Interview with Blue October: Shifting Tides

Texas-based alternative rockers Blue October have the rest of this year and beyond mapped out in tour dates. The band’s latest work, Sway, incorporates a multitude of influences from across varying rock soundscapes as well as refreshed lyrical content. In an attempt to explore a new facet of themselves as musicians, the platinum-selling group focused the subject matter of this record on positivity, awareness and gratefulness. Throughout their years in the industry, the guys have matured as artists as well as businessmen, and have attained a sharper vision than ever before.

Blue October will tour nationwide in support of their seventh full-length, eventually heading overseas to reach fans across the globe. Frontman Justin Furstenfeld has turned over a new leaf with his songwriting and attitude that has been documented within Sway. The vocalist discussed with me the evolution of his band, future plans, and what went into the foundations of Sway. Here is everything he had to say:

With your new record on the brink of release, how was the writing process fresh this time around with Sway?

It was fresh because I didn’t have to write about turmoil. I didn’t have to write about how sad Justin is. It was fresh because I had a whole new batch of things to write about like confidence and empowerment, peace, you know, and making sense of all the turmoil. It was really cool to be able to get in a room with the guys, the band, and hear what they had and actually listen and be inspired by them. It was really cool.

“Bleed Out,” the first single off the album, has musical attributes that span across several genres and allow your Texas roots to shine through. If you had to define Blue October’s sound, how would you?

Oh, good question; that’s a first. 17 years of being interviewed and that’s the first time for that one. I would have to say eclectic, dreamy, atmospheric and rough.

In your opinion, what are the common threads that tie Sway together?

It’s an ongoing theme of reflection; an ongoing theme of, first of all, recognizing the positive. I spent so many years dwelling on the negative that when I first started writing this album, I told the band, “I don’t want one song on this album that talks about how hard life is.” I don’t want to do that ever again.

The one theme that I would have to say goes across the board on this album is the feeling that I am so grateful that I can recognize miracles around me every day. I can touch into those things, you know. Most of all, it’s making sense of those things that were so traumatic in my life.

One of the lighter tracks on this record, “Things We Don’t Know About,” has a solid foundation of a progressive melody over a fluid string arrangement. It stands out from the more rough-around-the-edges material. What was fleshed out first here, the lyrical skeleton or the musical structure?

It was Matt Noveskey, our bassist. He came to me about three years ago saying, “I have this music; it’s already structured and I want you to write to it.” I tried writing to it and I was like, “I didn’t write it, so I’m going to not do it (laughs).”

Matt had written these arrangements that were gorgeous. I wanted it to be an ode to no matter what happens in life, there’s going to be things that happen every day that we don’t know about; things that are going to crash around us. As long as we get through them together, we’ll survive and get through it all.

What is the plan for the rest of the year for you and the band?

Tour, tour, tour, tour, tour. Go to the UK, Germany, Russia and tour over there. Shoot videos for every single one of the songs. Yeah, because they’re all so important. Basically, stay on the road and keep this album alive for the next two years. Then, do it all over again.

What influences do you guys share as a band?

I would have to say that we love The Cure. We absolutely love Rage Against The Machine, Deftones, Queens Of The Stone Age, Peter Gabriel, The Smiths. I’m a big fan of rap, hip-hop. I love that whole ego-confidence rap. This whole like Drake, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj thing—Birdman, I just love it. They’re so confident, so ridiculously confident. Whenever I’m sad, I’ll just pop in that stuff sometimes and I’m just like, don’t take stuff too seriously. I just think they’re all lyrical geniuses. It is so fun to play on words, you know?

What are you listening to right now?

Sigur Rós. I’m a huge fan of Sigur Rós. Ella Fitzgerald, you know, that old, old jazz singer? I’ve always been a huge fan of bands like Idaho. As far as new bands go that are out these days, I love Kings Of Leon. Those guys are really, really talented. I really respect them; they tour their asses off. They’re a great live band.

How have you and the rest of the guys evolved as musicians or performers over the years?

The biggest change is that we can turn it off when we get off stage now. In the past, I kept it on like, “Oh my god, there’s this dark guy, I have to carry it everywhere I go.” I thought I always had to be a serious guy. I think we know how to turn it off when we get off stage and be normal people now.

The biggest change is we are all businessmen now. We all realized what’s important for our families and what’s not important for our families. We’re never giving up. That was probably one of the worst things that ever happened to us, that we sold one million records. Then, everybody levels your success to that.

My definition of success is as long as I can pay the bills at home and save money for my kids, I’m good. Fuck, I’m good. I would have to say that everybody has turned into businessmen as well as more professional artists.

Are you friendly with the bands that you will be taking out on tour with you?

Yeah, they’re bands that I loved that I like to take on the road with me. There is one girl named Tori [Vasquez] who is our labelmate, who we’ll be going on the road with this month, and she is super talented. The world should hear her, so why not put her on the road with us, you know?

What are some goals that you guys feel you have yet to achieve in your careers?

Oh, let me see. Yet to achieve? I would have to say I think the one thing we have yet to achieve is… um, hmm, wow. We’ve really done everything that we set ourselves out for (laughs).

We’re so blessed. We’re just now realizing that we’re in a good spot. If there’s any more goals to achieve, it’s goals with business and goals that deal with materialistic things, which we don’t like to surround ourselves with.

We’d like to go touring other countries more. I think that we have pretty much achieved every goal that we could possibly set out for. Now the sky is the limit, we can do whatever we set our minds to.

So, your main hope for the future of the band is working toward longevity and being able to continue making a living this way, correct?

Oh yeah, definitely. I’m going out Johnny Cash style. I’m going to keep doing this until the day I die. I hope to venture off into other aspects of art, like film. As long as we stay together and stay true, and when it’s not fun anymore, that’s when we’ll stop. So far, it’s been a blast.

Blue October will play Philly’s Theatre Of Living Arts Sept. 11 and NYC’s Irving Plaza Sept. 14. Their new album, Sway, is available now. For more information, go to