We talked to Blue October’s Justin Furstenfeld about his eight-year sobriety and film “GET BACK UP.” The documentary, which was filmed over seven years, made a limited theatrical debut last month and will be available wide on August 21st. In the film, Furstenfeld details his depression, addiction, and despair which was leading him down a spiraling path toward suicide. Ultimately, It’s a message of hope, because he has overcome these tendencies, in no small part due to the support of his family and bandmates and the twelve-step program of AA. In this interview, he offered insight to his struggle, and hopes that it will serve as inspiration to others who are going through their own trials. He concluded our conversation with these words to those who are still attempting to control an addiction. ” There’s a solution. You don’t ever have to live like that. I swear to God there’s a solution, If you just want it bad enough.” Read on to find out how he did it.
AMFM Magazine: Artists must have a lot of courage to bare themselves before an audience, but you have put it all out there, and it’s pretty inspiring. I want to talk a little bit about the responsibility of an artist as a voice and a leader for people…what would you say the responsibility of most artists should be?
Justin Furstenfeld: To tell the truth, whatever is in their head that they feel that they need to get out. Like you were saying, it’s been hard for me to put it all out there. My whole reason for making the film in the first place was because it was new territory and the one thing I had to do was stay sober. That’s the only thing I knew that I had to do. I didn’t even have to do music anymore honestly,.. I didn’t have to do music, I didn’t have to do art. I didn’t have to do anything but stay sober – and that that was going to be the hard part. So I said, “well, what can I do to ensure that I will stay sober?” I can work the steps and do all that stuff – but what about put a camera on me? I’m making a documentary, and I never like to fail.I never like to fall on my face in front of people, It was basically an insurance policy on staying sober. It wasn’t until I was doing the next right thing and following the steps that I’ve learned, and writing songs about it and actually living the life that was taught to me and using the tools, that I started to see that this documentary was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever been a part of. For me it wasn’t hard to get in front of the camera and be sober. I just had to be…
AMFM Magazine: Accountable?
Justin Furstenfeld: Yes. I had to be accountable. I had to be vulnerable. I had to be like a baby boy that just learning to walk again. The difficult part of the documentary was bringing it all back up to the people that I had hurt. I learned all about all the things that I did to these people while we were making it, It was so hard watching my brother on camera talk about how he had to go into the room because he thought I was dead. It was so hard watching my wife talk about how we lost the baby. Oh my God, I wasn’t there for any of them, I was not a man, I was not a friend and I was not a brother. I can’t believe I put them through all of that.
It was no longer about “ oh look at poor Justin staying sober. Oh, look at you, we’re so proud of you. super sober Justin.” It wasn’t about that anymore. It was about “Justin, you are an asshole and you need to own up to it.”
I think that’s what is so beautiful about it, and what the art of it is. I’ve never been a part of something so naturally redeeming. To see people come back together over a span of seven years after such destruction happened. It’s just beautiful.
AMFM Magazine: So this film actually helped to bring you all back together?
Justin Furstenfeld: Oh God, you have no idea. It helped us talk about the elephant in the room. To help us talk about the demons, It helped my wife and I open the door to more therapy and it became more about everyone on the journey. I mean, my bassist had a son with down syndrome right in the middle of it all.
I watched that documentary and I thought “you selfish son of a bitch. There’s so many bigger things going on than whether or not you do drugs today, you little piece of shit.”
AMFM Magazine: Oh gosh. Listen to you. You’re still calling yourself that.
Justin Furstenfeld: No, no that was back then when I watched it. But I’m not a piece of shit anymore. Thank God, I love who I am today, I’m doing amazing. But the only way I could be that way is because of the people that are in this documentary lifting me up and supporting me through it. And because of the, the AA and recovery and my faith that I found, and because I made this to make art, to come back to your first question.
Art is just another person’s way of telling the truth with as many colors as they can and as many visuals and sounds as they can. That’s just my truth – back then I was a piece of shit. Today I’m grateful and I’m less selfish. Less selfish, but I’m still working on being a better person. But I am a good father, and I just try every day to be a better person. And that’s what I think is beautiful about this film… it is not just about me and the worry of “ooh look at him,Justin is staying sober.” Blech.
AMFM Magazine: You know, you’re very fortunate because you had a good group of people around you and you also had your art form as an outlet. But we all know people who are trying to find the balance between their head and their heart and looking for a higher power. So the solution of course is the higher power, which a lot of people – they are fighting it. Can we talk a little bit about that part of the film where the wasp brought that home to you?
Justin Furstenfeld: (Laughs) It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. it’s the moment when they told me that I had to find a higher power in order to stay sober.. For some people it’s like, “ ah, there’s the God thing.” A higher power isn’t necessarily God, or Jesus or Buddha – it can be anything. It can be a childhood memory. It can be a mother figure. It can be the way the wind blows.
Mine (higher power), of course is God, but I didn’t know how to receive him during this time. So it had to come in the simplest form and it was just a wasp showing me the stupid stuff that I’d been doing the whole time. It literally knocked me on my ass. I was like, “are you freaking kidding me? It’s that simple? Wow.”
It took me asking, “please come into my life. God, please come into my life and show me my wrongs.” Then that wasp just showed me right then and there, and it was such a beautiful moment I will remember it for the rest of my life. I have honestly never been the same since that exact moment. It was like a light bulb switched on in my head and in my heart. And I’ve never ever felt better. You know, it’s crazy, it was so gorgeous. It was such a beautiful moment. There was a peace to it that was just…plush.
