jack antonoff talks bleachers and why taylor swift has the power to make the world a better place
As he prepares to bring his nostalgic synth-laden rock project to London, get to know Lena Dunham's boyfriend.
Born and raised in New Jersey, 30-year-old Jack Antonoff is known for having many really talented fingers in a whole lot of awesome pies. A decade ago his band Steel Train were taking off - touring relentlessly and performing on Conan and David Letterman. In 2008 he started playing guitar for Fun., and had a massive hit with We Are Young, before adding his brilliantly nostalgic Bleachers project to the schedule last year. Jack also makes music for other artists; co-writing and producing a number of tracks with friend Taylor Swift for her 1989 album and even scoring a Golden Globes nomination for Sweeter Than Fiction. On top of that, he and i-D cover star Lena Dunham have joined forces as both the most adorable couple in New York and on several collaborations (she directs his music videos, he writes music for GIRLS). Ahead of his debut London show with Bleachers - whose forthcoming album Strange Desires features the likes of Yoko Ono and Grimes and is guaranteed to take you back to your teens in the most wonderful way - we catch up with the completely lovely two-time Grammy Award winning musician.
You're currently juggling a lot of projects. How does that work out?
I've got to a point where it all feels very important. I've always had this idea that it's important to never stop being creative. Like, if I went to the studio and got uninspired, I wouldn't give up and go and play basketball, I'd work on something else creative. But now feel like I never get uninspired because if something's not working I just move on to something else.
Congrats on your contribution to the new season of GIRLS by the way. Your Marni jazz brunch songs were delightful.
Thank you! It was fun to do. I have real songs in the rest of the season too. Like, not character songs… my own ones.
What're your views on the current state of the music world?
I think it's exciting because it's shifting. Music right now feels like how it felt when I was 14 and everything was changing, you know what I mean? The way that streaming and record sales work - it's all moving very quickly and it keeps everyone on their toes. In 95 you made a great album and you put it out and that was enough. You could argue that that should be enough but it just isn't anymore; you have to have a whole creative vision and curate your entire existence. Even with the Bleachers album we've done so many bizarre things with remix projects and a live telethon where we played the music and announced the album in all these weird ways that bring more to the project beyond the record itself.
Do you feel that with that there comes a crazy amount of pressure?
Yeah, but I don't think that's a bad thing because it can weed out a lot of people who aren't on course. It's a good pressure - a pressure to be really creative and interesting.
Do you think that music subcultures and genres are losing their definition?
Yes. I think they are, but I think that means there's more space for strange and interesting things to reach a lot of people, so who can say if it's better or worse? You know, when I was growing up in the late 90s with punk music in New Jersey, no-one knew about it because the only way you could know about it was if you literally lived in New Jersey and drove down to The Firehouse to watch the band play. There would be some weird dude selling CDs at the show and that would be the only way you could get the music. It was incredible and it shaped who I am but at the same time it's a shame that so many people missed out on it. I guess it's kind of sad that we can't experience music in that way anymore.
What movie do you think Bleachers would be most at home soundtracking?
Probably The Breakfast Club. I get a lot of inspiration from John Hughes and the music in his movies from this era where the biggest songs were the coolest songs and there wasn't any distinction between that. That actually became a theme of the album. I got really obsessed with Erasure and Depeche Mode, so Vince Clark from those bands became a producer on the album because I wanted that feeling on the record. I want to work with the people who inspire me to work. I don't wanna just go in the studio and try to do what they do. I want them to be there and add their influence.
And that's why you got Yoko on the record too?
Yeah, that was the same thing. I was working on a song and in my head I had this spoken/sung odd nursery rhyme part and I kept thinking that it should sound like Yoko. Then I realised that I didn't wanna do something that sounds like Yoko, I wanna have Yoko do it.
What it difficult to get her involved?
It was surprisingly easy. I don't know her, I just sent her the song and told her what I hoped she would do and she came to the studio the next day and recorded all these noises and talking and yelling and singing. Just 20 minutes of free expression.
That's incredibly cool. The album is called Strange Desires… what's the strangest desire you've ever had?
I don't know - I feel like all of us have so many. The reason I named the album that was because I started looking at my life and it all felt very odd. I was making this album but my this other band that does well and everyone was like 'why are you compelled to do this?' and I just had this strange feeling that was pulling me in all these different directions and that became a theme. But I definitely eat weird things; I do weird things; I say a lot of weird shit in my head - I don't wanna repeat it though because then it'll be like, a fact, but in my head it can't kill anyone.
So dangerous! How did you not fall off the roof of the bus?
We were strapped to it and it was all very real. The brakes on the truck went while we were up there so we only got one take for the whole thing. We literally almost died. It was fucking crazy.
Which is your all-time favorite rollercoaster?
The Batman rollercoaster at Six Flags. It's pretty intense but I like it.
Sweet. So you played quite a big part in making Taylor Swift's 1989…
Yeah, I love her.
What do you think about her position in the industry right now?
It's amazing because she's making incredible music. The world is a great place when the biggest stars make great music because we're all connected by this exciting form of expression. When big popstars make shitty music, it's terrible for the world because then we're all listening to crap and it makes us all feel tired. Taylor is amazing because she makes really beautiful songs; interesting songs that sound different and inspiring - her lyrics are very real, so the fact that that's the soundtrack to the world has a huge effect on how we act, think and exist. It has the power to make the world a better place.
Absolutely. Word on the street is that she wrote You Are In Love about your relationship with Lena…
Yeah, that was very sweet. We didn't talk about that when we were writing it. She wrote the lyrics for that one on her own.
What do you think that music will be like in the future?
I have no idea and that's why I wanna stay alive - because of that excitement of really having no clue where it's headed. I think that the 30 years that I've been alive have been un-fucking-believable in music so I just can't wait for the future.
Do you know much about Japanese vocaloids? Do you think that hologram popstars might be the future?
Oh, sort of like that movie Simone? It sounds really interesting but I don't think so. With all of the changes that music has gone through, one thing that has never changed is the excitement of seeing music live. No matter how many people stop buying records and start streaming, live music never changes - it's still the same way it was 50 years ago. It's still the most exciting thing.
Hopefully it'll carry on that way too.
I promise it will.
Where do you go and what do you do after a show?
I eat like it's my last night on earth. I really love food. It's the most important thing in my life outside of music.
Where's your favorite place to eat in NY?
Currently it's Noodle Pudding in Brooklyn. It's actually an Italian restaurant so I don't know why it's called that, but it's an amazing place.
Are you into karaoke?
What's your song?
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant by Billy Joel.
Classy! And what's the most hedonistic party you've ever been to?
Probably about 10 years ago when I was on tour. We were in this really old hotel in Arizona and everyone was taking acid and having sex and it was one of the only parties I've ever been to where I was like, wow - this looks like a really fucked up movie.
Do you stay away from that sort of thing now?
I don't stay away, I just don't get invited.
Do you wish you were?
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Dave Grohl told me "don't fuck it up." I didn't know if he was talking about music or life in general, but either way I thought it was great advice.
What achievement are you most proud of?
The Bleachers album is the thing I feel most accomplished about so far.
What're you most looking forward to right now?
Fucking playing in London. It'll be the first time I headline there so I'm really excited.
Bleachers will play London's Bush Hall on February 24th, with the release of Strange Desires following on 27th April
Text Francesca Dunn