It’s pretty rare in a music industry over saturated with manufactured here today, gone today flavors of the week to find an artist who bleeds their heart and soul out on the stage with every performance that they give. If you’ve never seen Justin Furstenfeld perform live, whether fronting Blue October or as a solo artist on his Open Book Tour, then you are missing out on witnessing something rather amazing. If you have seen him, then you are probably nodding your head at this point in agreement with me.
I recently had the chance to see both Blue October perform in concert and Justin perform on his Open Book Tour within six weeks of each other. They were both very powerful performances, but the shows themselves were completely different. If you’ve never been to an Open Book show, it’s similar to VH1 Storytellers as Justin sits on-stage with his acoustic guitar and offers some in-sight into what the song is about and then performs. It’s usually in a small venue, thus making it very up close and personal. I got to sit down with Justin at the beautiful Cone Denim Entertainment Center in Greensboro, NC and he caught me up to speed on what he was working on, what the fans had to look forward to and his new appreciation of the little things in life.
Dude, you look great! I know everyone comments that you seem to be in much better place now, but you’ve also toned down and you look to be in great shape.
Justin Furstenfeld: Oh, you’re too kind. Why don’t you just hang out with me every day and tell me that. You should be my alarm clock. Time to wake up Justin; you look so good.
So, what made you decide to do another one of these Open Book Tours? How many of them have you done already?
Oh wow, I know it’s been a lot. I’m one of those kinds of people who don’t like to just sit around and do nothing when I have off time. I also knew that I needed to get Ashleigh out there in front of people. When you’re building a new audience for a new artist, you can’t just put them out there on the road and expect people to come. So, having her on the road with Blue October, first of all, when you saw us, and then I had made this Open Book album that was really nice because I could tour on it. I’m the kind of person who will go to markets and then hit them for this, but if there are markets that I haven’t hit yet, I always have them written down. I try not to hit the same markets too often with the Open Book Tour because it’s a very specific story.
When you first started to do these Open Book shows, what were you hoping to accomplish?
Back in the earlier days, before I got sober and started living a sobriety life, I had all this training in theater and art in general and in Blue October, yeah I can do that, but there never really was that really intimate side where you could interact with people. You don’t follow a format or a set list, you just tell a story and you just let it go where it goes. I’ve always loved performance art; I like to make people think and keep them on their toes. So, when I did this, you have a sort of outline of the story that you want to tell, but you don’t really plan it. You have your outline of A, B, C and D and how you get there through it all is up to you. Then, you kind of feed off of the audience and if they’re a serious audience, you make them laugh. If they’re a funny audience, then you hit them in the gut with something serious and then make them laugh. When I first started to do these, I thought they were going to be all serious, but then they started to be funny, so I kind of started running with that. It’s really a rather fucking hilarious show. It’s really nice to be able to tap into that and be really comfortable on the stage in the present and with who I am now instead of the whole Blue October dark guy. It’s nice to be able to spread those wings.
With all of these intimate shows where you can make such a connection with the audience, what has been a profound moment that stands out in your mind?
I would have to say that the most profound thing is the positivity that I get back from the people who are there. People say, ‘Hey man, I’m so glad that you are in such a good place now,’ and, ‘we always knew you had that’ and meanwhile I’m thinking that they wanted me to be dark this whole time. It’s like this profound wow, man now I can tell you that wow this is great; I’m having so much fun tonight,’ instead of seeing people crying,angsting and in anger. It’s nice to see people smiling and it feels like when they leave they didn’t just come see a bunch of songs about Blue October. They came and they had this experience that was uncomfortable and funny and memorable and then they left feeling that life isn’t that hard if you just let it be. Life is actually a very beautiful thing and through all of those trials and tribulations, maybe I shouldn’t take life so seriously.
You and I are both dads and we have talked about that in the past. I absolutely adore the pictures that you share on your social media of you and your daughter Sayde.
Having her on the road is such a blessing because there have been so many years on the road with Blue October where the partying would never stop. I can remember seeing bands while I was in high school on the road and I would wonder what that would be like if I could take a family out. I’ve never really been like a playboy and then I met my wife and it was really nice to know that she would come out on the road with me and that she wants to come out with me. Then, having Sayde on board, she will wake up in the morning and ask, ‘are we going to the venue? Are we going to sound check?’ and she’s only 2 ½ years old. I give her the microphone everyday and let her try it out and she’s a total ham, just like her dad.
Oh god yeah!
What has Sayde taught you that you may not have been aware of before?
