In the following phone interview fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff talks about the band’s big Grammy night, playing larger venues, the status of Steel Train and what’s next for fun.
So first off, thanks for reaching out to us. That means a lot.
You know what? Going through the Grammy stuff, we’ve been getting calls from everyone. We don’t want to talk to any press, so I just told my manager, “Can we just talk to AP?” You’re the people that’s always been covering us.
Nice! Well is there anything particular on your mind?
Just with all the Grammy stuff, I’d rather talk to you guys about it than anyone else.
You’re one of the few bands from the AbsolutePunk scene that has ever made it the Grammy stage, so I’m sure on some level that must have felt like a fish-out-of-water experience. Can you talk about what it was like taking all that in?
No matter what happens to us, we’re always going to feel like we’re from the Jersey scene. A lot of stuff we’ve gone through does sort of feel like a fish out of water, not in a bad way. Everything we do and everywhere we go everyone is always very gracious, and it’s wonderful to have new fans and do things like the Grammys. I like the fact that it feels like the party has been going on for years and people are just finding out about it now.
I loved how Nate joked about how you’ve been doing this for 12 years, so you’re not a new artist but actually pretty old.
Yeah, I think that’s been lost on a lot of people who are just finding out about us now.
Outside of winning the awards, was there anything in particular that was a highlight for you?
Just being there with people like Jack White and Dave Grohl, just to be around those people that inspired us to make music in the first place. That’s really surreal stuff for us, to even be in the same room or in the same category.
What was it like playing with the rain coming down?
It was terrifying, actually. We had to practice it three times leading up to the performance because there was a lot of technical stuff to get right. The way we did it without killing ourselves was everything was on battery packs, but it was really nerve-wracking and tough because everyone was terrified of getting electrocuted. When we actually did it during the show, there was a lot of back and forth with a lot of people working on it. People weren’t sure if we were even going to be able to pull it off, so it was a really crazy element added to something that was already really intense and really stressful. We’re really happy that it worked out, but it could have been a disaster.
Was that your guys’ idea?
It was an idea we had in combination with the people who worked on the sets there. We wanted something different in our initial talk, and the idea of creating the storm happening during the song came out of that conversation. We then took it a step further and talked about actually getting wet.
Was there a lot of downtime, like between the commercial breaks and when they’re setting stuff up?
There was, but there was a lot of cool stuff happening. That was when we met Dave Grohl and met Jay-Z. People would come over and say hi when the show wasn’t going on, and that was the most surreal part of all of it, seeing people we’ve idolized while growing up come over and say hi to us.
When you guys got on the stage were you pretty nervous? There’s millions of people watching all around the world, so was that something you tried not to think about too much?
There’s a lot of stuff we’ve done this year and we’ve gotten really good at just shutting off. There’s some things that are too big to even think about, and you get to the point in your head where all you can think about while you’re up there is when you used to do really small shows. Now it’s the Grammys, but it’s still the same thing. The environment is the same. It’s the same emotions. I play guitar the same way, Nate sings the same way, so it’s really important in those moments to treat it no different than like playing a club show.
You won’t be playing clubs that much longer, and on the tour you just announced you’ll be playing much larger venues. Are you looking forward to that, taking the next step and expanding the live show to those bigger-sized venues?
Yeah, I think sometimes people can be bummed when they see bands playing bigger venues, but there’s another side to it that’s really awesome. The bigger the venue, the more space it gives us to do really cool stuff. As everything gets bigger, the conversation is about the production and lights. Bringing the whole live experience to another level, that’s what it’s all about for us. We have so many ideas, and we’ve had so many ideas for all the years we’ve been touring, we’ve just always played shows where we didn’t have the budget or we didn’t have the space. Starting with this tour and especially on the summer tour, we’re going to unload all of those ideas and make it a show we would want to see.
I saw the set list for the current run you’re doing is a little different than the one you did in the fall. How much do you try to switch things up? I know you don’t have a ton of material at this point, only two albums to draw from, so how do you try to keep things fresh?
It’s tough for us. We want all the shows to be a really different experience for everyone, but we only have two albums. That’s one of the things that’s been driving us to do another album, so when we tour we’ll have a huge wealth of songs to go into and make different set lists of. We do the best we can to switch things up. We’re doing a new song, or a sort of new song, on this tour called “What the Fuck.” We try to do stuff we haven’t done on other tours and bring up old songs, but we do have a limited well we’re pulling from at the moment.
Now I know that song’s been around for a while, since before Some Nights. Has it changed or is it kind of the same thing you were playing before?
