Their luck was messed up for so long that the guys of Blue October decided to call their latest album Foiled.
"Every time we took a step, something pushed us two steps back," says Justin Furstenfeld, the modern-rock band's spiky-haired focal point and lead singer. "We might as well just say it: We're foiled."
After a decade of personal and artistic ups and downs, after being signed, dropped, then re-signed to Universal Records, Blue October has finally arrived, so to speak. Unexpectedly, Foiled has become the Houston quintet's biggest album. Nearly three months after its April release, the set was certified gold with more than 700,000 copies sold. "Hate Me," the soaring smash single that pushed CD sales, hit the Top 10 on modern rock charts in the United States and Canada.
"It's good that things are finally happening, you know. We worked hard for all of it," says Furstenfeld.
He and the rest of Blue October -- brother Jeremy on drums, CB Hudson on guitar and vocals, Ryan Delahoussaye on violin, mandolin and piano and Matt Noveskey on bass -- play the 9:30 Club in Washington on Tuesday night.
Foiled is the band's first studio album in three years, after 2003's History For Sale. After that record flopped, the band was promptly dropped from Universal. The guys signed to the smaller Brando label and scored a moderate hit with "Calling You," which was included on the American Wedding soundtrack, released by Universal.
The single's out-of-nowhere success generated enough momentum to land the band a new contract with the mighty label. And Blue October wasted no time to sign again. Besides, Furstenfeld understands why he and the gang were given the boot in the first place.
"We didn't sell," says the singer-songwriter, 31, who's calling from his Texas home studio. "Business is business. You don't sell, you get dropped. You accept that and move on. We were lucky to get picked back up and get a second chance."
With Foiled, the band was given more creative freedom. And it shows as the musicians freely mix disparate styles: grunge-laced rock, power balladry, a bit of techno, strains of R&B. But they manage to keep it all pop-glossed and accessible.
"I grew up on hip-hop, rock, dance, country. I want to do them all," says Furstenfeld, the group's chief songwriter. "It would be boring to do just rock 'n' roll."
The overall mood of Foiled is introspective, sometimes witheringly brooding. Check this line from "Hate Me," perhaps the album's most affecting, if formulaic, cut: "Kicking shadows on the street for every mistake that I made/And like a baby boy I never was a man." The ache in Furstenfeld's voice underscores the melodrama of the song.
As the title implies, "Drilled a Wire Through My Cheek" is dark, emboldened with funky guitar chords. "Everlasting Friend," a warmer moment, shines with nice piano runs. Glints of Peter Gabriel and the Flaming Lips glimmer here and there in the production. And the '80s New Wave-influenced single "Into the Ocean" is gaining airplay.
"We got to work as a team, not just one person dictating everything, like the old rock 'n' roll way," Furstenfeld says. "This record has done so well. That's the greatest irony for us."
The Blue October show at the 9:30 Club is sold out.