Jeremy Furstenfeld – Blue October – Exclusive OnlineDrummer.com InterviewNate Brown
Jeremy Furstenfeld of Blue October talked with us before rocking out the stadium at Rock On The Range 2009 in Columbus, Ohio. Through old fashioned hard work Jeremy and Blue October have been able to accomplish the successes they’ve enjoyed so far.
How did you meet the guys in the band?
That’s an easy question to answer because our singer is my brother, and I kind of hung out at their rehearsals one day. They already had a band together. Our violinist and my brother already went to performing arts school.
I was just kind of hanging out having fun, and they were like, hey there’s a drum kit over there. Why don’t you try to play it? I had never played before, but at the time there was a band in Texas called The Toadies, and there’s this one song with a back beat groove. So, I’m like why don’t I try to play that because I can hear it in my head. Then, they were like, ok you’re our drummer. That’s how we all met.
We started like any band, in somebody’s extra room or in the garage or basement playing for the joy of it. That’s how I learned to play drums, just feeling it.
From the point of starting your band, how did you land your first record deal?
That’s a little bit further down the road from the time of inception of Blue October. It was probably three or four years until we felt like we had a little bit of something. We made a record on our own with the help of our parents. We still sell it. We rehearsed our butts off for that record. We’re all about hard work. Getting in there and banging it out until it’s right.
I used to play baseball when I was kid, and I had this one coach that was like, practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. So you just go back and keep working at it . And that’s what I tell people that I meet: if you want it you can have it. You just have to see that goal and go after it.
Getting back to how we met the label. We were playing a gig at a seafood restaurant. There was a guy there that knew somebody who knew somebody. He was like, “I think I can get you a record deal,” and the next thing you know we had a record deal. So, we did our first Universal Record deal. We went into the LA studio and were blown away.
Before we did that the label put us with this other guy in this rehearsal studio. We were there like 10 hours a day developing our chops so that when we went into the studio we didn’t sound like a baby band. I had this huge 15 inch speaker with a horn just blasting cowbell… gonk gonk gonk… metronome. But, it helped me so much and we even use a metronome on some of our songs live. It keeps you solid even on the songs your don’t have a metronome on.
What do you like most about what you do?
Just freedom. Freedom to be as creative as you want to. I think that’s what’s so great about our job and not having to wake up at 7 in the morning. The good part is just being able to do what you’re here for and play your instrument and feel the music and play for the moment.
What do you like least about what you do?
It’s kind of hard. There’s not a lot I don’t like about it. It’s hard being in different cities every day – being away from home – that’s kind of hard. But, this is what we do.
Blue October on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno (Jeremy – far right)
What equipment are you currently using?
I play Yamaha Absolute Maple because it’s a kit they made for me. I used it in the studio. I love my maple Yamahas. I can’t say anything more about Yamaha. Live and in the studio, they’re really good.
I use Sabian cymbals. Sabian is really taking care of a lot of the new up and coming drummers in rock, and they’re really reaching out to all of us trying to get us involved in their online communities. They have so many different lines that it’s hard to pick what you want. It’s great! They’re really good even with the people that aren’t endorsees of their product. If you buy a Sabian cymbal and it cracks, they’ll replace it.
I use Promark sticks. We’re from Houston and so is Promark.
How often do you change your drum heads?
The snare head, I have to change it every night or every day before sound check. By the end of the show there’s a huge divot in the middle. I’ve never actually gone through the head, but I’ve left huge divots that look like a horse stepped on it. I play too hard. I don’t change the resonant heads very often. I do the bass head reso more often, like when the mic rips the mic hole. The tom reso heads I haven’t changed since I’ve owned the drums. I keep them clean and keep lint off them..
What advice can you give drummers looking to do what you’re doing?
It’s a metronome… cowbell. Get a metronome. Tama Rhythm Watch is the first one I got. I still have it. Just plug my headphones in and play whatever. You know, go up and down the tempos and really work that out and practice correctly, set goals, accomplish those goals and set a higher goal. Learn and watch. I’ve never had any type of professional training, but if you can and have the means do it, do it. I still want to get professional training at some time in my life. I’d really like to learn a little more musically, proper.
A lot of times the singer gets the front-line attention and drummer is left in the shadow. Do you find this difficult to cope with as a drummer?
I don’t make that much of a stink. I mean, if there were t-shirts and posters that said Blue October with a big singer face on it that’d be a different story. We’re trying to promote our band. We try to keep that in the big picture. Videos, things like that, are always going to have the singer. He’s the lead singer. He’s the lead guy in the band. On top of that, he writes most of our music. I like being the guy in the back. That’s like a security blanket for me. I go out in my shorts or boxers, nobody can see me except from here up. They check us out, too, but he’s telling the story.
How do you come up with your drum parts?
Usually, it depends on the song. If Justin brings us a song, he’ll usually bring us a melody, like acoustic guitar or something. He’ll just start playing it. Me and Matt (our bassist) are always together. Somebody will just start playing something or I’ll start playing a beat. It’s really an open pallet. And, sometimes if Justin or somebody writes a song and they hear it in their head, he might have an idea of a beat, like give me something fat or give me something hot. It’s a give and take.
Do you memorize your drum parts and play them the same way for each show?
Sometimes. We just started playing for our new record that we just released. It’s still new and we’ve been out for not very long playing it. So, it’s still more towards what the record sounds like. Since it’s still new we try to keep it more like the records. Right now we’ve been playing the entire new record from start to finish and then we go to our older stuff. As it gets old, we drift away a little. But, the basics stay the same.
While on the road, do you find it difficult to stay in touch with family and friends?
It’s so much easier these days with technology, like somebody just talked me into getting a Blackberry not too long ago. I was trying to hold out. I was like I just don’t want to be that connected. I don’t want to get all my emails and phone calls all in one spot. I can talk to my wife and I can talk to my dog.
Do you have any survival tips for the road?
Lots of clean socks and clean underwear. You can get by with dirty everything else, but you need clean socks and underwear. Try to do something else other than sit around. Try to go for a walk. Just do something to keep you from getting lazy or fat. I try to do a lot of exercise at home, but while out here, when you get into the bus it’s like a coffin. It’s cold and dark. Take care of your body.
What has been your greatest experience as a drummer so far?
One of the greatest was when we recorded our last record. We were out in LA in the studio working with this producer named Patrick Leonard. I was out in the hallway working with this big 26 inch Ludwig old-school, late 20’s thing. I was trying to make this big, ugly kick drum sound. This dude comes out of the other studio saying, “Wow that’s old.” I looked up and went back to what I was doing. Our producer came out and said, “Vinnie Colaiuta, how you doing?” I looked up and said, “I’m so sorry, sir” I didn’t realize it was him. It was great meeting him!