It was a Thursday morning when I was supposed to interview Blue October frontman, Justin Furstenfeld. I turned on my computer and sat down at my desk, only to learn of a scheduling conflict that meant I had to find another place to record my interview. I packed up my gear and set up in a room that was supposed to serve as a backup studio. At this point it was about 8:30 in the morning and I still had half an hour to finish getting ready for the interview.
Then there was a knock at the door. As luck would have it, another scheduling conflict left me studio-less for a second time. I had come in to work over an hour early that day to be sure I had enough time to prepare for my interview with Justin, and by the time I packed up my gear for a second time and moved to a third location, I had barely 10 minutes to finish preparing before Justin was supposed to call in.
I was stressed, sleepy, and a little bit sweaty from setting up and tearing down my gear several times. It wasn’t a great way to start a Thursday.
Then my phone rang, and when I answered it, on the other end of the line was this charismatic ambassador of joy who, within 3 minutes of our conversation, was singing to me from the other end of the phone, while walking through the woods with birds chirping softly in the background. It’s hard to have a bad day when being serenaded like that by one of your favorite musicians.
We covered quite a bit of material in our interview, but in addition to answering my questions, Justin somehow managed to spin my train wreck of a morning into the highlight of my week. His advice was simple: “Stop being a whiny little b****” — a phrase I’ve repeated back to myself several times since our conversation.
Of course, context is everything though, so keep reading.
GigSalad: So the single “I Hope You’re Happy” is already out, and you guys have an album also titled I Hope You’re Happy coming out later this year, correct?
Justin Furstenfeld: That’s right, it’s coming out late June / early July. [Edit: an official release date has since been set. The album is scheduled for release on August 17, 2018.]
GS: Who did you have in mind whenever you wrote the lyrics to “I Hope You’re Happy”?
JF: I’m at this place in my life now where life is way too short to be complaining all the time. And there’s so much complaining going on in the world that I just wanted to let everybody know who I’d ever been involved with — romantically, business, friendship, from all the way back to grade school up until now — the one thing that I want everybody to know is that I hope you’re happy. I just wanted to be a positive light in this weird world right now and just kind of say that you should let bygones be bygones and wish the people that you’ve been in a relationship with that you hope they’re happy. Everybody’s so stuck on Facebook and social media and, ‘look at me, look at me, look how cool I am now, look what I’m into now,’ and everybody’s so obsessed with finding the people that they used to know to see if that nostalgia’s there. And I just thought it was inspiring to see how people still connected, even if it’s through a computer screen. But the things that people connect on social media are political views or music views or what people are into. I just wanted to send a radio file to everybody saying that I hope they’re happy no matter what we went through, no matter how we ended it. I just hope they’re happy, you know? But it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, this is for that girl, Sherry, that I met back in…’ Nah, it wasn’t like that.
GS: When Blue October first started out, your music had a much darker tone to it: songs like “Hate Me” and “Dirt Room”. Your more recent stuff — “Home” and “I Hope You’re Happy” — seems to come from a different place, or at least communicate a different feeling. What inspired that shift more towards the optimistic?
JF: Um, I stopped being a whiny little b****. Excuse my language, but that’s what it was. I mean, honestly. I grew up and I said, you know what, I was the most dramatic person in the world. And I think we all can be dramatic growing up, right? I was obsessed with bands like The Cure and The Smiths, and all of these dark bands, and I loved them! And it was so easy to write about the depression that I felt because I had depression and anxiety. ‘Oh, poor me!’ You know? It was so easy to float that boat and make it cool. Because everybody wanted to be that dark, mysterious person. And then I got older and I said, ‘You know what, I need to stop doing drugs. This s*** is messing my head up. Like, I’m not smart anymore. And I’m starting to get overweight. And I’m starting to not be fun. Maybe I should stop drinking too. Let’s just try it for a few months.’ And I stopped doing it, and all of the sudden, it was just like, ‘Wow. Holy s****. The world is not so heavy, dude. You’ve made this. You fabricated this whole thing, just by over-medicating yourself and never really diving into the issues of what made you depressed in the first place. You just kept piling it on top of each other.’ So I made a conscious choice to try another way of life, which is, ‘Treat your body with respect.’ What? Who the hell would have thought that? Then what I got out of it was, man, life is really freaking amazing if you just live it, and if you keep the negative people out of your life, if you keep negativity out of your life, and if you treat negativity like a chance to demonstrate patience and confidence and faith. Then it’s just like, ‘Man, it’s such an amazing world!’ Yes, I was just as passionate back then about depression because I was trying to figure out why I was depressed and anxious, and so I used lots of drugs, and then I wrote about it. And now I’m just as passionate and just as vivid with my writing about peace, about confidence, about getting up every morning and kicking ass instead of rolling out of bed and going, ‘Oh why! Why is this so hard? Ugh!’ Now, it’s get out of bed and say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s hard, but get the hell up. Stop being a little b****.’ So that’s where I’m at.
GS: GigSalad is all about doing what you love and creating unforgettable moments. So keeping with the happiness theme, looking back on your life and your career so far, what were the things that made you the happiest?
