Bands may become comfortable in front of large crowds, but music journalists rarely do. So when Buzzine’s Stefan Goldby got the chance to chat with Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff, and Andrew Dost from fun. on the day their highly anticipated new album, Some Nights, was released, we didn’t realize it would actually end up being pre-show with hundreds of fans looking up at us. As the band returned to Fingerprints in Long Beach, CA (albeit to the new, expanded store location), just as they had done for their debut album, Aim & Ignite, the entry line reached around the block, an hour-long sing-along was poised to begin, and Team Buzzine tried hard to focus on the three friendly musicians, their amazingly positive story, and an awesome new album, rather than being made nervous by a capacity crowd looking up with anticipation in their eyes…
Stefan Goldby: All three of you had all known each other before being in fun. together. Individually, you were all in other bands before this one. So when you first came together as fun., what did you want to immediately do differently, based on the lessons you’d learned beforehand?
Nate Ruess: When we started this band, I think we wanted to make a conscious effort in being ourselves and, as songwriters just combining the three of our talents from previous bands.
Jack Antonoff: A lot of little things also, like just really small mistakes you make when you’re 17 in a band… everything from what hotels to stay at to which chords don’t sound good in songs [smiles]. Seriously, just across the board we made every mistake that you could possibly make, so we all got a second chance to kind of go back and do it better.
NR: Yeah, this band is a ‘Mulligan’ [Laughs].
Andrew Dost: Yeah, that’s a really good way of putting it…
SG: [Laughs] Well, even if I’m not entirely comfortable using the word ‘mulligan’, this new album is certainly rather different from the first fun. record, and Nate, you have said that stemmed in large part from finding a newfound deep appreciation of hip hop. What specifically was it about hip hop that opened up your musical world into new ways?
NR: I think hip hop was really influential for this album because hip hop in general just feels like it’s constantly striving to be the best, and hip hop artists are always striving to be the best. There’s a certain bravado, there’s a certain forward-thinking and progressiveness in the music, and with our last album having much more of a retro feel, I think we wanted to take that bravado and put it into our music, as well as the breakbeats too. Those are good. [smiles]
SG: What was it that Jeff Bhasker brought to the table? What made him your ideal choice to produce what became Some Nights?
AD: Jeff was incredible because we really fell in love with a lot of the Kanye West albums, like mostly 808s & Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. With Jeff, it wasn’t like we were just trying to copy those sounds and attempt to recreate them, it was like we were working with the creative team that made those Kanye albums. So it was really helpful for us because we were kind of working with some of the source of the stuff, and it was really inspiring to be around.
SG: Is there a day or a session that stands out most in your mind from the recording sessions?
JA: I think there’s two, and the first one would be in January about a year ago – we were at Electric Lady Land and we recorded acoustic guitar, piano, and vocals live to make, at the time, what we thought were demos for Jeff to hear and get a sense of.
And as it turned out, because of the way Jeff works and because of, I guess, the carefree attitude we had in that studio session because we didn’t think we were making the album, most if not all of those takes are the backbone of 70% of the album! So without knowing it, that was an incredible session that we’ll never forget.
And then one other one that comes to mind is hearing the song “Some Nights” once Jeff had really finessed all the drum tracks and we added all the guitars and pianos, and Nate finished his vocals, and there was a lot of really great stacks that I hadn’t heard until sort of like the last moment: That was a real special moment for all of us, hearing that song come together, because that was a tough one to crack.
SG: We’re very much here on the tipping point between it being just your album and releasing that music out into the wild: With a little bit of hindsight, but still poised on the cusp of the wave, what are you guys happiest with about this record?
NR: I think we’re most happy, as far as the album is concerned, with just how true we were to… what we decided what the album was gonna be, the fact that we stuck with it and the fact that we worked hard to achieve a very certain goal. I think in our minds, as songwriters, we wanted something so very specific, and at the beginning, it took a while to get there just because we really wanted to work with Jeff or someone like Jeff, and Jeff was always at the top of our list.
