Recently I spoke to Bruno Lamas, the drummer for the Brazilian alternative rock band SOFIA. We discussed everything from the band’s name, the band’s debut EP Stories for the Sleepless, and the band’s future.Continue reading Q&A With SOFIA’s Bruno Lamas
Weigh The Anchor, a pop punk band from Oakville, Ontario, has released their propulsive third EP, Right At Home, on July 10th. I spoke to singer Andrew Zamora just before its release and talked about the group’s origins, the new EP, making relatable music, and why the band is better than ever before.Continue reading A Conversation With Weigh The Anchor’s Andrew Zamora
Justin Furstenfeld is grateful to be alive and sober. It was quite a journey for the Blue October frontman to get to this point, and now Blue October have released their documentary, Get Back Up, showcasing Justin’s struggles with mental illness and drug addiction and his road to sobriety. The band is also gearing up to release their 10th studio album, This Is What I Live For, on September 18th. Justin and I spoke about both of these topics, as well as the past, present, and future of Blue October, and the creation of Justin’s new record label.
Get Back Up started from a simple place: Justin needed a way to stay sober after leaving rehab. “I said, you know what? I won’t get high if there’s camera crews around, so let’s make a documentary about what it takes to stay sober in the music business. And then it turned into something so much bigger than that, it was fucking outrageous.” The filming took place over seven years, and transformed Justin’s entire life throughout the process. “I stayed sober and life got better in a lot of ways. I started looking better, feeling better, my attitude wasn’t a little bitch anymore, it made me grateful, patient, held me accountable, and made me really love my life and not take anything for granted.”
Justin removed himself entirely from the creative process of the documentary. He didn’t want anything to do with it, and didn’t see a frame of it until a month before it premiered. He wasn’t allowed to give notes, and surrendered complete creative control to director Norry Niven. “It was scary, but afterwards, I was so glad that I did it because it was done so well. I couldn’t be more proud of it, the band, and everyone involved in it, because it’s a crazy amount of support they showed me and what the documentary overcomes.” So far, the reaction to Get Back Up has been extremely positive, and Justin is ecstatic that people are responding to the subject matter. Not only just for supporting Blue October, but for themselves as well. “It’s really doing what we wanted it to do, which is to show people that there is a solution outside of this disease of addiction and mental illness, it’s very, very, very important for people to hear these things. I’m just happy I’m able to share that through my experience, strength, and recovery.”
One thing that has made the personal struggles easier for Justin has been having his brother Jeremy in the band with him. “It’s such an important thing to be able to be around family, and he’s great…we run this whole thing together.” Justin and Jeremy are both comfortable in their roles in the band and know which of them is suited for a situation. “I’m the nice guy, I’m the guy who if you tell me, ‘I can’t pay you’, I’m like, ‘oh, that’s okay’, and my brother is the guy who is like, ‘fuck you, pay me,’ Justin says with a laugh. “He’s a very nice guy, just don’t mess with him. He’s very much like my wife that way, she’s the smart one, she’s the pit bull.” It’s undeniable that having the two of them by his side has allowed Justin the support he needs to stay sober. Family is very important to Justin, which is reflected in Get Back Up. “We see babies being born, getting held for the first time, we get to see these stories being told from a certain point of view,” Justin gushes.
All of this helped inspire the songwriting behind the new Blue October album, This Is What I Live For. Justin describes it as a sadder and darker album than their last few, but that it also rocks harder than anything in their previous catalogue. “It’s my sad rock album. I love it. It was incredibly hard because it was so sad and so romantic.” Justin played coy about the album’s subject matter, however. “I’ll sound like a fool,” he demurred. “It’s just about the things that go on inside your head, and trying to figure it all out. When you hear it, you’ll be like, ‘okay, I get why he didn’t tell me what it’s about.’ It’s just a really beautiful, romantic, rock album. If you like the ‘Hate Me’ stuff and the ‘Into The Ocean’ stuff, you’ll really like it. There’s just so much sadness, I love it.” Justin stops to consider that. “I’m such a happy guy, but I fucking love sad music. It’s kinda like how I like watching murder mysteries, because it makes me feel so alive seeing people die.” He muses with a laugh. Sadness is not in short supply on This Is What I Live For. Justin points out that two of his favorites- “Only Lost Is Found” and “Who Do You Run From”- are particularly sad. Another one of his favourites is, “Moving On,” a track that is on schedule to be the next single off the album.
