Jack Antonoff is the “Jack of all trades” (no pun intended) these days. From songwriting, producing, and performing, he’s got all angles of the industry carved out flawlessly. To top it off, this year Jack is bringing his third annual Shadow of the City Festival back to The Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park on Sept. 10. With an amazing mash-up of New Jersey musicians (and more), this is sure to be the best one yet.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jack about many things, including the new Bleachers album, wearing many hats, the festival, and so much more. Check it out below.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Jack! Where are you right now?
I am in New York in my studio! And my pleasure.
First off, I want to congratulate you on the release of Bleachers’ second album, Gone Now. How has the reaction from the fans been on this project thus far?
It’s been amazing, and it really has made me feel way less panicked in my life (laughs). It’s always crazy to leave a project because you record an album, you tour, and you’re a part of it for so long, it almost bums you out when you’re done with it. But now, I feel like I am very alive!
I am in love with this record from front to back. From a fan and a professional standpoint, I feel that it’s one of the most relatable records I’ve heard in quite some time. My co-worker recently asked me, “How is the new Bleachers record?” and my exact words were, “It’s premised entirely on a personal connection.” Was that your goal, or is that always the goal?
Every element of it! I believe so deeply in sharing everything; I wanted it to be an intense album, that wasn’t something that I was shy about. I wanted it to be a lot for people to take in. I think that everyone has different strengths in writing, and you must know what kind of writer you are. I think I am 1000% at my best when I am going all the way. Bleachers is a lot of intense, personal songs, and the backdrop of music you can really lose your mind to at a show. That’s what I think, personally.
I agree. It seems like you are at a point in your career where you are fully aware, that people want to be challenged. Would you agree with that?
Well, I have always believed that, because I have seen it firsthand. My whole life, whether it was things I heard on the radio, or things I heard randomly, I was always the most inspired and excited by things that were challenging, and assumed that me as a listener was smart. I mean, think about all of our favorite television shows and stuff like that; you watch something like Game Of Thrones and there are so many characters and so many storylines, and so much going on, that is challenges you to stay connected with all of it. So yes, I have always thought that.
I think there is this idea in the music industry—and I am sure you have heard people say it—that a mass majority of people are stupid. I have never seen that to be true, not once in my life. The song and albums that last forever are often the best ones. Think about Prince, and Bowie, that was the best stuff, and still is. I never try to dumb things down for people. There is no part of me that feels as if there is a reason to dumb anything down.
That makes total sense. I believe it was you that once said, “A perfect pop song is a song you want to hear over and over”. I also feel you have sculpted the definition of a perfect pop PERFORMER, as I want to see you live as many times as humanly possible. What would you say you enjoy more, performing live or recording?
They are equal; it’s like head and heart (laughs). You cannot have one without the other; they are both so completely vital. They don’t exist without each other, and I think that is a very important thing. I truly feel making an album is 50% of the process, and touring is 50% of the process, and they are artistically connected. Things and songs, the albums change once you play them for people. I have never been the kind of person that you pay money and go watch; it’s something that happens with people.
I see an album as this: From the day you start making it until the day you stop touring it, that is the entire process of an album. The fans sort of rewrite it with you when you are on the road, and it takes a long time to realize it. You get off tour, and you listen back to the album and you’re like, “Holy sh*t, we have totally recrafted this album to the way the fans reacted to it”. There is the album that you write that lives forever, and there is the album that exists when you tour. So, it’s impossible to say which one I like better!
Fantastic answer, and that puts a lot into perspective. Naturally one of the reasons that brought me here to talk with you today is the third edition of the Shadow of the City Festival that you have curated, to The Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park. The lineup is insanely stacked this year, and is Jersey centric in artists. Can you talk a little bit about how you organize the acts that perform at the festival each year?
Well, I want to get better every year! I want it to move forward and change, and the past two years have probably been two of the best days of my life. After every year, I think, “What can be better and what can we do to move forward?”
