Blue October frontman Justin Furstenfeld has had more than than his fair share of trials an tribulations over the past few years in the form of bitter divorce and an ongoing custody battle. However, Furstenfeld being a true artist has used his heart-wrenching struggle as fuel for his creative fire. The result is a return to the limelight with the band’s sixth studio, ‘Any Man In America’. A powerful and diverse record, this emotional odyssey features thirteen new songs that tell a cathartic tale of heartbreak and healing through unbridled lyrical honesty, anthemic modern rock hooks, and melodic soundscapes. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Justin Furstenfeld to discuss the band’s new album and the personal struggles that inspired it, the challenges that presented themselves along the way and his work with The American Coalition for Fathers and Children.
I wanted to give a little bit of background on you. I was curious to learn how music first came into your life and what made you pursue music as a career as opposed to going a different route?
My grandfather used to play guitar. I used to watch him at Christmas. We would have talent shows at our grandparents house! [laughs] That is an early memory. I pursued music because people were reacting to it. I had a band and I started being really honest with my lyrics. Next thing you know, people started gravitating toward it. Wherever I went to play, more and more people started showing up. It hit me and I was like, “Oh my gosh!” Then I had someone who said, “Let me manage you.” I thought, “Oh, Wow!” Next thing you know, we had a thousand people at our shows. It was pretty neat and intense. I just fell in love with it from there.
Who would you cite as your biggest musical influence and how have they helped to shape you as an artist?
I would have to say Peter Gabriel. His work taught me to be open, honest and truthful as I possibly can be with my lyrics. Also, he showed me that you can fight for the things that are right. I grew up listening to him sing about a man named Steven Biko and his role in the happenings in South Africa. I thought, “Wow! What is this all about?” The more I dug into it, I realized that he was actual fighting for human rights. That is something that I have always believed in.
Your new album, ‘Any Man In America’, just hit stores. It has been a long emotional road for you. How excited are you to finally unleash this album?
You have no idea! I finally have a defense! I have gone through two lawyers that have both quit on me. They didn’t like to hear me say, “What are you doing to me” and “Don’t lie!” [laughs] It’s my daughter’s life that we are dealing with, so don’t treat it like it is some used car dealership. It is good to have a defense that says, “Stop.” You have to stop at some point. It was going to be a solo album at first that documented someones personal marriage troubles but the part that really was awful was when the divorce finally happened and we were done, that was when this “serial accusing” started. I was being accused of things that were very illegal, like murder plots. I found out that she was basically willing to say or do anything to keep me away from my daughter. It was just so sick. I don’t know what she was trying to do, I still don’t. I am still trying to protect myself, so that is why I had to put this album out because no one else was keeping record.
With so much turbulence taking place in your life, did you find it to be a difficult process to put this all down on paper and then on the album? Can you tell us a little about that and how it affected the writing process for the album?
I had been writing it for about three years. We were working with Steve Lillywhite on “Approaching Normal.” I was wondering why my wife wasn’t coming down to stay at the lake house that I had set up for my family while I was doing the recording. She just never showed up. I wondered why and it just keep going like that over and over again. If I was working at our home in Texas, she would be somewhere else. It got to the point where writing was my only outlet to get it all out. It became a journal of sorts. When the accusations started, that is when it became an album.
Your bandmates had your back during that very rough period of time. How did that influence this album?
Oh, it influenced it greatly. They helped me see a certain side of things that I hadn’t. It was touchy for a while, learning songs that were about me after watching me go through this for four years. They were like, “Come on, dude. You’ve gotta leave.” And after I did that they were like, “Oh, wow! This is still going on?!” I couldn’t get rid of the girl, it just keeps going on and on and on. It was definitely a very trying period for all of us. As friends, I felt really bad that it was a situation like, “OK, once again, here comes my drama!” But I think a lot of people were smarter than just being like, “Oh God … here we go.” The songs were definitely laid out like a map. Having them finish them all, putting in the choruses and bridges, which was something I didn’t want to touch because it was already past that point, was so good and so nice.
What did producer Tim Palmer add to the project to make it gel?
