A few years back, Fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff was deep into promoting all things Fun. The band had just won a Grammy and was touring heavily. His schedule allowed little time for anything other than performing and traveling. So what did Antonoff do? He started writing songs for a solo project that he subsequently dubbed Bleachers. He readily admits the timing wasn’t particularly good.
“It’s an interesting for me because I haven’t been able to write on tour before,” he says during a brief phone conversation from a Florida tour stop. “I really don’t know. It sounds cheesy or something, but I thought the songs were going to come out either way. It’s a testament to what songwriting is. You don’t get to choose when it’s a good time to write songs. They hit you or they don’t hit you.”
He initially kept the project a secret because he just didn’t want to be bombarded with questions about when the album would come out and what it would sound like.
“I wanted the music to stand for itself,” he says when asked about the secrecy. “I think it’s annoying that people talk about things that isn’t the art itself. If I say, ‘Hey, I’m making a record,’ people would want to know why and what it sounded like. I wanted the first thing to be the music. It was a little left of a normal existence. I wasn’t going out much. I wasn’t eating or sleeping much. I was in this weird hole of working on my laptop on the songs.”
Antonoff wrote songs for what would become Strange Desire
, a heady collection of synth-pop tunes, in Stockholm, Malaysia and Australia. He wrote anywhere and everywhere. When he had time off, he’d head into a studio in New York or L.A. and lay down some tracks. He says the recording process actually enabled him to tweak the songs more than he would have normally tweaked them.
“The first record I ever made, I went to a studio in Northern California in a real small town,” he recalls. “It was on a farm. Tom Waits had done all his recording there. It was amazing. I was there for two months. I got lost in that vibe and I made a record that was awesome in that studio and in that world. But I got home and put it on and in my car speakers, it was a little bit disconnected from who I am. The great thing is that you’re constantly keeping it in check and you’re constantly in a new place. Something you made in Japan might be cool and if it’s not cool when you get home, you can change it.”
Album opener “Wild Heart” begins with a simple synthesizer riff before building into an Erasure-like anthem. Songs such as "Reckless Love" feature soaring choruses and percolating synths and sound like they were recorded during a different era.
“I never use stuff from the computer,” Antonoff says. “It’s just a tool to work on things. All the instruments and synthesizers are real. I would bring some stuff on tour, but a lot of times I would record a ton of shit at home. I would spend the week on tour and I would rearrange it and fuck with it and cut it up in different ways. You can create a whole new song. I recorded a piano chord in my phone and then pitched it all different ways and made a whole melody out of it. All the parts were organic and real and then I would just fix them.”
He says that ‘80s synth-pop isn’t necessarily more of an influence than the punk rock he grew up listening to.
“I’m influenced by different things,” he says. “It’s tough to know what came from what. I was influenced by the punk scene in New Jersey. I was influenced by the general energy of that kind of music. I got into Yaz and Erasure and that’s all over the album. The vibe of what it’s like to be from New Jersey is all over the album. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what’s what. I just worked intensely on a few different things and they spun themselves into a sound and I would know when I hit it.”
With both Fun. and Bleachers, Antonoff has managed to produce hits. So what’s been the key?
“I think the key is doing the thing that is most unique to you,” he says. “I have a certain sound. I don’t know what it is but I know it’s me when I mix it. Not to sound silly about it but we’re all unique and we’re all totally different people so if we do the thing that’s most connected to us, we have the best chance of sounding like no one else. I think people who seek help from people in the music business are usually guided toward something that they know works rather than something that doesn’t sound like anything else.”
Bleachers, Joywave, Night Terrors of 1927, 8 p.m. Sunday, March 29, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Sold Out, beachlandballroom.com.