We also talked about how Justin runs his new label with partners Paul Nugent and Mike Swinford. “Mike is the godfather, he’s the numbers guy. Paul is the guerrilla warfare guy; he’ll go out and get things done. I’m just the creative guy. It’s amazing. I get to run my own radio scene, my own agency, my own marketing team. I get to work my ass off and make sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.” He says enthusiastically. He compares it favourably to being on a major label, which allows him to budget everyone and make sure they stay within the budget, instead of hoping that people give you what you need to get yourself heard. “You gotta understand, major labels want to make money, and that’s good, because that’s what I wanna do too. I wanna make the money and profit off it, boom. That’s what I want. Anybody tells you differently, that they’re bloodsuckers or something, well then shut up. You’re either in it, or you’re not…I just want to make sure that we treat everyone with the utmost respect and I try to get everything done with my Texas charm and my gentleman quality, instead of having to gouge people.” Justin acknowledges the hard work his partners have put in, and calls them, “two of the smartest people in the industry.” Combined with his work ethic and songwriting, the three are aiming to bring their label to new heights.
Looking back over the course of Blue October’s career, Justin feels fulfilled that he has been able to share so much music and help people through their difficult moments. “The fans keep coming, and it keeps getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and it’s amazing. And the catalogue, it just keeps growing. Sometimes I look at it, and I’m like, it’s so special and so beautiful, where the hell did it come from?” He asks cheerfully. “There are people relying on me and there’s too much beauty in this freaking world to not create good art, and to put it out. Art is always timeless, maybe we aren’t able to tour right now, but you know what? We need to be there for the music community right now because they’ve always been there for us,” says Justin, regarding the state of the music industry being affected by COVID-19.
Justin never stops creating; while Blue October is gearing up for the new album and celebrating the release of Get Back Up, Justin continues to explore his art. “I never stop writing music…I’m also working on my second book. I just can’t stop doing stuff. My manager says, ‘that I’m no longer Justin the musician, I’m Justin the creator,’ and I love it! I do it because we only have one life to live, and only one shot to be the greatest we can be!”
You can check out a sample of what This Is What I Live For has to offer by streaming the album’s first two singles, “Oh My My” and the title track, “This Is What I Live For” now. Blue October’s 10th album will be out September 18th, and you can purchase Get Back Up now as well. Make sure you follow Justin Furstenfeld and the rest of Blue October as they continue to release powerful music.
Finnish folk metal band Ensiferum is gearing up for their 25th anniversary and the release of their 8th studio album, Thalassic, on July 10th via Metal Blade Records. Frontman Petri Lindroos and I spoke over Skype about the new album and where Ensiferum is at musically in 2020.
Ensiferum was formed in 1995 by guitarist/vocalist Markus Toivonen, and released their self-titled debut in 2001. In 2004, their singer/guitarist at the time Jari Mäenpää left the band for his side project Wintersun, and the band gave Petri Lindroos (ex-Norther) a call to fill in for their upcoming European tour. Now it’s been 16 years and Petri’s passion for the band is still evident for all to see. “I cannot wait for the album to be out and have everyone hear it,” he says passionately. “It’s the first theme album of the band’s history and that is certainly bringing a new angle.”
Thalassic is Greek, meaning “relating to the sea or ocean”. Bassist and primary wordsmith Sami Hinkka put together an album’s worth of lyrics all tied together by the theme of water. “He’s the man behind the whole thing, but we did a very good job of bringing it to life with the songs, and I think the theme fits,” says Petri. This type of focus was new for the band members and has Petri optimistic about the future songwriting of Ensiferum, noting that further albums could see more work with themes. “This one’s not out yet so we’re not focused that much on the future, so we’ll have to wait and see…the sky is the limit.” Petri notes that the songwriting on Thalassic drove them to be more economic, stating the songs are “more compact and dynamic, more to the point basically…we cut out the unnecessary parts, and shortened the songs a bit,” allowing the music to flow as organically as possible.
