The ''We Are Young'' rockers talk about punctuation, the art of making hits, and why they're just like Chevy Chase
On this gray late afternoon in London, fun. have just broken with pop-star protocol by arriving 15 minutes early for their appointment with EW at ye olde British pub The Ship & Shovell. (The New York-based trio are in town for a U.K. festival, and will play an intimate club gig later this evening.) ”We do one groundbreaking thing a day,” deadpans guitarist Jack Antonoff, 28. ”But they’re all lame.”
Not lame? The success Antonoff, singer Nate Ruess, 30, and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost, 29, have enjoyed with ”We Are Young” — the lead single from the band’s Some Nights that spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 this past spring. Appropriately enough, given this evening’s booze-oriented mission, that anthemic number concerns people getting somebody-carry-me-home intoxicated. ”I usually don’t drink this early before a show,” says Ruess. ”I try and save it for an hour before.” But…
Whiskey (Ruess, Antonoff, Dost), vodka and tonic (EW)
After you recorded ”We Are Young,” did you sit back and say, ”Ladies and gentlemen, now that is a hit single”?
Antonoff Not at all.
Dost That would be so cool.
Ruess Yeah, that would be amazing. I mean, after we recorded an early version, the producer [Jeff Bhasker, who’s worked with Beyoncé, Kanye West, and Alicia Keys] and I sent it to the head of the label and he called me back and was like, ”It’s amazing, I think we have something.” I don’t think we’ve ever heard that type of thing coming from someone who actually had the ability to make sure things happen. My first thought was ”Sweet. We don’t have to write any more singles.”
Antonoff We were excited that everyone else thought [it could be huge] because it ended up being our ticket to making the album we wanted to. No one f—ed with us. That song was a catalyst of trust.
As a big fan of punctuation…
Ruess What’s your favorite punctuation?
Dost Just shoot me!
As a big fan of punctuation, I have very mixed feelings about your name. The lower-case f disappoints me, but I like the rectitude of the period.
Dost The punctuation started out as a legal issue. There was another band called ”Fun” — they asked us to change our name slightly. More than that, I like the period because it sedates the word a little bit, rather than being an exclamation mark.
Antonoff It Jason Sedate-kis’s it.
Jack, I heard you nearly died while recording the album.
Antonoff Entirely. It was serious.
Antonoff No. [Laughs] Hardly. We were in New York working on a song called ”One Foot.” It was the last song we recorded on the album. I looked at Nate and Andrew and I was like, ”I have to go home, I’m going to f—ing die.” I’d never felt that sick in my entire life. You always read, like, ”Lindsay Lohan’s exhausted.” Well, what does that mean? And I thought, ”Oh my God, I’m experiencing something like that.” It didn’t turn out to be that. I had pneumonia. Something exploded in my lung. I was in the ICU and ended up on an IV for four weeks afterwards. It was crazy, but it was kind of wonderful to survive that and then be tied to the album in that way.
Water (Ruess), ginger ale (Antonoff), bourbon and ginger ale (Dost), vodka and tonic (EW)
What was it like having ”We Are Young” performed on Glee?
Ruess We love Glee.
Antonoff We love Glee because of what it represents and how they give voices to communities that don’t have voices. They’re not just making a show about hot white kids in America. There’s a political edge. I think more people are going to realize that a decade from now. When they look back, they’ll say, ”Wow, Glee and Lady Gaga were the only two things that stood up and said something.”
Is it true you all live together?
Antonoff Used to. The three of us lived with my parents and wrote our entire first album while my mother watched American Idol and cooked dinner.
Did your mother ever say, ”You should be more like these people on American Idol”?
Antonoff No. She would say Nate was better than some of them. But it was always like, ”You guys are doing the right thing. These people? Who knows?”
Ruess I would demolish any of those people. That’s fine. That can go on the record. That can go in Entertainment Weekly — that can go in Entertainment Daily! — that I sing better than the guy with curly hair from season 1.
Antonoff Justin Guarini.
Ruess You know his name?
Antonoff Everybody knows his name!
Ruess I always knew his name was Justin, but it was one of those last names where you’re like, ”I’m not going to be able to pronounce it.”
Dost You’ll learn how to pronounce it when he comes to your door and beats you to death. ”Pronounce my name!”
Ruess All right. Well, I’ll learn it, then.
ROUND THREE Whiskey (Ruess), water (Antonoff, Dost), vodka and tonic (EW)
Jack, you recently compared your new single ”Some Nights” to Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold switching on his many holiday lights in the movie Christmas Vacation.
Antonoff Did I say that?
Antonoff I’m happy I said it, first of all. I can elaborate on it from the point of view of someone who doesn’t remember saying it.
Dost What Jack was getting at was, we all sort of knew where the song was going in our heads, but when we recorded it, it wouldn’t make any sense until it was completely done — until the last light was plugged in.
Antonoff So Clark is on his roof…?
Dost Right. He’s hanging the piano part, he’s hanging the vocal line, he’s hanging the backing vocals. But nothing’s making sense until it’s all done.
Antonoff And Andrew was like Rusty — you know, Clark’s son. He’s helping hang all the arrangements. I’m [the daughter] Audrey, I’m somewhere in the back.
Dost I was more like Elaine [Julia ”Elaine from Seinfeld” Louis-Dreyfus, who plays the Griswolds’ uptight yuppie neighbor]. ”Who’s making all that racket?”
Antonoff I think there’s probably a lot of comparisons you could draw between our career and Clark Griswold.
[Antonoff and Dost depart for what the pub’s signage describes as the ”Loos.”]
I have to say, you three seem like incredibly nice people. But if we do this again, say, in two years’ time, are you going to have become total tools?
Ruess That’s a really good question. Because I think that, yeah, there’s probably a good chance that we’ll be… [Pauses] I don’t think that we’ll be tools… [Pauses] I don’t know. I do feel like we’ve been — I don’t want to say too nice — but I feel we’ve been, like, monkeys, just ready to trot out and put on a smile.
[Antonoff and Dost return.]
I was asking Nate about the possibility of success turning you into total tools a couple of years down the line.
Antonoff Tools? No, we’ve been on the road for too long before this to not appreciate it. We know the other side too well.
Dost Yeah, I don’t think there’s a lot that can change us at this point.
Ruess I like their answers way better than where I was heading.