Led by volatile singer-guitarist Justin Furstenfeld, Blue October has experienced extreme ups and downs since forming nearly 20 years ago. Furstenfeld chronicles that rollercoaster ride in Crazy Making — The Words and Lyrics of Justin Furstenfeld, a collection of annotated lyrics for the songs in the band's discography. He's currently touring in support of the book and will play acoustic versions of Blue October songs and discuss his music in a storyteller-type of setting. He recently phoned in from a tour stop in Texas where he was putting the finishing touches on the band's forthcoming album after editing some of the lyrics ("I'm really picky about the lyrics," he says). He spoke about the unique format for the tour and delved a bit into his dark past, too.
You're mid-way through the tour. How has it been going?
It's going pretty good. I was pretty nervous at the beginning. It's completely different. It's more of a spoken word and storytelling and performance art and question and answer type of thing with songs that speak to the time periods of when things happened. It's been spiritually uplifting. There's no drama attached to it. It's just me and the people who have supported me for what seems like hundreds of years. It's just about putting the bad things behind us and moving on into the future. It's been a moment of clarity.
What is the most challenging part of doing shows that are part music and part conversation?
Drunk people. They tend to get really, really excited. God bless them. Sometimes, people get a little out of hand and I have to give the nod and have them kicked out. It's not a time for rock 'n' roll; it's a totally different setting and I won't have the respect I want to give people overshadowed by someone who gets out of hand. Other than, it's pretty much smooth. I get questions every night and some are off-the-wall and some are just really beautiful. You never know what's going to happen and that's what I love about it.
What's the craziest question someone has asked so far?
They don't ask boxers or briefs. They ask about my biggest fear in life and mine is using drugs again. So when I answer that question honestly, that opens up a whole other realm of questions that I have to look at honestly. Most people think that after the "Hate Me" song that I've been practicing sobriety and I was for a while then I fell off the wagon. I'm pretty honest about that on stage. I take the time to answer the questions with so much honesty. I'm not looking for approval. I'm looking for more, "He's just like us. He's not that nice. He's not this great guy." I'm the blind leading the blind. It's really humbling, and I love it.
Sounds like therapy.
I don't know if it's therapy, but it sure is healing. It's like, "Guys, this is my dirt. Before the next album comes out, I want to get it all out. When I move onto the next album, I don't want to talk about this anymore. I want to tell you that the light at the end of the tunnel is now." That's where I'm at today. I've dwelled enough on the past and the painstaking parts of this world that I need to start showing people that there is a light and that's what I plan to do with the new album.
You had your first nervous breakdown at age 22. Do the songs on The Answer reflect that breakdown?
Some of them are. It's mainly reflecting on the why this depression and what are these pills that I have to take to make me happy. I look back on that and ask if I could have been more dramatic. I was ages 17 to 22. Everybody has got their drama. It's something deep and sincere, like writing songs like "Black Orchid," which is basically about teen suicide. You don't write those songs if you're a happy kid. You write songs about hot chicks and fast cars. Here I am writing songs about having a gun in my room. It's taken me a long time to figure out that you have to work for your happiness and you can't sit in that same pile of shit all day. You have to get out of it and wash yourself off and be present.
Did you write "Blue Sunshine" while you were on acid or did you write the song about the time you took acid?
Yeah, I wrote it while I was on acid. There was a certain type of acid called blue sunshine when I was growing up. That's what I took. That was definitely written on acid, unfortunately. Back then, it was all fun and games. Now, I can't go anywhere near things like that. That worked for a while but after awhile, it was like, "Grow up. Don't try to Lance Armstrong your career." I did that for a while but I wasn't writing. Some of the things I was putting in me were and I don't care for that approach.
Approach Normal seems like it was about a breakthrough in your personal life. Was it?
That was really the time when the band was so honed together and working with Steve Lillywhite. We worked so hard on that album. It was a rollercoaster, that album. It was like "Woah. Can we get anymore bipolar?" I think that's what people love about us. There is a lot of theater in that album.
Did you really receive death threats at one point?
Oh yeah. During that point, it got pretty weird and paranoid. That's why I didn't like sitting on that hill of celebrity-ism. Then people start looking at you different and messing with your personal life. That took a hit on my comfort on stage for a while. You have a great band from Texas, Pantera, that had to deal with that. You just surround yourself with good people and you do the best you can for the ball team.
The new album is done. Do you have a title yet?
No we don't, but it will be coming soon. I'm excited about this. I always say this, but it's definitely my favorite album so far. There's not one sad song on it. It's all hopeful and empowering. There's no self-pitying on this album. I can't wait to see that. Too many years of wah-wah-wah.