Nate Ruess on Being fun.
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Nate Ruess isn’t new to the music industry, but what he and his band, fun., are doing hasn’t been seen before.
The band’s hit song, “We Are Young,” has entered the minds and iPods of pop and rock fans alike. With a boost from its use on Glee and a Chevy Sonic Super Bowl commercial, “We Are Young” has worked its way to the top of the charts – an unusual outcome for an album-focused artist.
“We always felt like the song was going to do really well for us [but] I’m not sure that we imagined it was going to be the way that it’s been lately,” Ruess said. “I just remember, right after the Super Bowl, the song pretty much went to number one…which is pretty surreal when you think about where this band comes from and where we started out and the fact that having a hit song wasn’t essentially one of our goals – it was just to make a great album that people would come and see us live and respond to.”
Formed in 2008 after Ruess’ original band, The Format, disbanded, he sought out Andrew Dost, who had toured with The Format as an instrumentalist, and Jack Antonoff of Steel Train.
“I had admired the way Jack played guitar and the way that Andrew played piano…so as soon as I got out of my last band…I called them up to see if they would be interested in doing a project with me,” Ruess said. “So we flew out to New Jersey to meet in Jack’s parents’ living room…and start recording.”
After releasing their debut album, Aim and Ignite, in the summer 2009, Ruess and his cohorts began to think about their next venture, this year’s Some Nights.
Ruess, who doesn’t play an instrument, began to write songs in his head, drawing inspiration from Queen to Kanye West. Ruess read through the linear notes of various hip-hop albums and noticed the prevalence of one producer’s name: Jeff Bhasker.
Hoping to meld fun.’s theatrical pop sound with hip-hop elements, Ruess made it a priority to meet with Bhasker, the man who helped create Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Beyoncé’s 4.
“[Bhasker] blew me off when we were supposed to meet like two times and then the third time, when we were set to meet, I was like: ‘Eh, I’m not expecting anything to come out of this…’ [but] we really hit it off,” Ruess said. “I just started to sing him the chorus of “We Are Young” and I don’t think anyone had heard it yet. I don’t think I had ever even sang it out, you know, I always just heard it in my head…and his jaw dropped. We went into the studio two days later and the rest kind of took off from there.”
The hip-hop influence becomes prevalent in Some Nights’ “All Alone” and “One Foot.” However, Queen’s sound is most eminent in its opening track, “Some Nights (Intro)”, while the entire album has a theatrical quality.
With a Broadway credited uncle, it’s no a surprise Ruess creates lyrics that leave listeners expecting a curtain call.
“[It’s] inherent in who we are,” Ruess said. “We’re not drama kids…but we all grew up watching musical theatre and it was something we were into. Then, when we made the first album, we were living in New York [City] and we would go to Broadway shows all the time and I think it’s kind of inherent to us.”
Despite the songs’ theatricality and general up-beat instrumentals, the lyrics are of a serious and deeply personal nature.
“Just because it’s a happy song doesn’t mean, for me, it has to be happy lyrics. I’m always generally a pessimistic person when I’m writing lyrics,” Ruess said. “Hopefully one day I can write something that’s going to be all happy and not have that pessimism, but that’s just the way that I write. I happen to take my insecurities and tend to turn
However, fun.’s eccentric sound doesn’t stop there. Although auto-tune, which was created to mask the inaccuracies of a musician’s pitch, is often frowned upon because it’s considered a crutch for bad artists, Ruess embraces the tool’s possibilities.
.fun uses the auto-tune as an aid, giving this ostracized effect a chance.
“You know, guitars get to have guitar pedals, but why not have a vocal effect here? For ‘Stars,’ I wanted the song to sound kind of like a Van Morisson song, have a Van Morrison type of feel, but I wanted it to be in the future,” Ruess said. “Van Morrison…does like a lot of …one take vocal kind of things. I did that for the ending of ‘Stars,’ the part that is auto-tuned. It was just one take of me… [and] it’s one of my favorite moments in the album.”