A theme is not the only change present on Thalassic. Ensiferum also welcomes newcomer Pekka Montin on the keyboards and clean vocals. Petri had a glowing review of his new bandmate’s contribution, calling him a “magnificent boost” to the process. “He did one hell of a job interpreting the songs in his voice…it’s definitely bringing a big change to the songs on the album.” Montin’s debut with the band can be heard on the album’s lead single, “Rum, Women, Victory,” which is available to stream now. “It’s a kickass tune, and it introduces him well…we thought it would fit very good as a first taste.” That’s not all you’ll hear Pekka’s pipes on; new track, “One with the Sea” is his solo. It’s described as a slow, heavy, beautiful song. “I think we’ll enjoy that one a lot when we play it live…it’ll be nice for him to step into the spotlight,” Petri says.
The band reunited with producer Janne Joutsenniemi after previously working with him last on From Afar in 2009. Janne knows how the band writes and plays to their strengths. “It was time to get a fresh start, with a new member in the band…It’s like we didn’t miss a day between, we’re all just 11 years older,” Petri laughs. “He’s still the man on the spot, not giving an inch to anybody to slack, he knows exactly how good we are and how to push that extra mile out of our butts when we need it.”
Writing songs for Ensiferum is a lengthy, drawn-out process, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. Main songwriter Markus brings all his ideas to the band at their rehearsal space, and they work through each part together, taking their time to flush out every piece and trying anything that occurs to them in the moment. “That’s why the songwriting for this band is pretty slow, but it’s definitely worth it, and it’s fun to actually be involved with everything, not just one guy going, ‘you do this, you do that’ and boom, you hit the studio. We play around with a lot of ideas.”
The album is out on July 10th, but any touring plans for Ensiferum will be halted due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “It sucks, of course, that we aren’t able to go out and play these songs live right away,” Petri laments, but continues, “people still need new music to hear, especially right now. I think it’s really good that new music is getting published, for that reason. And people have more time on their hands, some people can’t work right now. So I see that as a little bit of a positive that right now, this album can help people get through this.”
Speaking on touring, Petri and I discuss the monotonous days that are the touring life, and the remedy for such things. “Every day begins with a super strong cup of coffee and a cigarette, otherwise it’s gonna suck ass,” he laughs. “Thank god for Netflix, man. It’s a very good entertainment tool. And if I’m in Europe, I bring my Xbox on a portable game briefcase, that’s a lifesaver for a boring day too.” I asked Petri if he had any stories from touring that brought a smile to his face, and he quickly mentioned the first time Ensiferum played the main stage at Wacken Open Air in Germany, which was jaw-dropping for the band. Then he told me a story where a simple mistake could have ended one of their shows much earlier than intended. “It was some small festival, and all the power came from generators run from gasoline. We were on our second song of our set I think, and everything dies- lights, stage, PA system- and we’re like, okay…this is weird. We walk off the stage and it takes us ten minutes to get the info that the generator ran out of gasoline because someone forgot to fill it…and it took maybe another five minutes, and the lights are back, and we think, ‘Okay, what do we do?’, how about we just continue right where we left off? The song was “Into Battle”, second verse. We started right from there. I’ll never forget that.”
When I asked if he had a favourite song off Thalassic, Petri couldn’t pick one track in particular. “I would have to pick all of them. It’s kinda difficult to pick one song over another on this one,” he muses. Petri’s enthusiasm for the work that Ensiferum has achieved on this outing is clear and infectious. They have new blood to energize them, the return of a dominant producer, and the skill and craftsmanship they’ve honed over the last two and a half decades in their favor. For Petri, he knows what gets him out of bed in the morning. “I love doing this…to play live. That is the best thing that I can imagine. I truly feel at home when I’m on stage and that keeps me going. When I feel like that’s not my thing, then it would be time to hang up the guitar…but before that happens, I’m gonna rock my butt off.”
Grab Thalassic when it comes out on July 10th, and witness what the band has created this time around.