Lead singer Nate Ruess and keyboardist Andrew Dost discuss all things fun. related, including its debut album Aim and Ignite, the group’s inception and ambitions, what pop music is missing today, and plans for world domination.
You spell fun. with a lowercase f and then a period at the end, right?
Andrew Dost: Yes.
Because I’ve seen it a couple different ways with a capital F.
Nate Ruess: That’s cool. If they want to do that, that’s fine.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s OK.
Nate: Only for legality reasons do we add the period.
Andrew: And I’m sort of a grammar nut, so really it’s fun for me to make sure everything is exactly right. Yearbook editor for two years.
I’m pretty sure you get asked this in every interview, so we’ll just make it real quick, but how did this whole thing come together?
Nate: Well, I think almost my next call after I found out that the Format wasn’t going to be happening, I called Andrew and I called Jack because they were the two people I had always wanted to work with. Pretty much by the end of that week, Andrew from Michigan and me from Phoenix had flown out to New Jersey to start working on the record in Jack’s parent’s living room.
Did you have any idea what sound you wanted to do at that point?
Nate: I think sometimes we still don’t know.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s hard to really sound a certain way. I think all you can do is write what you want to and hope that it goes somewhere interesting.
Nate: Yeah. If we were writing songs, it was like, “Oh, I can hear this here, this here, this here.” Inevitably, that’s where the song takes shape.
Were there any songs that were preexisting ideas beforehand?
Nate: Yeah, I had a few, but I don’t think they would have gone wherever they were going to go without the guys. But, yeah, definitely.
As far as actually writing the record, you’ve both been in bands before. What was similar or different to what you were used to?
Andrew: It’s similar in that it’s a very free exchange of ideas. I think the best way for a band to operate is if everybody is completely unafraid to share an idea, no matter how ridiculous it might seem at first. Even down to like a lyric or a chord change, some things can seem silly but they might be really great. There has to be that sort of comfortable atmosphere where people feel really safe to share ideas, and that’s the same. I would hope that the Format had that, too. Anathallo definitely did.
Nate: Yeah, that is actually the easiest thing. I’ve never even thought about it like that, but you shouldn’t be afraid to basically come up with an idea. The worst thing that could happen is that it’s not the idea that ends up being used in the song.
Andrew: Right. There never should be any fear of sharing or anything. There definitely isn’t in this band. What’s different, I would say… I don’t know.
Nate: Well, for me, it’s different working with three people as opposed to two. It’s weird because you guys know so much and can pretty much cover every instrument. For me, if I’m writing songs it’s not just about doing an acoustic demo, or something like that, and then figuring it out in the studio. It’s a lot more plotted out because everybody can record something.
Andrew: Another thing, honestly, that’s different for me, as much respect as I have for Anathallo and what we did, and those guys as people and as songwriters, I think a lot of times my ideas for where I wanted things to go were just different. With Nate and Jack, I really feel like we sort of are hearing the same songs in our heads as we write. It’s nice to say, “And this is what happens,” and have them be like, “Yeah, that’s great.” Or to likewise hear an idea out of them and be like, “That’s what I was hearing, too. That’s perfect. Let’s keep moving.” There’s not really a lot of time spent arguing. Obviously, every band has some disputes and disagreements as far as where things should go, and we’re no different there, but I think in general we usually hear the same thing.
I noticed there’s a ton of orchestration on the record. What was it like working with a composer?
Nate: It was pretty cool. It was actually amazing. I had worked with him before in the Format, but what was exciting this time is we even got in on doing some of the compositions.
Andrew: Yeah, we arranged like four or five songs.
Nate: What was great about that is we got pointers from Roger, who was doing a lot of the arrangements for the record. We would ask him questions, and everything like that. I feel like now we’re probably almost twice as good, just because of the few tips that we got.
Do you have any idea how many instruments you used?
Nate: Oh, man. Lots of strings. That’s the thing, it’s really heavy on strings.
Andrew: You know, instrumentation wise I didn’t think we went that nuts.
Nate: No, we didn’t actually go that nuts.
