Justin Furstenfeld is in a happy place.
He answers the phone for an interview using an echo effect on his voice that stretches the name of his band, Blue October.
“If you need any other effects during the interview, don’t hesitate to ask,” the singer says joyously.
Conversations didn’t always go easily with journalists, Furstenfeld says, as he has battled demons like suicidal thoughts and addiction. Now, he spends time putting deeply personal thoughts on social media, and touring with Blue October, which continues to reign pop charts. Five years ago, he turned his life around.
“I was going to journalists who I had screwed over or going to radio stations to apologize for past behavior,” Furstenfeld says. “I’m so grateful everyone’s giving me another shot.”
One thing he never swayed from was music. Blue October will release I Hope You’re Happy on August 17. The band will preview songs during its Friday, June 8, show at The Van Buren in Phoenix.
“The cool thing about this album is it’s not about ‘Justin,’” Furstenfeld says. “I’m writing about other people’s lives; people I’ve encountered over the last two to four years. It’s about what they’re going through from the outside looking in.
“It’s really nice to be able to write about dark things again, like relationship struggles and me wanting to help friends, instead of, ‘Oh poor Justin.’ It’s a universal-themed plot, I guess you could say.”
Furstenfeld explains it was rewarding to step outside of himself.
“It was more rewarding to sit down with the person I’m writing the song about and interview them,” he says. “The information just comes to me. I put it to a melody and to poetry.”
I Hope You’re Happy is the only album for which he collaborated on every song.
“I told the band, ‘If there’s anything you’re working on, just send it to me,’” he recalls.
“Co-writing is new to me. I wanted to get out of self and do everything as a collaborative effort. This is also the first album I produced by myself. I’m super excited.”
I Hope You’re Happy is going to surprise fans, but Furstenfeld is sure listeners will love it. It just may take some time.
“People are going to go, ‘What the hell?’” he says. “They’re going to listen to it and say, ‘I don’t get this.’ Two weeks later, they’ll say, ‘OK. I see. I wanted to make an album like that.
“It’s like the first time I heard Radiohead’s OK Computer. I said, ‘What the hell is this?’ Then after a couple weeks, I thought it was brilliant.”
Besides other folks, the album touches on the societal problems that are damaging the world and its citizens’ morale.
“There are a lot of things going on in the world that are really troubling me,” he says. “I can’t do anything about it. Everybody is struggling, and they just want to be happy. I just want everyone to be happy.”
That includes himself. He acknowledges Blue October’s early success didn’t bode well for him.
“Ego is a huge thing,” he says. “When you sell a couple million albums, the ego gets you. Mix that with alcohol and drugs and it’s a bad combination. Suddenly, your second album after that didn’t do well, bro, and you wonder, ‘Where did I go wrong?’
“The definition of success for me isn’t that anymore. It’s having a roof over my kids’ heads, having them smile and being honest with my wife—and do music for a living.”
He says this as he’s perusing Dick’s Classic Car Museum in San Marcos, Texas, with his family.
“What can get better than that?” he whispers. “My kids are in private school. It’s not expensive. It’s a private art school, school in the middle of the woods with other cool, inspirational kids.
“I’m here at a car museum with my wife who loves me. Life is so good. Although, I saw the my dream 1957 old truck. I asked her if I could have it, and my wife said, ‘No.’”
Blue October w/special guests, The Van Buren, 401 W. Van Buren Street, Phoenix, thevanburenphx.com, 8 p.m. Friday, June 8, $28.