Music is a part of everyone’s lives, but Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff eats, lives, and breathes it. Clearly, he has a knack for it—just take a look at his two Grammys, or his massive resume. Not only is he currently in two bands (Bleachers and fun.), but he’s also co-written a couple of songs with notorious Taylor Swift. Oh—and did I mention he’d dedicated his time to orchestrating an entire music festival to gain his home state, New Jersey, some recognition?
One of Antonoff’s newest projects happens to be a one-day festival in Asbury Park called Shadow Of The City. Can you guess the reference? Well, this long-time rocker was born and raised in New Jersey and has mentioned several times that the Garden State is overshadowed by New York City—which is totally true. We Jersey natives have grown up in the shadows of those towering skyscrapers, just cut off from the shimmering lights each night.
So, Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and fun. has planned out an entire day of tunes, food, and fun to celebrate the shadow of the city. Of course, he had to get in on the performance fun, too! As part of the lineup—another task he’d taken on for the festival—Bleachers will be playing along with several other acts back-to-back, all on the main stage. While speaking with Antonoff, he gave me the inside scoop on what it took to bring his vision to life as well as his hopes for the future of the Shadow Of The City music festival.
Bleachers have had a busy spring with tours—and you guys are jumping back in for a couple more venues. How’s that been going?
It’s been great. There’s nothing I love more than touring and it changes so much as you do it, so every day is inspiring and you never know what to expect.
I can tell you love touring because you basically created the Shadow Of The City festival.
Yeah. It’s something that I really thought about doing for a long time and have thought about and we’ve worked on bringing that together, and this year we’re finally able to make it all work. I’ve always wanted to have a music venue dedicated to New Jersey.
So what kind of planning went into all this?
It’s really been a fascinating experience. I know how to plan to make records, I know how to plan a few shows, but to plan and do a festival where you have more responsibilities, you have to figure it all out. We look at it as that I want to be doing this when I’m 50. And this is the first year, so we wanna be able to really throw it all out there and do these really distinctive things and keep changing it, and changing it… It’s different because we feel like it’s the first time of many, many times that we’re gonna do it.
Great! This won’t be a one-time deal?
Nope! 100%—I don’t wanna do just one special show, or something like that. I have a lot of thoughts about New Jersey music and New Jersey bands and being close to New York City means that a lot of times, a lot of great music doesn’t come to New Jersey because they all go to New York City. So if I do it yearly, we’ll be bringing a lot of great music to Asbury Park.
I get it. It’s way easier to access bands when they actually come to Jersey. But how do you feel about it all actually coming together? You must be so excited!
It means the world, actually. I mean, I love making records, but to be able to bring us bands together and people together at an event like this it’s just… I don’t know. I mean, it’s no different than when I was 15 and I’d be in Garfield, NJ, and I’d ask like 50 bands to play and give everyone $50 and it’d be this bond. And then a ton of kids would come and this’ll be just like that. Make a little community.
That sounds like such a great time! So, you want this to sort of be modeled after those experiences?
Yeah. Like feeling like you’re 15 again, only being in a different hall and having different music.
Fair enough. But there are so many other musicians who were raised in Jersey and they haven’t really done something like this. What made you want to get this festival going?
The biggest thing is that I spent my whole life in New Jersey. The music from New Jersey is basically why I am who I am. And even on a different level, the proximity of New York City and being from New Jersey and growing up with that energy, it brings this very specific, underdog feeling. You’re right outside this huge city and you see everything crazy that’s going on in the city, but you’re in this smaller town right outside of it, so there’s this really intense vibe that I don’t know if a lot of the rest of the country understands. But I never dreamed about moving to the city, I just thought about how we’re like that younger brother town and there’s so much to prove. And there’s so much heart there. I think you hear that in the music and it’s something that I just want to honor by creating a festival like this.
I wish more people felt like that.
I think a lot of people do. It’s really interesting because, growing up in New Jersey, I spent a lot of my life trying to get out because I felt like I just from this place that’s just hidden. And I spent so much time trying to get a train into the city. But now that I’ve gotten older, all I wanna do is go back. All I wanna do is reconnect with that feeling that I grew up with of just so much hope and excitement.