Andrew: It’s the standard rock instrumentation. There’s a string quartet that was sometimes maybe five or six, depending on the song. Other than that…
Nate: Oboe, accordion, a few keyboards here and there. We only used a few small things, but I think we maximized what we could do with them.
Andrew: The coolest thing was this Japanese gourd that a friend lent to us. Steve, the producer, and I spent a day figuring out the most interesting sounds that blended that. That was fun because it was mostly patching cables from hole to hole, trying to figure out how to even work it. That was fun. That was the most unusual thing, for me at least.
What has it been like taking all that stuff and adapting it to the live show?
Nate: It’s interesting. It’s challenging.
Andrew: It’s tough because I think what’s played on the record theoretically by 10 or 12 people, we’re tying to condense it to six. So a lot of the string parts aren’t there, but I don’t think that changes things.
Nate: No, I think it’s a great thing. I think when you play live, it’s not necessarily like that. Obviously, when you play live there’s a raw energy anyways. I think that when you’re able to strip some of those things down and take out the elegance that is the string section, then it adds to the raw energy aspect of it. I’ve always been a big fan of that and trying not to duplicate everything. It would be fun to redupe it, but there’s just so much more that goes into it.
Andrew: It would obviously be nice to play with a string quartet, but there’s something to be said… I used to love going to shows and seeing bands play something and reimagining it almost. It doesn’t sound like you’re listening to the CD because you’re at a live show, otherwise you might as well listen to the CD. It’s fun trying to recombine the sounds for a live setting. It’s really a fun challenge.
Have you noticed what the response from fans of your previous bands has been to fun.?
Nate: I feel like it’s been good. I feel like it’s been really, really good. I was worried for a long time, and I still worry occasionally, but I don’t worry anymore. In my opinion, I felt like as soon as we finished this record there was nothing else that I could do about it. As soon as it got to the listeners’ ears, there was nothing else I can do. So now that it’s leaked, or now that it’s streaming online, I’m at ease with it. Whatever people are going to think, they’re going to think, because whatever they’re hearing is who we are. This is the record that we made. For the last year, I was definitely a little more worried, but it seems like the reaction has been great.
That’s kind of what I’ve noticed, too. It seems people are really digging it.
Nate: Yeah, and that’s flattering. It’s nice because everyone’s scared of change. People just want to feel comfortable. Sometimes they want to make up a story about how it went down, or what’s going on. Sometimes I feel like when other bands form from previous bands, I think they don’t get a fair chance.
Is there a song on the record that you think best encapsulates what fun. is all about?
Andrew: I think so, absolutely. I think “Be Calm,” the first song on the record, shows kind of a little bit of everything that’s to come. There’s some sentimentality. There’s some theatricality. There’s some more kind of straight-up rock. There’s more orchestration. I think with that one, we tried to fit it all in one song. Not necessarily that we were just trying to cram stuff together, it felt like when we wrote the song that’s what it deserved. It deserved to be more of a mini symphony, rather than just a track. So I think we tried consciously to make it something worth remembering, worth hearing again and again, and listening into the mix and seeing everything that’s happening there. I think I can speak for all of us that we’re pretty proud of it.
Nate: Most definitely.
Andrew: But I don’t know. I think that sums it up, but there are other songs that do stick out.
Nate: Yeah, I feel like it does a good job of summing up the lyrical content of the record. Like Andrew said, it also has a little bit of everything.
In both your previous bands, and this one as well at least for the live version, there’s been this revolving door of musicians. What has that been like for you to work with?
Nate: It can get stressful. I mean, I think right now we’re siked.
Andrew: Loving life. It’s so much fun.
Nate: It’s been trial and error, most definitely, but right now it’s amazing. We’re loving what we’re doing.
Andrew: It’s kind of nice to have a revolving door, in the sense that there’s always a bit of freshness and new energy brought to the table. I think the ideal situation is having your five or six best friends in the car with you all the time and they never change. That would be wonderful.
Nate: And I think that this tour has definitely felt like that more than any other. It’s been amazing.
So you wrote the record back east and then recorded it out here in L.A. Is that pretty much how things went?
What was that move like and did that influence the record at all?
