by Jessica Hildebrandt
September 2, 2004, and beyond.
So, in typical girly fashion, I'm late to the Blue October show. Running across the street and getting in line, I hear music coming from the doorway of The Engine Room that I don't recognize. I checked out the bands online before coming out to the show to have an idea of what sounds would be happening, and what I've heard doesn't mesh with what I'm hearing now.
I make my way to the bar area and get a good look at who's on stage. The Jay Quinn band, from Dallas, is performing. Jay Quinn started out his performing career while in school in Arizona and has toured with some fairly large national acts, including John Mayer. If you judge only by the music out on the website, you're going to be in for a surprise. The songs on Enlightening Storms are more low-key than Quinn's current direction. "New" is definitely the theme for this group; they have cut a new EP which is due out soon, they have a new line-up (Kevin on guitar, Paul on bass, and Evan on drums), and they have a newer mainstream radio-worthy pop rock sound.
They put on a very high-energy show. The cover of The Pixies' "Here Comes Your Man," tossed in with their original stuff, is great and really gets the crowd going. Kevin, who is on loan from Tennessee (where he has his own band), is quite the character, and long before you can hear it in his playing you can see it in the blue fedora on his head or the polyester duds he's sportin'. While Jay tunes his guitar, the band breaks out into an impromptu Guns 'n Roses song, and the fact that Jay flatly refuses to sing when it's time for the vocals to kick in makes it all the more entertaining. All in all, it's a fun show, and they're definitely able to connect with the crowd. If you get the chance to check them out, you may want to meet Jay Quinn after his set. His energy is seemingly never-ending, and as he says, "You can quote me that I never shut up."
The congregation of fans moving toward the stage is a warning of Blue October's upcoming set. Blue October fans are a highly dedicated and involved group of people, and I am determined to pay attention to them as well as the set; I think you can gain a lot of insight to a band by who follows them. I pay particular notice to these two guys close to me; you can tell they have never been to a show before, and I think it'll be interesting to see their reactions.
Blue October -- http://www.blueoctober.com/
Blue October Fan Portal -- http://www.blueoctoberfan.com/
Universal Records -- http://www.universalrecords.com/
Jay Quinn Band -- http://www.jayquinnband.com/
The set begins to thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd but with a much more emotional song than I was expecting. "Ugly Side" is a song that works a contrast between a haunting violin, a plucky guitar line, and melancholy vocals. It's a familiar place for anyone that has doubted whether they are good enough for someone they love. Justin Furstenfeld is a charismatic, if melodramatic (by his own admission), frontman who pulls the audience along with him through the highs and lows of relationships and life. Admittedly, if you've never seen him perform and are going just by the pop song "Calling You," you'd never expect the kohl-rimmed eyes (or Sharpie black marker-rimmed, as the case may be), black fingernails and sometimes manic twitching on stage. I can tell that the newbies to my left certainly don't, as looks of "The Hell?" are passed back and forth and the phrase "Dude, this guy is weird" is overheard.
From "Ugly Side," the band moves into "Amazing." The vocals on that song simply are -- you can feel them as well as hear them. "Balance Beam," from Consent To Treatment, lists out the steps to getting the girl and gets the whole crowd counting them down out loud. Before you think this whole show is an exercise in songs of wayward love, let's skip to a song like "Razorblade": it's a blistering account of child abuse and the struggle to get past it. With the chorus "A brief bout with a razorblade cut me / I freaked out, thinking people didn't love me! / I watched closely as the you I knew forgot me! / In letting go...I'm so proud of what I've done!," it's loud and angry and encourages you to yell along.
For as much as Justin is idolized as the frontman, the other members of the band are just as important to the music and to the fans. Ryan Delahoussaye is fantastic on the violin, and it's showcased to the fullest during his solo, "PRN." The fingers and bow are just flying. It's frenzied and powerful. At the end Ryan stands alone, head down with stray hairs hanging off the bow, a backlit snapshot of the music that has just happened. Piper Dagnino on bass and Jeremy Furstenfeld on drums set a solid and funky platform for the melodies and other instruments to bounce off of. C.B. Hudson on guitar has a stoic rock intensity that balances Ryan's quirky playing.
