes, he seduces. As you’ve come to expect, the songs are immensely personal, revealing Furstenfeld’s thoughts about himself, life, and his place in it. As you’ve come to expect, he peels back the layers, revealing the ugly inner workings beneath the shiny surface:

 

“Your solar bipolar panic disorder seems harder and harder and harder/still you try to control/Your brain is faulty wiring, the reason for tiring/keep treating the curse, imagine the worse/systematic sympathetic quite pathetic/apologetic paramedic your heart is prosthetic/give me recipes for happy with the chemical gone/drinking freedom from the bottle with the sound of alarm.”

—“Drilled a Wire Through My Cheek”

And “Hate Me,” for instance, begins with a recorded voice mail message from his mom, inquiring as to his mental state—and medication status. Did she mind being immortalized like that? “That had to be done,” he says. “I was at a point when I was recording that it was the worst of my worst. She hadn’t heard from me in quite a while and I got that message and I realized what I was doing to my family. I realized the selfishness in addiction; I hadn’t talked to my mom in months. She was calling and that’s the exact message, and that’s when it clicked in my mind: It’s not just me anymore. These people love you; they raised you.”

In terms of songwriting and creation, Blue October’s songs begin as seeds in Furstenfeld’s mind, lines and words which spring forth unannounced and uninvited. He brings his ideas to the four remaining members, who each add their own talents to the mix. “I’ll come with the blank canvas, do the sketch,” explains Furstenfeld, saying, “There’s the picture, guys; now start throwing purples and blues and reds and grays and blacks. C.B. has really stepped up on his game, and Jeremy is a phenomenal drummer now, coming from a person who never played drums before in his life on The Answers to this.”

What one line on Foiled accurately captures his current mental state, I ask him, where he is as an artist and Blue October as a band. He answers quickly. “’The world is ending/but there’s a party by the bay,’” he says, quoting a line from “Sound of Pulling Heaven Down.” “With all the crazy shit that’s going on in the world, you’ve still got to wake up and have a good time, throw a dinner party, relax, that kind of thing.”

As we talk, Furstenfeld is (quite literally) full of laughter and song, not the angst-filled artist with whom I’m used to conversing. “I’m at a very good place right now,” he admits. “I’m on my medication. Now check me out in the middle of the tour when I ran out and I might have a completely different interview.

“My mom called the other day,” he tells me. “She’s just like, ‘How you doing?’ And it was really good to tell her for once, ‘I’m doing really fucking good.’ There’s a point in life that I was always dreaming of, and it’s this point: Getting my shit together, and concentrating on this business and this band, and lay off the drugs…for Christ’s sake. I found out that when I did that, all of a sudden I realized that most of my depression stemmed from that. It’s not like, ‘I’m so crazy.’ Lay off the coke, dude. Come on. It’s simple. And then all of a sudden you’re four months, five months, six months clean and you see the light at the end of the tunnel and you’re just like, ‘So that was the problem the whole time? Holy shit.’ I still get depressed and I still hear things when I get stressed that aren’t there, but that’s something that I’ve always had since I was a kid, and now I can balance it. I’m not putting things in my veins or in my nose.”

“I’m with someone who treats me completely great. I wrote this song the other day on the road called “Blue Skies.” Besides “18th Floor Balcony”—that’s my happy song so far—there’s nothing negative about it. It’s all about beauty.” Giddy, he sings me a few lines. “It’s really, really pretty and really, really happy, but it’s going to be rocked out so crazy that people will kind of forget that it’s a lovey lovey dovey song,” he promises.

After years of struggle, of fighting the voices and innumerable self-destructive urges, Furstenfeld’s finally found peace. He deserves his happiness, hard-fought as it’s been. “I’m not a danger to myself [anymore] unless I’m onstage,” he says with a laugh. “In the famous words of Eddie Vedder, unless you walk off scraped and bloody and bruised off stage, you didn’t play hard enough. I agree with that completely. We’re not in it to have fun; we’re in it to kick ass. But we have fun at kicking ass.”

Blue October’s new album marks a step forward for a challenging and talented band, an ability to soothe, rock, and groove. It also, in this writer’s opinion, puts him one step closer toward his career objective: “My goal is to play the saddest song ever on the Grammys,” he reveals. “I want to make the whole audience cry.”

With Foiled, Furstenfeld and Co. are ready for the show.  

 

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