Nate: Yeah, I think it did. Lyrically, it influenced the record a great deal. I think half the songs are about either leaving Arizona or moving to New York. So, yeah, definitely.
Andrew: I think musically, being in a new environment with people you really respect, especially in a city like New York City and an area like New Jersey where we were, is equal parts inspiring and intimidating. It makes you hustle that much more. I felt like I had to be contributing amazing things in a really good way. It made me want to work that much harder to do something that I was proud of. I think if you’re in a place where you’re completely comfortable, that’s not always possible because then you’re not always pushed. I think being out of our element a little bit, even though it was a very welcoming environment, definitely helped us to work harder.
Lyrically, how would you say this record relates to the Format, if at all?
Nate: I think that I make reference of it just a couple of times. It had as much to do with the Format as it had to do with the age that I was turning, the state that I was leaving and the relationship that I was starting. The last couple of records I’ve made have been about a specific time in my life, and this is no different. So if that was one of the major changes in my life that had happened, then it probably will be on the record.
Your lyrics have always seemed pretty personal. Is that hard putting yourself out there like that, or just natural?
Nate: No, I think it’s just a lack of talent [laughs]. Really.
Andrew: [laughs] I disagree.
Nate: I think with lack of talent there comes a point, at least in my life, and this is like the big giveaway, where I realized I said what was on my mind as opposed to not saying things. I think there’s a point in writing songs, lyrically, where I said, “All right. I’m not going to try and sugarcoat it, or I’m not going to not talk about it. If there are repercussions then I’ll just have to deal with it.” I think sometimes that’s why it can be biting, or that’s why sometimes it can be so personal, because I’ve sold everybody out in the process.
Andrew: I think that’s one of the hardest things to do when writing lyrics is to be perfectly honest, which is what I appreciate so much about Nate’s lyrics. It’s one thing to write a song that appeals to everybody that has sort of universal lyrics, but it’s another thing to cut right to the core of a situation and who you are. I think that’s a much more difficult thing to do.
Another thing I like is when you weave in the sly commentary stuff. Like on this one, there’s “At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to Be),” which talks about nu metal and has one of my favorite lines, “I’m not a prophet but I’m here to profit.” Is that stuff fun for you to work in?
Nate: Yeah, that’s always fun. It’s weird because it’s not me, but it is, but it’s not. It’s really strange how much I do that a lot. If anything, that’s my guarded self. I do this where I’ll just say, “Fuck everything. I’m just going to go for it.” In a way, it’s like putting up a shield while throwing everything out in the process. I don’t think that’s who I am. I just think that’s sometimes how I think, so I’ll write that. The “I’m here to profit thing,” I just thought it’d be such a dick thing to say [laughs]. I mean, I don’t mean it.
Yeah, it’s very tongue in cheek.
Nate: Yeah, and I like that. If it’s going to be about me, if the listener’s going to have a perception of me, I don’t want them to think I’m a great person. I don’t think I’m a great person, but I am. I’m kind of a great person [laughs].
Switching gears to the business side of things, I know you’ve had various experiences with that, different labels and whatnot. What have you learned from your past bands that you wanted to apply this time?
Nate: It’s crazy. I feel like we’ve been doing business perfectly because of how much we’ve learned. You learn from so many mistakes early on. I feel like it’s a really tight ship in the fun. world, as far as that stuff is concerned. So much so that if something isn’t going to happen, in the past I’ve always felt like I’ve had someone else to blame for something if it didn’t go the way that I wanted it to. But if it’s not going to go great, it’s because people I think didn’t like the record, or not enough people heard it maybe. We’ve done our job tremendously from the business sense. I feel like the people we work with, our label Nettwerk, every single person that’s a part of us – I think we’ve learned from so many of the mistakes from our previous bands.
Andrew: Nettwerk, as a management company and as a record label, I think at this point they don’t even feel like the enemy, which they never have. I think record labels are perceived as these bastards that just want to make money and don’t want you to be happy. With Nettwerk, there are four people from Nettwerk coming to the show tonight, and I’m so excited to see them. I can’t wait to hang out, and talk about the record and talk about life in general, see pictures of their kids and hear about their weeks. They’re people that I call and I text and I talk to, and I really enjoy their company. Business wise, how this differs from past projects is that I don’t think a lot of bands are fortunate enough to be in situations where the people they work with are actually people they like working with and people they care about.
