From his bedroom to Bleachers, Antonoff tells his story
Jack Antonoff plays Saint Andrew’s Hall with Bleachers on Sunday and he’s bringing his bedroom with him
Jack Antonoff says the best place to listen to the new Bleachers album is inside his childhood bedroom, so he’s bringing his childhood bedroom with him on tour.
Yes, the whole bedroom. Antonoff worked with L.A.-based designers All Valley Yacht Club to remove the cabinets, carpeting, drawers, posters, loose CDs and assorted tchotchkes from the room he grew up in in suburban New Jersey and turn it into a traveling art exhibit of sorts. It will be in Detroit and available for fans to observe outside the venue when Bleachers plays Saint Andrew’s Hall on Sunday.
“I thought, I can play the record for the world, but somehow I wish they could hear it in this room,” says Antonoff, on the phone last week during a tour break in New York. “Well, obviously that’s not possible, right? But if we were able to remove it, all the energy and all the things — not replicate it, but literally remove it, the walls, the floors, everything, all the spaces that have seen me at my best and worst — if we could do that and people could hear the album in there, that would mean so much to me. I think it’s nice to have intimate ideas and then find a way to bring that intimacy to a lot of people.”
The traveling bedroom project — Antonoff’s greatest non-musical triumph, he reckons — is just one way the 33-year-old is bringing intimacy to a lot of people. The former guitarist for fun. — you remember the band’s Grammy-winning smash single “We Are Young,” of course — is one of pop music’s most in-demand producers, having crafted hits for Taylor Swift (“Out of the Woods,” “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever”), Lorde (Antonoff produced 10 of the 11 songs on her new album “Melodrama”), Sara Bareilles (“Brave”) and more. He’s also in a high profile relationship with “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, his girlfriend of several years, and they’re viewed as a millennial power couple.
Right now Antonoff’s focus is Bleachers, the indie pop band he formed when fun. went on hiatus. The group’s debut album “Strange Desire” was released in 2014 and “Gone Now,” its sophomore set, followed earlier this month. It’s full of big choruses, personal lyrics and a yearning desire to break out of New Jersey, a commonality of New Jerseyites from Bruce Springsteen to Bon Jovi and beyond.
“There’s something to this landscape. There’s something to this place right outside of New York City that is giving everyone a similar feeling,” Antonoff says of the New Jersey mentality. “I think every place has a feeling that comes through in the music. It’s the reason why I wanted to go home and work on the album, because I wanted to be attached to that feeling.”
“Gone Now’s” 12 songs were written rather economically; they’re the 12 songs he wrote for the album, not a collection of 12 songs cobbled together from a pool of 50. “I don’t go too far with something if it doesn’t feel right,” he says. “I get a gut feeling that something thrills me or it doesn’t. At the end of the day that’s the big test of what I’d like to release: Does it give me this amazing feeling, or not?”
Antonoff gets that feeling from playing live shows, and Bleachers’ music comes alive in a live setting in a way it doesn’t on record.
“Nothing compares to playing a show,” says Antonoff, who lists seeing the Mountain Goats at the Bowery Ballroom as a seminal concert experience in his lifetime. “It’s a huge part of it for me, I don’t see it as being a separate thing. I see performing live as a real piece of the puzzle that connects all of it.”
One puzzle piece he hasn’t connected is the question of why he works so well with women. Is it that he grew up with two sisters? (His younger sister died of brain cancer when she was 13 and Antonoff was still in high school.) Or does he just relate to women on a different level?
“I haven’t figured it out, I don’t have a real sense of why. And I don’t know why I don’t know why,” says Antonoff, who released an all-female cover version of “Strange Desire,” titled “Terrible Thrills, Vol. 2,” in 2015. “It should make more sense to me, but at the end of the day, I don’t know. It just feels right.”
Following his intuition and what feels right is what has led Antonoff from his bedroom to the stage, and it’s the story he continues to tell — through Bleachers, through his productions and through his live shows.
“I think it’s a story that should be told, but more importantly, it’s the only story I can tell, because that’s who I am,” Antonoff says.
7 p.m. Sunday
Saint Andrew’s Hall, 431 E. Congress, Detroit
Ticketmaster.com or (313) 961-8137