Keyboardist Andrew Dost chats about the making of Some Nights, the band’s recent shot to stardom, and maintaining a high degree of integrity in everything you do.
So the last time I spoke with you and Nate was back at Chain Reaction on one of your first tours ever with Hellogoodbye. It seems like a few things have changed in the two and a half years since then. What have these last couple months been like for you?
They’ve been really interesting. It’s very strange, very surreal, but in a lot of ways nothing has really changed, I guess. We’re still out playing shows. Day-to-day nothing’s changed because we go about our business the way we always do. It’s nice to get phone calls from my parents because they heard us on the radio, or my uncle heard us on TV or whatever. Those things are nice, but day-to-day nothing has changed. It’s just nice that people are aware of what we’re doing now.
“We Are Young” is selling millions of downloads and is the biggest song of the year so far. It must be crazy to think about how many people are hearing your stuff now.
Yeah, it’s really, really exciting and really inspiring. It really validates the last 10 years of my life in a lot of ways. It’s really nice and is inspiring us to make music, which is always a good thing.
Obviously, the song was on Glee last year and then on the Super Bowl commercial, and these days bands have to be creative and think outside the box with the music industry and radio how it is. What was your thought process for getting the Some Nights record out there?
Fortunately, our label has been really cool about that. They’re an amazing label. They’re so hardworking and talented. More importantly, they want to do right by us. They never put any pressure on us about what kind of album we had to make. They only wanted to get on board with our vision for the album, and that has also translated to the ways in which they’re promoting it. With Glee, I think it was a very well done scene. It served the song, and the song served the show. I think it was a nice symbiotic relationship of a beautiful moment on the trajectory of the show.
With the Super Bowl commercial, I thought it was a really cool commercial and really well shot. It looked beautiful and was very inspiring, and we liked the way it showcased fun. The label has been smart with things like that. They’ve also been cool with making sure we’re OK with everything they want to do. It’s really nice. We all share a common vision for what we want the album to be and how we want to push it as a band, so that’s been really nice. Also, while we were recording it, they were always excited and only pushing us in the best ways. They were inspiring us and encouraging us all. That was really nice, and a wonderful environment to make an album in.
This album is drastically different than Aim & Ignite, especially on the production side, where it’s very driven by the production and electronic elements. How did that difference impact the writing and recording process?
We knew we wanted the album to sound more like that, more driven by the beats and less all over the place tempo-wise. We knew we wanted to let the songs be in a little more of a pocket, so when we were writing we started making beats and playing along to those beats, which is actually helpful. Nate sings, I play piano and Jack plays guitar mostly, so nobody is typically sitting at the drum set when we’re writing. It was nice to have a beat going right away to help us structure it and help with the foundation. We headed early on in that direction.
Fortunately, we were able to work with Jeff Bhasker and Emile Haynie, who are two of our favorite hip-hop producers. They’re more than hip-hop, really. They’re two of our favorite producers, period. Not only were we able to take our rudimentary knowledge of beats, we were also able to use their crazy expertise and creative ways. It was a really inspiring situation in the studio. It was the first time Jeff had ever recorded guitars, so hearing Jack play guitar was really exciting. It was the first time we had ever seen anybody with that level of expertise on making beats, so that was really inspiring for us. There was this wonderful back and forth of creativity and it was a really fun time in the studio. It was really wonderful.
With the production and vocal effects, it can be easy to get carried away with all that stuff. I’m sure there’s people out there who would prefer if you had stripped down a little more like your first album or the Format records, and yet there’s stuff out there that’s still way more showy than what you did. How did you find the balance between those two and know when too much was too much?
I think any decision we made on this album was because it was what we had envisioned and what we wanted to hear. If people aren’t on board with it, I don’t really know what to say. We’re really happy about the album and when Auto-Tune is used. Actually, my favorite section on the entire album is on “Stars,” when it splits into Auto-Tune and it splits into the digital harmonies and the vocoder. That was probably one of the most inspiring times in the studio, and still my favorite section of the whole album. I don’t know. Anytime there’s a different sound introduced into a band’s sonic palette, it’s a little jarring, so I guess I understand. But I also hope that people will give it time if it’s a little jarring at first.
Nate doesn’t play an instrument and communicates the melodies by humming and singing them. Have you tried to teach him an instrument at all?
No, I think Nate is really good at what he does. I would rather have him continue to do that than to be a beginner guitar player. What we have works really well and I don’t want to mess with the formula. I also don’t want to learn any new instruments. I think it’s more important for us right now to focus on what we know we can do really well.
Do you feel you guys were more in tune and clicked better on this album than on Aim & Ignite?
I think so, yeah. When we started working on “Benson Hedges” was basically when I met Jack. I had said hello before, but that was flying to his house to basically live there. It was a big transition in our lives. It’s hard to make those changes and also start writing music with people you hardly know. Jack and Nate knew each other pretty well, so they had that, but they had never tried writing music together, which is making yourself vulnerable in a completely new way. A lot of the first album was figuring out how to work together, how to communicate, how to write together, and it felt like we really got the hang of it about halfway through Aim & Ignite.
Some Nights came together much more quickly because we had our language. We knew what each other was talking about. We knew who does what really well and we knew how to delegate responsibilities in terms of composing songs. It was much easier for us. It was a lot more fun and a lot more enjoyable to sit down and start pounding out these songs, and not be so worried about trying to impress anybody. It was just more about the songs, which is a good feeling.