He helped me make sure that I didn’t overdo something. Just being an artist that ends up ranting for no reason, I felt that we needed a co-producer to come in that was really good and that I could trust. Little did I know at the time but he had been through some of the same things that I had gone through, losing your child to divorce and not being able to be around them. It is painful, lonely as hell and you feel guilty. He reminded me every day by saying, “No, no, no! You have to put this song, ‘The Flight,’ on this album. I don’t care if no one likes it because they think that you are going to get in to trouble. You have to. Are you going to do THIS ALBUM or just an album because it sounds to me like this is your only defense to all these things that you have going on.” He really helped me get the balls to say what I needed to say and to do it in a way that wasn’t too much, ya know. It was just the artists feelings of being a single father, being accused and torn apart mentally, emotionally and financially for no reason. He was seeing that, just like the band, during the recording. I would have to leave and fly out to Lincoln to defend myself. It is really scary when you have a lot of people telling you that, “It’s gonna be OK. It’s gonna turn out for the best, trust me, trust me!” But when you get affidavits sent to you and the sheriff’s department shows up at your house when your daughter’s there to do a welfare check, they aren’t there. Nobody answers the door for you and they aren’t there when you get sued because you didn’t pay her side of something just because she lied and said that you were supposed to. You can’t defend yourself 24/7. A lot of times, when you don’t have a job, you can plan some really fucked up things. It only has to do with me wanting to spend time with my daughter. I don’t even want custody, I want shared parenting. I just want the time that is allowed to me, just give it to me so that I can create a relationship with my daughter and I. Don’t sabotage it.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about yourself at this point and are you ever afraid that it could overshadow your work in some way?
I don’t think that there is a misconception. I think that it is pretty blunt that my daughter is being kept from me. I use music and art to either make things more beautiful or to shed light on something that is wrong. This is an album about my daughter and about how men around the world, not just me, parents around the world are really not thinking about the kids and what is right. The only reason I put this album out was because I didn’t want to end up in jail for doing absolutely nothing. So I guess a misconception might be that, “Oh, he is too personal with his music.” Well, if you had a daughter and were accused of some of the things that I have been accused of, I don’t know how you could just sit there and take it! I just don’t know you could.
One good thing that came out of your struggle has been your collaboration with The American Coalition for Fathers and Children. How did that partnership come about and what has the experience been like for you?
That has been the one light through this whole thing. Last night before I went on stage, I got a call from my now ex-lawyer, he quit this morning. I got a call from him saying that I was being held in contempt of court for another lie that she made up. He said that my parenting time was going to be suspended. I freaked out! I was like, “How does this keep happening?” Michael McCormick of The American Coalition for Fathers and Children sat me down and explained to me exactly what was going on and exactly what we had to do. It was amazing to see someone that finally, really cared about what was happening. He said, “You are going to lose it if you don’t just put it behind you. We are gonna get you through this. Here is Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Just breathe with me.” He really laid it out. These guys are so responsible and proactive because they have dealt with it their whole lives. It is amazingly fulfilling to know that they are there to help me. It is nice to finally have someone on my side. This morning, I was by myself again and I felt that I was going to lose it all but then Michael called. He is amazing. We are just about shared parenting and sharing time. I don’t want to be accused of wanting to hurt people because that is just not me. I am a good person.
It is a great cause and they are lucky to have someone as vocal as yourself to help bring more attention to it. It is a shame that you have had to go through it but at least some good has come of it.
I appreciate you saying that. A lot of people see it as ranting but when you have a child in this situation, it’s not ranting. I love my daughter, forgive me for that.
When you look back at your body of work and your struggle through the years, how do you feel that you have evolved as an artist?
I have learned to think for myself and learned that when I do think for myself that it all comes out the way that I expected it to be. Then I can only blame myself for the mistakes. I find that when I think for myself that I tend to listen to people better because I have chosen the people to listen to. When I think for myself and trust my opinion and the band’s opinion and not listen to [in a thick New York accent] some big-wig producer just because he is some big-wig producer, [laughs] that it turns out for the best. I remember when I was working with Steve Lillywhite on “Approaching Normal,” I showed him the song “For The Love” and he was like, “Can you stop talking about your daughter, please?” I understand, it is not for him. He is there to make records and I certainly understand that but he might not be the guy I want to work with on this project. I am about art and making documentaries. I still don’t know how to run a camera.
What else do you have in the works that we can look forward to in the future?
I have been writing like crazy! I have A LOT of songs! [laughs] You have no idea, so many more albums in the future. Other projects — movies, independent films, writing plays, screenplays and a lot of work with The American Coalition for Fathers and Children because I have a feeling that this isn’t going to be a simple fix here. I want to be a positive role model for a lot of people, so I have to make sure that I am OK upstairs and get through this with my child, making sure that she is OK first.
Thank you for your time and we will be spreading the word on your music and your cause.
Thank you so much, my friend! It means a lot.
Get all the latest news and tour dates from Blue October’s official website located at www.blueoctober.com!