Alex Suskind
March 20, 2018 AT 12:42 PM EDT

“I am obsessed with Love, Simon.”

Jack Antonoff is on the phone, and he’s singing the praises of the first major studio film featuring a gay teen lead. The charming new flick, which opened on March 16, follows a closeted student named Simon as he navigates the complexities of first love (light spoilers ahead). When the Bleachers’ frontman first saw it, he was so smitten that he decided to curate the entire soundtrack.

“I was sort of blown away by how panicked I felt of the film — and I had none of the exact experiences of [it],” says Antonoff. “I am not in high school, I’m not closeted, and I am not being extorted by a fellow student. But I do know what it’s like to have a piece of yourself that you want to tell the world but you can’t, and to know that you won’t be whole until you do that.”

Antonoff put all of those emotions directly into the album, which includes songs from Khalid, Troye Sivan, Normani, and Antonoff himself.

Ahead, he chats with EW about the importance of Love, Simon, how he curated the soundtrack, and what he loves about music in movies (hint: It all comes back to Reality Bites).

When did you first hear about Love, Simon?

I’m not sure, but a lot of people were talking about it. As soon as I saw it, my first feeling was that it reminded me of a genre of movie I hadn’t seen in a while — kind of like a John Hughes film. And it really touched me, and I thought it was beautiful.

You do a lot of work around LGBTQ issues, so I assume there was that piece of the film that struck you, too.

Well, the biggest thing is, I love the film, I love the characters, I love the sentiment, I love politically where the film stands. Truly, beyond all that, was this suburban feeling of desperately trying to understand yourself in a loop, where everyone knows everything about you and you feel like you have to bust out of yourself; that’s how I grew up in New Jersey. That’s why I wanted to write for [Love, Simon]. I didn’t write from any character place. The part that I pulled from was the part that I could relate to.

Did the director, Greg Berlanti, first approach you to write just a few songs or produce the entire album? What was that conversation like?

They already had [Bleachers’] “Wild Heart” at the end of the film. They were extremely gracious, and they just wanted me to do all of it. I’ve never done music for film before because I never thought I was ready. But as soon as I saw this movie, I met with Greg, and we went to his office, and I plugged my phone in. He was just pulling up different scenes, and I was playing little ideas I had — maybe a chord progression or a beat or a concept — and they were working so well. Right away I started to feel like I could really make sense of it… You know, I grew up with the Reality Bites soundtrack, and every song is so specific and is there for a reason. And I believe in that — I believe in the art of soundtrack, and I really wanted to go all-in. I still can’t get over Reality Bites — any of those songs, if I hear them anywhere; I can be in a f—ing mall, I could be in the airport, and I just get rocketed right back to a moment and a feeling.

I still think of Reality Bites any time I hear “My Sharona.”

Totally. I think about Margot Tenenbaum getting off the bus in Royal Tenenbaums when Nico’s “These Days” plays, I think about 20 minutes into The Departed when Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” comes on. I think my favorite is the Bruce Springsteen song [“Secret Garden”] in Jerry Maguire.

So what does executive-producing a soundtrack look like as opposed to another artist’s album? Is it remarkably different? 

I approached it like an album. The only difference is it’s an album tied to another body of work. It’s a companion piece. As far as the sequencing and the songs that I chose and how they work in the film, it still lives as an album. What’s interesting is you have new songs, you have old songs, and they kind of are designed to play off of each other. As much as every moment is supposed to drag you right back into the feeling of the film, it also works as an album itself.

How did you go about writing the movie’s theme, “Alfie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song)”? Are you writing while watching scenes from the film? 

For “Alfie’s Song,” I saw the film once and was just like, “I want to write this song [conveying] the joy of first love, but with the truth about first love, in that it rips you apart.” You know, no one is like, “Oh my first love was great!” Your first love is f—ing heartbreaking.

You identify as straight, but the film is an important benchmark, in that it is the first studio film to feature a gay teen lead. How did you want to approach incorporating LGBTQ voices onto the soundtrack?

I wanted to incorporate all voices. We have Troye Sivan on there, we have Khalid, Normani, Mø, Amy Shark. I just wanted to create something that represented for a wide variety of people, because the film feels like it’s for everyone. It’s the first thing I thought when I saw it: There’s just something here for everyone.

There was a Troye Sivan quote you retweeted last month, where Troye said had he seen Love, Simon when he was 12, it would have changed the shape of his life. How does it feel to hear that from Troye and know that he’s included on the soundtrack?

It’s everything I could have hoped for with this project.

In working on Love, Simon, has anyone shared their coming-out stories with you?

Tons. It’s been one of the great gifts of working on this film. So many people, whether it’s at a show or behind the scenes working, it’s, “Here’s my version.” It’s just one of these stories that compels you to tell your story. I didn’t have the experience of any of the characters in the movie, but there is something about this that made me want to relive those moments in my life when I was trying to figure a lot of s— out.

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