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Interview With Blue October's Justin Furstenfeld

Justin Furstenfeld is grateful to be alive and sober. It was quite a journey for the Blue October frontman to get to this point, and now Blue October has released their documentary, Get Back Up, showcasing Justin’s struggles with mental illness and drug addiction and his road to sobriety. The band is also gearing up to release their tenth studio album, This Is What I Live For, on September 18th. Justin and I spoke about both of these topics, as well as the past, present, and future of Blue October, and the creation of Justin’s new record label, Up/Down Records.

Band press photo of Texas alternative rock band Blue October.
Photo courtesy of Abel Longoria.

Get Back Up started from a simple place: Justin needed a way to stay sober after leaving rehab. “I said, you know what? I won’t get high if there’s camera crews around, so let’s make a documentary about what it takes to stay sober in the music business. And then it turned into something so much bigger than that, it was fucking outrageous.” The filming took place over seven years and transformed Justin’s entire life throughout the process. “I stayed sober and life got better in a lot of ways. I started looking better, feeling better, my attitude wasn’t a little bitch anymore, it made me grateful, patient, held me accountable, and made me really love my life and not take anything for granted.”

Justin removed himself entirely from the creative process of the documentary. He didn’t want anything to do with it and didn’t see a frame of it until a month before it premiered. He wasn’t allowed to give notes and surrendered complete creative control to director Norry Niven. “It was scary, but afterwards, I was so glad that I did it because it was done so well. I couldn’t be more proud of it, the band, and everyone involved in it, because it’s a crazy amount of support they showed me and what the documentary overcomes.” So far, the reaction to Get Back Up has been extremely positive, and Justin is ecstatic that people are responding to the subject matter. Not only just for supporting Blue October but for themselves as well. “It’s really doing what we wanted it to do, which is to show people that there is a solution outside of this disease of addiction and mental illness, it’s very, very, very important for people to hear these things. I’m just happy I’m able to share that through my experience, strength, and recovery.”

One thing that has made the personal struggles easier for Justin has been having his brother Jeremy in the band with him. “It’s such an important thing to be able to be around family, and he’s great…we run this whole thing together.” Justin and Jeremy are both comfortable in their roles in the band and know which of them is suited for a situation. “I’m the nice guy, I’m the guy who if you tell me, ‘I can’t pay you’, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s okay,' and my brother is the guy who is like, ‘Fuck you, pay me,’ Justin says with a laugh. “He’s a very nice guy, just don’t mess with him. He’s very much like my wife that way, she’s the smart one, she’s the pit bull.” It’s undeniable that having the two of them by his side has allowed Justin the support he needs to stay sober. Family is very important to Justin, which is reflected in Get Back Up. “We see babies being born, getting held for the first time, we get to see these stories being told from a certain point of view,” Justin gushes.

All of this helped inspire the songwriting behind the new Blue October album, This Is What I Live For. Justin describes it as a sadder and darker album than their last few, but that it also rocks harder than anything in their previous catalogue. “It’s my sad rock album. I love it. It was incredibly hard because it was so sad and so romantic.” Justin played coy about the album’s subject matter, however. “I’ll sound like a fool,” he demurred. “It’s just about the things that go on inside your head and trying to figure it all out. When you hear it, you’ll be like, ‘okay, I get why he didn’t tell me what it’s about.’ It’s just a really beautiful, romantic, rock album. If you like the ‘Hate Me’ stuff and the ‘Into The Ocean’ stuff, you’ll really like it. There’s just so much sadness, I love it.” Justin stops to consider that. “I’m such a happy guy, but I fucking love sad music. It’s kinda like how I like watching murder mysteries because it makes me feel so alive seeing people die.” He muses with a laugh. Sadness is not in short supply on This Is What I Live For. Justin points out that two of his favourites- “Only Lost Is Found” and “Who Do You Run From”- are particularly sad. Another one of his favourites is, “Moving On,” a track that is on schedule to be the next single off the album.

We also talked about how Justin runs his new label with partners Paul Nugent and Mike Swinford. “Mike is the godfather, he’s the numbers guy. Paul is the guerrilla warfare guy; he’ll go out and get things done. I’m just the creative guy. It’s amazing. I get to run my own radio scene, my own agency, my own marketing team. I get to work my ass off and make sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.” He says enthusiastically. He compares it favourably to being on a major label, which allows him to budget everyone and make sure they stay within the budget, instead of hoping that people give you what you need to get yourself heard. “You gotta understand, major labels want to make money, and that’s good because that’s what I wanna do too. I wanna make the money and profit off it, boom. That’s what I want. Anybody tells you differently, that they’re bloodsuckers or something, well then shut up. You’re either in it, or you’re not…I just want to make sure that we treat everyone with the utmost respect and I try to get everything done with my Texas charm and my gentleman quality, instead of having to gouge people.” Justin acknowledges the hard work his partners have put in, and calls them, “two of the smartest people in the industry.” Combined with his work ethic and songwriting, the three are aiming to bring their label to new heights.

Looking back over the course of Blue October’s career, Justin feels fulfilled that he has been able to share so much music and help people through their difficult moments. “The fans keep coming, and it keeps getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and it’s amazing. And the catalogue, it just keeps growing. Sometimes I look at it, and I’m like, it’s so special and so beautiful, where the hell did it come from?” He asks cheerfully. “There are people relying on me and there’s too much beauty in this freaking world to not create good art, and to put it out. Art is always timeless, maybe we aren’t able to tour right now, but you know what? We need to be there for the music community right now because they’ve always been there for us,” says Justin, regarding the state of the music industry being affected by COVID-19.

Justin never stops creating; while Blue October is gearing up for the new album and celebrating the release of Get Back Up, Justin continues to explore his art. “I never stop writing music…I’m also working on my second book. I just can’t stop doing stuff. My manager says, ‘that I’m no longer Justin the musician, I’m Justin the creator,’ and I love it! I do it because we only have one life to live, and only one shot to be the greatest we can be!”

You can check out a sample of what This Is What I Live For has to offer by streaming the album’s first two singles, “Oh My My” and the title track, “This Is What I Live For” now. Blue October’s tenth album will be out on September 18th, and you can purchase Get Back Up now as well. Make sure you follow Justin Furstenfeld and the rest of Blue October as they continue to release powerful music.

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