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Jack Antonoff Takes A Break From fun. To Release 'Desire'


You may or may not recognize the name. But I'm pretty confident you already know our next guest - Jack Antonoff. Two summers ago, if you had a radio or a phone or just went outside anywhere where speakers exist, you heard Jack Antonoff. He was playing an extra distorted guitar for a band called Fun.


FUN: (Singing) Tonight we are young. So let's set the world on fire, we can burn brighter than the sun.

KEITH: He's Fun's lead guitar but he also seems to be a workaholic. He's been making music since he was 14 and now he's releasing his first solo album. It's called "Strange Desire." And he's releasing it under the band name Bleachers. Jack Antonoff joins me now from our New York bureau, welcome.

JACK ANTONOFF: Hey, how you doing?

KEITH: So why Bleachers and not Jack Antonoff?

ANTONOFF: I just feel like your name - even if it's the way that you think about it - it's like - even for myself, I've been my name for 30 years. And there's so much baggage and energy and I just think it at the time felt very exciting and freeing to put it under something different.

KEITH: Was it also a sign of humility?

ANTONOFF: I don't know if I would say that. But I was conscious of coming from a band that many people know and imagine it's what it's like to have two children where they're just both so wonderful. I felt a little bit like if it was my name, that maybe it would seem too much like here's my solo record. And it's not here's my solo record - it's here's a different body of work.

KEITH: Here's this other thing I've been thinking about...


KEITH: ...For, like, a really long time.

ANTONOFF: Very long. I mean, specifically two years, but you could also say 10 years because it's a lot of ideas I've been kind of brewing for, you know, a lot of the time I've been making music.


KEITH: Let's talk about "I Want To Get Better." There's a video for the song and it's almost like a short film. And in it you play a psychotherapist.

ANTONOFF: A very bad psychotherapist.


ANTONOFF: A psychotherapist who all his patients have extremely hostile feelings towards.

KEITH: Extremely hostile.


KEITH: Why was this an interesting theme for you? Have you spent some time on the couch?

ANTONOFF: I spent a lot of time on the couch. My first therapist was named Ms. Simon. And please note that I said Miss and not Doctor. And my parents - when we were younger, my younger sister was born very sick. So my parents first reaction was just to send me and my older sister to therapy, like immediately. But it was just this woman who saw all of the Jewish kids in Teaneck, New Jersey and that's who we were. And first of all, she had drawings that were signed by all of her patients, which is terrible to know every kid in your school that's going to see this therapist also.

KEITH: Oh my God.

ANTONOFF: The second thing that was stressful was that her kid would, like, yell down from upstairs - like about wanting food.


ANTONOFF: And then the really weird part is - I don't know if this is true - but me and my sister both seem to have like a vague memory of her occasionally comparing our problems to her experiences in the Holocaust. (Laughing) I swear to God that's something that we both remember. So that was my first brush with therapy. And it was bizarre...

KEITH: Yeah.

ANTONOFF: And then I was in therapy later in life and - therapy's great. Everyone should be in therapy because there's always something to talk about. You know, when there's nothing to talk about, that's worth talking about.

KEITH: In the song, you talk about the loss of your sister who was born sick. Is there other stuff in there too?

ANTONOFF: Yeah. The song - I found myself with a feeling every morning when I woke up and every night before I went to bed. And now I know that that feeling is I want to get better, but I didn't know what it was at the time. And I talked about it and I thought about it and I kind of realized that maybe it's something that we all feel. You know, maybe the idea of, like, getting better is ridiculous but wanting to be better is kind of the best that we can do as human beings. I knew that that was for everyone. That's something we could all sing together. But then it occurred to me that the only way this statement could have weight and matter enough for someone else to want to yell it back at me in their car or at a show is for me to just spell out all the horrible things that have happened to me in my life and how I found a way to move on. So the song - in the verses - it starts with, like, feelings on religion and gets right into death of my sister.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) And I've trained myself to give up on the past because I froze in time between hearses and caskets. Lost control when I panicked at the acid test. I want to get better.

ANTONOFF: It picks up when I, you know, was briefly involved with some drugs into the year that I was basically home and couldn't leave my house because I was so wrapped up in feelings of anxiety and panic and having dreams about people who are no longer living.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) Woke up this morning early before my family from this dream where she was trying to show me, how a life can move from the darkness. She said get to better. it's long. So I put a bullet...

ANTONOFF: When I get to the chorus and I scream - I want to get better - you understand why I'm screaming it.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) That's why I'm standing on the overpass screaming at myself - hey, I want to get better. I didn't know I was lonely until I saw your face. I want to get better, better, better, better. I want to get better.

KEITH: You are a member of the band Fun - what does the rest of Fun think of this project?

ANTONOFF: Everyone's really supportive. I think that one thing people that people don't about fun is that everyone sort of assumes like - the band existed the moment I found out about them. You know, I've been on tour for 13 years, so have the other guys in Fun. But we met because we all had our own bands. So we were all, like, chief songwriters in our own worlds. So this - this, in our world, isn't weird at all - that, you know, one of us would go off and make other work.

KEITH: So that means there will be more Fun?

ANTONOFF: Yeah, we're already working on it.

KEITH: I don't know how you do it all. You are some sort of crazy music workaholic.

ANTONOFF: You know what I think it is? Because I've thought about it a lot - it's like - I made a big effort to keep music the hobby and the job. You know, it's like I don't want to have my work be music and then go off and do - and cook to get my mind off of music. I want to do music to get my mind off of music because that way I can constantly be creating different things that are all challenging each other. But also sometimes you just have a lot of ideas. I mean, I've had periods in my early 20s when I was home for seven months - nothing was coming to me. And then on the flip side, sometimes I'm on a world tour - I don't have a moment to even call home or eat - and I'm flooded with ideas. And you have to follow the ideas when they come.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) 'Cause if you're feeling small, I love shadow.

KEITH: Jack Antonoff, the man behind the band Bleachers. His new album is "Strange Desire." He joined us from our New York bureau. Thanks so much.

ANTONOFF: Thank you so much.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) There are those girls. Those girls are waiting by the phone on the weekend.

KEITH: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon returns next week. I'm Tamara Keith.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) Those boys are home with the broken hearts. But the wants fear, so we're looking for a villain. I'll be there if you're feeling small. I love your shadow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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