New York based indie band Fun release their second album 'Some Nights' on Monday after tremendous success with single 'We Are Young' topping the charts in the US as well as seizing high places in UK charts. Contactmusic.com spoke to band founder and vocalist Nate Ruess about his inspiration, his feelings about songwriting without playing an instrument and the US Chevy commercial.
The album 'Some Nights', is coming out in the UK soon. You've previously said you were listening to quite a lot of hip hop when you recorded the album, which records were you mainly listening to during that time?
I was really into the last couple of Kanye West albums. I feel they were really, really influential to us in forming a vision and inspiration for this album. I've always been a huge fan of hip hop but I've never really imagined it could influence a whole batch of songs. For me, it's that progressive nature that is happening in hip hop right now; people like Kanye who are just trying to be the best, trying to be innovative, trying to borrow from all different kinds of styles. Nas' 'Illmatic' which has some of the best break beats and hip hop production that I've heard and then things like Drake and some of the sonic landscape that he can paint and I feel like it's a nice bed to tell a story and also somehow works when you throw in things like electric guitar. I'd gotten a little bored with live drums and so it seemed like the perfect marriage.
Your influences from Kanye led you on to work with Jeff Bhasker and he went on to produce your album.
I kinda daydream all the time and think of the best case scenarios and they never happen. This is just that one time that it happened and I attribute lot of this success to all the things that we learned from Jeff. It felt as though he prepared us, he called it! That was the thing; no-one had even heard 'We Are Young' until I sang it to Jeff and for him to just automatically want to get into the studio the next day and record it! We had such an amazing time working on that, for him to do the entire album was a huge thing. That sh*t just never happens in life!
Coming from different sides of the industry, the recording process seems to have gone very well.
I think it was us coming from one side and him coming from another side and wanting to impress each other. That's a big thing when two people have something to offer but they're also standing in a room with someone who specialises in something that they don't know anything about, so it was constantly just the three of us trying to do something that would impress him and inspire him and he was thinking in the exact same way. So that's just like a perfect moment especially when you're making an album.
For somebody that doesn't actually play an instrument, you play a huge part in songwriting. Do you ever feel it would be easier if you could play piano or guitar?
No, not at all! Not when you've got Andrew and Jack! That's the great thing and I think that that was really such an important piece of making this album. In the first album I maybe felt that way a few times when I'd use crazy references like 'there's gonna be a gospel choir' or 'this is gonna be the string line' or 'this is what the horn line sounds like' and there was just a level of us trying to feel each other out and it took a little bit longer. When we walked in and made this album, I would sing them, for example, the 'Some Nights' intro which is a very elaborate song when it goes into a crazy time signature, I don't think about time signatures in my head I just hear songs, so when I was sitting down with them and trying to explain a piano part, instead of them being like 'you can't do that', they made it their business to figure it out and then make it their own and, thus, make it that much better.
In the start, at least, that must've been a very frustrating way to work!?
It was but it got to the point where they knew everything! I'd be like 'What are we doing again?' and then they were already like three steps ahead of me. You don't need an instrument when you've got that. The songwriting is one thing but when you add their ability to play their instruments, you've got the most insane beast! I've got all I need and all I could ask for in a collaborative relationship. It's just really special.
There were a few years between the release of 'Aim and Ignite' and 'Some Nights'. Was there ever a moment when you weren't sure about what direction you were going to take the new album?
Yeah, I think those two years! I hadn't really sang the guys a note in those two years
I had written 'Stars', 'Carry On' and maybe written the chorus of 'Why Am I The One?' a long time ago but other than that I didn't give anybody anything. I remember I spent three months renting a place in Manhattan with the thought that I was gonna start working on new songs; I was trying to be inspired by 80s rock music like Rod Stewart or something like that and I was forcing inspiration on myself an that's never a great way to work so I spent three months basically watching the entire series of 'Lost' and probably drinking way too much vodka in the middle of the day. Fortunately, 'Carry On', which is one of our favourite songs, came out of that session but I was still looking for some sort of inspiration and fortunately we found that in hip hop and I think it was a blessing. There's a cohesion to this album that's really special and it was a time when I think we were just most inspired; we were really just cooking at that point and we knew we had to get something done. We felt like we were doing something special. It really was, not to sound cliched, but it really did feel magic.
