Interview: Blue October
Mon, 16 Sep 2013 09:52:26
"I didn't spell out what you should think," Blue October singer Justin Furstenfeld says of the band's new album Sway.
Instead the vocalist evoked cinematic imagery with a simple and universal lyrical approach that immediately resonates. As a result of stepping back and taking a different route, Furstenfeld and Blue October have crafted their most impactful and insightful offering yet. It's undeniably powerful in every way.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October talks Sway, what he was listening to, and so much more.
What's your take on Sway as a whole?
I approached Sway with the vibe of it being a piece on empowerment, confidence instead of ego, and basically reflection as well as getting through things and focusing on the positive. It's about recognizing miracles for what they are—simplicity. We had a lot of songs to start from. As we went down through the list, we noticed there were a lot of songs I'd written during Any Man in America that were very dark. When we first started recording, the rule was, "There can't be a song about how hard Justin's got it". There can't be any more self-pity songs. Once we got that under our belts, it was easier to craft the songs and make them just as dark as musically. The ambience was just as dreamy, but the lyrical content had to change. It had to be simple with very poignant and pointed words not, "Let's shove thousands of words into one song to show how cool I am!" It was, "Let's really think about it. Let's write the songs and let me go edit it and write it again. Get other people's opinions. Put those in it and really craft it".
So, you feel like you took a step back and let things be more simple?
Definitely, because life is much more simple. It's got to be that way. Life has to be simple and enjoyable. We're put on this earth to be happy, joyous, and free not to be angry, pissed-off, and sad.
Approaching the music with that mindset, was writing more of a challenge?
It's harder to write about peace and happiness than it is about turmoil. In turmoil, you're looking for some sort of avenue or someone to listen to you. When you're at peace, you find serenity, and the key to life, which is simplicity, you have to be very careful with how you put that in song, because it can come out very bubblegum, tongue-in-cheek, or poppy. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to keep the essence of poetry involved in it. I wanted the listener to be able to listen to the song one time and get it right there. I didn't want them to listen to it seventeen times in order to get it. I wanted to make the themes more universal. It was very hard to look at the words and edit out what I didn't need. It was so easy to write about me all the time. I think it was so much more interesting to step back and write more universally. It was also a challenge. I wanted to step in like a professional songwriter. I took it very seriously. It was certainly more challenging, but at the end, it was more rewarding.
What's the story behind "Not Broken Anymore"?
It's a song I wrote for my wife. When we started touring for Any Man in America, I didn't see any change in the legal system. I thought by putting an album out about it, people would see and things would change! It didn't turn out that way. It just got worse. I still couldn't see my daughter. It felt like I was beating a dead horse. I began drinking and use again pretty heavily to the point where my wife looked at me and said, "You know what? You've turned into a complete hypocrite. You're out there singing about how you want to be a good father but you can't go an hour without drinking. She said, 'Nobody grieves this way. You need to clean your shit up or I'm going to leave you!'" So I cleaned myself up. Today, I live a sober life which is blessed and amazing, but I couldn't have done it without her. This band would not be around anymore if she weren't in my life. I was so far off the deep end of drugs and alcohol that it was just awful. When I got clean, I needed to say, "Thank you". That song was her birthday and anniversary gift. I worked the hardest on that song. It's simple and gorgeous.
What song from the album resonates with you the most?
I'd have to say "Fear". That's the main thing I learned when I got sober. The reason I did use and drink was because of fear. The reason I kept myself from being happy is I was scared of the outcome. In the last year and a half, I learned there's no room for "Fear". When I hear that song, it wraps up the last seventeen years of my life. I found what I've been looking for.
What were you listening to while making the album?
Sigur Rós…They're one of my favorite bands and also a lot of Ella Fitzgerald. Then there was a lot of Angelo Badalamenti. He's a string arranger. He's done many of the David Lynch films. I was listening to a lot of Deftones, a little bit of Drake, and Birdman of course [Laughs]. I love rap. I think Nicki Minaj is one of the most talented girls out there right now.
If you were to compare Sway to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
It would be a cross between Reign Over Me with Adam Sandler and Basquiat. What a great question!
What's your favorite Blue October song?