Blue October have been touring extensively, amassing new fans at every stop, I'm sure. This show was to be their live CD/DVD release for Argue with a Tree, but as that was pushed to mid-September, the audience is treated to the announcement that the History for Sale tour is wrapping up and they will soon be entering the studio. To paraphrase Justin: "So you have more depressing songs to smile about." That's exactly it. They cover a lot of heavy topics in their lyrics, but the words mean something and are presented in such a package that you can't help but enjoy them. I think a lot of folks feel the same way, judging by crowd and fan reaction. Remember those newbies I mentioned? By the end of the show these boys have pushed themselves as much to the front-center as they can and have their hands in the air with everyone else.
There is definitely something about seeing this band in person that pulls you in. I'm no exception, it seems, as I decide to run off to Austin to catch Blue October at their La Zona Rosa show the next night. Not only that, but I've brought a Blue Virgin (as their fans call newbies) from Arizona to experience her first show. Now, you might think that going two nights in a row would yield me the exact same experience, but you'd be wrong. Both shows are great, no doubt, but the energy at La Zona Rosa is much higher and it's unbelievably packed. This time I watch the show from all the way in the back, and having a sea of people all dancing, singing, and throwing their hands up in the air in front of you just adds to what the band projects off the stage. The set list was a little different this night, ending with "Italian Radio," a frequently-requested upbeat song that is easily danced to (it's on the band's first album, The Answers).
Finally, to round out my Blue October trifecta, Justin himself was kind enough to answer a few questions from somewhere in St. Louis:
SCR: Give me an overview of who Blue October is, for people that don't know.
Justin: We're a band out of Houston, Texas. Members are C.B. Hudson, Justin Furstenfeld, Jeremy Furstenfeld -- my big brother -- Ryan Delahoussaye. and Piper Dagnino. We've been together for 11 years. We were signed first-off in around '98 to Universal Records; then we were dropped in around 2000. We made another album on our own under [the name] Brando Records. We were picked back up by Universal and we are touring now for the album that we made.
How would you describe your sound?
I would describe it as art-rock. We are a rock-and-roll band, but we are a very soft band, too. We have all kinds of styles, up and down. We love all kinds of music, from hip-hop to metal to country to Chinese polka, if you will.
I know you're going into the studio soon; what direction are you taking with the next album?
The next direction is probably going to be the most important, because for once in my personal life I'm kind of on my own without parental guidance and relationship guidance, and it's a very important album for me. I've gotten to study up on myself a bit more, instead of just shooing it off on people that care about me. It's going to be more eclectic and lot less all over the place. It's going to be one theme through the whole thing; one mood through the whole thing. I'm not sure what it's going to be called yet, but I have a shitload of names. We have a shitload of songs. We have to hone it down from about 100 to 20 to 15.
The tour that you guys are doing now is History for Sale. As it's coming to an end, have your hopes been fulfilled for it? Has it done what you hoped it would?
Everybody can always hope that things do better, but I never thought I would be doing this in the first place. I've always looked up to bands that were on indie labels. I never thought we'd would even be where we are, so I'm very thankful. I've exceeded my hopes, is I guess the answer. Yeah. Anything more is just a gift. I don't need to be all platinum, yo. I'm happy to pay my rent and I'm hanging out with my best friends, playing music, and hopefully changing people's lives in positive ways.
You guys just released the live DVD/CD combo Argue with a Tree. Did that come about in a certain way, or was it just "hey, we've been at this so long, it's time" sort of thing?
First of all, it came from having so many songs that people wanted to hear live that we couldn't always play. I wanted to kind of give the fans something when we went away from History for Sale. Basically, the people that have been buying the three albums have made us what we are, and it was a present for them. I wanted to give them the best possible live show they could ever get from us, plus having a camera crew follow us around for a month and getting some really in depth conversations with some of us. We have a thing on there called "confessionals," interviewing some of our fans, getting their deepest, darkest secrets. That seems like what Blue October is about, so it worked out perfectly. It's a mini-little documentary on people and how they relate to music.
