Justin Furstenfeld is a happy man these days, as chronicled on Blue October's forthcoming album Home.
And the singer, who's gone through the wringer of well-chronicled drug addiction and personal issues (including a fierce child custody battle) over the years is well aware of how unusual a little bit of bonhomie seems.
"It's crazy how life happens that way," he tells Billboard. "Honestly, some people are like, 'Hey man, what's up? What are you taking that makes you so positive?' Honestly I'm not taking anything. I continually am blown away by how good life can be when you just treat it like it's special. That's how I live every day. I feel like I got this second chance and I don't want to ever need to have another chance again."
Furstenfeld is, in fact, four years sober and chronicled some of that recovery on 2013's Sway. He's settled into a routine with his oldest daughter, Blue Reed, who lives with Furstenfeld's ex-wife in Nebraska. Now he's living near Austin in Wimberley, Texas, with his wife Sarah and their two young children, daughter Sayde Belle and newborn son Gunner Black, who was born April 2. "I don't spend too much time on negative things these days," Furstenfeld says -- which gave him pause as he began writing songs for Home, coming April 22 on his own Up/Down Records.
Listen to Home's title single, which Billboard is premiering exclusively below.
"When I made those changes in my life, I was like, 'OK, is my writing gonna be any good? Is what I have to say going to be any good?'" Furstenfeld acknowledges. "The one that can happen is when you're happy and in a place of contentment, shit can sound like bubblegum, y'know?. But what I found is I can be just as passionate if not more passionate and vivid and real about things like empowerment, confidence, peace, happiness, joy, being spiritually awake. That's probably one of the most amazing feelings in the world is being able to attack those subject matters like I did with depression, drug addiction, suicide -- the things people thought were pretty dramatic. Now I can celebrate (life) through music instead of whining about it."
Furstenfeld's other great lesson during Home was taking a more proactive approach to songwriting. "Once I really tapped into all these (happy) feelings I found it's not about sitting around waiting for a song to pop itself out and say, 'Here I am, man,'" he explains. "Now I challenge myself. I said, 'OK, you have a studio in your home. You go out there every day and at 8 a.m. and stay til 5 p.m., and you work. Not, 'Hey guys, what do you think about this riff?'" Furstenfeld also traveled to Nashville to study with songwriting buddies there, including hitmaker Chris Lindsey, who co-wrote two songs on the Sway album.
Blue October Expands Reach On New Album
"What came out of it was this new technique and new honing of a skill, which I knew I had," Furstenfeld says. "I just half-assed it before. Now I could put my effort into writing as a craft."
Sonically, meanwhile, Home was inspired by drives Furstenfeld made through the desert from west Texas to California while making radio promotion visits for Sway. He refers to the sound as "desert rock" -- although not to be confused with something as heavy as, say, Kyuss. "The desert was very inspiring," Furstenfeld says. "I wanted to make the album more about the beat and the bass and the atmosphere and the hook of the vocal than a rock power chord album. It makes me feel like less was more as long as that central beauty was there, as long as the lyric and the meaning was there and the melody was memorable and timeless. I just wanted to keep the music simple and let it do its job and not force it."
Blue October hits the road April 16 to start pushing Home, with dates currently booked into late June -- and a lot more to follow. "I want to work this album for the next three years -- I feel that strongly about it," Furstenfeld says. "As president of the label now I would like to push three more singles and give this the kind of effort we always wanted to get from a label. Everybody should be treated with respect in this business. God knows I didn't do that too well in the past, so now I'll make sure I do."