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Interview: fun.’s Andrew Dost Discusses The Making of Some Nights

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On Tuesday, February 21, indie pop band fun. is set to release their long-awaited new album, Some Nights, on Fueled By Ramen Records. The album includes the band’s smash lead single, “We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monáe).”

Andrew Dost, Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff of fun. credit: Lindsey ByrnesI recently had the opportunity to speak with fun.’s Andrew Dost, where he discussed the differences between recording Some Nights versus 2009’s Aim and Ignite, working with hip-hop producer Jeff Bhasker, and the Glee-ful cover of “We Are Young.”

Congratulations on the new record. I had an opportunity to listen to it this week, and I think it’s fantastic.

Oh, thank you so much.

Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process for the new record?

Well, we started out by taking a week in upstate New York in Woodstock. We just stayed in a cabin/studio. We worked on [the record] for that week, and started to structure out a few songs. Eventually, we had enough songs to start showing to our label and our manager.

So basically, our singer Nate is responsible for the lyrics and I would say a vast majority of the melodies. Usually, he’ll come in with a sketch of a song. And then Jack and I will take that and we’ll structure the music around that altogether. Nate doesn’t play any instruments, but when we get together, we’re all just throwing ideas in and we might be the ones playing the instruments, but Nate’s driving ideas to the pot, too. So we all just kind of go through the songs as a group, see what ideas we like, and kind of work through them altogether. But usually it starts with a sketch from Nate. Sometimes it starts with chords from Jack or I. But we all just get together, we throw all our ideas together and see what sticks.

Was this process different than how you guys approached making Aim and Ignite?

With the last album, I didn’t really know Jack that well. I did a little bit, but not nearly as well as I do now after having spent a few years traveling and hanging with him. For the first album, when we were writing it, a lot of it was about just kind of figuring out how we write together, how we work together, and even like figuring out kind of a language with each other in terms of what I call a “phrase,” Nate calls a “measure.” Just things like that. Figuring out how to talk to each other, so the first album was a lot of that.

With this album, we know how we communicate, we know that we trust each other and like each other’s styles. It was less about feeling each other out and more about just creating, which I think is really nice, because we didn’t really have to worry about anything. It was a lot more fun and a lot more free. So that was the difference in writing process.

With the recording process, the first album we stayed in the studio for like two months and didn’t really leave. We just holed up there and that was that. We just stayed until it was done. And I think a lot of things go along with that. It’s nice to be in a creative world that’s kind of isolated, but you can get led astray down some pathway while you’re recording that you might not like later. And there’s a lot of time to get in your own head and stay there.

And with this album, we kind of jumped around the country. We were in L.A., we were in New York; we were recording in different studios at the same time. Like, I would be working on arrangement stuff while Jack was laying down some guitar in a different studio. And at the very end of the week we would smash it all together and see how everybody had done. And I think that is a very good way to work. You don’t get stuck in any universe too long, and you can kind of get a little perspective constantly. I think motion is very helpful, too. I think a lot of nice things happen when you’re driving, or when you’re on a plane, or whatever. There’s a certain freedom that comes along with motion.

There’s a definite influx of hip-hop on this record, and I was wondering if that was a conscious decision on your guys’ part or did it happen organically?

It started very organically. What started it all was the Kanye album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. We started listening to that and just fell in love with it, fell in love with his production style. For me personally more than anything else, listening to that album really blew my mind as far as a) the sounds he was using and b) just for the attention it demands and for how big of a statement it is. And it really renewed my faith that you can make a big, grand artistic statement, and you can care. You can care so much about your art, and it can come through and that’s okay. So that was how it inspired me, and I think it [inspired] the other guys in different ways, too. We just started working that in gradually.

Then we realized that the album we were writing was very hip-hop influenced. So we started consciously putting it in. Then we realized that we wanted to work with a hip-hop producer and who better than Kanye’s producer himself? We were actually able to get Jeff Bhasker, who co-produced My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. That was huge for us. He’s just such a talented guy, and we weren’t just emulating those sounds, we were really kind of going through one of the sources in a way, which was really inspiring for us.

What was the dynamic like between you guys and Jeff in the studio?

Well, it was really interesting, because he’s never really worked with a rock band before and we’ve obviously never worked with a hip-hop producer before, so it was a lot of mutually inspired moments where it was like, he loved recording guitars and he’d never done it before. Hearing Jack, our guitar player, bust out an awesome, dirty, historic guitar solo or something was something he wasn’t really used to, so it was really inspiring. And then for us, hearing him start making beats was really mind-blowing.

To see how well he knows his way around rhythms and stuff like that was just incredible. We had the same mindset, but our sound pallets are so different, so it’s just very, very neat to come together and realize that we can just learn so much from each other. And it was awesome. I loved it.

How did you guys come to choose Some Nights as the overall title for the record?

