Jack Antonoff: musician, songwriter, producer, activist and pretty much everything in-between.
He’s a man who’s crafted a new dictionary meaning of polymath, securing his name as one of indie-pop’s most intriguing and profound exports whilst assisting in shaping the musical landscape of late-twenty-ten at the touch of his, seemingly, magical fingertips. 2012’s breakout with dork-pop trio fun. preceded Antonoff’s co-working with Taylor Swift on her indisputable masterpiece 1989 before winding up on the song writing credits for the likes of Grimes, Lorde, Sia, Zayn, Little Mix, Banks, Tegan and Sara, Fifth Harmony and Sara Bareilles. Grammy’s followed suit (both Song and Album of the Year accolades crop up on his CV) as his John Hughessoaked, new wave solo outing as Bleachers dropped 2014’s anthemic Strange Desire and this year’s regal, self-reflexive Gone Now. The latter, released back in June, showcased the Renaissance man’s talents once more through soaring and slick, often political and overtly honest pop. He’s amid a whistle-stop London visit (“You’re fully a prisoner to a powerless process,” he stresses when the suggestion of downtime is voiced) as we collectively express delight at the sight of coffee for our 8am meet in the capital’s Marylebone Hotel. “It’s a dawn of a full new era for me as a human being,” he ponders. “I deeply feel like I’ve turned into an actual adult in the time of making this record.”
Whilst Strange Desire felt like being the sole delver into someone’s most treasured journal entries, its follow up awaited a whole array of new listenership and, thus, a new perspective for Antonoff. “I’m actually talking to people on this record so the perspective is less of a diary and more of trying to relate to where I fit in in the world,” he explains. “Strange Desire was strictly from my perspective whilst, in contrast, Everybody Lost Somebody on Gone Now was one of the first times I really considered that everyone feels loss and depression too.”
Mental wellbeing and selfquestioning appears as a common thread throughout Antonoff’s back catalogue, roping in themes of relationships, social construct and politics ostensibly more so than ever on Gone Now.
“We live in this really disappointing awful moment where it’s fully hip to give a shit,” says Antonoff on how politics formed his sophomore effort. “That’s the beginning of how things move forward though, I guess.”
“I just want to be in conversation with people. I’d rather be an artist that people actually know than one people want to be. I’m not talking at people, I’m talking with people.”
Given his track record, conversing with others is far more than a forte of his. One prominent example on Gone Now is the addition of viral star-turned-pop heroine Carly Rae Jepsen, a relationship that stems as far back as Antonoff’s inaugural collaboration. “I had to prove myself when working with others and she was one of the first people who let me into the room, so I’m forever grateful for her,” he explains. “I was working on Hate That You Know Me whilst making Ella’s [Lorde] Melodrama so I played her the song and she actually came up with the idea for those backing vocal parts.”
The significance of collaborative work to Antonoff’s legacy is indisputable, feeding into Gone Now and the final patchwork-like product of his abundance of musical associates. “It’s an interesting record as, on one hand, there’s this crazy list of artists that are a part of this wild huge project on mine whilst, on the other hand, it was me sitting alone in the solitary space that is my apartment,” he declares. “Everyone on the record is a close friend and someone I wanted to be a part of it.”
“It’s just fear. Most people are designed to hate something that they don’t understand.”
Inclusivity appears as another constant métier. Most notably, for his co-launching the Ally Coalition (TAC) with former fun. members and
“I’m a straight white Jewish guy, no one needs my voice in that area, but I can use my success to funnel a lot of voices to people who need to listen.”
designer/sister Rachel Antonoff, aimed at raising awareness for homeless LGBT+ teens, advocating for the fight against discrimination. “In America, 40% of homeless kids are LGBT+ because they’re being kicked out of their homes. The percentages of those who are non-white is even higher,” he states. “There’s a very specific demographic of kid in America who are being failed and they’re LGBT+, often non-white and there are so few resources available for them.”
He recalls high school as “torture” (“everything that wasn’t normal in the 90s was gay”) before reminding that, in 2016 alone, over 30 US states introduced anti LGBT+ legalisation. Personal and global reasoning combined account for TAC, evidently impacting his live work with Bleachers as a clear priority. “It’s not about my voice,” he clarifies. “I’m a straight white Jewish guy, no one needs my voice in that area, but I can use my success to funnel a lot of voices to people who need to listen. A dollar from each ticket from every show goes to shelters so even if you’re a totally close-minded prick, you’re paying for these kids to get by if you come and see me.”
With Gone Now venturing into political territories previously unreached with Bleachers, it’s hard not to wonder if someone in Antonoff’s position can pinpoint a source for this discrimination in order to aid and advocate.
“It’s just fear. Most people are designed to hate something that they don’t understand,” he affirms. “When I’m talking on-stage, it’s very information-based as 99 out of 100 people will actually want to do something about these issues once they understand as, right now, no one is giving a fuck about LGBT+ homeless shelters.”
In an age where the definition of ally can appear blurred and adaptable to suit needs at will, witnessing the manifesto of Jack Antonoff as told by the man himself has felt as refreshing as it has honouring, truly determining him as a one-of-a-kind creative force. “People only need to look at the culture, art and music of the LGBT+ community to see why it’s so incredible,” he emphasises. “You tell someone that they can’t do something, they’re gonna do it better than anyone else.” A moment of contemplation amid a few sips of now-cold coffee later, he concludes: “There’s way more excitement in LGBT+ culture than in the white 9-to5 culture because there’s simply a need for it.”
Visit the Ally Coalition at theallycoalition.org Listen to Gone Now on
He reiterates the power of voice once more, insisting; “More than ever, talking to people has become important and I’d like to just maintain being extremely honest and forward in everything I do.” As one of pop’s most forward-thinking, socially-aware and, arguably, busiest names, it would be almost impossible to doubt him.