Last week, Blue October’s main man Justin Furstenfeld brought a very special, intimate event called an Open Book Tour to three UK cities, performing songs from his latest record Songs From An Open Book, which features 12 breathtaking acoustic tracks such as Black Orchid, Hate Me or Fear, followed by emotional and inspiring stories behind these songs. The band have also been promoting their latest single Fear (Phil Tan Radio Mix), and its official video will premier on Tuesday, October 28 on VH1.com. Justin kindly showed me the video, which was made on Santa Monica beach and I can assure each and every blue fan, that it’s pretty extraordinary and definitely something to look forward to.
Before his show in London, I got to sit down with Justin once again, and we discussed the meaning behind the Open Book Tour and Fear, and we also talked about the band’s upcoming documentary & live CD/DVD, how much the blue family inspires him and much more.
Eva: Welcome back and thank you for bringing the Open Book Tour to the UK. How did the idea of this tour came around and what was the main reason behind these intimate shows?
Justin: Thank you. The Open Book Tour came around when honestly I got clean, when I decided to stop drinking and using any kind of drug besides coffee. And when you get clean, you have to make amends to people, you have to go to the people you’ve hurt when you were in that place and you have to apologize to them and let them know that you’ve realized you’ve done wrong, and then ask for forgiveness. So that’s where it sprang from, when I was working with my sponsor and I was going around to all these people in my life telling them that I was wrong and I promised to make living amends and every day to be a better person, and asking what can I do to make up for that. So that’s when I realized that not only the people in my life got hurt but everybody that’s been listening to me and supporting me. I kind of put them through a lot too, you know.
So I needed to tell the story in a way, like putting 12 songs together, from Black Orchid to Bleed Out and Not Broken Anymore, and tell the story of how it happened. So just like I am making amends with you, I tell you what happened, what led up to it, what I did and what I’m gonna do to make it better, I need to let people know where it came from, what I did and where I’m at now and what I’ve promised to do, not for them to go “Oh look at him, he’s still tortured”, it’s more about showing that this is a rebirth, this is a good, positive thing and this is how I live my life today. And because of the past, I’ve been focused so much on the negative, I want to show you guys this new life that I found and this positivity which all came from the amends that I had to make. So that’s where the Open Book story came from.
As it’s a different set up from a full on live show with the whole band, it’s much easier for you to interact with the audience, and people get inspired by your stories. Do you ever get inspired by fan’s stories at these shows?
Oh yeah. I have to say that’s 90 percent of the reason that I keep doing this with such a passion. Once I start going “Maybe nobody likes me anymore”, I see that person out there that’s just like… they tell me a story about their son who has died, or I see somebody with a handicap who came all the way from their house in a wheelchair, who couldn’t stand the whole time but was still there at 3am telling me how, when they got out of surgery… that’s like WOW, my problems are not shit compare to yours. God bless you for being here.
I get inspired every day just by the people I talk to and the people I meet. When I was drinking, that all got covered up. I never could appreciate it. I never could appreciate you wanting to take the time to come and talk to me. Today it’s just a blessing that you’re even here to talk to me, a year after you’re still interested, so that’s really kind. And then my bud, my boy here (points to Darren, the tattoo artist) who I’m trying to talk to into staying on the bus for another week (laughs), but he’s got a family.
So you’ve also put out a special record last month called Songs from an Open Book, which made it to #1 spot in the 100 best selling rock albums. How did that make you feel?
That was pretty weird as I just bought this studio at my house so all my albums could be recorded there, so this was my first album to record there. It’s like, I walk out, have some coffee, play with my kid till like 10am until my engineer shows up, I go into my studio, make the album, come back in, kiss my wife, go to bed. I made it in like a month and it was so intense as it was just.. you know, when you make a rock album there’s a lot of bells and whistles you can track, put things on top of each other. This one I wanted to do where it was just one track of acoustic guitar and one track of vocals, so just two tracks. That means I have to nail it, because there’s no editing. You have to start, you have to finish – one take. So I must’ve gone through these songs like 40 freaking times, but they also had to be sang in a different, more mature way; the way I wrote them, not the way that I got angry during the recording when things were going on in my life. If you listen to Angel, it’s so different, or Black Orchid… it brought me back to how I wrote them. I just forgot that innocence somewhere along the way.
But I love the album, and when it went to number one, I was like, you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me, cause that was not what I expected. I just put it out so I can make a little bit of extra money to push Fear, and as a record label I had to have enough money to push the single and to do the video. So when I found out, I was like oh my gosh, we have enough money to push Fear. So now we’re pushing Fear.
Talking about Fear. What was on your mind when you wrote this track?