You can't force something to come out. If it's not going to happen at that point, it's not going to happen. There's no way around it unfortunately.
No, and the thing is I didn't want to make just another rehash of the last album. Any album that I've ever been involved in, there's always been some sort of progression or there's always been a new inspiration and that's what I love the most about making albums. So to not have that for two years. on one hand I was worried but on the other hand I knew that eventually there would be something that would be inspirational. I just didn't know it would come that late in the game.
You worked with Janelle Monae on 'We Are Young', was she always your first choice for a female vocalist? And was that a song that was written with a female part?
It was written with a female part. We had a big board of all these artists and Janelle was right at the top. I remember Andrew had played Janelle Monae for me a long time before that and he was always just so obsessed with her; we love her because she's not your typical popstar, she's something that's very inspirational and very outside-the-box and we knew that if we got Janelle to sing on the song, it had to be something that she really believed in so when our producer Jeff ran into her and played her the song, automatically she was like 'oh yeah! I'm in!'
In the future, if you could choose someone to perform with you on another of your tracks, who would it be?
I think for me, right now with just what I'm listening to, I'd probably say. Skrillex would be an incredible collaboration. Not even just a remix but to just sit in there and get a beat and then everybody starts to establish some chords and then just write something on top of that. That would be something that would be amazing because it's the same thing as working with Jeff, I think Fun and Skrillex would have something tangible to offer to one another.
You do seem to be able to cross the genres well. I suppose, at the end of the day pop music is pop music but it's hard keeping open to what you started out to do and where you're going.
Yeah, I mean for us it's about being just fun, the band's 'Fun' and I'm really happy that that was something me and the other two guys talked about early on. 'What do we want this band to sound like?' and everybody had the exact same thing like 'Let's just have it sound like the three of us. Who cares?'. We all have these diverse influences, if it fits within the realm of the song then do it. I think our distinct personalities with the way that we play our instruments or the way I sing is always gonna inevitably end up making it sound like a punk-pop.
I'm all for bands using music on adverts as a way of bringing music to a new audience. In hindsight, would you have done anything differently with 'We Are Young'?
I'm more than happy to do it. I think as an artist what you have to do is you have to own up to it, there's no point in apologising for something that you said yes to. So, for us, we agreed to do the commercial, we figured it's a car company so they're probably gonna use it tastefully. If someone would've told me it's a car doing a backflip I would've been a little more hesitant but then you see the commercial and you're just like 'Holy sh*t, how did that work?!'. They pulled it off magnificently so, yeah, we can say that we're more than happy that it happened I think that it ended up being a massive boost. It felt like the song was already starting to move and, as far as radio was concerned it was already starting to have a massive impact in radio, but that really just ignited it.
Lyrically, Fun. has quite a lot of dark elements to the lyrics but you always seem to sugar coat and masquerade the whole track in quite a fun and loud manner, do you think it's quite important to have a crossover of light and dark moods?
I've always appreciated the juxtaposition of lyrics; I've never felt like the music should dictate the lyrics. Lyrics are whole different beast that are involved in a song and that's the unfortunate thing, I suppose, about a lot of pop music these days is there's too much emphasis on having the lyrics down without giving them too much thought but what you end up with is just a whole bunch of sh*tty lyrics. So, for me, it's never been a question. I've always thought this is my one chance - I'm not a confrontational person, in my life I think most people will tell you that I don't generally show my emotion unless I'm on stage - so that's my one opportunity to get things off my chest, that's the only way that I've known since being a young adult, that's a therapy for me. So I'm not gonna change that just because we wanna write a more upbeat song.
So, you're busy over the summer touring America and then coming over here later in the year, what festivals are you doing? Are you coming over for any UK festivals?
As far as know, and I don't know if it's been announced so I don't know if I'm even at liberty to say but we are definitely doing one UK festival!
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