Funguyona serious pop mission
Making hisnew Bleachers recordwhile at the same time producingLorde’s second release proved no problem for Jack Antonoff. “There’s something healthy about doing two albums at once,” he tells Shilpa Ganatra
Depending on your cultural barometer, you’d know Jack Antonoff’s name in any manner of contexts. It might be in relation to pop purveyors Fun, of which he was co-writer and guitarist, or his writing/ production work with the roll-call of today’s most interesting female acts (Taylor Swift, Sia, Sara Bareilles, Grimes, Banks, Pink), or his five-year relationship with
Girls mastermind Lena Dunham, which is going swimmingly if their Instagram accounts are anything to go by.
In the coming weeks, there’ll be two more reasons: the hugely anticipated second album from Lorde, which he co-wrote and co-produced, and another album for his solo venture, Bleachers. It’s a telling sign about how in-demand he is that he juggled both at the same time, though the different tasks only complemented each other, he explains.
“There’s something healthy about doing two albums at once,” he says, speaking from his home in New York, where both were recorded. “It means I bounce between being in a room with my own feelings, and then meeting with someone and working towards something together.
“The objectivity that comes with producing other people helps me take a bird’s-eye view on my own work. And on the other side, I dig very intensely to make music that’s both interesting and honest when I’m working on my own, and it pushes me to continue to working like that with other people. So there’s a complementary back and forth.”
As it is, Gone Now is a kaleidoscope of lyrical ideas and production techniques, from the Avalanches-style chatter that punctuates the album, to self-referential snippets, to the playful use of stereo, all while giving musical nods to the varied likes of OK Go and Bruce Springsteen.
“I wanted the album to reflect what it was: a person in a room going crazy a little bit, trying to make sense of all these thoughts
and and all these sounds. I wanted it to be a controlled mess,” he says.
It works stripped down too: a couple of days before we speak, in a basement club in Soho, he demonstrates this with an introductory acoustic set, including lead track Don’t Take the Money.
The corresponding video was directed by Dunham (as with I
Wanna Get Better, the lead track from Bleachers’ previous album), which begs me to ask: how was the experience of being directed by his partner?
“It’s wonderful to work with people that love you and know you so well,” Antonoff says. “It could have been weird, but for us it made total sense, it was oddly natural. There’s a lot of creative work going on in that house anyway; most of our jobs are separate but every now and then there’s the opportunity to do things together.”
Asked if they might continue this creative partnership, he explains he would, “when it makes sense to” (the same reply to the question of when Fun might reunite, incidentally).
Dunham’s influence is felt elsewhere too, though Let’s Get
Married is as much about Antonoff’s reaction to the political landscape as their bond (sample lyric: “I know it’s bad when we look out/But bad bad people don’t live in our house”).
“That’s the first place my head went after the election,” he explains. “I’m always interested in looking at the emotional side of things.”
Now that the dust has settled, how does Antonoff – an equal-rights champion just as much as his partner – feel the US can move forward?
“It’s a terrifying time, it’s unbelievable to imagine how it’s going to land or how we’ll move on, but I guess we will,” he says. “The last eight years with Obama were this progressive, wonderful time when a lot of the hateful parts were backed into corners, but it’s all come out now. I had a hard time believing it would go that far. Beyond
Pop is an incredible and wonderful thing: with just a few chords you can turn something very complicated into something very accessible to the whole world. That’s an incredible idea
Democrats and Republicans, I thought that good would conquer evil. But people were sold a bad deal and now we have to work out how to repair it.
“The only good thing is there’s a lot of smart, progressive ideas coming out of it. It’s all about putting our efforts into what we believe in, until we’re there. There’s nowhere else to go. For me, a lot of that involves working locally. I think about who is getting the worse end of the deal here, especially LGBT, non-white people, and figure out how they can be supported.”
So while the song hints of despair, it’s hidden behind a shiny exterior of singalong pop, a move that’s becoming a trademark of Antonoff’s work.
“I’ve always loved these songs where you’re at a party and everyone’s dancing and drinking, and one person sitting in the corner turns around and says, ‘hey, you know what this song’s really about?’ It delivers these big emotions, but there’s all these hid- den layers, and you can keep peeling back and find more and more,” he explains.
It’s a point echoed by grief anthem Everybody Lost Some
body, one song of many in his career inspired by the loss of his sister to cancer when they were teens.
“I love making these types of songs euphoric, because you can take these really dark concepts out and end up celebrating them,” he says. “If they sounded sad, you wouldn’t be able to. That’s something that I want to continue exploring.”
Arguably, it’s this broad un- derstanding of pop that makes him the producer du jour. So, as the man responsible for injecting a dose of personality into modern melodies, I wonder, what does he make of the charts?
“Pop is an incredible and wonderful thing: with just a few chords you can turn something very complicated into something very accessible to the whole world. That’s an incredible idea. But there’s also a lot of money there, so there’s also a lot of people trying to do things that work. And just because it works, it doesn’t mean it’s beautiful and important. So I think the charts and radio get a lot of material that isn’t as good as people deserve.
“But I don’t think about it too much, and I don’t get too cynical. I keep my head down and believe people are brilliant and they want meaningful things, and they’ll search for that.”
Here’s hoping. Gone Now is out now on RCA Records
Jack Antonoff “It’s wonderful to work with people that love you and know you so well.” Below: with partner Lena Dunham