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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, April 19, 2014

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Justin Furstenfeld performs on Saturday at Turner Hall.
Justin Furstenfeld performs on Saturday at Turner Hall. (Photo: Raymond Boyd)

Expect brutal honesty from Blue October's frontman

Blue October frontman Justin Furstenfeld is on tour promoting his book of lyrics and writings called "Crazy Making." The book explains what's behind many of Blue October's songs.

The tour, called "An Open Book: An Evening With Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October," stops at Turner Hall on Saturday, April 13. Tickets are $25.

The shows feature a spoken word performance, an acoustic set and a question-and-answer session where fans write down questions and he answers them with honesty.

Blue October is a Texas-based American rock band that formed in 1995. Furstenfeld's brother, Jeremy, is the band's drummer.

Furstenfeld has indeed been an open book about his struggles with bipolar disorder, anxiety and psychotic tendencies through his lyrics, writing and spoken word pieces. He is also sharing his new-found joys of being a husband and father.

I chatted with Furstenfeld on the phone today.

Molly: So how's the tour so far?

Justin Furstenfeld: Great. We were in Denver last night and a blizzard rolled through. I'm from Texas where that would be the end of the world, but actually, I like snow.

Molly: Are you on tour with your family?

JF: Yes, I only tour with my wife and daughter. I got married about a year ago and I have a 7-month-old daughter.

When I travel with Blue October, they come with me, too. We have a separate bus. I don't drink or do anything anymore – I have to keep myself good – and we just need more of a family bus now.

It's fun. We watch a lot of Wiggles. That's the job I want someday.

Molly: Have you written any material for kids?

JF: Yeah, I mess around. My wife tells me to put a book out about a punk rock kid touring the country and I will someday. I love kids. I know I sound like a wah-wah, but it's true.

Molly: How has being a dad affected your art?

JF: It's made my art more intense. It's opened the door to a whole other realm of my own innocence from when I was a kid. I lost it along the way, and when I had a child it opened that door back up. It's really something else to go back and live through someone else instead of yourself.

Molly: What compelled you to write the book?

JF: I have been writing songs my whole life and people are always asking why I have to be so dramatic or why I'm so dark and so I started writing a book a long time ago about where the songs come from. So they could understand better. I got to tell the whole story behind the songs.

I always loved poetry. I grew up reading Edgar Allan Poe. I always thought the words and the songs were separate.

Molly: What appeals to you about spoken word versus singing with a band?

JF: I love the stripped-down. During this tour, I might start playing and stop and start speaking the words and then start playing again. People see that it's actually thoughts and feelings – not just composed "cat and the hat on the mat."

These shows are so quiet. It's really nice to have evenings like this. It's like a meditation. And yet it's really intense, real.

Last night we had 500 in Denver and it seemed like people really understood it was coming from the heart.

It's not about entertaining in the same way (as with the band), it's about being brutually honest and real about everything you're saying.

In Denver, I was talking about how I was an a**hole. I cheated. I was not a good person. People yelled out, "You son of a b*tch!" They were mad at me and I loved it. They were giving real, honest reactions. Not, "Aw, it's OK. We love you."

I realized I messed up. And I love a real reaction. That's the beauty of making art: you're powerless over peoples' reactions.

Molly: You've struggled with mental health issues. Is art healing for you?

JF: I don't know what I would do without it. I don't know what my purpose would be. I'd still be a great father and husband, but art is the life blood. It keeps me going. It still excites me like it's Christmas Day and I'm a kid.

Molly: What should fans expect from the show?

JF: Very honest stories about where (my music and art) came from. Then the audience can write down questions, I usually get about 50, and I get some crazy questions and I answer them as truthfully and honestly as I can. Often, they don't make me look very good, but I don't care anymore. It's about putting it out there in the open.

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