||fun. Ė 08.19.09
by Jonathan Bautts on 2009-08-25
The following is an interview with fun. vocalist Nate Ruess and keyboardist/guitarist Andrew Dost conducted at Chain Reaction in Anaheim, CA.
First off, you spell fun. with a lowercase f and then a period at the end, right?
Because Iíve seen it a couple different ways with like a capital F.
Nate: Thatís cool. If they want to do that, thatís fine.
Andrew: Yeah, itís OK.
Nate: Only for legality reasons do we add the period.
Andrew: And Iím sort of a grammar nut, so really itís fun for me to make sure everything is exactly right. Yearbook editor for two years.
Iím pretty sure you get asked this in every interview, so weíll just make it real quick, but how did this whole thing come together?
Nate: Well, I think almost my next call after I found out that The Format wasnít going to be happening, I called Andrew and I called Jack because they were the two people I had always wanted to work with. Pretty much by the end of that week, Andrew from Michigan and me from Phoenix had flown out to New Jersey to start working on the record in Jackís parentís living room.
Did you have any idea what sound you wanted to do at that point?
Nate: I think sometimes we still donít know.
Andrew: Yeah, itís hard to really sound a certain way. I think all you can do is write what you want to and hope that it goes somewhere interesting.
Nate: Yeah. If we were writing songs, it was like, ďOh, I can hear this here, this here, this here.Ē Inevitably, thatís where the song takes shape.
Were there any songs that were preexisting ideas beforehand?
Nate: Yeah, I had a few, but I donít they would have gone wherever they were going to go without the guys. But, yeah, definitely.
As far as actually writing the record, youíve both been in bands before. What was similar or different to what you were used to?
Andrew: Itís similar in that itís a very free exchange of ideas. I think the best way for a band to operate is if everybody is completely unafraid to share an idea, no matter how ridiculous it might seem at first. Even down to like a lyric or a chord change, some things can seem silly but they might be really great. There has to be that sort of comfortable atmosphere where people feel really safe to share ideas, and thatís the same. I would hope that The Format had that, too. Anathallo definitely did.
Nate: Yeah, that is actually the easiest thing. Iíve never even thought about it like that, but you shouldnít be afraid to basically come up with an idea. The worst thing that could happen is that itís not the idea that ends up being used in the song.
Andrew: Right. There never should be any fear of sharing or anything. There definitely isnít in this band. Whatís different, I would sayÖ I donít know.
Nate: Well, for me itís different working with three people as opposed to two. Itís weird because you guys know so much and can pretty much cover every instrument. For me, if Iím writing songs itís not just about doing an acoustic demo or something like that and then figuring it out in the studio. Itís a lot more plotted out because everybody can record something.
Andrew: Another thing, honestly, thatís different for me, as much respect as I have for Anathallo and what we did and those guys as people and as songwriters, I think a lot of times my ideas for where I wanted things to go were just different. With Nate and Jack, I really feel like we sort of are hearing the same songs in our heads as we write. Itís nice to say, ďAnd this is what happens,Ē and have them be like, ďYeah, thatís great.Ē Or to likewise hear an idea out of them and be like, ďThatís what I was hearing, too. Thatís perfect. Letís keep moving.Ē Thereís not really a lot of time spent arguing. Obviously, every band has some disputes and disagreements as far as where things should go, and weíre no different there, but I think in general we usually hear the same thing.
I noticed thereís a ton of orchestration on the record. What was it like working with a composer?
Nate: It was pretty cool. It was actually amazing. I had worked with him before in The Format, but what was exciting this time is we even got in on doing some of the compositions.
Andrew: Yeah, we arranged like four or five songs.
Nate: What was great about that is we got pointers from Roger, who was doing a lot of the arrangements for the record. We would ask him questions and everything like that. I feel like now weíre probably almost twice as good, just because of the few tips that we got.
Do you have any idea how many instruments you used?
Nate: Oh, man. Lots of strings. Thatís the thing, itís really heavy on strings.
Andrew: You know, instrumentation wise I didnít think we went that nuts.
Nate: No, we didnít actually go that nuts.