And there was a time when we were maybe working with someone else or whatever, and Jeff was blowing us off… or, he wasn’t blowing us off because he had no idea who we were! But I got to sit down and have a meeting with him, and ever since I had that meeting with him, he took those ideas that we had initially, and those dreams that we had, the ambitions for the album, and he just… helped us realize them.
SG: Staying on the theme of things moving from beyond being just yours out into the world, from a Superbowl ad to Glee to the WWE, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen…
JA: The WWE?
NR: The WWE?
AD: I don’t know what that is.
JA: We didn’t know.
SG: Yeah, I heard it was being used as an intro at the World Wrestling ‘Slammy Awards’!
AD: World Wrestling…?
JA: Thanks for asking! [Laughs]
SG: Well, [laughs] so my question is: how has that experience been – to see your music grow wings and go to places that you didn’t ever think of it going to?
JA: That’s been the most culture shock for us in this process, because we’ve all been touring and making records for a long time. So whether we play to a hundred people or 5,000 people, it’s still the same concept, just dressed up a little bit differently. But having the experience of having songs on Glee or a Superbowl ad and having them skyrocket to #1 on iTunes the next day is something that none of us have ever experienced, and it’s been really… what some could see as a corporate machine, we actually see as a really amazing thing.
It reminds us of growing up in the ‘90s when everyone is watching something. For us, we were all watching MTV in the ‘90s, or whatever it was, and to have everyone watch the Superbowl and hear a song they like and all go buy it is how we found out about music when we grew up, and it’s been really special for us to see that magnitude around our music.
SG: We’re here the day your album is released, and we are sitting in an independent record store. This is the first of a number of different shows you’re gonna play in some amazing record stores around the country as part of your upcoming tour. Can you talk a little bit about why Fingerprints in Long Beach, CA is where you want to be today, and the importance of supporting this ecosystem of indie record stores?
AD: We all love independent records stores and support them so much, and Fingerprints in particular is just a really special place because, around the time of our last album, we played… it was a different location but still Fingerprints – and it ended up turning into a live album for us. And it just really feels like coming back home. It’s just a really magical night, and there’s nowhere we’d rather spend release night.
NR: Yeah, this is where we were when the album was released, and what was so cool about that, when our first album was released, is we had no idea what was gonna happen with this band. Who knew that it was gonna take off the way that it did? And it was the album release week when we were like, “Oh shoot! We might be able to make a living at this together…”
SG: [Laughs] The show you’re gonna play tonight is obviously different from a straight-up club show. Between clubs, stores, festivals and more, you’ve now played your songs in all these different formats. What is it that you zoom in on to try to make sure that the heart of song is still there, no matter what goes on around it?
NR: I think, when we play live, we make a conscious effort to just connect with the people at the shows. That is what we have founded it on. That’s who we are as musicians, that’s where we started - at punk rock shows, and no matter how big the venue, there’s just always a connection with the crowd. And we’ve been very fortunate, I guess, that the whole entire crowd has always been one that sings along, and you can be whoever you want when you come to a fun. show. I think you just have to know the words. So it’s really a fantastic thing.
SG: What are the elements that would come together that would make for a perfect night on stage for you guys?
JA: You have the band, and you have the audience, and within those two groups, they all have to work together on their own and then together, together. Like, as a band, we have to play great together, the audience has to work within themselves to create a really good feeling, and the most important thing for a show is for those two elements to come together and form one thing bigger than a band or an audience, and you need both.
You need a band giving it their all, and you need an audience giving it their all to create an experience that is bigger than either one. So that’s just a feeling, and we know it and they know it, and you can’t manufacture it. It just happens or it doesn’t, and we spend our entire career trying to make it happen every night. So when it does happen are those moments that we really look forward to and are the real payoff. And most importantly, it really makes it clearer what we’re striving for.
NR: Plus, acoustic shows are easy to just talk back and forth with the crowd. There’s not a lot of pressure at acoustic shows. We don’t have to prance around the stage nearly as much, or at all.