The two main things after 2016, was first and foremost we needed a bigger Jersey presence. So, from the beginning, I decided I wanted half of the bill to be from New Jersey, so we did that. The festival is founded on the idea and Jersey so often gets skipped over; hence the name Shadow of the City, because of the proximity to Philadelphia and New York. I didn’t get that as a kid. I didn’t get why we’re getting skipped over. Now that I am older and make music, I understand the process. There are radius restraints and such, as you know. I was in France not too long ago and they do this cool thing with their radio stations, where half of it has to be French artists, and I thought that was awesome.
Really? I had no idea!
Yeah, it’s awesome, because it keeps the culture about France. So, that’s what I thought for Shadow of the City. That’s the new rule, half of the lineup must be from Jersey. The other thing, because in the current climate of millions of festivals everywhere, I don’t want it to be the next massive festival and have it be overblown. The whole point is this: one stage, one day, all about the culture of New Jersey. The food, the boardwalk, the bands, and everything about it.
The last piece of the puzzle, which we fought hard on this year, we also wanted to make it more affordable for people. I don’t want to be where it all looks like fun, but it’s so expensive and fans can’t come. I decided I wanted it to be like a big block party, and that was the last piece of the puzzle!
That’s awesome, and a great way to look at things. I am sure your fans will appreciate you for that even more. It’s always successful, and when you are tying your name to something so personal, you absolutely want it to be done right! Have you seen most of the bands you have on the festival?
I have seen each band, for sure. There is basically three criteria for bands on this festival. You must be an amazing live band; it can be very frustrating when you are at a festival and you say, “Oh, I have heard so much about this band,” and you are left disappointed. Like I said, these are all bands that I have seen, and I know what kind of shows they can put on. They are all amazing.
I also wanted it to feel personal. They all have inspired me in some way, like Brian Fallon and Nicole Atkins are HUGE inspirations to me. They all are. KHALID is basically redefining his genre, and is one of the most exciting artists out there right now. I cannot say enough good things about EVERY performer on this festival. There would never be any artist on the bill that didn’t personally mean a lot to me. They all do.
It makes it that much more personal. You came and taught my kids at Monmouth University last year. It made their year, and they said they discovered so much new music at the festival that they hadn’t heard before.
That’s great, and I had so much fun doing that. Ultimately, I want people to come because they trust in what we are doing, and what we are putting together, not just because they are fans of some of the acts. More importantly, there is a culture to this thing and you will see it! People come from all over the place. That means so much to me, and I intend on having this be something I continue to work hard on so people look forward to it every year. I will never cheap out on them. I want to continue to do stuff for New Jersey!
Well, we can’t thank you enough for that. Honestly, just growing up here my whole life, and as you are aware I am sure, so many people spend so much time trying to get out of Jersey, and once they leave, they realize it’s one of the greatest places on earth!
Always! I’ve lived there 27 years, and I am still there all the time. So much music comes from Jersey; there is a pull that always brings you back. Once you leave, you realize there is a big heart and soul that only comes from being in this little state sandwiched between Philly and New York!
Now just to close this out, I know there will be a lot of repeat offenders at Shadow of the City this year, but for the newcomers, what kind of memories can these people look forward to when attending your festival?
It’s a big group hang! Every artist will be hanging around. We have the charity dunk tank, great food, and more. You will never miss anything, that’s really cool about it. My goal for it is, it’s a BIG PARTY. If your friends had a big backyard, that’s what I want this to be.
Amazing, and it will be! I cannot wait. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me Jack, we will see you in September!
The Shadow of the City Festival is taking place at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park on Sept. 10 featuring Bleachers, Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness, Brian Fallon, KHALID, Titus Andronicus, Nicole Atkins, Brick + Mortar, Tove Styrke, and more. Tickets are available now at shadowofthe.city and stoneponyonline.com. For more on Bleachers and the new album, Gone Now, go to bleachersmusic.com.