Posted March 26, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff talks about his ‘Strange Desire’

Daniel Silbert
Daniel Silbert

While on the road with his band, Fun., guitarist Jack Antonoff began writing some songs for a solo project that he called Bleachers. He didn’t tell anyone about the songs until he released the first single, “I Wanna Get Better.” Fun. is still going strong, but Antonoff is currently on the road supporting Bleachers’ full-length album Strange Desire, which came out last year. Antonoff phoned in from a Fort Lauderdale tour stop to talk about the synth-pop album.

I think you started writing these songs when you were on the road with Fun. What inspired you to do it?
I don’t know. It’s an interesting one for me because I haven’t been able to write on tour before. I really don’t know. It sounds cheesy or something, but I thought they were going to come out either way. It’s a testament to what songwriting is. You don’t get to choose when it’s a good time to write songs. They hit you or they don’t hit you.

What made you want to keep it secret?
It wasn’t that I wanted to. I wanted the music to stand for itself. I think it’s annoying that people talk about things that isn’t the art itself. If I say, “Hey, I’m making a record,” people would want to know why and what it sounded like. I wanted the first thing to be the music.

Talk about recording on the road. How did that affect the songs?
The first record I ever made, I went to a studio in Northern California in a real small town. It was on a farm. Tom Waits had done all his recording there. It was amazing. I was there for two months. I got lost in that vibe and made a record that was awesome in that studio and in that world. But I got home and put it on and in my car speakers, it was a little bit disconnected from who I am. The great thing [about recording on the road] is that you’re constantly keeping it in check and you’re constantly in a new place. Something you made in Japan might be cool, but if it’s not cool when you get home you can change it.

What was it like to sift through all the demos you had made?
The word demo is one I don’t use anymore because I’ve been making records where the demo turns into the recording. I thought they were demos but I kept working on them. I abandoned this idea that I would write and record and then go into a studio and record it for real. That’s a good way to suck the amazing energy that you have when you first write something.

You’ve referred to it as a “psychotic alter-ego.” Why psychotic?
I don’t know. I don’t know if I still think that. If I had to relate why I would say that it’s because it was a little left of a normal existence. I wasn’t going out much. I wasn’t eating or sleeping much. I was in this weird hole of working on my laptop on the songs.

Did you use vintage synthesizers or is it mostly computers?
I never use stuff from the computer. It’s just a tool to work on things. All the instruments and synthesizers are real. A lot of times, I would work on it in one place. I would record a ton of stuff at home. I would spend the week on tour and then rearrange it and cut it up in different ways. You can create a whole new song. I recorded a piano chord in my phone and then pitched it all different ways and made a whole melody out of it. All the parts were organic and real and then I would just fix them.

To what extent is ’80s synth pop an influence?
I’m influenced by different things. It’s tough to know what came from what. I was influenced by the punk scene in New Jersey. I was influenced by the general energy of that kind of music. I got into Yaz and Erasure and that’s all over the album. The vibe of what it’s like to be from New Jersey is all over the album.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what’s what. I just worked intensely on a few different things and they spun themselves into a sound.

How did “Take Me Away” turn into a duet?
The way it ended up on the album is as a specific representation of how I wrote. It’s free associating. There’s no real lyrics. I would often sing random words as the melody came out. I was in the studio with Claire Boucher. In the demo it was me saying, “I know you’re sorry” over and over. I don’t know why I was saying it. When we were together, she started singing it and I started looping it. It’s her singing this chorus-ish vibe mixed with me doing a free associating thing. I thought it would be nice on an album that is very much thought out and worked out to have a moment where it is me having ideas and singing.

With both Fun. and Bleachers, you’ve managed to produce hits. What’s been the key?
I think the key is doing the thing that is most unique to you. I have a certain sound. I don’t know what it is but I know it’s me when I mix it. Not to sound silly about it, but we’re all unique and we’re all totally different people so if we do the thing that’s most connected to us we have the best chance of sounding like no one else. I think people with help from people in the music business are usually guided toward something that they know works rather than something that doesn’t sound like anything else.

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Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].