This is the perfect example: I went to high school for two years—junior and senior year—in New York City. I would commute in from North Jersey, which was pretty crazy. But all the kids I met there, they were so cool. They’d done it all, seen all the bands… Just everything was at their fingertips nonstop. And it was the opposite of what I was feeling. Because where I grew up, if a band were to come to town, I’d be so excited because it never happened. There was also a level of boredom that creates some sort of inspiration that you don’t have in New York City. And in New Jersey, I would just hang out in a friend’s basement for hours at a time. And I just think it’s important.
That’s a good way to look at it. What are your expectations of this first run of the Shadow Of The City festival?
I have no idea. I think that’s what’s so exciting about it. It’s like, if I just book a show, I have an idea of what’s going to happen. But with this, I really have no idea. With this, we’re just really throwing it all together, putting all these ideas and everything we have into it, so we’re just gonna see what happens. I’m so nervous and excited and I think it’s gonna be the greatest thing ever, but I’ve never done it before. But this isn’t a feeling that always exists. The more you do it, the less you have that. But if you keep trying something new, you’ll keep experiencing it, so it makes you try more new things.
Yes! That’s so true. And on top of planning the whole layout of the festival, you also came up with the lineup. Was it difficult to pick the bands?
That was really just the only easy part because it’s just me being a fan. It’s just me looking at bands that I’m in love with right now who I think everyone should see and are incredible. That part is just strictly from the heart. You know, if I were putting on a show for my friends, who would I want to be there? I think you just need to look at it in a really simple manner, like, it’s not about anything other than just if I can put on a great show. Who would be there? That’s just me, sitting on my iPhone, looking at my iPod, making a list of my favorite bands I would dream to be at the festival.
That must’ve been so much fun. It’s like when you’re a kid and people ask who you would invite to dinner—dead or alive.
Yeah! Like that. That’s why it’s fun. Like, if you could pick to play at a festival, who would you have on it? So, I’m lucky because it’s a reality.
Yeah. It’s gotta be awesome! And, of course, Bleachers will be playing.
Well, that’s a huge thing for me, too, because aside from the festival, New Jersey is a huge part of my music. It’s a huge part of the Bleachers album and this is the first time we’re playing a show in New Jersey.
Wow! What are your thoughts on that?
It feels awesome. It feels like a homecoming. It’s incredibly important to me.
Do you already have a setlist for the show?
I’ve got one in my head that I’m starting to really work on. But it’s gotta be perfect, so I’ve got, like, 30 songs running through my head.
Yeah, but you’ve been performing for a while now, so I’m sure you’ll be fine.
Thanks. And yeah, but that’s the thing. You never really know what’ll actually happen. It’s this thing that re-challenges you, scares you and makes you want to reinvent all of it and do something that you’ve never done before.
Like that fear on the unknown. But why did you choose a September date? You know, it’s that back-to-school time…
I think it’s a really exciting time that was the end of summer, and it’s a very inspiring moment. You know—at the end of summer, you’ve gotta get one last great night in. People are going back to school, summer’s over, and there’s just this need to gather up your friends and just have an awesome time before it gets cold. So, the perfect time to me is when the summer’s not totally over, even though it is, and just blow it out one last time. Because after that, you’re in October and it gets cold, and you just wanna stay inside, so this is kind of the last hurrah of summer.
Good point. So, it’ll always be in September?
Yeah—I’d love to get the same date. I think that’s it. A part of the feeling.
It’s a good time of year. Not too hot, not quite chilly yet. But on top of this festival, Bleachers released some new music last year. Are you guys working on writing any new songs?
Yeah. I’m already very much into the next Bleachers album. I’d say I’m almost halfway through with it.
Wow. Do you sleep at all?
(Laughs) Yeah. Kind of. But you have to work. When inspiration hits, you have to create, otherwise, you lose it all. You have to be right there and you have to be ready. Otherwise, it’s lost forever.
I totally understand. What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Well, that’s the other thing. This festival is kind of like the big wrap-up for Bleachers, like that’s the last headline show until we come out with another album. So, I feel like that’ll be the final celebration and then I’m just gonna head back to the studio.
Catch Bleachers as they bring a close to the summer with the Shadow Of The City festival at Asbury Park’s Stone Pony Summer Stage on Sept. 19. For more information on the band, visit bleachersmusic.com, and for more on the Shadow Of The City festival, check out shadowofthe.city.