Close your eyes. Okay, no wait — open them
because you need to keep reading — but close them in spirit. Now pretend fun.
is not a band, but an amusement park. Just replace the guitar with a log flume
and the percussion with a carousel. Now
imagine the crowds lining up for a ride on fun.’s sophomore record, Some Nights. The line snakes around the whole park. Maybe there are some bearded ladies on
it. Maybe lots of bearded ladies. Anyway.
As you get closer, you see the entrance to Some Nights is actually Nate Ruess’ head. His mouth is open wider than should be
physically possible and his uvula dangles in the dark. The musical tracks harden into wooden
rollercoaster tracks. You get on the car, and with a jerk, it starts to move.
There’s that familiar feeling that tells you something pretty transformative is
about to happen. Lights flash as you go
plummeting into the darkness. The
rollercoaster version of Some Nights
follows the same path as the album version: colorful on the outside, deeper
than you had imagined in the center, and so good it’ll make your head
to go again?
“I had met Jack briefly once and thought he
was kind of a douche,” says Nate Ruess of his first encounter with Jack
Antonoff. They were 18 years old and
going, separately, to punk rock shows in southern New Jersey. Nate had worked at one of the clubs since he
was 16 (“It’s how I developed a sense of what really works, and what is
boring.”), and Jack was in love with the whole scene--well, almost the whole
the late 90s there was just a brilliant punk world happening in legion halls
and fire houses. I was immediately taken with Nate’s voice but everything else
– no.” Years later, Nate, who was the lead singer of The Format at the time and
Jack, Steel Train’s front man, wound up on tour together. Impressions hadn’t
changed much. “It was just like an, ‘Oh God, this guy,’ vibe from both of us
right off the bat. But 24 hours into
that tour, Nate and I became inseparable.”
The Format broke up, Nate’s first call was to Jack.
not a “meet-cute” tale, it’s indicative of who fun. is as a band. You hear them and think, “Are they really
going to pull off this sound, this arrangement, and create a moving, catchy,
memorable rock song?” It’s become their
signature. So long as that signature has
one last element: Nate’s second call was to Andrew Dost, the force behind all
the literal bells and whistles of fun.
“Andrew,” says Jack, “is one of those people who see the world like a
giant art project. I can’t begin to tell
you how vital he is in our band.”
“My first impressions
of them were both overwhelmingly positive,” says Andrew Dost, “I’ve heard they
were….unsure of each other when they first met?”
fun. has not stopped
living up to its name since their 2009 debut, Aim & Ignite. A year
after the debut they were opening for Paramore on their headlining tour and
performing at Coachella along with The Strokes and Jay-Z. Now they’ve teamed up
with Janelle Monáe, a melodic collaboration on display in one of three videos
for “We Are Young.” In addition, the TV series “Glee” plucked “We Are Young”
off Some Nights to cover on the show,
an experience that meant the world to a
band that prides itself on appealing to any demographic that might feel
disenfranchised or just plain odd.
“None have us have ever felt like
anything but outcasts our entire lives,” says Jack, “and I know that’s
something that has resonated with fun. fans. They are the same people as us —
kids who never fully latched onto a specific music scene because it couldn't
a trail of accolades behind them, fun. knew they had to step up their game in
an unexpected way when it came to producing their second record, which garnered
them to Grammys, “Best New Artist” and “Song of the Year” for “We Are Young.”
“I got really got into hip-hop,” says Nate, “I mean really into it. Songs
started coming to me in the middle of the night, and I would hear them with
breakbeats and samples, and it all made sense… I told everyone I wanted the
next record to sound like a hip-hop album, and I don’t think they were
unsupportive, but they were definitely confused.” Then, a few hours before a show in Phoenix,
the band snuck into a music room at Arizona State University. Nate doesn’t play
any instruments, but by now Jack and Andrew have learned to “crack the
code.” This time the code was for the
track that would become “Some Nights.”
Andrew pounded out the chords out on a piano, while Nate sang, and Jack
stomped his feet and clapped as hard as he could to establish the pulse of the
song. “That moment really brought us together as the band that was going to be
making this album….I just had to
explain how the MPC (Music Production Center) would be our new best friend.”
is a whip-smart horn-rimmed glasses-wearing guitarist whose influences are Tom
Waits, Jack White, and Neil Young.
counts the flugelhorn and glockenspiel among his conquered instruments.
(Influences: Weezer, ELO, and Claude Debussy.)
here they were, jumping out of their skin, listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Drake in a concrete building
in the middle of the desert.
can I say? Eventually they fell victim
to Drizzy,” laughs Nate.
pressed by their label and management for a list of potential producers, Nate
consulted the albums he loved most. The
name that appeared time and time again was "Jeff Bhasker.”
legendary Grammy-winning producer for Alicia Keys and Kanye West had his hands
full at the time, working with Beyoncé, and the
band worried that they might not have a chance to meet him. Finally, one night
late at The Bowery Hotel, Nate got his chance. Their relationship was one that
fit nicely into the grand tradition of fun. “Jeff wasn’t very, shall we say,
warm. He had been working on Beyoncé all day,
and he really gave the vibe that he didn’t want to be meeting with me...but
thank God for alcohol. We ended up
hitting it off, and since I was drunk and lacking self-awareness, I decided to
sing him something I had been working on. I remember singing the chorus for
"We Are Young" kind of loud and out of key. That’s when I learned that Jeff does this
thing when he’s excited where his eyes perk up and somehow his ears move all
the way to the top of his head. He told
me we had to work together.”
fun. was on their way
to becoming the band that would — that could — produce Some Nights.
left a huge imprint in our brains,” says Andrew, “and for me at least, made me
realize all over again that songs are special, and that they deserve to sound
unique. His palette of sounds is huge.” Or, as Jack says: “Jeff pushed the shit out of us, and he’s nothing like
us. He helped us do something way bigger
than what we could have done on our own."
heard the songs stripped down with just vocals, acoustic guitar and piano
before the band went into the studio with him.
has an energy, a talent, confidence, and a way of making you feel confident,
like no one I've ever met, or probably will ever meet,” says Nate. “Suddenly
here was a gigantic beat on top of those acoustics and pianos. Jack’s guitar
solo in ‘Carry On’ was one of those magical moments. I’ve never seen anyone so in control of their
tone, and for him to take the lyrics, internalize them, and redistribute it into
the form of a guitar solo, is just so unbelievable, and it’s a huge testament
to his passion for music.”
Nights has a uniquely impactful note — and it’s not always an upbeat
one. See also: the line “I got nothing left inside
my chest but it’s all alright” in “All Alright.” “I was just coming off of a darker and more introspective year,” Nate
remembers, “You know, I remember being a freshman in high school and feeling
like an outsider who always wanted this one girl to notice me, and I would
listen to ‘El Scorcho’ by Weezer and couldn’t help but smile because there was at least one other person in the world
who felt how I felt. That’s what I hope to accomplish as a lyricist. But I was having anxiety attacks about
whether or not I could still write a song, let alone still wanting to make
music. The only way to cope with it was to write about it.”
it’s Nate. Or Andrew. Or Jack. Or
Jeff. Or the acoustics at Arizona State.
Either way, it’s a good problem to have when you’re pointing fingers at each
other, laying the blame for the magic of your new record on your band mates.
Even with the “new and improved” sound, fans will never forget what it is this band
wants: “Some Nights has a common theme of guilt and depression and laying
everything on the table, sure, but there’s always some sort light at the end of
the tunnel,” says Nate. “That’s what this album is striving for, to say
something along the lines of ‘Okay, I found that light, but it’s just led me to
another situation where I need to find the light again.’”
down the tracks we go.