Jack Antonoff has written songs that have dealt with the death of his sister, and how her death impacted his life, for most of his musical career. The 30-year-old fun. guitarist was 18 when his sister Sarah died of cancer.
“I wrote about it then. I wrote about it after that. I’m 30, and I write about it from the lens of now,” said Antonoff, whose new band Bleachers performs at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival on August 8.
Bleachers, a band that for Antonoff is every bit as important as his Grammy-winning counterpart, is an outlet for the bandleader to express the sadness and confusion he felt at the time. The debut album, Strange Desire, was released last month.
“(I wanted) to tell my story of what I’ve been through, (how) I’ve tried to move on without carrying all the pieces with me, and how I tried to live in a world where I could be kind to myself,” he said. “Basically, (to) tell the darkest, realest stories, but find a way to have a hopeful twist on them. That’s what ‘I Wanna Get Better’ is about; that’s what the whole album is about.”
The catchy lead single was released seemingly out of nowhere in February — according to Antonoff’s plan — and has been streamed nearly two million times. The song launched on the same day as the Bleachers website. Prior to that, the only indication that Antonoff had new music on the way was a vague Craigslist post advertising a musician in need of “strange desire.”
“The last thing the world needs is another goddamn hashtag campaign,” he said. “(I wanted) to cut through the noise….It’s nice to have some mystery left in this world.”
A video, directed by girlfriend Lena Dunham, of Girls fame, played the seriousness of the lyrics for a joke by having Antonoff play a therapist who gives bad advice to a cadre of people.
The majority of Strange Desire — co-produced by John Hill (MIA, Jay Z) and Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yaz, Erasure) — was written and recorded while Antonoff was still on the road with fun. While he had never, up until that point, been able to write music while on the road, something clicked that allowed him to multitask. He would record on his laptop in hotel rooms, and sometimes seek out studios as the band hopscotched across the globe. The lead single is a good example.
“I did the vocals to that song in Malaysia,” he said. “I recorded the drums in New Zealand. I worked on production in Japan. I just felt like I’d wake up in the morning and want to write.”
And it was easy for Antonoff to insulate himself from his varied surroundings. He viewed his hotel room as a bubble. His fun. bandmates, Nate Ruess and Andrew Dost, who besides his family were the only ones who knew about his extracurricular work, encouraged him. Because each of them came from a culture of being the “dominant force” in their own projects — in fact, Antonoff continued to lead New Jersey band Steel Train for two years after fun. got together — having a second project came as a second nature.
“You find time when there’s something to be really passionate about,” said Antonoff, before revealing that he doesn’t even remember where he was able to get the time during the heavy promotional schedule for fun. “Whether it’s between soundcheck and the show, or on the one day off, you make things work.”
It was never his plan to keep the music a secret. His only intention was to not let the success of his other band make people think he was cashing in. Antonoff said he wanted the music to get the attention, not the musician.
“Doing a band is the most unbelievable amount of work, and there’s an unbelievable amount of gratification. I wouldn’t do that with one foot in,” he said. “To go out and tour and spend two years making the album – it’s like having two children – fun. and Bleachers.