When Justin Furstenfeld chose I Hope You're Happy as the title for Blue October's upcoming ninth album — whose "Your Love Is Like a Car Crash" premieres exclusively below — the expression was sincere.
And that's one a few sea changes for the Texas-based frontman and his band.
We've known Furstenfeld mostly as a tortured artist, regularly opening a lyrical vein about his struggles with substance abuse and domestic issues. But after six years sobriety he's taking a different, and more inclusive, tact.
"It's not an album about Justin, really," Furstenfeld tells Billboard about the set, which comes out Aug. 17. "I didn't want to do another, 'Oh, Justin is going through so much right now. Omigod, look at how saaaaaad he is…' I wanted to go, 'God, life's so f***ing good!' And these songs are all stories about other people and what they're going through, which might not be the happiest moments in their life — or they might be.
"But I truly believe that, man, come on — this world is so crazy and life is so short, and I just found pure happiness six years ago. I'm not gonna let anything screw it up. I'm gonna be loving and kind and appreciate every moment and every relationship I can make."
One those friendships, in fact, gave birth to "Your Love Is Like a Car Crash," Furstenfeld's declared "favorite on the whole album." The story was inspired by a friend's romantic tribulations; "You have a beautiful young lady and this man who is so smitten by her he just can't go on living without her and is pleading his love to her as he watches her walk down the street with another man. We've all been through that situation and I just grabbed it 'cause the first thing I thought was 'leave me with my heart smashed/You're a hit and run…'"
Sonically, meanwhile, Furstenfeld wanted the track "to sound like a Russian ballet meets a James Bond movie. I love playing the piano and chopping it up, de-tuning it, moving it around and then playing the drums to that loop I had chopped up from the piano. It just reminded me the '90s way hip-hop and it's got that feeling an R&B/urban track — but then you listen to the strings behind it and it sounds like Lana Del Rey's style is laced over it, or Mazzy Star's style, just romantic and sad and that beat's that just so hard. I love it."
That also reflects Furstenfeld's approach throughout I Hope You're Happy, by far Blue October's most contemporary pop-leaning album to date. This time out Furstenfeld, who also produced the set, mined influences from New Wave (the Cure, Bauhaus, the Cocteau Twins), jazz (Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald, Idaho), hip-hop, and pop both retro (Michael Jackson, George Michael) and contemporary (Maroon 5, Imagine Dragons, Train) for a polished outing that frames his melodies within a variety moods and textures. "I really wanted to take the rock element out it," Furstenfeld explains, "'cause I'm kind in a place right now where a power chord just makes me sick to my stomach. What I love about today's music is that it's forever changing. I've always been a fan colorful, different styles music my whole life, and I just wanted to blend all it and have a lot fun, so it's all over the place and I love it."
Furstenfeld says his bandmates bought into the new direction with minimal resistance, and now he's braced for fan reaction to the new sound as Blue October hits the road to promote the album during late September and into the fall. "I think they expect something different and wacky and weird and out the box from us," he notes. "I'll be more excited if they say, 'I'm not really sure about this…,' like I did with OK Computer from Radiohead at first. But if you don't raise eyebrows it means you're being too ordinary. We can always make an album where we get together and play some rock 'n' roll, but I'm just not into that right now."