The title was there really before any of the songs. Nate came up with the title, and I think his thought process was based on some nights you’re this, some nights you’re that; you’re a different person on any given night. And that’s what a lot of the album kind of hints at.

It’s not really a concept album, but if it was, that would be what it’s loosely about. It’s really nice once you have a title to know what the parameters are of what you’re working on as a whole. That kind of informed all the songs and kind of seeped in everywhere about the changes in your personality, depending on where you are and who you’re with.

I wanted to talk a little bit about “We Are Young,” because it’s such a fantastic song. What was the inspiration behind the song, and how did it all come together?

Well, I guess with the inspiration behind the song, it started with Nate. I think a lot of it was just about realizing what this album was; we had worked on a couple songs already and then it just, I don’t know, I guess sometimes when you write a song, and you think, “This is somewhere it will get buried on the album, and if people really dig it, they’ll maybe grow to love it.” And there are some songs that you want to take over the world, that you want to be an anthem, and that you want to be huge.

I think from the very beginning with “We Are Young,” there was never any question about where we wanted the song to go and what we wanted it to sound like. And we knew that we wanted it to be big, we wanted it to be booming over the speakers at an arena or something.

And I guess from a perspective of what the heart of the song is, I think we wanted it to just feel like a night out with your friends, where you’re like screaming out the car window, and here you’re young in your life and everything is just new and exciting to you. We wanted to try and capture that feeling.

Was Janelle Monáe a part of the original vision of the song?

We knew we wanted a female vocalist to sing on it. We didn’t really know who that voice was going to be, and we had a couple people that we maybe hoped that we could work with and at the top of that list was Janelle Monáe.

I love all of her work, I think she’s a phenomenal artist, and it just so happened that Jeff, the producer, was hanging out at one of her shows. She toured with Bruno Mars and he met up with her there. He played her the song, she was into it and so we ended getting to work with her. I still can’t even really comprehend how exciting this has been. I think she’s just the best.

The song caught a lot of attention on this little show called, Glee. How did that opportunity come about?

Honestly, I don’t really know. I think that we were so in shock when we got the news, and we didn’t really even know how to process it. I think that’s just one of the coolest things that could possibly have happened. We still are a little bit in shock at how neat that is, the Glee cover of our song, I think it’s really cool.

Glee’s cover of “We Are Young” is the show’s highest selling debut single of their current season. What do you think connected their listening audience to your song?

Well, I think Nate is a phenomenal singer, and it’s a song that lends itself well to other phenomenal singers taking it on. I think the melody is something that… it is a very triumphant thing. I can’t really explain it. I don’t know. I’m just thrilled. I still can’t believe it.

It was a nice moment in the show. I don’t watch the show religiously, but in that episode for sure, there was a nice moment. And in the episodes that I’ve watched since that led up to that episode, with that storyline, it seemed to fit really perfectly.

You guys recently released the video for “We Are Young.” Where did the concept of the video come from?

It came from a number of places. We knew wanted the video to just be us playing in a club, cause I think there’s something just really timeless about that in a video. Just a band playing the song; I think that’s really neat. But, we also wanted there to be a lot of action, bar fighting kind of stuff like that. We wanted it to be pretty rockin’. When we were talking about just our general ideas with Marc Klasfeld, the director, he had a lot of great ideas, too. And then eventually, he introduced the slow motion concept.

He started sending us videos of stuff exploding in slow motion and people shooting through light bulbs and balloons and soda bottles and stuff like that. And he was saying like, “I’m going to get this camera, it’s the same camera that you can use to shoot hummingbird wings flapping.” Right when that started happening, I thought it really started taking shape. He had this image in his head, the whole way along, and we sort of didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like, but we knew it was going to be cool, based on what he was sending us.

Later this month you guys will be hitting the road in support of this new album, what can the audience expect from a fun. show?

I would like to think that people can expect that we’re going to play our songs and they’re not going to sound exactly like the CD, but we’re going to sound like the people that we have onstage. We can play the songs, Nate can really sing. Hopefully it’s going to sound good, hopefully you’re going to get your money’s worth, and hopefully it will be exciting and be a good way to spend an evening. That’s what we try for. We try to make it a great time for everyone.

So with the album release is coming up, how are you guys planning to celebrate?

Our producer sent us some really nice bottles of champagne, so once we were done for the new year, and I think the album night would be the proper night to pop those.

Some Nights, the latest album from fun., is set to be released next Tuesday, February 21. You can listen to Some Nights in full here on Blogcritics.

For more information on the band, including tour dates, check out fun.’s official website.

Photo credit: Lindsey Byrnes

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About Kirsten Coachman

Kirsten Coachman is an Entertainment Writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has interviewed a variety of people from across the entertainment spectrum, including singer-songwriter/Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, Andrew Dost from the Grammy Award-winning band fun., singer-songwriter Christina Perri, and acclaimed writer-director Derek Cianfrance.