YEAR FORMED: 1997
HOME TOWN: Houston, TX
Blue October isn’t just your average, everyday rock band from Texas. The group was formed in Houston in the late ‘90s by lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Justin Furstenfeld, his brother, drummer Jeremy, multi-instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye, later joined by guitarist/vocalist CB Hudson and bassist Matt Noveskey. The group’s epic live shows and exploration of subjects like mental depression, drug use, love, betrayal, forgiveness and cathartic transcendence have helped them amass a strong, loyal following through five albums, three of which have been released by Universal Records.
Blue October released their first album, The Answers, in 1998. The group was signed to Universal for their August 2000 major label debut, Consent to Treatment, but with Rock radio non-responsive, they were soon dropped. The band then signed with Brando Records and released History for Sale in July 2003. When “Calling You,” which was also included on the American Wedding soundtrack, began picking up airplay in Dallas and other Texas cities, Universal offered to re-sign the group. After considering several other major label offers, Blue October decided to return to the very label that dropped them.
“We’re not an easy band to understand,” says Justin about the decision to return to their major label home. “I just felt at Universal, we had a team of people who understood us, and who loved us for all the right reasons. I wasn’t about to walk through life with people who didn’t really know me.”
That Blue October hasn’t followed the ordinary path to success is clear from the first single from Foiled, “Hate Me,” a song that recalls such aching rock anthems as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” or Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says” for songwriter Justin Furstenfeld’s unflinching look at himself. It’s a song portraying a man’s selfishness in a relationship, then coming to terms with it, and admitting the mistakes.
“I have to block out thoughts of you/So I don’t lose my head/They crawl in like a cockroach/Leaving babies in my bed,” he sings, the images underlined by the matter-of-fact sing-song way in which they’re delivered. “It’s like, let me just kind of clue you in on what it feels like in my own brain,” he offers.
That brand of intensity is welded to wide screen sound that evokes an array of eclectic influences such as prog-rockers Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Flaming Lips, U2 and Coldplay, attracting a hardcore following who not only relate, but ardently sing along with the band’s songs.
“Our fans really make us what we are,” says Justin’s older (by 14 months) brother, drummer Jeremy. “We have a tight bond with them. Many have become our friends through the years. To see them sing these songs right back at us as we play them is amazing. It blows me away every time.”
“Into the Ocean,” with Delahoussaye’s seductive violin siren call and plucked mandolin, openly contemplates a death wish with so much honesty, fans write to the band, claiming tracks like this have prevented their own suicidal impulses.
“I love Justin’s lyrics,” says guitarist Hudson, whose early influences include such players as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughan. “He speaks the truth. It’s all real-life experiences everyone can relate to. Being able to work with someone like that is special. Our music touches people in the heart. I’m really proud of that.”
“If I have saved others, I don’t know what to say,” admits Justin. “But if I can do that for them, why the fuck can’t I do that for myself?”
It’s a reasonable question to ask for Furstenfeld, whose first musical memory as a child was hearing fellow Texan Roy Orbison’s plaintive “Crying.” That led to an interest in other melancholy groups like The Smiths, The Cure, Red House Painters and Idaho. Having been in therapy since he was 14, Justin turned to music to get away from his problems. Songs like “What If We Could,” about the longing of a true love that is seemingly doomed by distance and circumstance, or the apocalyptic “Sound of Pulling Heaven Down” and “Let It Go”, with its mournful Neil Young harmonica line halfway through, deal with that self-doubt in no uncertain terms, as Justin asks in the latter: “Why do I feel this way?/Why do I kneel?/How could I let it go?/Why do I feel?”
“I don’t remember writing these songs,” he says. “They just come out when it’s getting too much for me. It’s like getting closure. Now, I’m not so hurt about that relationship. I’m actually in a better place now. I’m just waiting to write that happy song. I welcome it with open arms.
After eighteen months of touring on History for Sale, a double-live CD/DVD, Argue with a Tree, which captured the amazingly symbiotic live relationship between the band and its fans, was released in February 2005.
Without any radio airplay or press, and after being off the road for more than a year, a fall ’05 tour was booked, resulting in sold-out shows in Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Tulsa, Little Rock, Omaha, Chicago, Lawrence/Kansas City and Des Moines, proving the band’s audience was growing even stronger.
“I really wanted to be part of this,” says bassist Noveskey, a Michigan native who worships at the altar of Motown’s Jamie Jamerson and Sly and the Family Stone’s Larry Graham. He briefly left the band, only to return in time to record the new album. “It was an amazing process. Everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”
Foiled isn’t just about despair, delusion and dementia. “X Amount of Words” is “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with a lively New Order/Depeche Mode dance beat. On the other hand, “Drill a Wire Through My Cheek” is a harrowing glimpse into Justin’s Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde, a devil on one shoulder, an angel on the other, connected by the titular “wire through my cheek,” which Justin is willing to pull to defeat his dark side.
“That’s me at home, when nobody’s around,” he says sarcastically.
There’s an element of light at the end of the tunnel, a hopeful optimism that comes out in the album’s final two songs—the sweet soul of “Everlasting Friend” and the idyllic love of the sweeping “18th Floor Balcony,” for which Hudson wrote the music.
“That’s the first love song I’ve ever written without doubt,” admits Justin. “At least I know in my head I’m capable of loving. It’s great to know that my heart still works.”
“This really is our best record yet,” says multi-instrumentalist Delahoussaye, classically trained on piano at the age of four, violin at six and viola at nine. “We’re more accomplished in fine-tuning the way we want things to sound and what our mission is.”
You can hear Blue October’s collective heart pumping—alternately breaking, healing and breaking again—on Foiled. It is a sound you won’t soon forget.