Talking about the fans, it's amazing what goes on at the shows. Has that level of interaction always been there since the beginning, or has it evolved since you've been around?
It's definitely evolved, and I think we've lost some of our old, old, old fans as they've seen the popularity side come out, but we love everyone that comes to the show. It's definitely crazy. I mean, I must be blessed by someone, because every time we play it just gets bigger. We go up there, and -- it sounds so stupid, I sound like a baseball player -- but we give 100% every single night even if we are hung over. There's no excuse. You go up there and just give your heart and your soul to where you just want to go to sleep, you're so tired emotionally and drained physically too.
I don't know what it is about us. If something's not given one hundred percent, we get really down on ourselves with critiques and are really hard on ourselves. We always have new ideas and notes for shows; we're very picky. There's so much to say and so much to portray and why not get into it theatrically, you know?
That leads me into my next question -- you share so much emotion and things you've been through on stage. Is that draining for you, or is it more cathartic?
Yeah, you know, it gets me in trouble. If someone I'm close to in my personal life doesn't know I'm thinking those things, it can really add up to a lot of trouble. I think that whoever put me here put me here to speak the truth about everything all the time, even if it is about my personal fuck-ups -- and most of it is. I don't know, I guess I've just always been that way. I've always told everybody everything; there's never been a boundary there. I've got to work on that in my social life, but in my music life it seems to be working for me. It's also a way to apologize to people for hurting their feelings, or it's, I don't know, a self-redemption. You can feel a bit better about the shitty things you've done, you know, that kind of thing. You can just get up on stage and yell it out. You can bash your head against an amp if you want. It's your hour and a half to have a nervous breakdown, why not?
It's funny, how you can think it does something good for you. We were playing in San Marcos, and someone wrote up an article on the show, and they wrote "Blue October was great, but the lead singer is the King of Melodrama, ooh wah wah, poor me," and I was like, man, I've been that for 11 years, where have you been? I'm not dogging that. The thing is, it's the same thing I've told corporate people, anybody I've tried to explain the band or project to, whenever I hear the word "overdramatic" being brought out, that's when I have to stop. Someone in your family, you may not know of it, but someone in your family -- your brother, your sister, your mother, your great-aunt, whatever -- suffers from depression, and if that's overdramatic, I'm going to talk to them, then, and not you.
Somebody is going to connect to it. Maybe the people that are so well put-together don't need it, but the ones that do sure do, you know? I do. Peter Gabriel saves my life every day. When I'm sad, I just pop in Peter Gabriel. If I could be like an inch worth of Peter Gabriel, God! I just gotta do what I gotta do, I guess. If anyone thinks that's over-dramatic, they can crawl into their perfect hole and go to sleep in their perfect little life. There are people out there that need to hang onto something.
What's it like playing in Houston vs. other places? You made a comment about it at the Engine Room, and I'd just like you to expand on that, on what it's like to be in front of the home crowd.
Well, Houston is where I grew up, so all clubs that I'm playing I saw bands like the Trashcan Sinatras, Ocean Blue, Jane's Addiction, or Radiohead. All these bands that I grew up loving, and I'm actually standing on the same stage playing, and I'm just in awe. All these people that have been there since the beginning, the people in Houston, they're very, very, very kind to us, and I have to say thank you, because without them, we'd be like nowhere.
Have you considered adding other strings or brass or other instruments to the sound?
Oh yeah, this next album will have tympanis, cello, French horns, and it'll have a gospel choir in there somewhere, too, probably. This one has to be The Masterpiece. This album has to be The One.
So what do you do after you do The One?
After I do The One? Make another One, and then make another One, until I have like ten "Ones." I'm going out Johnny Cash-style, straight up, man. I've got nothing to do but write music and sing to people and travel around the world hanging with my boys and girl. END