Anyone who says fun. are overnight success stories are sorely mistaken. While the trio’s latest album, Some Nights, seemed to hurl lead vocalist Nate Ruess, bassist Andrew Dost and lead guitarist/drummer Jack Antonoff into a world full of radio hits and sold-out venues, this feat has been in the making for years.
Following the official disbanding of indie/rock group The Format in 2008, Ruess was seeking another creative outlet. He immediately approached Dost and Antonoff to help on a new project called fun. The band made their debut in 2009 with Aim And Ignite, tapping Steven McDonald to produce the album, who also worked on The Format’s critically acclaimed record Dog Problems.
Aim And Ignite carried over some of the catchy hooks and the overall lighthearted pop nature of The Format. Coupling these recognizable instrumentals with Ruess’ simple yet emotionally complex lyrics, the album put fun. on the map. The album also grabbed the attention of Format fans and new ones alike, thanks to several successful tours with the likes of Panic! At The Disco and Jack’s Mannequin.
However, it was fun.’s latest album, Some Nights, that brought the band’s career to an entirely new level. The sophomore effort, released by Fueled By Ramen in February 2012, debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 chart. Rightfully so: the album seamlessly blends the pop and indie essence of the band’s debut, yet ventures into more experimental grounds, tinkering with more eclectic genres such as R&B, electronic/dance and rock.
Since the release of “We Are Young,” the single featuring soul/R&B powerhouse Janelle Monáe, fun. can’t be escaped. The track, as well as other singles “Some Nights” and “Carry On,” has been featured in a plethora of commercials, movie trailers and tv shows, and been stuck in the heads of listeners worldwide.
Now, fun. are embarking on another successful tour, selling out the likes of Radio City Music Hall. In February, the band will be making a pit stop at the Grammy Awards to perform in light of their nominations, which include Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best New Artist.
Antonoff took time out of his schedule to discuss how fun. managed to transition musically to the level of Some Nights, how his Jersey upbringing impacted his music career, and how fun. manage to create tracks that appeal to such a variety of listeners.
First and foremost, Jack, I have to say congratulations on the Grammy nominations. That’s huge!
Thank you so much! It’s been a really awesome time and it was a great moment for us that we can always look back on and remember.
Besides the Grammy nominations, though, it was definitely a landmark year for you guys.
Yeah it really was. But we’ve been at this for so long, I just feel like it was almost like a bow and arrow-type effect. We were just pulling back and pulling back, and by the time we let go, we managed to go really far. I don’t mean to get poetic on you, but it’s just a really great thing and so incredible. It’s also one of those things where there’s no way to accurately prepare for it. I mean, I’ve been at this for years, touring in bands and playing music. I can’t even imagine being 17 years old and going through this. Now we’re nearing 30, touring forever and it still feels like we’re experiencing all this for the first time.
I feel like Some Nights is an album that has touched such a variety of people, from teens to folks in their forties and fifties. How do you guys manage to do that effectively?
I think there’s something about the record, and all the influences we have and tap into, that really allude to older generations. Specifically, artists we grew up listening to through our parents. I mean, one of the first musical memories I have is listening to Sgt. Pepper’s from The Beatles. And we’ve had times where younger fans have said to us, “Oh, my dad really likes your record, too.” Including those influences is something that’s inherent in our music.
How do your unique tastes and styles blend together? Is it a struggle sometimes, or is it effortless?
Again, it all starts with The Beatles for us. That’s the real core of our connection. From there, we all sort of have our own influences being kids in the early ‘90s, but it was our early involvement in our local music scenes and playing shows that really had an impact and really helped us come together. But then there’s just a real mishmash of different things, both from a musical and just emotional standpoint. I hear how all these little subtleties come together, from rock to punk.
Do you think the ability to combine those different musical elements and inspirations had an impact on your success?
I mean, the fact that we have received the attention we have, without having to compromise ourselves artistically, is great. We get a lot of comments about how big we have gotten with Some Nights and it’s like, fucking great! That’s because we made the album we intended to make. We recorded the songs we loved and used the influences we liked. And people got mad at us for getting big and being on the radio. But things are changing now. There are so many different types of music playing on the radio together. But really, it’s the best kind of success to create something from your heart and not having to compromise.
I want to talk about your childhood in New Jersey. Did being a part of the scene have an impact on your long-term musical goals?
When I was 13 or 14, I learned that there was a vibrant music community that was very present: Very Springsteen and real in East Coast working man towns. That was the spirit of New Jersey, but I think a part of it is being so close to New York City, which in my opinion, is one of the greatest cities in the world. That was my experience growing up. I’m sort of glad I never ventured out to the city to live there when I was younger. I had a lot of friends who did and they saw every movie, every show and hung out on every street corner when they were like 15. But when you’re in New Jersey, you’re on the outside looking through the window, seeing what you think is the coolest thing in the world…it makes you feel like an underdog in a way. There’s also that feeling of being just a few short minutes from the bridge, from the greatest city in the universe.
So you have that feeling, and you couple that with when I was 15 years old, starting in the punk and hardcore scene, and we were playing in all the firehouses and booking shows every weekend. That was a very special thing because we learned how to play live but also had that true DIY experience on our own. At that time, I didn’t even know what a major label was. To have that be my first experience of doing music still lives inside me today and I’m really grateful for it.
And growing up in New Jersey, you know how crazy it is that you guys sold out Radio City.
Well that is just unbelievable. It was a real moment when we learned that. You think of New York City and all these landmarks that make it so great, and Radio City is definitely one of them. I can’t believe we’ve gotten to that point. It’s crazy and the most exciting thing in the world. I just have to focus so I don’t break down weeping (laughs).
What else is to come from fun. in 2013?
I think it’s just all about focusing on touring and reinventing the album and producing it in a way so it really resonates with the audience. I don’t think there’s a way you can describe performing for 10,000 people. I remember the first time I did it and second time, and you just have to do it over and over, and still deliver what you intended on delivering when you wrote the song. It has to stay the same to a certain extent, but it has to translate to larger areas.
We also have to constantly integrate new and exciting elements for specific shows because you don’t want to just chug out the same show over and over again. You want people to fall in love with your songs and stay in love with them.
fun. will play at Radio City Music Hall on Feb. 2. The band’s latest album, Some Nights, is available now. For more information, go to ournameisfun.com.