My daughter. I was sober, I just got out of rehab and three weeks later I had a daughter. I was in rehab the whole time my wife was pregnant you know, so my wife was pretty bad ass, which says a lot for what she probably had to go through. So I don’t say that lightly, I say that with a heavy heart. But when she was born, it was such an amazing thing. I’d already had a kid before but that was such a terrible feeling around that, not having her, just what happened after that. But this was pure, there was this lady that loved me and I loved her so it was so different, and when I started going into writing I was just like, I gotta write a song about my daughter. I wrote it with my buddy Blue Miller who I named my first daughter after and I took it back to my roots where we first started out, back in Nashville and wrote it for her.
Plus the big thing when you’re getting clean is fear. It’s a big thing you learn about, you know. Every day, everybody’s scared of something, but every day I wake up and just say man, take my fear away, the thy will be done and let’s just walk. As long as you’re honest, as long as you’re straight and do the next right thing.
So do you think that now you’re more in control of your fear than before?
Oh fuck yeah. That shit don’t own me no more, I own it. I’ve got myself in control. The worst thing that can happen is me not being able to control it, and I can control it so it’s good.
Let’s talk the documentary & live CD/DVD you are releasing through Pledge music. How long has this been in making?
I’ve been making this film for two and half years now and basically the whole point of it was to start shooting when I got clean and what does it take for someone to stay sober in this business. And then the story of Sway, and the story of Blue October and how they all intertwined and how the fans lift us up, how the music lifts us up and how through music, I am able to stay clean. The live DVD is just gonna be awesome, like Argue With A Tree but better. It’s going to have all the songs from Foiled, Approaching Normal, Any Man In America and Sway. We’ve put out a teaser over at Pledge.
I’ve seen the teaser and it looks really interesting and emotional. You’ve been together with the band for 18 years now and have overcome a lot. How does it make you feel looking back at the whole journey and seeing where you are now?
It’s pretty incredible. To be honest with you, it’s only been the last two and half years that I’ve really enjoyed it. The rest’s just been some fucking drama pit that I fallen into along the way. Of course I am very grateful for it all but the last two and half years have been just like, this is what you get to do for a living, motherfucker!
You have good people around you as well.
I have amazing people around me now. I only let amazing people in my life now. I’d have a few people who’d come in and start to be my friends, and then they’d do something that’s really weird and fucked up… and you know, now I count my friends on these two hands. I come over here and I have friends here, and that’s pretty cool. It’s a great life. And now I am very protective of my life because I have my wife and my daughter.
Many bands put out records through Pledge music these days, as you also did with Sway. What do you like the most about this particular way of releasing music?
That people get to be a part of it. There are things that they get out of it, like I get to play in people’s living rooms, to have dinner with them. I could probably put one up where I could come to your house and make dinner for you. It would probably be like a taco salad or something.
But it’s just cool because people get really involved, they want to help and it helps financially, like wow, it takes us to another level that we can compete with all these big boys. It keeps us relevant, it keeps the fans interacted with us and it keeps us all such a tight family.
So have you been working on some new music with the guys?
All the time. Mainly with Alan. We have some stuff…Can I sing that one bit? (Alan, the tour manager approves) We’re gonna end racism, poverty, homelessness, war and hunger with this track. Ready?
World peace, hunger, war
What the hell are we fighting for
When I’m hungry I just go to the store, why can’t you?
No, but seriously, we are working on a new material.
Because I know that with Sway you said that you weren’t allowed to write a song about how sad you are. And as you are in a much better place now, I guess it’s going to be the same case with the upcoming material?
I think this one’s gonna be so out of the box, so different, so hooky and so musically and lyrically simple. It’s gonna be fun. Plus this mixer we’ve been working with on Fear, the one that did the new mix for us, he’s a really big pop mixer so I’m gonna be doing a lot of really cool stuff with a lot of big beats and stuff like that. It’s gonna be great.
As all the fans, I love your old stuff, the sad stuff. But really, I think it’s made a huge difference for the blue family to hear such a positive record from you, and seeing you happy. I think it gives them hope, that no matter how hard things seem, there’s a way out.
Thank you. If that’s the message it’s sending, that’s awesome. I’m just living and telling what I’m feeling, so it’s nice to be able to know that that’s the message people are getting. Because I remember thinking during Any Man In America, man, it can’t get any darker than this, what am I gonna do with the next album? And I remember saying one night “Our next album is gonna be happy” and was like “Yeah, right…” you know. But then I was like, all these years being so sad, why not show people that you can be happy. So then I made a decision to weed out all the negative things in my life so I can possibly take the chance to be happy, and I can be honest about being happy, not just be like “Let’s just make a happy fucking record”.
So when I cut the alcohol and the drugs and everything out of my life, all of a sudden, things got better. I found a higher power and I found people that love me, and now we only keep certain people close to us and they’re positive people, and if they’re negative, we get them the fuck out of our lives.