Texas-based Blue October enjoyed a half-dozen or so charting singles in the first decade of the 21st century. Their angst-filled songs struck a chord with listeners who, after being weaned on a steady diet of "emo," wanted something a little less frenetic.
But by decade's end, frontman Justin Furstenfeld had spiraled into depression, a condition caused — or at least worsened — by the crumbling of his marriage and continuing substance abuse problems. He began getting the help he needed, but it was slow going. When the band released 2013's Sway, every track would be marked "explicit" on playlists; clearly Furstenfeld was still having a rough time of it.
What a difference a couple of years can make. Today, Justin Furstenfeld finds himself in a much happier place, and he's confronting head-on many of the issues that led to his problems. That renewed sense of being is manifested in the uncharacteristically upbeat Home, which was released this April on the singer's own label.
"You can start your day over whenever you want to," says Furstenfeld, now nearly five years sober. "I've been taking [the antidepressant prescription drug] Paxil since I was 14," he says, "but it never worked, because I put alcohol and drugs on top of it. I would just sit at home and mope."
These days he has a new approach to life. "I'm active, I focus on the positive," he says. "I don't feed my negativity with alcohol and drugs; I wake up clear-headed and I empower myself every day to make healthy decisions."
That outlook is reflected in his lyrics. Unlike the tortured, melancholy subject matter of Blue October's earlier music, the songs on Home effectively convey Furstenfeld's healthier mental and emotional state. "I was a selfish writer back then," he says of his earlier work. "I thought that the world revolved around me. I used to self-medicate a lot and call it experimentation, when in actuality it was more of a crutch. And it was quite the negative influence on my life."
The songwriter's hard-won positivity shines through on nearly all of the new tracks. "It's insane how positivity is just a magnetic form," he says, noting that the somewhat radical change in Blue October's lyrics hasn't cost them their fan base. The band's followers "have made that change with me, and we've gotten new ones," he says.
The charts and sales figures back that up: Home peaked at #19 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Not a bad showing for a band that left its major label nearly seven years ago. "It was a smart move" both for the band and former label Universal to part ways, Furstenfeld says. "I'd like each album to average around 100,000 sold," he explains. "They like to average around a million."
Furstenfeld sums up his philosophy about making music and being in a band: "Our definition of success at Blue October and UpDown Records is that we have a roof over our head, our children are taken care of, and we have wives that love us. That's the bottom line. You don't have to be rich; you just have to be rich in love."