Bleachers, Jack Antonoff from fun.’s latest solo project, is the ‘80s band New Order– but with more eccentricity. Jack and his band filmed the video for “Rollercoaster” atop a moving ice cream truck. This qualifies as eccentric. “Rollercoaster” is a single part of Bleachers’ debut album, Strange Desire, which was released in July on RCA Records. Referring back to the ‘80s band comparison, Strange Desire is an album that tastes like New Order’s 1983 contemporary pop album Power, Corruption, & Lies – but with Jack’s own personal twist of vocals and expressive, vulnerably honest lyrics. “I never done anything that wasn’t me,” Jack says. His confident self-awareness and keen creativity is evident outside of Bleachers. It’s the same qualities that aids in the success of fun. and assisted in the trio’s subsequent Grammy Award wins. “I try to write everyday just because I think that you have to. You never know when inspiration is gonna hit. I never want the tour to become this stale space…I want to be constantly creative,” Jack adds.
Aboard what seems to be the Cadillac of tour buses, Jack sits adjacent to me in a snapback, minimalist tee and denim combo kicked up a notch with a custom cursive “Bleachers” gold chain. He is on the first leg of a nationwide tour in support of Strange Desire. “Houston is sold out. We’re all gonna get together and celebrate this body of music,” Jack says with warranted, yet level-headed pride. Speaking to Jack is much like talking to a friend that you’ve known for years. You raid their fridge and let your guard down – that kind of friendship. Though I didn’t raid the fridge on his tour bus, based off his laid back disposition, I’m sure he would laugh and join in on the action. Ahead of his performance at the iconic Fitzgerald’s venue in Houston, Jack expounds on his sonically creative journey as a solo artist and member of fun.
Life+Times: So, you almost died recording the music video for “Rollercoaster” on top of an ice cream truck. Please tell me how that was a “rollercoaster.”
Bleachers: So we were strapped to the top of the truck. There was no special effects, we were really up there. We were supposed to do many, many takes on top of there, but we did one take. We were up there fucking terrified. We coasted to a stop and as we coasted to a stop the truck driver jumped out of the truck freaking out like, “Brakes are out.” So, while we were up there the brakes went out. It was supposed to be the test run and luckily we shot it. We basically did the video fortunate in one shot, but it was crazy. If we would have gone downhill, we would have literally died.
L+T: That would have been downhill.
B: (Laughs) Yeah! It was really fucked up. It was kind of cool knowing that we made this thing that we really risked a lot to make.
L+T: But it’s cool. Now you have a story you’ll be able to tell 20 years down the road.
B: Yeah, it was cool. It was terrifying. It’s weird to me that when something’s awful happening to you, you don’t even know – because we were up there and hadn’t know the brakes had gone out. We just drifted to a glacial pace. We didn’t realize how bad it had been. If we had been going downhill, gaining speed, no one to communicate with us because we’re on top of the fucking roof, plus it’s a thousand pounds of us and our gear on there. So, the center of gravity was all messed up.
L+T: (Laughs) Well, I’m glad that you survived it.
B: Thanks, me too.
L+T: I was talking to Laura (tour manager) about your solo project and then, fun. How has it been being solo in terms of the reception?
B: It’s been amazing. I’ve had my own band for ten years before. I’ve worked with a band called Steel Train. I’ve always done a combination of collaborating and having my own projects at the same time. For me, now it’s just an important part of who I am to have all that going on. It’s been great. When you make a record, the only thing you can think about is the artistic success. You work on it for two years and get it to your version of perfection. Then, when you put it out there you have no concept or control over the commercial success. The reception has just been wonderful.
B: Thank you.
L+T: Were your bandmates in fun. pretty supportive of this? Was it a surprise when you told them you were starting Bleachers as a solo project?
B: No because one thing that people don’t know about fun. is that we all started coming from our own bands. So, the culture of our band was always three individual songwriters who have their own thing that come together to work on something, but always keep their own things going at the same time. It was never like, ‘Oh, I’m making another record.’ It was always sort of implied that we all kind of do our own thing as well.
L+T: Oh okay. I didn’t realize that. On a random note, I heard you’re doing something with Bill Nye. Is this a rumor?
B: It’s true.
L+T: So, do tell!
B: I don’t want to say too much because when it comes out I kind of want it to be a surprise. He’s very wonderful, but we did something relating to the song, “Rollercoaster.” It’s gonna come out in a bunch of different segments very shortly. It’s really weird and fucked up.
L+T: (Laughs) So, with Bleachers – going back to that since you can’t expound on the Bill Nye collab – what was the deciding factor of you wanting to do this particular project? I know you said you come from that background of doing your own thing.
B: Um, well, I always write a lot. I was writing a lot of songs on tour. You know, you can write a million songs and not have an album. An album is very like sacred, specific thing and songs are songs; and whether they come together as a full body of work is not always clear. At some point when I was just writing a lot there was a few songs that are on the album now, songs like “Shadow,” “Like a River Runs,” “Wild Heart,” I had these songs and I started to just put them in a playlist together. It felt like brothers and sisters. They were one thing. That’s when it dawned on me, ‘Oh shit. I am making an album here. These aren’t just songs I’m writing.’ It’s also terrifying though admitting you’re working on an album is intense. It’s like having a child or something.
L+T: It’s a commitment, yeah.
B: Yeah, it’s really a big deal. You can’t half ass it.
L+T: Is there a particular song on the album that when you perform it live it strikes your heart [or] gives you chills more than the others?
B: It always changes. Writing the album, “Wake Me,” was a really important song. I was away in Stockholm and Germany and I really missed the people I love. I felt like we were disconnected. I was working a lot like crazy, and my life had changed a lot. Everything from big emotional levels to little specific things like jet lag – and I just wrote this song like very direct about missing someone and loving them. Writing “I Wanna Get Better” meant a lot to me because I had that line in my head for a long time – ‘I wanna get better. I wanna get better.’ I wanted to write a song about that because I thought it was very connected as a phrase. It’s like any person wakes up thinking that in some way – like wanting to get better is bigger than getting better to me. So to write that song and to give that phrase weight I felt I had to tell my whole story through these three verses. I felt like I had to write everything whether it’s anxiety or depression, people that I’ve lost or whatever it is I had to give weight to the phrase “I wanna get better” – especially when I expect people to yell it back at me. So, that was a really intense one to write. Lately “You’re Still a Mystery” live I don’t know why the shift in change…
L+T: It’s because of where you are.
B: Right, it’s because of where you are. Life is so alive. There’s such a pulse to it. You never know just what’s gonna happen in every show. It can be totally different in one week you can think, ‘This is the shit’ and the next week you’re freaking out about something else.
L+T: Well, I think it’s interesting that you brought out that “Wake Me” is about missing someone, depression, and all of those things together. As a songwriter it’s like you’re giving a piece of you away to the listeners. There’s really a sense of vulnerability there. So, when you’re writing music and putting your all into it do you ever feel a little hesitant about being so open?
B: I don’t because at some point I just made a deal with myself that I was gonna go all away just because songwriters that I’ve always loved, their records always meant a lot to me. It felt like they saved my life in a lot of different ways. There’s nothing held back. I think that’s the way you’re sort of responsible to your audience and yourself. It can be a bitch because then you go on tour and you sing these songs that are coming from such an intense place and you can’t half ass it, you can’t hone it in because then you’d be selling yourself short. You have to relive a lot of these feelings every night on stage. That connection is important.