Blue October’s songwriter pours all the emotion of personal turbulence into music
Friday, September 16, 2011
If you go
• What: Blue October, in concert.
• Where: Roseland Theater, 8 N.W. Sixth Ave., Portland.
• When: 8 p.m. Sept. 17.
• Cost: $28 through TicketsWest, 800-992-8499 or ticketswest.com.
• Information: 503-221-0288 or http://roselandpdx.com.
A reporter interviewing Justin Furstenfeld, songwriter and frontman of Blue October, can feel a bit like a psychiatrist.
Especially when a chat about the new Blue October CD, “Any Man in America,” turns into an opportunity for Furstenfeld to pour his heart out about some of the subject matter that inspired the songs on the new album — namely, his thorny divorce and pitched battle to gain visitation rights with his young daughter.
But then, emotional talk — and, yes, drama — is nothing new for Furstenfeld and Blue October.
Over the course of a career that stretches back to 1995 and five previous studio CDs, Furstenfeld has used his song-writing for Blue October to chronicle a host of personal problems.
His songs have been peppered with references to mental issues and suicide. In interviews, he has said he suffers from depression and bipolar disorder — and that he spent time in a hospital as a mental patient in the 1990s.
The personal nature of the songs, combined with an appealing brand of epic pop-rock, has given Blue October considerable success, particularly with its 2006 CD, “Foiled,” which sold more than 1 million copies and generated the hit single “Hate Me.”
It’s also spawned a large group of fans that connect with Furstenfeld on an unusually fervent level. They apparently identify with the struggle and turmoil the singer/songwriter has spelled out in his songs and interviews.
Furstenfeld’s highly confessional song-writing has also generated a number of skeptics, who ask whether he has exaggerated the troubles in his life simply to gain attention and further Blue October’s career.
Furstenfeld began documenting the latest drama in his life in 2008 — the disintegration of his marriage and a difficult custody battle that has now won the singer the right to visit his 3-year-old daughter. Those experiences form the lyrical story of “Any Man in America.”
In August, Furstenfeld enjoyed one of those visits. His daughter is one subject that elicits genuine joy from the singer, who said becoming a father changed his outlook on life.
“Woah, boy, it changed me from being the most selfish egotistical rat, to being this guy who wants to show everybody I’m so sorry,” Furstenfeld said. “I totally understand now. I get it.”
There isn’t much joy on “Any Man in America,” though.
The CD opens with “Feel Again,” a ghostly Peter Gabriel-esque plea to save a relationship that is broken.
From there, things get angrier. On “For the Love,” Furstenfeld bemoans the end of his marriage, railing that “You never learned one thing, no, you never believed in me, so if you’re going to leave, get out.”
Things get even darker as the CD moves into “The Flight (Lincoln to Memphis)” and the title song, with its funny but stinging segment by rapper Ray C.
The rap in the song “Any Man in America” is just one of several moments in which Furstenfeld and his bandmates (multi-instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye, his brother, drummer Jeremy Furstenfeld, guitarist Julian Mandrake and bassist Matt Noveskey) experiment with weaving hip-hop elements into music that’s primarily pop-rock.
“For the Love” has a chorus that is very much in a hip-hop cadence, while “The Flight” is based around a rap-styled vocal and features a beat that is more hip-hop than rock.
In making “Any Man in America,” Furstenfeld said, he forged a strong bond with producer Tim Palmer, who is another divorced father.
“(Palmer said), ‘I didn’t get to see my daughter the whole first half of her life,’” Furstenfeld said. “I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, you can talk to me. I know you’ve got something weird you’re going through, but talk to me.’ It was really cool to have him as such a supporter.”
The personal nature of the album and the close working relationship with Palmer might make you think “Any Man in America” is more of a Furstenfeld-only project than the usual Blue October album. But the singer said the opposite was actually the case, and that each band member developed parts for the songs that were better than he could have written and played himself.
“I would have to say I was a lot worse on every other album,” Furstenfeld said. “When I finished ‘Foiled,’ it was worse. I played every instrument. I was like, ‘OK, replace that and I’ll play it better.’ I told them exactly what to play. That’s on every album.”
The full band, of course, will be invested in the music as Blue October tours behind “Any Man in America,” and weaves the new songs into what Furstenfeld expects to be an emotionally powerful show.
“It’s going to be beautiful and it’s going to be all for my daughter,” he said. “The passion’s going to be definitely out through the roof.”