Andrew: Itís the standard rock instrumentation. Thereís a string quartet that was sometimes maybe five or six, depending on the song. Other than thatÖ
Nate: Oboe, accordion, a few keyboards here and there. We only used a few small things, but I think we maximized what we could do with them.
Andrew: The coolest thing was this Japanese gourd that a friend lent to us. Steve, the producer, and I spent a day figuring out the most interesting sounds that blended that. That was fun, because it was mostly patching cables from hole to hole trying to figure out how to even work it. That was fun. That was the most unusual thing, for me at least.
What has it been like taking all that stuff and adapting it to the live show?
Nate: Itís interesting. Itís challenging.
Andrew: Itís tough because I think whatís played on the record theoretically by 10 or 12 people, weíre tying to condense it to six. So a lot of the string parts arenít there, but I donít think that changes things.
Nate: No, I think itís a great thing. I think when you play live, itís not necessarily like that. Obviously, when you play live thereís a raw energy anyways. I think that when youíre able to strip some of those things down and take out the elegance that is the string section, then it adds to the raw energy aspect of it. Iíve always been a big fan of that and trying not to duplicate everything. It would be fun to redupe it, but thereís just so much more that goes into it.
Andrew: It would obviously be nice to play with a string quartet, but thereís something to be saidÖ I used to love going to shows and seeing bands play something and reimagining it almost. It doesnít sound like youíre listening to the CD because youíre at a live show, otherwise you might as well listen to the CD. Itís fun trying to recombine the sounds for a live setting. Itís really a fun challenge.
Have you noticed what the response from fans of your previous bands has been to fun.?
Nate: I feel like itís been good. I feel like itís been really, really good. I was worried for a long time, and I still worry occasionally, but I donít worry anymore. In my opinion, I felt like as soon as we finished this record there was nothing else that I could do about it. As soon as it got to the listenersí ears, there was nothing else I can do. So now that itís leaked or now that itís streaming online, Iím at ease with it. Whatever people are going to think, theyíre going to think, because whatever theyíre hearing is who we are. This is the record that we made. For the last year, I was definitely a little more worried, but it seems like the reaction has been great.
Thatís kind of what Iíve noticed, too. It seems people are really digging it.
Nate: Yeah, and thatís flattering. Itís nice because everyoneís scared of change. People just want to feel comfortable. Sometimes they want to make up a story about how it went down or whatís going on. Sometimes I feel like when other bands form from previous bands, I think they donít get a fair chance.
Is there a song on the record that you think best encapsulates what fun. is all about?
Andrew: I think so, absolutely. I think ďBe Calm,Ē the first song on the record, shows kind of a little bit of everything thatís to come. Thereís some sentimentality. Thereís some theatricality. Thereís some more kind of straight up rock. Thereís more orchestration. I think with that one, we tried to fit it all in one song. Not necessarily that we were just trying to cram stuff together, it felt like when we wrote the song thatís what it deserved. It deserved to be more of a mini symphony rather than just a track. So I think we tried consciously to make it something worth remembering, worth hearing again and again and listening into the mix and seeing everything thatís happening there. I think I can speak for all of us that weíre pretty proud of it.
Nate: Most definitely.
Andrew: But I donít know. I think that sums it up, but there are other songs that do stick out.
Nate: Yeah, I feel like it does a good job of summing up the lyrical content of the record. Like Andrew said, it also has a little bit of everything.
In both your previous bands and this one as well, at least for the live version, thereís been this revolving door of musicians. What has that been like for you to work with?
Nate: It can get stressful. I mean, I think right now weíre siked.
Andrew: Loving life. Itís so much fun.
Nate: Itís been trial and error, most definitely, but right now itís amazing. Weíre loving what weíre doing.
Andrew: Itís kind of nice to have a revolving door in the sense that thereís always a bit of freshness and new energy brought to the table. I think the ideal situation is having your five or six best friends in the car with you all the time and they never change. That would be wonderful.
Nate: And I think that this tour has definitely felt like that more than any other. Itís been amazing.
So you wrote the record back east and then recorded it out here in L.A. Is that pretty much how things went?
What was the move like and did that influence the record at all?
