It’s been a whirlwind of a year for New York based powerpop band, fun.! Rising from the depths of the underground scene and catapulted into the hands of the mainstream media, you’d be hard-pressed these days to find someone who hasn’t heard of the band, or at least their breakthrough/crossover single, 'We Are Young' featuring Janelle Monáe.
Getting their start in bands such as The Format and Steel Train, Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost, released their first Fun. album 'Aim And Ignite' in 2009, which despite receiving positive reviews from critics was still a masterpiece enjoyed mostly by the underground fanbase they had collectively accumulated through past projects. Fast-forward to 2011 and this was all about to change...
Armed with a passion for their music, a combined 20+ years of experience in the industry and a little help from a show named 'Glee', Fun. officially reached Number One on the U.S. Billboard Top 100 chart in March, not only making them their label’s (Fueled By Ramen) first ever Number One single, but also the first multi-membered rock band to debut at Number One since 2001 - an honour the band are quick to share with their fans: "It’s everybody’s success."
Their album ‘Some Nights’ has thrust Fun. into the ears, eyes and hearts of the mainstream music industry, achieving success that many bands can only dream of. Already boasting Platinum sales in New Zealand and Australia, as well as three-times Platinum in Canada and the United States, Coup De Main was lucky enough to get guitarist Jack Antonoff on the phone for a quick chat about ‘Some Nights’, his thoughts on fashion, which ten artists changed his life and if Fun. will ever make it to New Zealand...
COUP DE MAIN: Congratulations on your new album being released here in New Zealand - it's the first Fun. album to ever be released here, how does that make you feel?
JACK ANTONOFF: So excited! I really like New Zealand a lot.
CDM: Have you been here before?
JACK: No, I’ve never been, but it’s like the obvious things to come out of NZ that I’m a fan of.
CDM: Will we ever see Fun. in New Zealand?
JACK: I don’t want to say definitively as I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but what I will say is that we are making plans right now to come over pretty soon, so I would say there is a very, very good chance.
CDM: This interview is part of our 'Ten Creatives That Have Been Changing Lives For Over Ten Years' feature - so we want to know, what ten artists have personally changed your life?
JACK: I would say Tom Waits, Robyn, The Beatles, Abba, Nick Cave during the late 90’s period, The Mountain Goats, ELO, Queen, Yaz - you guys might call them Yazoo - and the last one would be Tegan & Sara and I’ll talk about them a little just because when I started listening to them it was a time when I was really frustrated with modern music, just a few years ago, and they were a really important band for me because they made me feel really excited about new music and they made me feel excited to be in a band and most importantly they made me feel inspired to be making music in the moment instead of trying to look back. That was when I first heard their album ‘The Con’ and it changed a lot of things for me.
CDM: 'We Are Young' is the first Fueled By Ramen single to ever go Number One in the U.S and you're also the first band to go Number One in a decade! How exciting is that for you?
JACK: It’s completely thrilling, just because it means so much to us to be able to do what we set out to do and be praised for it because it’s pretty rare. Usually it seems like either you sacrifice something and a lot of people will pay attention, or you stay true to yourself and appeal to a smaller group of people, but now we’ve managed to do what we felt was the right thing to do in our heart and had it reach a wide audience - it feels very rare.
CDM: What do you feel are the main points of difference between your 'Some Nights' and 'Aim And Ignite' albums?
JACK: The first album was our debut album, so there was an element of ‘here we are, this is us’ - so there was a big statement and it was all about throwing all the different influences the three of us all had into a big pot and it was really lush and big. And with 'Some Nights' we knew we had at least a few people listening so there was a different goal, it was about pulling it back and almost making it bigger and more grand by doing less, in many ways making it a more mature album. 'Aim And Ignite' there’s something childish about it, and I mean that in a good way, there’s something sort of frivolous about it and you can hear all of us sort of throwing all our ideas all over the place, which is exactly what made that album very special. But 'Some Nights' is much more thought-out, I think it’s a more intense album that has a lot more specific choices and therefore those choices mean more, like lyrical and song and production choices, instead of ten guitar-layers here it’s only one guitar that comes in and it’s just right there and bold, and then it goes out... then strings come in right here. We attacked it with much more thought and care.
CDM: I read that you didn't use many live drums on the album, what was the thought-process behind that?
JACK: Yeah, there are no live drums on the album - everything is samples and break-beats that were put together from songs - but the base of the songs, the piano, acoustic and the vocals, most of that was recorded live and electrically in New York. When most people hear programmed drums they automatically think sterile-pop, but what’s ironic is that this album is more live than anything we’ve ever done. The programmed drums was just a production choice, it was specifically about the sound. We wanted the sound of the album to sound completely different, we’re always in the studio listening to snare drums and kick drums and we’re like: "Let’s make the snare sound like Fleetwood Mac and let’s make the kick sound like that last Spoon album." And we always have these references, but for this album we were like: "Fuck that, let’s stop talking about it, let’s just use those sounds." So in those songs, like ‘We Are Young’ the snare sample is from one song, and the kick sample is from a different song. We went straight to the source for a lot of things and then recorded live music on top of that and personally I think that is what makes the album sound very unique.
CDM: Is there a song you think best represents where Fun.’s sound is currently at?
JACK: ‘Some Nights’, that’s definitely the epicentre.
