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jack antonoff on the creative women in his life

As we count down the days until the release of his second Bleachers record, "Gone Now," Jack discusses working with Lorde, his relationship with Lena Dunham, and why, in such a male dominated industry, he prefers working with women.

by Frankie Dunn
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May 11 2017, 4:20pm

Jack Antonoff has a lot to do with your favorite pop music. Maybe he's some kind of lucky charm with an ear for the ultimate 80s influenced earworm, or maybe he's just really awesome at picking really awesome artists to work with. Probably both. His creative collaborators are nearly always female — and not in a creepy way. His favorite musicians are female, he writes with a female voice in his head, and he can't stand the masculine bravado that so often takes up all the space in recording studios and the music industry itself.

Jack has won three Grammy Awards and as co-writer and producer on Lorde's forthcoming Album Of The Year, Melodrama, he is fated to win more. In a recent interview with NY's iheartradio, Lorde herself described him as "the best, one of the strangest people I've ever met in my life. He is so himself, which I love." And that's exactly it. So often when interviewing people, you sit down with a media-trained version of who they are. Jack is the real deal, with all the rambling weirdo comments that comes with. "He's like my family," Lorde continued, explaining that they wrote most of the record in his New York apartment.

His work can also be found across Taylor Swift's 1989 ("You Are In Love" was written by Taylor about Jack's relationship with Lena) as well as the discographies of Zayn, Fifth Harmony, Tegan and Sara, Sia, etc. He was a frequent contributor to Lena's dearly departed GIRLS, and in exchange she directs music videos for his band, Bleachers. We first chatted to him in 2015 about his nostalgic and euphoric debut album Strange Desires, which features huge choruses and guest features from Yoko Ono and Grimes. His follow up, Gone Now, is due on June 2 via Columbia, but you've likely already been won over by "Hate That You Know Me," which features backing vocals from Carly Rae Jepsen, and "Don't Take The Money," complete with Lorde vocals and a really fun video directed by Lena starring Alia Shawkat.

A few days ago, we joined Jack in a cozy corner of a London hotel lounge while he talked us through the most important creative women in his life and what he's learned from them.

It starts with my sister. She's a designer, but before that she was just a bizarre creative force. With her it feels like anything can get done. If you have an idea you just do it, it starts with a concept and you either do or don't have the guts to do it. That 100% comes from her, and so my confidence comes from having an older sister. When you're surrounded by those kind of forces — you've got them in your corner even when they're not there, they're always on your team. It gives you the sense that it's okay to move forward with something that seems absurd.

I ended up with my partner, who's an incredibly fearless female figure. There's something very connected between the way that Lena writes her show and how I work with really brilliant female artists all day. I do so much work with women. Maybe it's from growing up with sisters and an involved mother, but I have a woman's voice in my head a lot when I write — I usually sing with a woman's voice in my head. I think that's why I write so well with women.

I love being in the studio with women. I hate the male bravado that comes with art. It feels like art is such a perilous process; trying to discuss something that you can't really discuss, to take a whole experience from your life; moments that have scared you the most or given you the most joy and distill them into a couple of words and sounds that complement it or freak it out or whatever it is. When I'm sitting in a studio with a woman, the process just feels so much more capable for some reason. A lot of women I know who're very successful, they don't internalize it — it's just such a responsibility to keep telling a story.

I feel more comfortable around women in general. I think that men are generally more wound-up for whatever reason. Maybe less nowadays than in the past, but I think there are expectations on men that have really fucked up that gender and been very limiting emotionally, but especially in music. I think a lot of the very cliche things that you could say about women exist in the studio too — they're quicker to access certain emotions, quicker to be truthful. There's less shame there. I feel like men have a lot of shame, and shame is not a friend of songwriting. It doesn't create anything inspiring. I mean, all of us have lots of shame in our lives but when you're sitting down and writing, there's no room for shame. People wanna hear your honesty, not your shame.

I don't know Kate Bush, but I've learnt so much from listening to her music. Artists like her give me this real power to assume that even the strangest voice or story or sound can be understood by people. I feel that way about Björk. These artists prove that people are smart, and that when you treat them as smart, you can have a real conversation with the public. Those are two people that I know very well, and have had a huge impact on my work, but that I've never even met. It's sort of like a weird psycho-relationship where you feel like you know someone because you've become so connected to the stories they tell and the sounds that they've made.

I really love Carly Rae Jepsen. We've been working together a lot recently. She's so connected to marrying these euphoric sounds with very honest feelings that can be super intense when you really hear them. It's really like Robyn.

Robyn is such a fucking force. I remember the first time I heard her I felt so relieved and exonerated, like I could say a lot of things that I hadn't been saying because she had said them first. That's the ultimate strength, when you start talking about everything that's happened in your life and you just put it out there as this documentary about yourself and your music, you become very powerful. That kind of pop music like Robyn or Abba; this culture of heart-wrenchingly joyous songs, mixing this euphoria with a wild sadness. It's a very female-driven genre of music that I pull everything from; it's the core of everything that Bleachers is.

I've helped with a lot of music on GIRLS and written a lot of songs with women for it. I did one with Grimes, one with Banks, one with Julia Michaels. Sometimes I write things with people and go home and play it to Lena like, "yeah, I don't know what's gonna happen with this song." And she's like, "please, give it to me!" So I write a group text to her and the artist like, "want this to go in the show?" People are usually pretty excited about it. It's become a really nice place for those few songs that mean a great deal to me. There's one I did with BANKS called "Crowded Places." It just came out and it was in one of the last episodes. That meant a lot to me because it was a very special song that didn't really belong on her album but Lena found this scene that was perfect for it.

I just made this album with Lorde, which was a very thrilling experience. She's a wonderful artist. We made it over two years and just existed around each other enough to understand what we were doing and why it was so important to write it and make it sound exactly the way it sounded. There ended up being a lot of shared DNA. Even the Bleachers album, she's all over it and Carly's all over it.

The other really important creative woman in my life is my engineer, Laura Sisk. She's the only other person in the studio with me. I don't have a team or anything, it's a very quiet, solitary process. Laura does everything and that creates a very special vibe in the studio. If the studio is too male, it doesn't feel like a super safe space. There aren't a lot of women on the technical side of music. She's brilliant — the best engineer I've ever worked with. Every record I've ever made, she's engineered. Literally everything.

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Text Frankie Dunn