The little things and how exciting they can be. You know, like noticing the little fucking things like going to the park and looking at the little, tiny things that I would usually pass by. She reminds me to recognize the miracles every day.
Kids have a way of reminded us of things that we take for granted as we become adults.
Absolutely; to her everything is brand new. My favorite thing to do with her is when she wakes up in the morning and we go for walks in whatever city that we’re in. Today, we walked for miles and we found this little park with a big waterfall and we got in it. To be able to go to sleep at the end of the day and know that I didn’t do anything to hurt anybody, I didn’t lie to anybody; I didn’t betray anybody and I have nothing to worry about on my end. That is such a freeing feeling and to be able to wake up the next day and do it again is awesome.
Your wife Sarah seems to be another key part in this puzzle and how she has brought, in my eyes, some stability to your life. What another blessing to come into your life.
Yeah, it truly is because she’s I guess the first person in the world that I respected enough to listen to. She’s the first person in the world to tell me no and not worry about my feelings and that’s just great for me because I really need that. I respect her more than anything else in this whole world and she’s such an angel. If there’s one person that I look up to in this world, it’s her, as a person and as a moralistic human being and the way that she lives. She’s just awesome and I truly think that it was a God thing having her put in my life.
Let’s talk a little bit about Blue October and what’s going on after this Open Book Tour wraps up. I know that you guys have been working on a DVD.
Yes, it’s being mixed right now. It’s a live DVD and documentary and it was supposed to come out this year, but it’s such a touchy documentary that I don’t just want to release it so that we can sell it; I want to keep going with it and keep filming. It has turned into something really, really special. The new album is what I’m really excited about. I’ve been writing like crazy and I have twelve songs that just need some lyrics to them. All I’m doing right now is walking around and thinking about lyrics and coming up with what I need. It’s also really cool to have Ashleigh (Stone) on the road with me because I can ask her for her opinion. She knows more about music and music theory that I could ever know. So, if I’m sitting there playing her a song that I’m working on and she says, ‘well , what if you went to that chord instead?’ and I’m like ‘oh my god, that’s it!’ She’s also a lyrical genius. We’re very honest with each other and that’s a great thing to have in friends because a lot of people will tell just tell you what you want to hear.
Thank you for believing in her and giving her a chance because she’s a talented little songbird; her CD is just unreal.
Do you like it?
No, I don’t like; I absolutely love it! She and I talked about her CD has become a “go-to” CD for me after a rough day at my “day job” because it just seems to cleanse away all that negativity from the day.
I call it a mental massage. Elements is a fucking mental massage. When we were making it and she went and recorded these piano parts at the church, she came back and I told her that we were going to listen to every single song first without any words because I just wanted to hear her piano. We would listen to one track and I would tell her to listen to it again and then we listened to it again. I told her that we needed to learn what she had just done on the piano and if we wanted to, we could release just like this if we wanted to, just piano. I fell in love with it so much and that day, she got in the vocal booth and she nailed her vocals that day. Then, she said that she wanted to come back and re-do some vocal parts and I’m thinking, alright, ok, whatever!’ When we were making that album, I remember that I would get up each morning with Sayde and it would be my go-to. I would put it on and play it and I’ve never gotten sick of it and I get sick of shit so quickly. It could play and play and play and no matter where I was or how stressed I was, it just brought me back to what’s important and all the beauty around me. She has a good way of doing that and reminding me to look all around me at the beauty.
It’s no wonder that you’re in such a good place now. You are surrounded with all of these amazing women with beautiful souls. So, what’s the plan when you get off the road? The new album? The documentary?
As soon as this is over, I’m going back home and I have some visitation time with my other daughter and when that’s done, we’re going into the studio and finish up the demos. We’ll demo everything up, finish the songwriting and then sent it to the guys. We’ll rehearse it for about a month and then hit the studio and record it. It will probably be produced by me and Tim Palmer; that guy is a genius. He mixed and produced 10 by Pearl Jam and he also did our Any Man in America album with me. I just love the way he gets in my head and we just go.
Dare we talk about a time frame as far as when we might be complete?
My plan is to have it done by October and then we mix it and have a new single out by Christmas hitting radio and then the album would be out by the first of the year. I would love to have it out by Christmas, but I’m a stickler, but if I can get it done. The great thing about is that I’m going to use every tool that I can. I’m not going to write it all by myself and I’ve already thrown it out to a couple of writing friends of mine and told them that I needed a good melody. I’m all open to the people that I trust; there are a certain number of people that I keep under my hat that I can trust. I’ll throw it out to them and hopefully I’ll get it all done. It’s always fun, especially if you keep it light hearted.
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