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Justin Furstenfeld, the frontman for Texas rockers Blue October, has turned a corner, both musically and in his personal life. His band's new album, Sway, is a far cry from 2011's angst-ridden Any Man in America, which was written while the 37-year-old singer was going through a divorce and a battle for custody of his daughter.
Blue October toured extensively during the Any Man era. Furstenfeld was hoping that someone, anyone, would hear his story, and that one day he would wake up and things would be different. "That was just an album that had to be written," he says. "It wasn't for album sales; it was an album about divorce and losing time with your child.
"I was hoping that album would change laws," Furstenfeld goes on, his voice dripping with contempt for his own arrogance. He sighs, pauses, then continues: "But it didn't happen that way. Instead, it came across as me fighting a lost cause."
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He was on the road, away from his home and family, and despite all his efforts, he still wasn't allowed to see his daughter. "I began drinking heavily and using again, because it was the only thing that could fight off the pain," Furstenfeld says. "And I lost what I was fighting for."
So what changed? In a word: perspective. Instead of continuing to bemoan the way things were, Furstenfeld decided to change himself for the better. At the behest of friends and family ("There's no excuse for it," he remembers his wife telling him. "Get off your ass. Be a real father and a real man"), he checked himself into rehab, emerging with a new outlook on life.
Fans will hear as much in his new music. "The difference in the music is that I didn't write another album about how hard life is for Justin Furstenfeld," he says with a chuckle. "I mean, you're blessed to have this awesome job making music, so show them where you are now, where the band is now."
Brimming with positivity, Sway still feels like Blue October, but it's somehow completely different. Listeners will hear a stark contrast between the first two songs on the album: The opening track was written during the Any Man tour, while "Sway" showcases how far the band has come since then.
"I never knew that this was possible, that life actually existed like this and that I could enjoy it," says Furstenfeld of his sobriety. "But you have to be proactive about life. You can't just sit there and expect things to happen for you. Really take a hard, hard look at yourself and recognize if something you might be doing isn't really healthy.
"I still take meds for depression," he concludes. "I still have my bouts with all that stuff, but today I can handle it. Now I can say, 'You know what, depression? You're not going to ruin my day. I'm going to be proactive about this.'"