Some hipsters might disparage this, but Jack Antonoff has a deep, abiding affection for sweet, bubblegum-chewy pop, and he's not afraid to admit it. As guitarist in the power trio Fun., Antonoff helped resuscitate the maligned genre with the recent, Grammy-nominated, ELO-meets-Queen-on-Desolation-Boulevard Some Nights. And he'll go on at length about some of his songwriting idols, like Vince Clarke, who achieved synth-fizzy perfection in three different bands: Depeche Mode, Yaz (or Yazoo in Britain), and Erasure.
"His contribution was crucial," says Antonoff, "and I think modern pop should just write him a billion-dollar check, because he really invented it."
And that's the spirit Antonoff wants to singlehandedly keep alive in his spinoff effort, the virtual one-man band he calls Bleachers. The multi-instrumentalist's sleek debut disc, Strange Desire, bursts with sugary Top 40-friendly confections like "Shadow," "Rollercoaster" and "I Wanna Get Better" (whose video was shot by significant other Lena Dunham of HBO's Girls fame.) Through it all, Antonoff shuns less-is-more attitudes in favor of sing-song chords that build into a majestic cathedral of indie-pop pleasures.
"You just have to make the things that you hear in your head," says Antonoff of his old-school approach. "And it's just a shame that some artists seem to have forgotten that. I mean, everyone has an opinion, but more often than not, the opinions come from this weird, negative place, and it's more like a set of things that you can't do. Like, 'You can't use this instrument on that track — it's cheesy!' Everyone has an opinion like that. So at some point, you have to just say, 'Fuck it,' and just make the music you want to make."
Which might explain why Antonoff has become the go-to collaborator of choice for some of today's similar-minded artists, like Sara Bareilles ("Brave") and even Taylor Swift ("Sweeter than Fiction," plus three co-writes on her pop-crossover album 1989).
So how do you compose with a star of Swift's paparazzi-hounded magnitude? It was surprisingly easy, he swears.
"The best thing about working with her is that the realities of her life don't exist in the creative environment. She works the same way I work — it's me and her, texting back and forth, getting together in my apartment or somewhere in her space. And that kind of sucks all the bullshit out of the situation."
Antonoff, who also was the frontman of the band Steel Train, says he learned to think independently as a kid in New Jersey. "I grew up right outside of New York, right outside of the party," he says. "And I thought, 'This kind of sucks! All the good shit's happening in there, and I'm all the way out here!' And now that I'm older, I realize how vital that was in defining who I was and what I was going to be.
"If you grow up feeling like somewhat of an outsider — like you're always missing the exciting thing that's happening — then you spend your life searching for it."