CDM: You've gained a lot of new recognition with 'Glee' and the Superbowl commercials, yet the usual 'sell-outs' mentality that plagues bands which quickly become popular hasn't seemed to exist for Fun. fans. Why do you think this is?
JACK: I think it is because our fans know us, better than they know most band-members. We’ve all been touring in this band and different bands for almost twelve years at this point and no matter how big we get the first ten rows at every show are people we’ve probably met like thirty times. I just got on-stage earlier - we’re in Orlando right now - and it was the same thing tonight, I look out and I see all these people, some I met last year, some I met eight years ago, and I think when you have a fanbase of people who are really in it for the long haul, it feels like their success also. The success that we’re having isn’t in spite of our fans, it’s with our fans, it is because of them because they were the original launching-pad. We wouldn’t have got things like 'Glee' or being on the radio if all of these original fans weren’t telling their friends and everything. It feels like everyone’s success.
CDM: There was a lot of negative online commentary when Fun. first signed to Fueled By Ramen. How have you found working with them on this album so far?
JACK: It’s been amazing! What I’ll say about Fueled By Ramen is, I don’t know what anyone else’s experience has been, but we signed to them as Fun. - we already had a fanbase, we already had music out there, so when they signed us they were signing our vision. I always think it’s so weird when people think that Fueled By Ramen are trying to change us or mould us into something else, as we weren’t a bunch of kids playing in a garage who joined a label and then collectively worked on a vision. They signed us with the intention of letting us be Fun. and that is very special and they’ve stood behind us through this entire process and I couldn’t think of one bad thing to say about a company that is putting money towards our vision, it’s one of the most special things in the world.
CDM: I read that 'Some Nights' is about finding the light at the end of a tough situation. What advice would you give someone who was having trouble finding that light?
JACK: Although it seems impossible to imagine, you will feel better and it’s really just about time and finding a way to move on. It’s no different to like, breaking up with someone, you physically can’t imagine being with anyone else but truth is, at some point you will, you will change, no-one is miserable forever.
CDM: If you could only play one certain fun. and/or Steel Train song live for the rest of eternity, which would it be and why?
JACK: For Fun. I love ‘Carry On’, it’s my favourite song to play over and over again. And on the 'Aim And Ignite' album I love playing ‘The Gambler’, and for Steel Train I love to play ‘Bullet’.
CDM: What is your favourite thing about your bandmates, Andrew and Nate?
JACK: My favourite thing about Andrew is that he is just so funny and spontaneous and I think he sees the world in a really wonderful child-like way, where he looks at every situation and tangible thing and thinks about how he can have a good time with it. He’s very encouraging and exciting which is a really wonderful quality. My favourite thing about Nate is that he really cares about the people around him on the most intense level. He’s right there with all of us, with anything we’re personally going through, which is very rare.
CDM: Fun. collaborated on a song, ‘Come On’, with Panic! At The Disco - what was it like writing and recording with them?
JACK: It was so much fun! I’ll tell you one thing which should tell you all you need to know about it because it’s a good example of how much fun we had together. We had three days in the studio and we all went to Target and bought pink maternity sweatsuits and we all wore them as we recorded. We looked like some weird team of pink gnomes making music, it was very strange <laughs> but we had a great time being together and we all got along. There’s a lot assholes that play music, so it’s always nice meeting people we get along with, nice genuine people.
CDM: Your sister Rachel Antonoff is a fashion designer, do you think music and fashion go hand-in-hand?
JACK: Yeah absolutely, I think they’re pretty much the same thing in the sense that they inspire us and they also as we create them, we create them to inspire others. And they’re all in some way a statement about the time either on a grand level or a personal level. They’re two of the main art-forms.
CDM: Serious question: in the 'Some Nights Intro' music video you get to recline with a drink in-hand pushing buttons, were you drinking out of nervousness or dehydration?
JACK: I was drinking my favourite scotch Laphroaig, and it was with the intention of getting slightly drunk as it was a very uncomfortable video-shoot.
CDM: Can you tell us what’s currently happening on the Steel Train front?
JACK: Steel Train is just my songs and it always has been, so I always write and I’ll always release music separately from Fun., it’s two different parts of the brain. I’m about six songs in and I’m basically in that inception period where I’m figuring out what it is and how things will sound, and maybe in a few months when it’s more realised I’ll figure out a release plan and get a little more specific with what’s happening.
CDM: You wrote an essay about the LGBT community for The Huffington Post - is speaking out about what you believe in, something that's important to you?
JACK: Yeah, it’s as important to me as anything. We live in a really funny moment in history and I feel like I’ve been given a rare gift where I have a voice that some group of people will hear. That responsibility is one I have no intention of taking for granted, and I personally feel very strongly that when it comes to human rights there is no middle-ground. You’re either standing up against inequality, or being quiet is basically helping it happen because... silence, you look at any terrible moment in history and it was people’s silence that let the terrible things happen. There’s always going to be terrible people, and discrimination and injustice, but it’s up to the rest of us to decide if we are going to tolerate it or not. Currently in the U.S.A. and the rest of the world, there is a great deal of silence about the disgusting way the LGBT community is treated.
CDM: Lastly, do you have a message for your New Zealand fans?
JACK: We can’t wait to come and play for you guys!
Watch fun.'s 'Some Nights (Intro)' music video below...