When drummer Andrew Dost was asked to join Fun., the new band singer Nate Ruess was putting together with Jack Antonoff, Dost knew almost before playing a note in the new group that there was real potential for the band.
“I didn’t know (guitarist) Jack (Antonoff) that well, but Nate is definitely one of the people that I respect most, not even (just) musically, just even personally in the world,” said Dost, who had met Ruess as a touring member of Ruess’s previous band, the Format. “I think Nate is just a fantastic guy, and in addition to that, he’s an amazing performer and an amazing frontman and an amazing songwriter. You don’t turn down a chance to work with somebody like Nate, that’s for sure. So that would have been enough, even if Jack hadn’t been involved.”
Antonoff, whose other band, Steel Train, had opened for the Format, quickly impressed Dost as well.
“I thought he was a phenomenal guitar player, a great songwriter and just a really funny and awesome guy to be around,” Dost said. “So there really was zero hesitation. It (Fun.) just sounded like a dream come true, really, and so far it really has been.”
Indeed, Fun. is beginning to look like a candidate to be one of 2012’s breakout bands. They perform April 9 at The Blue Moose Tap House in Iowa City.
(Need a live music fix between now and then? There are 47 shows coming up this week.)
The group’s current single, “We Are Young” (which features guest vocals from Janelle Monae), has shot to the top of the “Billboard” magazine Hot 100 singles chart, while the new CD that features the song, “Some Nights,” debuted at number three on “Billboard’s” album chart. “We Are Young” is also getting some major exposure in a commercial for Chevrolet’s vehicle, the Sonic. The group has also begun an extensive U.S. tour in support of the new CD, which should further boost sales for the album.
Despite the attention Fun. is receiving at the moment, Dost said the band had yet to see much of an impact in its routine as the group was set to kick off its current tour.
“I don’t know if there’s been much difference day to day,” he said. “I was just on the phone with my parents and I was telling them, they were saying ‘It must be so crazy.’ And I was saying ‘No, I got up and had my oatmeal this morning and it’s kind of what I do every Tuesday.’ I guess we’re just kind of going about our business and trying to keep our heads down. We just want to keep working hard and making good music. It’s nice (that others) can see that we’re doing well, but really we’ve been playing music together for so long now that it’s hard to change any habits or even notice when things are going well, or going poorly, for that matter. We’re just kind of doing what we do, I guess.”
Indeed, the three members of Fun. are experienced in the ways of the music world. Ruess’s band the Format, was signed by Elektra Records in 2002, and released two full-length CDs and several EPs before splitting in early 2008. Steel Train, which remains together, has released three full-length CDs and two EPs since forming in 2002. Dost, meanwhile, was a member of the group Anathallo, which released four CDs and two EPs between 2001 and 2008.
But when the Format came to a halt in 2008, Ruess wasted no time in forming Fun., immediately contacting Dost and Antonoff to complete the band lineup.
“Aim & Ignite” introduced a band that obviously had a talent for writing smart and catchy power pop and the potential to develop into a special band.
And the group’s willingness to take musical risks and grow as songwriters and musicians is evident on “Some Nights.”
Rather than follow down the same guitar pop path of “Aim & Ignite,”
the group embraced a new range of influences and partnered with producer Jeff Bhasker (known for his work with Kanye West and Drake) to find a different groove.
“I think between Nate and Jack and I, we have a very good chemistry in terms of wanting to push each other really far, and not just in terms of making albums that might feel good in the moment, but also in terms of like wanting to push each other to make things that will last and that will be things that a lot of people will want to hear for a long time,” Dost said. “That was definitely something that we wanted to really think about on this album. Like we really wanted to do something that would last and be powerful. I hope we achieved that.”
The choice of Bhasker as producer was part of that plan. After releasing “Aim & Ignite,” the band began to fall for certain hip-hop and R&B albums in a big way.
“I think it was our headline tour, I want to say two years ago. So it would have been 2010, in the fall,” Dost said.
“We had started listening to Drake, and I think we had always been fans of Kanye West. But then from Drake we started to really think about wow, these sounds are really not happening elsewhere. These guys are really pushing it forward. Then once Kanye’s album, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,’ came out, that was really life changing and really, really blew our minds. Like for me, at least, it hit me in a way that I hadn’t been hit since like (The Beach Boys’) ‘Pet Sounds’
or something, when I discovered that in high school.
“It was like, when you get inside a work of art like that, it really kind of changes you, and hearing Kanye’s songs on the radio is one thing, but to hear a work of art on that magnitude, really I won’t ever be the same,” Dost said. “It was so inspiring, and that album definitely sent shock waves through our whole musical personalities.”
The influence of hip-hop and Bhasker is apparent in the rhythms on “Some Nights” and in the adventurous attitude of the production and sonics of the CD. That noted, Fun. didn’t forsake its love of pop on the new CD.
“Some Nights” is still first and foremost a pop album full of big melodies and plenty of energy. But where “Aim & Ignite,” with its orchestration and ornate instrumental treatments, was an elaborately constructed power pop effort, the new CD is more epic in its personality. Orchestral elements are once again built into several songs and a wider range of beats – both programmed and organic – drive the songs. Meanwhile synthesizers and electronic elements also enrich the sound, especially on the “It Gets Better” and “Stars.” And the songs themselves are more anthemic. Tunes like “We Are Young,”
“All Alone” and the title song evoke the grand pop of Queen with their heavily layered vocal harmonies, soaring vocal melodies and larger-than-life musical structures.
The scope of the instrumentation and sonic impact of the songs created some challenges in figuring out how to play the songs live. Even with three additional musicians in the live lineup, the group still is using some pre-recorded tracks, samples and triggers to achieve the sound it wanted on stage. But Dost said translating the songs for live performance has been a fun (pardon the pun) and creative process in itself.
“I think that’s a really fun challenge, and it’s really nice for us to not necessarily replicate the album, but to figure out new live versions of it,” Dost said. “I find that to be just a really interesting challenge.”