AMFM Magazine: Well maybe our expectations of that realization or that moment are based on what we’ve seen in the media. Like maybe you’re expecting to be struck by lightning or you know, somebody comes down from heaven on a ray of light and clouds. The truth of it is, a lot of us go through things like you’re going through – this world is a hard place to live in. Right? A lot of your songs reflect that, but what do you think caused this? You were born a joyous child, very creative. Is it the fact that you see such dichotomies in the world? I mean, what starts us off into this spiral that makes us want to use drugs? Maybe you can address it from how you started.
Justin Furstenfeld: For me it wasn’t about the world around me. I don’t know if that’s the truth for me, because the way I live now, I’m in such a peaceful place that nothing can tap that. Even what’s going on right now with the Coronavirus. I’m still in a very peaceful place, I just know that there’s a reason for everything – I live that way and I’m fine with it. I don’t get my expectations too high. But as a child, and even now, I have to take my medication for depression. As a child I had that severe depression, and that is what made my world so dark. It made my world so dark that I didn’t ever see a light.
Then when I started adding things onto it, like marijuana when I was 16, Or alcohol, it just got worse – it’s like putting fuel on a fire. I think that that’s why drug addiction happened.
Things happened to me as a kid. Things happen to everybody. But the underlying tone of mind was my depression and not being able to figure out why I was cutting myself and why I liked to see my arms bleed. Why was that a relief for me? Why did that feel good? It wasn’t about the world is too hard or the world is too sad. I saw the world as amazing. Everybody’s so happy. Why the hell can I be that happy? That’s what led to it.
I used (drugs) to cover up, When I did drugs, I felt good and I liked who I was, it made me powerful. But the thing is, in this world, when something real happens to you, like divorce or custody, or you lose a child or, you lose a parent and you don’t have your life together – that’s when it comes crashing down. And that’s when the drugs and the alcohol and the mental illness take over and it becomes a way of life instead of just a pastime party treat.
I started as a young kid and I used it to experiment because I grew up on people like Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Shannon Hoon of blind melon, Nirvana, all these people that experimented with drugs.
Why can’t I, I’m Justin Furstenfeld, right? I can do whatever I want? But guess what, I have depression. I couldn’t handle it. So I went downhiill. So that’s my truth. Others truth might be, “we live in a crazy world” We do. But I truly believe it’s the parents job to pick these kids up and be on those kids ass. Check their phone, make sure they’re not involved in stuff. They don’t have time for privacy when they’re in middle school, they live under your roof. They don’t need privacy when they’re in high school, they live under your roof.
You have to be firm with these kids or else yes, they’re going to start smoking weed at 12 and end up dropping acid at 14. Then next thing you know they’re doing Coke at 17 – why do you think they’re screwed up? You’re their parent, you can’t make excuses about the world being too hard. You have to be a parent and step the hell up no matter what’s going on in the world.
But as a parent you have to have your shit together too. I have to take my medication every day. and if I don’t take my pill, I swear to God I’m a nutjob.I started getting paranoid, taking everybody out to get me. It’s weird.
AMFM Magazine: You’ve got a good group of people around you. That’s very helpful, some people are not so lucky
Justin Furstenfeld: But the thing is, you have a choice of who you let be around you. You have a choice to look at life like it’s a sunny, beautiful day or if it’s just a doomy gloomy day. What I’ve found is that most of the time it’s the people that I put around me that made me feel that way. I don’t have to be around people that are negative and only want to whine all day about how bad the world is. I don’t have to do that. And you don’t have to do that either.
I want to be around people that want to perk me up, that want to work hard, that want to create beautiful art, that want to be good parents. I want to go out to dinner with other parents and talk about how we can better our kids’ grades in math, what they’re doing in track. I want to hang out with amazing, positive people.
All of us have problems and we might have bad days. So we have the power to fund solutions. We don’t dwell in the problem anymore because when you sit in your own shit, after a while, you start to stink. I just don’t do that anymore.
AMFM Magazine: How are you going to extrapolate that down to your kids? How are you gonna handle this when it pops up? Cause it pops up with all parents actually, you know, it’s really hard. How do you do life and handle your kids? Are you more watchful because of your experience?
Justin Furstenfeld: Let me tell you hat do I do with my 12 year old She has a phone and she has all these little boys that like her. Well, she’s not allowed to have a boyfriend yet. She has her phone for an hour a day. And then when she’s done with that phone, I go through it every single day. I go through it like I’m the detective of the century. She knows I do it. I communicate that with her. This is a privilege. You do your work, you get good grades, you get a phone for an hour, but I’m going to go through it. I know who all your friends are. If any of your friends have been suspended, you’re no longer going to hang out with those people. I’m just very strict, but I’m a very loving parent. I’m not strict and mean.
There are people in her middle school that have been suspended for smoking weed already, and hanging out with them is not an option. And I tell her, if she does hang out with those people, then we’re switching schools. I’ve been through it. I know it.
My daughter knows that I’ve been sober for almost eight years and I’m very open about it. She can ask me whatever she wants. I’m very lucky that she is such a beautiful little angel and that she doesn’t want to go down the wrong path. It’s enticing to her, but she doesn’t want to go down that wrong path. It’s my responsibility as a parent. You guide her and when she starts going towards that cliff, you pull her back the other way.
AMFM Magazine: Well said. So in conclusion, what’s the one thing that you really want people to take away from this film?
Justin Furstenfeld.: That there is a solution. There is a solution and you don’t ever have to be that way. You don’t ever have to live like that. I swear to God there’s a solution. If you just want it bad enough.
AMFM Magazine: That is perfect, and I completely agree with you, by the way, because what you’re talking about and what you experienced in your past has touched almost every family in America in one form or another. If you don’t have someone in your immediate family, there’s someone in your extended family. It’s a problem here. You’re a voice of hope and I appreciate that.