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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

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.”

Kalei­do­scope

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).

Po­lit­i­calland­scape

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.”

Shiny ex­te­rior

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

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