JF: The things that made me the happiest didn’t come until I got sober. When we were selling millions of records was the worst time in my life, because it was just crazy — all this crazy stuff. But the most happy I’ve ever been was releasing an album and going on tour for it overseas… We never had a crowd overseas. But then, when we changed and all of the music started to become more positive and about living strong and doing the best you can with life, people just started coming. And it was crazy! The most happy part of my life, I think, is when I figured out that people are attracted to positivity. They don’t want to follow some guy that’s circling the drain, you know? So the most happy part is when I went overseas and I saw thousands of people at my show because we put a song out called “Fear”. That was brilliant. I was like, ‘First of all, wow, I can still write when I’m sober, and it’s touched more people than it did when I was depressed.’ And I was just so proud and now it’s the happiest moment of my life. To be honest with you, the happiest is that, when I tour, when my kids aren’t in school, they come on tour with me and we have a separate family bus. That’s the coolest, man. To wake up in the morning at 7:30, feed the kids and be like, ‘Baby, we’re in Seattle! Holy s***! Let’s go get some coffee with the kids before soundcheck at 4:00.’ Or, ‘We’re in Missoula, Montana! Let’s freaking go hiking in the mountains before soundcheck!’ ‘Oh, we’re in Santa Monica? Let’s go down to Venice Beach!’ You know?! Like, what?! It’s just sick, bro. It’s so sick how good life is, and when you have your family out there on the road, and your four-year-old daughter has seen more than you did by the time you were twenty-six, you know.
GS: There’s a line in the chorus of the single “I Hope You’re Happy” that says, ‘I hope you’re happy and you’re well understood,’ which is beautifully written, and honestly kind of got me the first time I listened to the song. But I’m curious, what do you want people to understand about you?
JF: That life is f****** amazing, man! That life is so good! And I want people to know that I’m trying my hardest to make up for the bull**** I pulled a while back. I live a life of making amends now, and I want people to know that I mean everything that I say with my whole heart and that I only want the best for every single [person] — even if you don’t like my music, even if you don’t come to the shows, even if you don’t believe in the same things I believe in — whoever you are, I just want you to be happy. And that’s it. Some people look at me all the time now and go — like my wife now, she’ll go, ‘Do you have to be so positive all the time?’ [Laughs] You know, like some guys in my crew, they’ll be like, ‘Dude, are you ever in a bad mood?’ And it might be annoying to people, but I literally sat in my own s*** for so many other years that, man just being out of that s*** is such a blessing and it’s so dope and it’s so cool. Like, right now I’m walking, on an interview with you, I’m walking and it’s foggy as hell and I’m in the woods, and it’s kinda cold, but I know it’s gonna rain at some point today so I can smell the rain and it’s about to come in. And I know that I’m going to go in the studio here in about thirty minutes and kill this track… Like what?! Come on dude! Life’s good, bro! That’s what I want people to understand about me. That life is good. Stop being a little b****. Get out and go live it.
GS: Right before the album Home came out, in another interview you said it sounded like a kite flying through the desert: very simple, and focused on the beat, the melody, and the atmosphere. So if you were to paint a word picture in a similar style, how would you describe the upcoming album I Hope You’re Happy?
JF: I would have to say it’s like someone took a huge canvas — not a small canvas, I’m talking a wall-sized canvas — and it was right next to a window looking out over, I don’t know, Soho, London. And they have this big loft and they have this huge canvas, and they have Dave Brubeck jazz playing in the background while they smoke their favorite cigarette and have their favorite cup of coffee, and they had every single color given to them right in front of this canvas. And then, as soon as they were done smoking a cigarette, they just threw one thing of every color up there and then sat back and looked at it. That’s how I would see this. It’s so colorful. This album is so colorful! I love it! But that’s how it makes me feel. There’s a song called “Your Love Is Like a Car Crash” on this album and it makes me feel like I’m in Italy because I put this accordion in it and it makes me feel like it’s a cross between a Russian ballet and a James Bond film. You know what I’m saying? It’s just so clean, but yet so romantic, but so sad. It’s about this guy who just can’t get over this girl because she made love to him once and now he just can’t live without it. So, ‘Please, please come back to me,’ you know? He stalks her and it’s brilliant because this guy loves her so much! It’s brilliant! But the colors in this song are incredible.
GS: What’s one piece of advice that you would give to somebody who’s trying to make it in the entertainment industry right now?
JF: Tour. Don’t sit there on your butt and expect someone else to bring you success. Make the definition of success as simple as this: you can pay your bills and you can eat, and you’re alive, and you love the fact that you get to do your art for a living. That’s it. Those are your goals. If you make it about anything bigger, you’re surely going to let yourself down. But you need to tour. You need to get out there and go to every city and gain an audience.
You can pre-order Blue October’s new album, I Hope You’re Happy, and purchase exclusive experiences like personalized videos, acoustic house concerts, or the chance to have Justin Furstenfeld officiate your wedding ceremony, here.
More cool stuff from Blue October:
I Hope You’re Happy Video: https://youtu.be/FwZvuV79jeY