Also in between the two albums you really hit the road pretty hard and toured like crazy. How did that influence things?
I think in the same way, learning how to communicate better and learning how to be closer. Nate and I had toured together because I had played with the Format a little bit on a couple tours, so we knew we could get along, but there’s also something to be said for if your tire blows at three in the morning. You’re stranded and you got to do something about it. Moments like that really solidify a friendship and an artistic partnership.
The only way to do that is to get out on the road and hit it. The last couple years were really important for us interpersonally. There’s really no better way to play music than for people who want to hear it and want to sing along. I wouldn’t trade the last couple years of our journey for anything. We had a great time and made a lot of new friends. It was really important for us.
This new record that you’ve been playing live sounds quite a bit different than the recorded version. You have stuck to doing things mostly live and not track-based, which a lot of bands do these days. What decisions did you have on figuring out how to play these songs?
We have always tried to play live music. It used to be we weren’t even really thinking about the recording, we were only thinking about how to translate it live. Now with fun., we talk about both things as we’re writing the songs. A song will have a string arrangement on the album, but live I’m going to play it on piano. Live, I’m going to distill this four-instrument horn part into one trumpet line or whatever.
We talk about everything as we’re writing it because we really pride ourselves on being a live band and trying to translate things live. We use tracks a little bit now, but we try not to rely on them. We don’t want it to be a crutch. We want it to enhance the songs. If there’s a way for us to pull it off, we’ll always try to pull it off live first.
One of the songs you had been playing since I think 2010 that didn’t end up on the album was the song called “What the Fuck.” Did you end up doing a recorded version and will that ever see the light of day?
We started one and it just didn’t really hold up to the other songs. It never really clicked in the studio, so I don’t know. It might eventually. I don’t want to say no, but at this point we get too excited about the other songs and are too excited about the songs now we’re writing. We’re always trying to beat everything that we’ve ever done in the past, so as long as we can keep beating that one than I don’t know if it will surface.
So you guys have already started writing new stuff? Do you see yourselves progressing more in the Some Nights vein or doing a mixture of a bunch of different stuff? What is that sounding like?
I don’t know. We’re always trying to make songs that we’re inspired by and like at the time we’re working on them. We’ve talked about a couple songs, but nothing too serious yet. We’re always singing into our phones, or writing down little scraps of whatever. We haven’t all sat down and worked on anything yet.
As far as the next album goes, I don’t know what it’s going to sound like. We didn’t really know what this one was going to sound like. We didn’t really know what Aim & Ignite was going to sound like. We just write stuff that we like in the moment and production-wise treat them by what excites us as we’re recording. It could be a punk album. It could be a jazz album. It could be anything. It depends on what we’re excited by at the moment, I guess, and when we can record and produce with that feeling of inspiration and not have to feel like you’re laboring over anything. It has to be fresh and inspiring as you’re making it.
With a No. 1 single, I’m sure you’re getting a bunch of crazy offers, or will soon if you haven’t already, and a bunch of random people talking to you, promises made and whatnot. How do you not compromise what you have built up to this point and not compromise on a personal integrity level as well?
We’ve been playing music for our whole lives. We’ve been playing music professionally for 10 years, at least. Once you do it for so long and grind it out for so long, you know who you are. You know what your identity is, and you know what you want out of life and the music industry. It’s confusing at times, but still I think we have a good sense of who we are as artists for sure.
At this point, those good habits are hard to break. In a good way it’s nice to know who we are, and know that we don’t have to stop being who we are, because who we are got us to this point. So, that’s nice. There’s not really any pressure to change, because we’re basically doing what we’ve always done.
A lot of the Absolute Punk community has been behind fun. since day one and followed your other bands since before fun. even started. How do you not leave the original fans in the cold, or alienate them, while also embracing everything that comes with this mainstream success? How do you balance those worlds?
We try to not alienate our old fans. I know it’s got to be a weird feeling when more people become aware of a band. I know that feeling really well, of feeling like a band who’s my little secret sort of get taken away from me in a way. I understand that feeling, but I would hope that our fans who have been around for a while are still happy for us and still like the music we’re writing. We’re making the same songs and doing the same things with the integrity we’ve always had. A band only sells out if they start making music that feels watered down, and I don’t think we did that. We’re trying to maintain a high degree of integrity with everything we do.
I feel like a lot of fans have stayed onboard. I hope they have. It definitely seems like at least most have, but it’s hard to tell. I definitely am grateful for everyone that has been around for a long time, especially Absolute Punk. You’ve always been really cool, and even with my solo stuff, you’ve always been so supportive. There’s really no substitute for that. There’s no substitute for fans who actually care, and fans who seek out new music and fans who support bands. There’s no way we can continue to make music without that sort of community and without that support, so we’re really grateful.
Whatever we can do to keep those fans happy and let them know how much we appreciate them, we’ll do. We’ve been doing contests and going bowling with people. We did this event where we went skydiving with fans. We’re trying to grow and reach new people, but at the same time we’re trying to do everything we can to let those people know we do notice and we do care. It does mean a lot to us that people have supported us for so long. That’s everything to us.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the site these last few months, but you guys have dominated the news feed pretty soundly. We’re all super proud of you guys and what you’ve been able to do this year, so keep it up.
Awesome! Well, thank you so much. Thanks for not only lately but also for the last four years, or whatever it’s been. You guys have always been so good to us and we really appreciate it.
Originally appeared on Absolute Punk