Nate: Yeah, I think it did. Lyrically, it influenced the record a great deal. I think half the songs are about either leaving Arizona or moving to New York. So, yeah, definitely.
Andrew: I think musically being in a new environment with people you really respect, especially in a city like New York City and an area like New Jersey where we were, is equal parts inspiring and intimidating. It makes you hustle that much more. I felt like I had to be contributing amazing things in a really good way. It made me want to work that much harder to do something that I was proud of. I think if youíre in a place where youíre completely comfortable, thatís not always possible because then youíre not always pushed. I think being out of our element a little bit, even though it was a very welcoming environment, definitely helped us to work harder.
Lyrically, how would you say this record relates to The Format, if at all?
Nate: I think that I make reference of it just a couple of times. It had as much to do with The Format as it had to do with the age that I was turning, the state that I was leaving and the relationship that I was starting. The last couple of records Iíve made have been about a specific time in my life, and this is no different. So if that was one of the major changes in my life that had happened, then it probably will be on the record.
Your lyrics have always seemed pretty personal. Is that hard putting yourself out there like that or just natural?
Nate: No, I think itís just a lack of talent (laughs). Really.
Andrew: (Laughs) I disagree.
Nate: I think with lack of talent there comes a point, at least in my life and this is like the big giveaway, where I realized I said what was on my mind as opposed to not saying things. I think thereís a point in writing songs, lyrically, where I said, ďAll right. Iím not going to try and sugarcoat it or Iím not going to not talk about it. If there are repercussions, then Iíll just have to deal with it.Ē I think sometimes thatís why it can be biting or thatís why sometimes it can be so personal, because Iíve sold everybody out in the process.
Andrew: I think thatís one of the hardest things to do when writing lyrics is to be perfectly honest, which is what I appreciate so much about Nateís lyrics. Itís one thing to write a song that appeals to everybody that has sort of universal lyrics, but itís another thing to cut right to the core of a situation and who you are. I think thatís a much more difficult thing to do.
Another thing I like is when you weave in the sly commentary stuff. Like on this one, thereís ďAt Least Iím Not As Sad (As I Used To Be),Ē which talks about nu metal and has one of my favorite lines, ďIím not a prophet but Iím here to profit.Ē Is that stuff fun for you to work in?
Nate: Yeah, thatís always fun. Itís weird because itís not me, but it is, but itís not. Itís really strange how much I do that a lot. If anything, thatís my guarded self. I do this where Iíll just say, ďFuck everything. Iím just going to go for it.Ē In a way, itís like putting up a shield while throwing everything out in the process. I donít think thatís who I am. I just think thatís sometimes how I think, so Iíll write that. The ďIím here to profit thing,Ē I just thought itíd be such a dick thing to say (laughs). I mean, I donít mean it.
Yeah, itís very tongue in cheek.
Nate: Yeah, and I like that. If itís going to be about me, if the listenerís going to have a perception of me, I donít want them to think Iím a great person. I donít think Iím a great person, but I am. Iím kind of a great person (laughs).
Switching gears to the business side of things, I know youíve had various experiences with that, different labels and whatnot. What have you learned from your past bands that you wanted to apply this time?
Nate: Itís crazy. I feel like weíve been doing business perfectly because of how much weíve learned. You learn from so many mistakes early on. I feel like itís a really tight ship in the fun. world, as far as that stuff is concerned. So much so that if something isnít going to happen, in the past Iíve always felt like Iíve had someone else to blame for something if it didnít go the way that I wanted it to. But if itís not going to go great, itís because people I think didnít like the record or not enough people heard it, maybe. Weíve done our job tremendously from the business sense. I feel like the people we work with, our label Nettwerk, every single person thatís a part of us Ė I think weíve learned from so many of the mistakes from our previous bands.
Andrew: Nettwerk, as a management company and as a record label, I think at this point they donít even feel like the enemy, which they never have. I think record labels are perceived as these bastards that just want to make money and donít want you to be happy. With Nettwerk, there are four people from Nettwerk coming to the show tonight, and Iím so excited to see them. I canít wait to hang out and talk about the record and talk about life in general. See pictures of their kids and hear about their weeks. Theyíre people that I call and I text and I talk to, and I really enjoy their company. Business wise, how this differs from past projects or whatever is that I donít think a lot of bands are fortunate enough to be in situations where the people they work with are actually people they like working with and people they care about.
