fun. With Nate Ruess
fun. is the hottest band in America right now, maybe the world. Featuring singer Nate Ruess (formerly of The Format), guitarist/singer Jack Antonoff (one-time leader of Steel Train) and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost (previously of Anathallo), at the time of this interview, the New York City band’s record breaking song “We Are Young,” featuring Janelle Monáe, was riding a six-week tidal wave atop the Billboard Hot 100 Chart that included passing Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” featuring Rihanna, with six consecutive weeks of 300,000 or more digital downloads, the most any song has ever earned.
During the group’s massive sold-out tour, band leader Nate Ruess took time to speak to Jambands.com about recording Some Nights (released 2/21/12 on Fueled by Ramen) with super-producer Jeff Bhasker (Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Kanye West), the state of popular music, playing live and watching his new best friend Jack trip out on drugs.
You have the biggest song in America right now; how does that feel and how much of a surprise was that for you?
Nate Ruess: It feels awesome, it’s very surreal. At first it took a while to get used to because when I wrote the song I knew it was a really good song, and we had a lot of people tell us early on that it was going to do well, but it’s weird because that’s not exactly the kind of success I’ve ever had or ever really thought I would have; especially at this point in my life, after I’ve been doing it for ten years. I gave up on the whole radio smash type of thing when I was 22 and dropped by a major label. So to get it has been a surprise, it wasn’t something we were necessarily aiming to do, but now everything’s changed because of it and we’ve just had to learn how to adjust to the pace of it. It’s a pleasant surprise no doubt.
Jambands: You mentioned that other people around you said “We Are Young” was a hit, you’ve written lots of songs, did you have a sense that it was a hit?
No, not at all. If you’re like me and you’re a pessimist about the current state of radio or major music, you wouldn’t think that a song [could be a major hit] that changes tempo three times and the lyrics aren’t as basic as most pop songs on the radio. I thought that maybe it could fit somewhere, but there’s no way it could go straight down the middle.
What makes a good pop song in 2012?
It feels like it’s starting to come back around a little bit. Rap rock happened in the late-’90s and kind of just destroyed everything and we’ve spent the past 10 years apologizing for it. So you either had to be an indie band or you were a massive sell out. It’s unfortunate it had to get that way, all those bands we loved from the 60s to the 90s were on major labels and did well and they didn’t have to be an indie band. But there was just a huge divide in listeners [in the past 20 years], you were either mainstream or you weren’t. Hopefully now it seems like that’s turning around a little bit, the music feels slightly more relatable.
How would you describe fun.?
For me, as a songwriter, I think about it in a pop way, in a Beatles or Fleetwood Mac, or XTC; I guess we’re just a rock band.
There’s been a lot made of the hip-hop influence on the band, specifically Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, what kind of an influence did that have on you and how do we hear it on Some Nights ?
It was crazy what it did. At that point I was getting into a lot of different hip-hop and even rediscovering things like Nas’ Illmatic or [Wu-Tang Clan’s debut] 36 Chambers, and then that album came out and it has such a theatrical element to it, such an amazing level of production and a real emphasis on the songs. For me it didn’t just feel like a hip-hop record, for lack of a better word, it felt like a concept album. It just opened up and brought you into a totally different world and it’s so relatable to anyone who listens to it. With Some Nights we took a lot of conceptual risks, or just dared to make the album require a little more to digest than just having pop songs. But also having some of those great things that make hip-hop wonderful nowadays, which is all this production that feels futuristic but not watered down.
Do you think it’s tough for a white indie-pop band with roots in the jam and punk world to incorporate hip-hop into its sound and be taken seriously?
No. I remember when I first had the idea of doing that, fortunately Jack and Andrew were on board as soon as I told them, and they hadn’t even heard a lot of the things I was referencing, but they loved the challenge of it. It took two emails to explain to our manager and our label what it was going to be all about, but that’s a luxury we had in being in bands and being around music for a long time, we got the benefit of the doubt. It wasn’t like I was gonna start rapping or anything like that, because that would be atrocious.