Jack Antonoff has been training his whole life for his latest gig, fronting the indie electro-pop band Bleachers. Famous for his work as the guitarist of the platinum-selling, Grammy-winning band Fun., and featured in tabloids for his high-profile relationship with Girls creator Lena Dunham, Antonoff has been buzzed about since he was a teenager.
First there was the New Jersey band Steel Train, which Antonoff formed with some friends from school as a creative outlet only to find themselves signed to a major label with a near-decade of opening slots on national tours. Then of course came Fun., and a ton of critical and commercial success followed. Nothing compares, however, to the spotlight that has been focused on him during Bleachers’ current summer tour. The newer project is Antonoff’s chance to enter the public musical consciousness on his own merits.
With Bleachers, Antonoff offers the same bombastic emotions and songwriting style of Fun., but adds to it a more electronically driven beat. The band’s debut, Strange Desire, mines the ’80s pop that Antonoff has pointed toward as a major musical influence, while personal tragedies — deaths in his family, 9/11, a long illness and recovery — make up the lyrical heart of his songs. The formula has worked so far: Strange Desire‘s lead single “I Wanna Get Better,” a codependent plea to a loved one sang to a peppy electro beat, emerged as one of the most surprising hits of last summer.
Being a songwriter for two big-name bands has to come with its share of headaches. Explaining how he divides his songwriting duties amongst two projects, Abranoff says, “It’s definitely a gut feeling. I never take a song and worry about who it’s really for. I just work on it and then it becomes clear. It can be something as simple as a guitar part that I’m working into a song, and knowing which band it would sound most natural on. I think that’s what makes my working with the two projects so successful, the fact that each is their own specific thing.”
Antonoff is actually in a good situation at the moment. While Fun. takes the summer off — no doubt conserving energy before they take over Top-40 radio again upon the release of their next album — Antonoff is able to concentrate on watching Bleachers grow.
“The only real juggling that has happened was when I was trying to cut the Bleachers album while I was on tour with Fun. I’ve been fortunate to only have to deal with one tour at a time so far, and for right now, that band is Bleachers.”
In music, one always wonders if an artist would be more successful just sticking to one project. “When it comes to art, and the things you make, it’s all about the feeling of what you are doing and what you want to do. The path I’ve been on for the past two or three years has been to only focus on the things I really want to be doing. Just with the fact that it is art, there is nothing I should be doing if it’s something I don’t want to do. If I begin to focus on the things I quote-unquote should be doing, then my work will suffer. I am really just putting all of my energies into this feeling of where I want to be, what I want to work on, and what I want to put out.”
Of course, the answer may be easier than the question would make it seem. After all, Antanoff has spent over a decade inside the music business, and if nothing else, has become a student of the game. While Fun. still has the name value, who is to say that will remain so for much longer? And once that star fades, maybe the singer will truly be ready for his shot at solo stardom.
“It feels like any other project I’ll be involved in will only contain a part of me,” the young musician admits, “whereas Bleachers contains my whole self. It feels like I’ve just been chipping away in the past, just to find this part of myself to put into the album.”