Nate: I agree with that wholeheartedly.
Obviously, since youíre not the biggest band in the world and the economy has been struggling, has it been hard to get by and make a living out of this now?
Nate: Yeah, definitely (laughs). I remember my days in The Format and this is a reality check. Itís awesome. While itís not awesome, itís awesome because I was handed something so completely different at such a young age when The Format was signed to a record label. I think that I didnít grow up the way I should have in those years because of that.
Andrew: I think things just changed with the Internet and everything in general.
Nate: Yeah, so many things have changed to where I donít feel like some privileged kid. I used to be really self-conscious about it. Now thatís one thing I can check off my list, is about feeling self-conscious. I have no money just like everybody else.
Do you think at some point down the line The Format will ever do a reunion?
Nate: I donít know. I havenít thought about it. I donít have any interest in it right now. I miss those guys. I miss them as people. I miss seeing them. Obviously, I moved. Everybody sort of moved. But this is a new band, and Iím having as much fun as Iíve ever had.
Do you still talk to Sam a lot?
Nate: I talk to him occasionally. We all talk to him.
Andrew: I actually deal with Sam quite a bit because Sam does all our merch. Heís a phenomenally talented designer and businessperson, so itís always a pleasure to check in with him.
Now I heard that he helped a little bit with writing a few songs. Is that true?
Nate: Yeah. A few of them we had started as Format tracks that were supposed to be on the next Format record, but obviously it didnít work out like that.
You guys are a pretty complex and sophisticated band, especially for pop music, which that genre has become so watered down these days. Why do you think that is the case now, where most artists donít have those ambitions?
Nate: I donít know. I ask myself that all the time because I just donít get it. I thought that the best thing you could ever do was just be yourself, otherwise it would be so annoying. So maybe everybodyís being themselves, seriously Ė annoying, stupid.
Andrew: I think a lot of the reason, and granted maybe Iím taking your question and putting my own spin on it for something I want to say to the world, is that I think itís very easy to write a simple pop song. Obviously, I have a tremendous respect for pop songwriters.
Or have someone else right that simple pop song for you.
Andrew: Right. Itís difficult to work hard, and itís hard to write something that is equal parts complex and hopefully listenable. I think the older we get and the more we write songs, the more we think about what we really want to do in this world and the mark we want to leave. It takes effort. For us, as people who maybe things donít come directly to, it takes an extreme amount of effort. It takes an extreme amount of time, thought, communication and research even, in some instances. Like we wanted to know how ABBA got their string sound, so we figured it out.
In a lot of songwriting, I think thatís not the case. I think people just write what comes naturally, which is important, but what comes naturally to me is sitting all day watching Full House reruns. Obviously, thatís not the best way to live. So for me writing a stupid, three-chord rock song would be cool, but itís also like Iíd almost have to fight against my natural inertia of staying still and try to get myself to write more, write farther and write deeper. I think thatís one thing that Nate, Jack and I really share is that weíre trying to see what weíre capable of. Maybe that sounds a little cocky, but I think itís important to push yourself, and I think not enough people are pushing themselves right now.
Do you have any goals or ambitions for the future of fun.?
Nate: World domination.
Andrew: Yeah, why not? When I first started making music, I wanted to be bigger than The Beatles. Why not try for that? Go big or go home.
Nate: (Laughs) Exactly. Modesty is lame (singing).
Andrew: (Laughs) Weíre on a very conceited kick this week. Itís really funny because weíre all pretty modest people.
Nate: I feel like thatís the least modest answer you could ever say.
Andrew: (Laughs) To say youíre modest is bullshit. Nobodyís modestÖ Weíre happy if people come to the shows, and if people know the words and sing along, thatís great. Thatís amazing. Thatís all a musician can hope for.
Nate: Obviously, that makes us happy. If we donít get world domination, thatís all right, as long as people come to the shows.
Andrew: But what weíre aiming for, in all honesty, is we write songs that weíre proud of and we want everybody to hear them. Why not try for it?
Nate: True dat.
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