Nate: I agree with that wholeheartedly.
Obviously, since you’re not the biggest band in the world and the economy has been struggling, has it been hard to get by and make a living out of this now?
Nate: Yeah, definitely [laughs]. I remember my days in the Format, and this is a reality check. It’s awesome. While it’s not awesome, it’s awesome because I was handed something so completely different at such a young age when the Format was signed to a record label. I think that I didn’t grow up the way I should have in those years because of that.
Andrew: I think things just changed with the Internet and everything in general.
Nate: Yeah, so many things have changed to where I don’t feel like some privileged kid. I used to be really self-conscious about it. Now that’s one thing I can check off my list, is about feeling self-conscious. I have no money, just like everybody else.
Do you think at some point down the line the Format will ever do a reunion?
Nate: I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it. I don’t have any interest in it right now. I miss those guys. I miss them as people. I miss seeing them. Obviously, I moved. Everybody sort of moved, but this is a new band. I’m having as much fun as I’ve ever had.
Do you still talk to Sam a lot?
Nate: I talk to him occasionally. We all talk to him.
Andrew: I actually deal with Sam quite a bit because Sam does all our merch. He’s a phenomenally talented designer and businessperson, so it’s always a pleasure to check in with him.
Now I heard that he helped a little bit with writing a few songs. Is that true?
Nate: Yeah. A few of them we had started as Format tracks that were supposed to be on the next Format record, but obviously it didn’t work out like that.
You guys are a pretty complex and sophisticated band, especially for pop music, which that genre has become so watered down these days. Why do you think that is the case now, where most artists don’t have those ambitions?
Nate: I don’t know. I ask myself that all the time because I just don’t get it. I thought that the best thing you could ever do was just be yourself, otherwise it would be so annoying. So maybe everybody’s being themselves, seriously – annoying, stupid.
Andrew: I think a lot of the reason, and granted maybe I’m taking your question and putting my own spin on it for something I want to say to the world, is that I think it’s very easy to write a simple pop song. Obviously, I have a tremendous respect for pop songwriters.
Or have someone else right that simple pop song for you.
Andrew: Right. It’s difficult to work hard, and it’s hard to write something that is equal parts complex and hopefully listenable. I think the older we get and the more we write songs, the more we think about what we really want to do in this world and the mark we want to leave. It takes effort. For us, as people who maybe things don’t come directly to, it takes an extreme amount of effort. It takes an extreme amount of time, thought, communication and research even, in some instances. Like we wanted to know how ABBA got their string sound, so we figured it out.
In a lot of songwriting, I think that’s not the case. I think people just write what comes naturally, which is important, but what comes naturally to me is sitting all day watching Full House reruns. Obviously, that’s not the best way to live. So for me writing a stupid, three-chord rock song would be cool, but it’s also like I’d almost have to fight against my natural inertia of staying still and try to get myself to write more, write farther and write deeper. I think that’s one thing that Nate, Jack and I really share is that we’re trying to see what we’re capable of. Maybe that sounds a little cocky, but I think it’s important to push yourself. I think not enough people are pushing themselves right now.
Do you have any goals or ambitions for the future of fun.?
Nate: World domination.
Andrew: Yeah, why not? When I first started making music, I wanted to be bigger than the Beatles. Why not try for that? Go big or go home.
Nate: [laughs] Exactly. Modesty is lame [singing].
Andrew: [laughs] We’re on a very conceited kick this week. It’s really funny because we’re all pretty modest people.
Nate: I feel like that’s the least modest answer you could ever say.
Andrew: [laughs] To say you’re modest is bullshit. Nobody’s modest. We’re happy if people come to the shows. If people know the words and sing along, that’s great. That’s amazing. That’s all a musician can hope for.
Nate: Obviously, that makes us happy. If we don’t get world domination, that’s all right, as long as people come to the shows.
Andrew: But what we’re aiming for, in all honesty, is we write songs that we’re proud of and we want everybody to hear them. Why not try for it?
Nate: True dat.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press