Bleachers' Jack Antonoff The Exclaim! Questionnaire
Published May 30, 2017Jack Antonoff is best known as the guitarist for Grammy-winning pop rock act Fun., but with all of the work he's done since that band went on hiatus in 2015, it feels like the days of playing "We Are Young" were another lifetime. Antonoff has become one of pop music's greatest collaborators, having written tracks with Taylor Swift, Tegan and Sara, Carly Rae Jepsen, Grimes, Sia and Lorde.
Working with today's brightest pop stars would be a day job for any normal person, but Antonoff needs his own outlet. Most of his time goes into Bleachers, a solo project that lets him fulfil all of his wildest musical dreams. He says recording his second album, Gone Now, couldn't have been any more different from the collaborations he's done.
"Bleachers is me alone in a room trying to make sense of my life," he says over phone from Brooklyn. "The album is literally what it sounds like, which is a man going crazy in a room trying to form some cohesion out of all those feelings and sounds. When I work with someone else, it's like we're in a marathon together. We're trying to get somewhere together. It's less spilling out a diary, and more a situation where one plus one equals a thousand. It's very hard to describe, but they're very different feelings to me."
What are you up to?
I'm putting the absolute last, 11th hour finishing touches on my album. Taking a bird's eye view, I'm starting to realize that I only have these moments left, so what's really important?
What are your current fixations?
I've re-entered a massive Kate Bush phase. So at the moment all I want to hear is Kate Bush over and over.
Why do you live where you do?
Because I can't make music or write songs or be honest if I'm not in the place I grew up in. Otherwise I don't feel connected to myself or inspired to write. It doesn't always make me happy. Sometimes I hate living in the cold and some of the baggage that comes from living around where you grew up. But I've noticed that I don't write well anywhere else. I live in Brooklyn, but I spend a lot of time in New Jersey. I basically live in a 20-mile radius of the area I grew up in.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Foreign Affairs by Tom Waits. It's an album that just makes me feel surreal. I don't feel in my body or in my home, just with him somewhere.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I'll give you two. When I first discovered Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco, I got to see them right in that amazing moment of when you first get into a record and you discover every angle and sound of it and you can't imagine how they did it or how they play it live. It really changed the way I saw how you can play live, and how you can incorporate very bizarre sounds into very cohesive songs.
For me personally, I played Bonnaroo in 2005 with my old band Steel Train, and before then I'd only played to between 50 and 200 people — well, a lot of times it was ten people. And we played in this tent at midnight and there were 10,000 people there. It's a feeling that's hard to describe, playing music for that mass of people and the energy that comes from it. And it changed my life forever.
What have been your career highs and lows?
Headlining shows with Bleachers has probably been my career high. Every time we get to go out there and just the fact that we've been able to carve out this space where it's just me and the people that really understand these records. I know it's a bit broad, but it really makes me feel very connected, which is not something I felt much before in my life. Things like awards or other markers of success don't really hold a candle to that feeling of headlining a show with a body of work that you made in your most vulnerable, sacred place at home. The big lows I have is when I can't find something. That happens all the time. I can't get a song or lyric out of my head, and it makes me feel useless.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
One time when I was in the punk scene in New Jersey, right around when emo was beginning to take over, a guy ripped the cord right out of my guitar and shouted, "Get a label!" I was devastated.
What should everyone shut up about?
I don't think people should shut up about anything. I think people should talk even louder.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I most like my ability to give myself ideas and actually create things that I think about. And I most dislike my ability to balance that with having certain qualities of life beyond it. I think there is a selfishness that comes with it that's not romantic or not exciting in the way you see in movies. I love my ability to think of something and go do it, but I hate my ability to not fix that into real life.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
I like a Mexican type brunch. That's my favourite food for breakfast. And then I'd like there to be a season of Game of Thrones I haven't seen yet. And I'd like to have everything finished that I want to do creatively. And have not eaten healthy for a very long time so I can really slack off and smash some huevos rancheros and watch a show for a day. I just wanna lie there.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
My mom told me to never try acid. And I did and it nearly ruined my life. It was terrifying. I think she did it in college and knew it would be a bad idea for me, knowing my DNA. She's not anti-drugs, she just said, "Don't do acid."
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I've never kicked someone out of a band or bed, but I think that there are lots of political things that someone could say where I'd be like, "And… no!" Emotional stuff, there is not much I would judge people on, but to put it more simply if you're the kind of person that is in any way trying to deny certain people a good experience or make life hard for them than I really can't.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
Tegan and Sara. Truly. I'm a longtime fan. And Carly Rae [Jepsen].
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
Monster by R.E.M. I saw "What's the Frequency Kenneth?" on MTV. I had $30 and I got a ride to Tower Records and bought it on CD. Those were the days where you had $20 and you had to make a choice. I heard the single and put a leap of faith in it and listened to it front to back, non-stop because I had to.
What was your most memorable day job?
I used to file for my dad at his carpet cleaning office. It was so memorable in how non-memorable it was. I think I really learned to dream and my mind would wander. I'd have big, grand ideas because I was in New Jersey literally filing papers.
How do you spoil yourself?
Mostly with food. It's a quick reward if you play a show or have a long day in the studio, and you can just imagine anything you want to eat and modern times make it so easy to have it appear. I have an unhealthy relationship with food but nonetheless it draws a lot of joy for me.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
I've never really known. I could think of a witty answer, but I don't think it would come from the heart. I've never really considered it and I wonder if that's what's kept me going. Not knowing if there's anything else.
What do you fear most?
Getting sick and not being able to get things done while I'm around.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
This story connects with Canada. Ron Sexsmith, who's a great Canadian artist, once came up to me and thought I was Albert Hammond Jr. from the Strokes, because I used to have my hair all big like that. He just started talking to me like I was in the Strokes about experiences that we'd had together, even though he didn't know me. But I was a really big Ron Sexsmith fan at the time, so I was blown away that he came up to me, and he just went on as if I was Albert Hammond Jr. And I let it go on.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I really just want to be around Barack Obama. I think he's just the most inspiring and important figure, living or dead. I have such a deep love and appreciation for him. I'd serve him whatever the fuck he wants and I would go online, order it and just enjoy every second with him.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
I don't think much of anything. I think sometimes my parents are more into it than I am. They show up to about maybe 60 percent of all tour dates. They're extremely with it and present.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
I actually have a sendoff for myself so I'll go with that. There is a song on my album called "Goodbye," and I literally wrote it from the perspective of being dead, so I think it would be perfect. If not I'd go with "Oh Yoko!" by John Lennon.