We caught up with Jack Antonoff of Bleachers prior to his sold out show at The Sinclair earlier this week. Antonoff, who first achieved success as the guitarist and songwriter of pop band Fun., has been touring in support of his second album with solo project Bleachers. Gone Now largely feels like a continuation of Bleachers’ debut; high-energy pop-rock with heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics and the melancholy joy of a Jersey boy pining for the big city, but Antonoff sees the project as a reflection of his current emotional state. “I try not to think a day in advance,” he said. “I think that’s the ultimate fairness to people who believe in your music, to work on the stuff you believe in the most, at the time you believe in it.”
Antonoff grew up in North Jersey and spent his youth longing for the gritty glamour of New York City. The 33-year-old musician still carries the spirit of the garden state through his music today. “You’re always thinking about getting out,” he said about his home state. “How could you not? There’s this crazy carrot dancing right outside your window. It creates an energy.”
Harnessing that energy has been the key to Bleachers’ success. With a live show that’s second-to-none, Antonoff and crew are singlehandedly reintroducing rock music to a generation raised on hip-hop. Bleachers’ dual-drummer setup delivers energetic, guttural, danceable jams with infectious top line melodies and Antonoff’s signature stage presence rounding out a well-oiled machine.
Sitting in a small, dimly lit dressing room and nursing a climbing fever, Antonoff opened up about life in New Jersey, working with pop sensation Lorde, and what it means to be true to your musical self. Forgoing a handshake for a germ-free elbow bump, the dark-haired singer shuffled swiftly into his spot on the couch. Peering at me through his signature full-frames, Antonoff chooses his words carefully – much like a seasoned sports star at a post-game presser – but underneath the carefully crafted persona is a mile-a-minute Jersey kid who’s still trying to prove himself, night after night.
Read highlights of our conversation with Jack below.
I just caught your set at the Firefly music festival in the middle of a heat wave, what was that like?
I’m always really humbled when I see people coming to a show at all! Let alone in the beating down sun, after three days of camping. You know, show-goers are the best people. It’s a great group of people. No one puts themselves through that with negativity; going to a concert or a festival is an act of positivity as a whole.
There seemed to be a good mix of diehard and casual fans.
Well, festivals are cool because you see the mix. You can just look out and scan faces and be like, “That person is singing every word… That person has never heard us before… That person you can tell by our face has maybe heard about us but it’s their first time seeing us…” You see it all.
So you just put out the second Bleachers record Gone Now, and you also have songwriting and production credits on Lorde’s Melodrama. What was it like working on those projects simultaneously?
Well, the interesting thing is those two albums… It wasn’t designed this way, but they came out at very similar times. So it’s very weird to have a release that represents so much of the past two years of your life. That’s all I did the past two years; Bleachers and Lorde. It’s really amazing, but also bizarre to have it all come out just like that. It feels overwhelming. They were both made in similar ways at my house, and I like that that is a theme that runs through both those albums… A sense that it didn’t have to be some massive machinery that made it.
Was that at your studio in Brooklyn?
And you’re originally from New Jersey, right? That’s where I grew up too.
Yeah, I lived in North Jersey my whole life.
Nice! I hear you’re a big Bruce Springsteen fan?
Who isn’t, man?
Do you take any aspects of his songwriting into your music?
I take a lot of aspects of New Jersey, and that’s very present in him.
What about New Jersey inspires you today?
It’s right outside one of the biggest most exciting cities in the world. So you’re staring at New York out your window. You’re always thinking about getting out. How could you not? There’s this crazy carrot dancing right outside your window. It creates an energy. So much of New Jersey music is like, “We gotta get outta here, we gotta get in the car and drive.” The thing about New York City music, is it’s coming from the center of the world. So NYC I feel like the sentiment is, “Hi, we’re reporting from the center of the world and here’s what’s going on. And in New Jersey is this crazy hope because it’s like, “Somebody get me outta here.” And I thnk that you hear that from all sorts of music that comes from New Jersey.
Now that you’re so far removed from the debut of Fun., do you feel more closely aligned with Bleachers?
Well, Fun. is a band, so that’s something I always felt like I was a part of. But Bleachers is just me, so that’s something that’s always felt like part of me. That’s sort of the major difference there. I don’t know, whenever I’m doing something I feel like that. So wherever I am, I really try to put all of myself into whatever I’m doing.
It’s funny to have a job where so much of it is future planning. I know where I’m gonna be in December physically, but I don’t know where I’m gonna be emotionally – as far as writing, or projects, or what I wanna do. So all things aside, figuring out records and what I wanna write about and what project I wanna work on – I try not to think a day in advance. I think that’s the ultimate fairness to people who believe in your music, to work on the stuff you believe in the most, at the time you believe in it. Which is essentially how Bleachers started.
And is there a big difference when it comes to producing or songwriting for yourself or for your collaborators?
Well, the process is pretty different because when I’m working with other people I’m always with someone else. I’m with them, so we’re working together. And when I’m alone, I’m alone. So it’s odd, and they just sort of – I’ve never had trouble finding space for things. It’s all a gut feeling – what goes where and when. It’s always a gut feeling of what’s what if it’s something that you feel like you have to say or it could live with someone else.
The most immediate thing that I can think is next is this process of defining the album on tour. Making an album is just a piece of it. You make an album, and it’s this stream-of-consciousness – the story you’re telling – and then you give it to people, and you start to understand it, even more, when you see it through them. So that’s the whole second part of the process, and I don’t see it just as going out and touring the album. I don’t see it as that at all. I see it as part of the creative process.
Do you look for the songs to evolve while you’re on the road?
Yeah, they do naturally. I’ve never been the kind of artist that was like, “Buy a ticket and come see me!” It’s more something that people are a part of. So I see it happening, I feel it happening. People react, and the songs change. We play things differently. We change parts. It’s incredibly collaborative.
So there’s never really a finished product. You can put out a record and that’s the version people know the most…
But then it kinda lives on in all these funny ways. And then time and context shift things. We listen to songs that came out in the Sixties through a different lens because of what’s happened since. There’s a lifeforce to it.
That concept seems very Springsteen-like to me. Some of his live versions are almost more well known than the studio versions. And his fanbase is so passionate that they latch onto those tapes…
They’re part of that. They’re the reason it sounded like that live. You take them out of the equation, all you have is the studio recording.
Last but not least, is there a possibility of any more live performances with Lorde?
I don’t know… You want all those things to be very natural. When you collaborate with someone… The most I can do is book a tour, that’s the most I like to do ahead of time. Everything else has to be very natural. Just where you’re at, who’s around, and let it happen. People can feel it when it’s not. They deserve that spark.