Justin Furstenfeld remembers how scared he was when he arrived in Nashville to get together with songwriter Chris Lindsey to write what became “Not Broken Anymore,” one of the many revealing songs on “Sway,” the latest album by his band, Blue October.
“I remember when I finished it, I called my mom,” Furstenfeld said in a recent phone interview. “I was screaming, ‘I’ve still got it! I’ve still got it!’ And she was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And I was like, ‘I can still write music.’ I was screaming. It was a great moment.”
Furstenfeld, who performs with Blue October on Sunday at the Cotillion, was so apprehensive about his return to songwriting because “Not Broken Anymore” was the first song in many years that he had attempted to write while sober. Finding he still had his creative groove erased any lingering doubts that came with a lifestyle change that was certainly life altering and maybe even life saving.
His drinking, coupled with a broken marriage and an ugly battle over visitation rights with his daughter, had put Furstenfeld in a bad place. He would fly from his home in Texas to Lincoln, Neb., whenever he was scheduled to visit his daughter, Blue, but on many occasions his ex-wife wouldn’t be there with Blue to greet Furstenfeld – a situation that angered and frustrated him.
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Always one who gave fans a snapshot of his life through his music, Furstenfeld laid out his feelings about the upheaval in his life on the previous Blue October album, “Any Man in America.” After venting – and drinking – his way through the writing and recording of that 2010 album, Furstenfeld’s then-girlfriend, Sarah – now his wife and mother of his second daughter, Sayde Bell – decided she’d seen enough and issued an ultimatum.
“She was the first person that looked at me during all of that stuff with my daughter, and she says, ‘Look, I’ve seen you fight for years to see her, and now this last year, you’ve changed,’ ” Furstenfeld said.
“ ‘Nobody grieves the way you’re grieving, you hypocritical (expletive).’ And she goes, ‘Get your (butt) up or I’m out of here and you’re never touching this baby in my stomach, ever, because you’re sick. Get some help.’ … And through her doing that, putting her foot down, I chose to go get some help.”
So Furstenfeld went into rehab. He’s been sober now for 18-plus months, happily married to Sarah and enjoying a second chance at fatherhood with his new daughter.
His situation with Blue hasn’t changed, but Furstenfeld no longer lets it ruin his life and those of others close to him.
“I never knew there was such a beautiful life because I was always so bogged down with things going on in my life that I couldn’t accept, that I could not let go of,” Furstenfeld said. “I still fight to be able to see my daughter. That hasn’t changed. I still fly up there and I get stood up. That hasn’t changed. Nothing’s changed in that ballpark. But now I choose to not let it run my life.”
The turnaround in Furstenfeld’s life is obvious on “Sway.” Over a career that stretches back to 1995 and six previous studio CDs, Furstenfeld has used his songwriting and cathartic vocal performances in Blue October to chronicle a host of personal problems.
His songs have been peppered with references to suicide, mental issues – he claims to be bi-polar and suffer from depression – and upheaval in his personal life, especially “Any Man in America.” The confusion, anger and bitterness of previous albums has been replaced on “Sway” with songs about self-empowerment, confidence, hope and happiness.
Such sentiments are placed within a selection of songs that have a spacious, anthemic rock sound that has prompted comparisons to U2 and Coldplay.
Now Furstenfeld is going through another new experience – taking the emotions of “Sway” onto the live stage with his Blue October bandmates: his brother, drummer Jeremy Furstenfeld; multi-instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye; guitarist C.B. Hudson; and bassist Matt Noveskey. This isn’t a difficult change, he said.
“I never regret saying or doing anything I’ve done in the past on albums, but it’s such a relief to go out there and not have to be fighting for some big subject matter that is heart wrenching,” Furstenfeld said. “It’s nice to be going out there and just promoting happiness and peace. I’ve never done that before.”