A sunny afternoon spent with the man behind the music, Jack Antonoff.
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Walking towards Bush Hall, I’m sweating. Not only have I decided to wear all black and a jacket on one of London’s hottest days, but it’s only just hit me that I’m about to meet the man who has created the majority of my favourite pop songs.
As I shake Jack Antonoff’s hand, I’m biting my tongue to keep from word vomiting like an incomprehensible fangirl about how insanely talented I think he is and instead opt for the go-to British ice breaker of commenting on the weather. Sitting on the venue’s balcony, Antonoff tells me how the sunshine is reminding him of home, going on to describe how that feeling is what he wanted to recreate in the sound of the latest Bleachers album: “It sounds like New York and New Jersey. It sounds like my neighbourhood. I wanted it to sound like me right in that moment.”
The follow up to 2014’s Strange Desire, Gone Now yet again proves that Jack knows how to craft a brilliant pop song. But in contrast to his debut, which focussed on encountering loss, Gone Now is a celebration of both good times and bad, and explores how past experiences have shaped him into the person that he is today. Explaining it perfectly in a tweet posted the day the record was released, he wrote “i’ve spent so much of my life writing from the before. before i froze. before i knew people who had died. before loss and heartbreak. gone now is the first time i’ve written about after. this album is about the 2nd half of my life to date.”
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How did Bleachers come about?
I’ve always written songs that I would write alone and perform alone. Then when fun. was having a lot of success, I found myself just going back to my hotel room and writing. I wouldn’t really go out, I wouldn’t really do anything, and I think that it kind of is just what my body did, just start another band. I didn’t really plan on it.
You wrote the first album – Strange Desire – on tour with fun. and described it as kind of like writing a diary. How different was the songwriting process for Gone Now?
It was kind of the exact opposite. The first album I wrote on tour and then this album I built the studio in my apartment and worked from there. I like that because you always want everything to feel entirely different so my reaction to people liking the first album was, if I was gonna make an album, to find a way to do it in a totally different way. I think it’s dangerous to put yourself in the same situation over and over, so it’s almost literal how opposite it was.
On your Twitter, you’ve said how you’ve always written about “before” and Gone Now is the first music you’ve written about “after”.
Yeah. The first album, and a lot of my writing in the past, had been looking back and considering. Just looking at the past through a different lens constantly. And then on this one it’s the first time of not so much looking forward but looking more at the way I am right now.
It’s weird. It sounds very obvious but for me it was a really big breakthrough. As I said, the first album was very much like a diary, it was very dated in time like, “Here’s how it happened, here’s when it happened and here’s what happened.” This album was way less literal of exactly recounting stories and way more considering, sort of, how I ended up this way.
When you were touring in the US earlier this year you brought along an art installation of your childhood bedroom.
Yeah. Well, not really my childhood bedroom because I lived there until I was, like, 27…
What was the reason behind the installation?
Well, the album was so much about moving on and so there’s two reasons. The first one is just this absurd concept of looking at all these ideas of moving on and what you can and can’t take with you. You can’t take it all but you can’t leave it all. I wanted to remove this huge part of me in this big absurd attempt to take it with me, so that was one part of it.
But then the more literal part was that I wrote so many of the songs in there that I think in the same way that you might charge a crystal, you charge a space. If you do something in a space – think about your room – it’s very charged with everything you’ve done, the walls, the floor, everything. You don’t have that if you’re in a hotel room. So, I wanted people to hear the music in the most charged space and I like how it was this thing that happened and you were either there or you weren’t and then it’s gone forever.
You just mentioned moving on. Do you think that writing the album has helped you to move on from certain things that have happened in your personal life?
I don’t know. I’m still kind of stuck in writing it. I’m just moving past that, because you go from writing it which is so intense to sharing it which is so intense. So, I don’t know. I don’t know what I think about living through a lot of those things, I just think about talking about them.
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Alongside Bleachers, you’ve written for some incredible artists. How different is your approach to writing music with someone else?
Literal opposites. Bleachers is something that is the sound of me wrestling with ideas alone and then when I work with other people it’s very much me and them travelling towards something. Similar goals, to hear something and try to make it real, but when I work with someone it’s social, we’re talking about it together, we’re hearing something and trying to achieve it as a team.
It’s less sad maybe. I think a lot of the sentiment of Bleachers is thinking about things that I’ve been through and then just my reflection of it, which is the difference of when you’re alone and what’s in your head versus talking to a friend about what you’ve been going through. Sometime the latter can be sunnier.
Who would be your dream person to work with?
I like Robyn a lot.
I love the quote that you’ve said about Robyn’s music that she writes songs which one person can hear and dance to and another burst out crying.
Yeah, that’s my favourite kind of music. It’s what I strive to do. I think the idea that a song is one feeling is absurd. The average person in the span of five minutes might wanna jump off a bridge or throw a party. The way we vacillate so quickly from different emotions, songs do the same thing. It’s important for me to have songs that can catch you at all different emotions.
You co-wrote St. Vincent’s track “New York” and it feels like the perfect example of that kind of song. I’ve listened to it and had a dance, then listened to it again and been really sad.
I love that feeling. It’s very much what I look for when I’m working, whether it’s with myself or with other people. Just, “Can this hold both highs and lows?”
When you release songs with other people is the feeling different to when you release a song that’s just yours?
It’s funny. I mean, they’re all my children. It’s different. When you’re helping someone put their story into a song, it’s very intense and very powerful and you feel very proud and connected, but when it’s your story there’s a little bit more at stake because you’re the one who felt the need to share it. I don’t tell the stories because I think that people will like them or dislike them or anything, I tell them because I feel the need to tell them. It’s a bit more personal.
It’s been five years since “We Are Young” was released and really sky rocketed you to fame. How have you changed since then and where do you see yourself in five years from now?
I’ve changed immensely! I don’t know where I see myself. I think the only thing that I’d love to be in the future is to remain creative. For better or worse, I hear a lot of things and I feel very much on a mission to create them. I’ve been in phases when I didn’t and that’s scary, because that’s what makes me feel alive. Everyone has something different which makes them feel alive and so, for me, it’s really that. So whatever shape that takes, if that’s me releasing records as Bleachers or as something else or working with other people, whatever it is it’s all coming from the same general well that I would hope doesn’t dry up.
But I like the fact that I’ve redefined different periods, I’d like to keep doing that. I remember when “We Are Young” got really big I was really happy but I was also immediately like “What’s next?” I don’t want to be defined by one thing. I think it’s like a gift and a curse, because I think it makes me successful at making the art that I’m trying to make but I think it occasionally pulls me back from enjoying it.