Jack Antonoff, one-third of the Grammy-winning indie pop band Fun, is at a Hollywood recording studio previewing tracks from Bleachers, a side project he’s spent the last year secretly crafting.
“I wanted a modern ‘Dancing in the Dark’ feeling,” Antonoff said before he pressed play on a synth-heavy, pop-rock number on the upcoming Bleachers album. He asked that we not reveal the song title yet, but it owes a lot to Bruce Springsteen’s early-'80s hit.
Antonoff squeezed in recording sessions during and inbetween Fun's nonstop touring behind its 2012's breakout effort "Some Nights." That meant cutting songs all over the map, including in Malaysia and Sweden.
The singer-songwriter said he wanted an album that was a throwback to growing up in New Jersey (where he was raised) and sounded like it could score an '80s movie, specifically one of John Hughes' angsty teen classics from the decade.
Nostalgia for that era is all over Bleachers’ first single, “I Wanna Get Better,” which Antonoff released on Tuesday to launch the project.
The pop-rock number he wrote and co-produced with John Hill (MIA, Jay Z, Empire of the Sun) has all the anthemic qualities that fueled Fun's big breakout: lyrical sentiment built around a catchy chorus, distorted guitar riffs, poppy synths and enough brassy beat to fill an arena.
“What I hope it is, is an epicness with some sadness,” Antonoff said of the album's direction inbetween playing tracks.
At one point, he reached toward an electronic drum pad and started fiddling with a recording of Yoko Ono's vocals that he intends to insert into a track.
Ono is certainly an unexpected guest, but the avant-garde artist was game for Antonoff's experimental approach. She's just one of many voices he's turned into samples. He also cut tracks using voicemails and conversations with friends.
The sister of his famous filmmaker girlfriend Lena Dunham is sampled on one track, he pointed out.
“It's not a concept [album]," he said of the samples that interpolate the album. “In hip-hop you see these reoccurring samples. Instead of pulling from '70s albums, I pulled from my friends.”
Bleachers’ self-titled debut is set to arrive this spring via RCA Records. And no, he has no plans on ditching Fun.
“When other guys do something [solo], it’s apologetic. This isn't that,” he said. “It’s meant to be larger than life. I felt pressure, I don’t know why. I’m not leaving the band or anything.”
“I felt very compelled to work on this album than to sleep,” Antonoff said. “I look back at the past two years and it didn’t feel right to do an album, but I did. And that felt better than planning an album.”
Antonoff’s side project is to make its network television debut with a performance on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” on March 26.
Bleachers' first live show will happen at South by Southwest followed by a string of dates throughout the spring and summer, including a gig at the Troubadour on March 19.
Listen to "I Wanna Get Better" below: