Jack Antonoff is shaping music right now in more ways than you may even know. Last year, he released his second record as Bleachers – the anthemic, nostalgic, 80s-leaning record Gone Now – and while that would’ve been more than enough for some that’s just the start of what he did.
Antonoff co-produced Melodrama with Lorde, wrote six songs on Taylor Swift’s Reputation and also contributed to records by P!NK, St. Vincent and Banks. That’s all while touring his own record. It seems he’s achieved the impossible but Antonoff is incredibly lax about it. Ahead of his Australian Bleachers tour with Paramore, Antonoff spoke to Music Feeds over the phone from New York.
He doesn’t gloat about having a number one record all around the world with Taylor Swift or selling out Bleachers shows worldwide. Instead, he simplifies it down to the music and the feeling he gets when he makes it. He’s unphased by commercial pressure or outside expectation, rather retreating to the studio and making it all about the music.
MF: Do you get to spend much time at home now?
JA: Yes and no. I’m never home for that long but I’m never gone for that long. I used to tour more in a way of I’d be gone for six months at a time but I don’t really do that anymore.
MF: Is that something that’s happened naturally or something you’ve learnt from past touring that you don’t like being on the road for prolonged periods?
JA: I do better with constant short trips. I think I play better shows like that.
MF: How do you fit in then everything that you’ve done this year? You released a Bleachers record, have worked with Lorde, Taylor Swift and St. Vincent (to name a few) and toured.
JA: You just sort of let things dictate things. I write whenever I feel like it. It’s important for me to write when I want and touring fits around that. When making a Bleachers album I write when I feel like I have something to say.
MF: December, you start to feel nostalgic about the year that was. Does it feel like a whirlwind year for you?
JA: Yes and no. On one hand it feels like I don’t really know how it all happened. I have a hard time reflecting on things because once I do something I’m so in it I can’t reflect on it. And then the funny thing about writing records is once it’s released it’s just gone and then you’re focussed on connecting to those feelings that make you write something different. There’s no time to reflect on it I don’t think that’s part of the process.
MF: This Bleachers album is you up front, from the music to the cover. Is the feeling of releasing it different to say when the Lorde album drops and you’re in the producer mode?
JA: Yep, it’s very different. If I work on someone else’s album that’s their stories and I feel connected and attached but there’s a difference between that and sharing your stories, it’s a much more vulnerable experience.
MF: And Gone Now felt even more personal than the first Bleachers record. Am I right in saying that?
JA: It definitely digs a little deeper in certain places. For some reason when I was writing it I had this intense feeling like I wanted to…I mean that’s why it’s called Gone Now. I wanted it to exist if I wasn’t here trying to explain to people who I was I why I cared about the things I did.
MF: That’s a scary process to have to look back on yourself like that and assess yourself but also look at how other people see you as well.
JA: It’s a lot and it’s a lot to consider. I think that’s why it’s so easy to retreat to the studio and chip away at it one thing at a time. Thinking about the whole thing is a lot and you just have to let it slowly come to you.
MF: What’s touring it been like? Has it been cathartic and liberating to watch all these people sing these deeply personal things back?
JA: It means the world to me. It’s a celebration of that music. You make things because you want to connect to people so when you actually can do that and put people in a room and celebrate music together it’s amazing.
MF: You’ve written so many intimate moments this year for yourself and even Lorde and Taylor and you’ve seen them sung back by thousands. Does that ever stop blowing your mind?
JA: No, that’s not something is possible to get used to. It’s not possible.
MF: It feels like for you, you’ve got such a strong community of people around you from the people who feature on the Bleachers record to those that you’ve produced for. Has that been something that’s really grown for you in the past few years, working out who are the right people to work with and who strengthens your musical output?
JA: Yeah, you want to find those people and when you find them you want to hold onto them. It’s not obvious that you’re going to find those people. It can be strange and you can go through a lot of strange processes where you hurt yourself. There are only a few people who I know how to work with and who understand me. Especially when I’m making a Bleachers album, it’s super vulnerable. You want to be around those people who can help you.
MF: Do you feel the pressure when you sit down to work with, say, Taylor, where there are big commercial expectations compared to your own record? Or do you keep it all in the same headspace?
JA: I don’t really think of anything beyond the music no matter what I’m doing. I think any kind of commercial success is just a product of quality or that’s the kind of commercial success that you’d want to have anyway. I try to just stay very focussed on the moment in the studio.
MF: Is that a reaction to the pop machine that churns out hits with little feeling?
JA: No one does this because they were obsessed with money or success. They just do it because they want to share these feelings or sounds so you just have to stay in that and whatever comes, comes. You just need to stay connected to the reason you got into it in the first place.
MF: We’re super excited about you coming down under next year with Paramore. You both released two records last year that so many people have been chatting about here. Are you excited?
JA: I’m thrilled. I’ve only been there with Fun. and I’ve never been there with Bleachers. Every time I had a chance something would come up and I’d miss it so I’m so ready to come down.
Catch Jack Antonoff’s Bleachers touring Australia in February with Paramore.