I met up with Blue October frontman Justin Furstenfield at Rock on the Range in Columbus, OH back in May. This was the first interview of the day for both me and Justin as we sat down over coffee and herbal supplements. We had sequestered the comfy couches backstage and had a really good conversation, almost like we were old acquaintances. I have to say that it was a pleasure to sit down and talk with someone who has survived so long in the music business. Sadly, On October 22, 2009, Blue October announced that their Fall tour plans had been canceled due to Justin Furstenfield suffering a severe mental anxiety attack. I wish him well and a speedy recovery that approaches normal soon.
Jackie Lee King for antiMusic: Do you think that that's the future of a lot of music business where the majors are kind of going to go away and it's going to be like dozens of indies?
Justin Furstenfeld: It's kind of always been that way I think with the people that can't get the deal with the big labels kind of do whatever they can to get it out there. The people that do have a deal with a label are going to try to be a team and work together because that's where the funding comes from. That's where your marketing and promotion comes from--otherwise you're going to have to go hire them yourself. So if you've got the good team, there's no reason being "corporate" or "indie" or "emo" or "oops, I funded it myself that means I'm indie"-- and use the team appropriately and if the team's not being used appropriately, well maybe think about getting a new one? Or if you've got enough money, do it yourself. Then you can just whip them into shape and get them to do whatever you want them to do.
antiMusic: Yeah, because I've known a lot of young bands and they're like you know, "How do we form a band and how can we f*** the music industry?"
Justin: How can we f*** the music industry? The music industry pays your way. The music industry pays for your publishing. The music industry pays for your bus when you go on the road. The music industry pays your mortgage and your baby's college fund. So why would you want to f*** the music industry? Be a part of it!
antiMusic: Yeah. When I was in a punk band it was all, 'F*** the world!' and then you start thinking about it and then you're like, "Okay, if I get rid of all the rules..."
Justin: You're f***ing yourself! The bigger the music industry is the more albums people are going to buy so keep the music industry alive. Just if you don't want to be a part of a major corporation, that basically is a big bank loan, then go be by yourself and good luck to you. I hope you have a big enough Myspace page.
antiMusic: You know and that's the other thing, you know all of these artists who promoted themselves through Myspace pages but turn down interviews, turn down certain things, and it's just sort of like "we're helping you."
Justin: Do you want any money or not? Do you want to have kids and get married one day and drive a car instead of your bike? Do you want to get out of your parents' house? Come on! Join us! It's fun! I just can't stand it. That's like the life right there, bro. You know, I've got a kid to think about and put through college and it's like-- if anything were to happen to her-- if she were to fall down and hurt her brain in any kind of way I have to have mullah-- green paper to pay for her. I don't care how earthy and whatever indie you are-- bottom line, health insurance, mortgage, and being able to do what you do for a living and getting married and being a family takes money. You can't be cool your whole life.
antiMusic: Well, it sounds like you got your head together.
Justin: I'm a businessman, but I make art for a living. I used to think that way. 'I don't need a label' but then I dread it without a label. I was so indie, let me tell you, that I had $50 in my pocket every week and that's it.
antiMusic: What changed? What was the moment that you remember when it was like I'm not selling out I'm just playing nice with everybody. It's like "I'm not kissing ass. I can still be rock and roll." But the industry likes it when you play with them, not against them.
Justin: Well, it's easier. It's kind of like if I worked for Nike, and Nike said, "Justin, I heard you can make the best damn shoe around. Make people jump fifty feet high." Because Reebok's got one that make people jump forty-nine feet high. I'm like "I can do it. I can do it. I can do it." They fund me to make this shoe. I make it and I fail, they drop me. Then I can still try to make it on my own. If I make it and boom!--it's the best shoe in the world-- that's rock and roll in the world. You get paid for it, you know? You get to have a structured life that's unstructured and that's the best world. I just don't understand why people want to go against the industry when the industry's the reason you have your f***ing guitars in your f***ing big places that you play. You can always throw your backyard barbecues and play for your friends, but I don't want to do that.
antiMusic: What do you think a life cycle of a band is and when do you determine whether you should move on or not?
Justin: That we'll always make music. I don't know if we'll always promote it and publicize it the way that we are right now. Look at Johnny Cash, he disappeared for a while. He came back. He writes beautiful songs. He's a legend. He's a hero. Then you look at bands like U2 and sometimes you think 'should they be stopping?' And sometimes you think 'well, there are those three songs on that album that was like-- no, that's f***ing still real good.' Then you look at KISS and you're like 'oh, total promotion geniuses!' But they probably have fun playing together and then you look at bands like Pink Floyd that you just wish would have stayed together. The Smiths, which you just wish they would have stayed together. The Cure which are trying so hard to stay together. I'll always make music. I don't know if I'll always be like the guy in front shaking my ass, because I plan on having a belly someday. You know? When I'm just hanging out with my kids someday, but I'll always make music.
antiMusic: If you could go back to when you were first starting out, what advice would you give yourself back then?
Justin: I would have done less drugs. Honestly. Because I did everything else right. It's just the drugs made me lazy. You know, I started out just touring, touring, touring in a freakin' Suburban in '93, so over twenty years of trying to do this thing, and it's just the drugs that kept me kind of clouded and it made it a slower process to get where I am now. I'm 33 and I've sold a million records. At 23 I was doing blow in the back of the bus, and bam! My bus! I didn't have a kid and didn't think I was ever going to sell a million records. And then, wow, I've sold that many records? Oh s***! I got to get my s*** together. What I would have done different is --the only thing-- is probably done less destruction on my body. Have you ever have those hangover days where you did nothing? I wish I would have had those utilized because I could have made more money by now.
antiMusic: Well the thing with me now is I'm almost 40 and hangovers are two days now.
Justin: Oh, hangovers are a week for me. So, I drink coffee and I'm real good at it.
antiMusic: So success has been a long journey?
Justin: I toured my ass off for seventeen years. Now I know what I want. You know what I'm saying? I'm older but I'm probably less silent now more than ever. I'm happy where I'm at right now because we're well-known but...
antiMusic: …and the new music is really good.
Justin: Thank you. It might not be platinum-selling, but that doesn't bother me at all.
antiMusic: That's the thing. If it's fulfilling then you see that in the fans. Especially if you play a new song and after, you know, you play a hit and then you play a new song, you 're like " I hope this goes."
Justin: What we do now is we play all of our new songs first and just say, "Muhahaha!" and then go back to the old ones so they end up liking them. They don't have a choice, I'm sorry.
antiMusic: Anything you want your fans to know?
Justin: I think the longevity is really an important question, because as a band you also have to keep the whole on how you want to be remembered as. I can understand why Sting quit the Police. I can understand why Roger Waters went...
Justin: Yeah, but he still makes music.
antiMusic: And it's good, too.
Justin: Oh, I know. and it's just-- there will be a point when Blue October-- if we keep on making great music and great art-- once we start slacking on our art, that's it...You know what I'm saying? That's when you should leave... But I don't think that will ever. But, thank you for your time!
Info and Links
Blue October Interview (Justin Furstenfield)