JA: Any time we can sit…
SG: Glad that we were able to provide you with another opportunity to sit right now… and as you sit here today Jack, I notice you are wearing the shirt you recently collaborated with Revel & Riot to create: Why that shirt, and why this message?
JA: It would be foolish for us to assume that we didn’t have some people’s attention, whether that’s a few kids or a great deal of fans, and to be given that privilege comes with a great responsibility to be really decent. And if there’s something worth saying, to say it, and we feel that, on the issue of gay rights, especially in America… and around the world, but America is where we’re from… there’s something really worth saying that not enough people are saying, and if more people who had people listening were standing up and saying, “This is wrong. This needs to change and we all have to band together to change it,” then that’s really how things do change.
So whether it’s the tiniest seed or a really big deal, it’s something that comes from inside that we know, with this specific issue of human rights… because we’re not getting into politics, we’re not gonna talk about the economy, we don’t want to talk about this, or healthcare, or anything with a million opinions, because there’s only one thing that has one opinion for us, and that is for all people to be treated equally.
So we’re proud to use whatever platform to just say that and not go too deep in any other direction but to just say that everyone was created equally, and we’ll do whatever we can to promote that.
SG: So, your music is becoming wildly popular, your shows are singalong lovefests and you are spreading your message. Pretty impressive stuff. If we were to sit down any one of the three of you ten years ago and play you a montage of the things that have happened over the past couple of years, what do you think is the moment or the day that you’d be most happy about?
NR: Gosh, this is a really tough question. I think that the day we would have to be most happy about is just the day that the band started. I mean, a terrible day for me at the time, but in retrospect, just the perfect opportunity fell into my lap to get to work with these guys. I had gotten a call that I was pretty much told that I was not very fun to make music with. So I called up the two people that I knew I would at least make it fun for myself again to make music with, so they came.
It was instant. I hung up the phone and took the blow a little bit of not doing something I was doing for six years and really cared about, and then just thought, “All right, well I always wanted to work with Andrew, and I always wanted to work with Jack, so now’s my chance to call them.” And I called them, and right away we just flew to New Jersey and we booked a one-way ticket, and the rest… is this [points at sold out crowd behind him].
SG: Let’s end our interview, back there at the beginning. Tell me what it was, at the end of a fairly depressing phone call, about these two guys in particular that made you just immediately them as whom you wanted to work with?
NR: Jack was already one of my closest friends when we started this thing, and Andrew was just a freak of nature who I… no disrespect to anyone, but I would spend a lot of time just yelling, and sometimes it can be tough to figure out, if I’m writing songs, what I’m trying to say. So this time around, I thought I’ve got to find the two guys that not only will laugh if I fly off the handle a little bit, but they’ll also understand what I’m talking about, and that was Andrew and Jack.
And what Jack and I didn’t know, as such close friends, is that Andrew is probably gonna be the weirdest one out of all of us.
AR: I don’t know. Nate’s pretty weird. He’s weirder than he’ll admit. [Laughs]
JA: Nothing would have prepared us for that [Laughs]
SG: For the two of you, Jack, Andrew: what was it about the call from Nate that made you go, “Yep… that’s what I want to do next too.”
JA: It’s the exact same answer… you get so few chances in life to do the exact things that you want to do. Usually there’s so much compromise and you have to always be like, “Well, it could be worse,” or, “I should be grateful for the chance to make this better.” So to have an opportunity to work with two people where there’s no compromise and we just want to work with, period, is so rare… that someone says, “Here’s an opportunity,” and you’re just like, “A thousand percent!” There’s no part of you that has to think.
SG: OK Andrew, here within the love-fest, do you have anything final to add?
AR: If I add stuff, it will stress them out. [Laughs] I don’t want to get too real. But… …I will. I think that Nate and Jack are the two most talented people I know. I think Nate is the best singer and songwriter that I have ever known, and maybe that I have ever seen, I don’t know. And Jack is one of the most talented and inspiring people to be around and to know and to work with. These guys are really special, and I’m really proud to be in a band with them.
fun.’s new album, ‘Some Nights,’ is out now on Fueled By Ramen.