It’s changed a lot. What happened with it was we starting playing it on a headlining tour two years ago, but it almost had an AC/DC, cock rock feel to it. We never got it right. So we did a lot of changes to it when we got in the studio, we worked on it with Jeff Bhasker, and at that point it was less of a big rock thing and more overly electronic, and that didn’t work either. Then we got to the point where we were like, “This is not happening.” So we didn’t think about it for a year and a half.
Then when we were getting ready for this tour during rehearsals we thought, “Let’s just try and play it again.” It’s better than it’s ever been. It’s kind of in this really cool spot where it sounds more like fun. than we were able to make it sound before, but I don’t know if we’ll ever put it on an album. I think there’s something cool about certain songs only existing live. The point of the live show is something that only exists where it exists, and having songs only live is awesome to me.
I don’t know if you have already, but will you be playing that song from the Girls soundtrack?
We haven’t yet, but we plan on doing it at some point. It’s funny because we wrote and recorded that when we were in the studio. We had that piano line and that drum part, but we had a sample on it we couldn’t clear. That song was supposed to be on Some Nights but there was a sample from a really popular indie band, I won’t say who, but they wouldn’t clear the sample, so we had to take the song off. So then we had to rerecord and go back and redo all of it. It’s been a long process, but I’m excited to play that one.
Have you been able to work on or think about new material at all, or has all this touring and Grammy stuff been keeping you too busy?
There’s a lot going on in our heads. We’ve had conversations where we’ve talked about new songs here and there, but the truth is it’s better for us and our fans if we stay in Some Nights mode. I always think it’s weird whenever any band you’ve ever been in, if you’re playing an album and you have new songs in your head, it kind of feels like you have a secret girlfriend that the audience doesn’t know about. It’s almost like you’re cheating on your girlfriend with another girl. If we have new songs that we’re working on, I don’t think we could argue that we’re going to play songs from Some Nights as good as we possibly can, so we have to try and stop ourselves from going too far. Also we work really quick because Some Nights was written and recorded in a month-and-a-half period. That’s why we’re best when you capture something spur of the moment, and the next album should be the exact same way, so we’re just staying right here.
Would you like to work with Jeff Bhasker again?
Yes, working with Jeff Bhasker was amazing. Our next album won’t sound like Some Nights, it will sound like something completely different again, I have no doubt. We’d love to have that experience again.
I know there’s a lot of people curious on AP about Steel Train. Is that kind of over at this point or do you think you’ll release another album somewhere on down the line?
I’m always working on my own songs. I got about half an album worth of songs at the moment. I don’t know what shape that’ll take. The only promise I can make to anyone is that I’ll always put out my own stuff, whether that’s in the form of Steel Train or something else.
I believe you played a couple Steel Train shows last month. How did those go and was it cool to revisit that stuff?
Those were amazing. Steel Train stopped for the moment, and then a long time passed before we said anything or just explained what was going on. We spent years talking about it, and we thought to ourselves we don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to some story about why we’re not playing right now, but what we do need to do is to reach out to all those people and give them a chance at least to come see us. There wasn’t any big tagline that came with it. It was more about saying we haven’t played in a while, we don’t know when we’ll play again, so just because.
I remember on fun.’s first couple tours you played some Format material. Would you ever consider bringing back one of those songs to the live show, or maybe even rerecord one of those as a fun. track or b-side?
All three of us and the other bands that we’ve been in, they shaped us a lot but we’ve made a really conscious effort to keep fun. fun. and all other projects are our other projects. They’ll always show up in different places, but fun. will be fun.
Now that you’ve become a bigger band are you worried about your personal lives being in the spotlight more? Have you already had to deal with some of that now or do you anticipate having to deal with that in the future?
That’s something that exists but it doesn’t have an effect on our entire world. In one sense, it’s bad that we’re out there more, but in the other sense nothing really gets to us except as something positive because we’re so surrounded by the core group. That’s kind of how things have become at the moment.
Do you guys get recognized a lot when you’re out and about or are you still able to stay fairly incognito?
I’m not sure. It depends on where we are or what’s going on. If it’s something like right after the Grammys, it was constant, or just seemed constant. I think there’s different levels of how you connect and all that.
I’m sure you’re very familiar with the Spider-Man saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.” At least from here at AbsolutePunk, it definitely seems you’ve gotten this incredible opportunity that not many bands from this kind of scene have gotten before. How conscious are you of trying to make everything count and trying to take things as far as you can while you can, because who knows how long all this stuff will last?
I think the responsibility that comes with what we’re going through is to make better records, make better art. If a lot of people are going to be paying attention, then it should be great. I think that’s what comes along with that kind of thing. Instead of having a reactionary feeling, I’d rather prove that we’re up to the challenge.