Q+A: Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff Seeks Artistic Permanence



In 2014, Jack Antonoff surprised many by creatively stepping outside of his role in Fun. to unleash Strange Desire, an indie-pop solo effort released under the guise of Bleachers. No one, apart from family, a few close friends and collaborators knew of the project’s inner workings until it was ready to roll.

Now over a year and a half since the unveiling of Strange Desire, Antonoff has built a sizeable Bleachers fan base and gained so much confidence from this experience that a sophomore album is in the works.

At Riot Fest Toronto, Riffyou.com pulled up a chair next to Antonoff to discuss coming out of nowhere, making a mark and the search for artistic permanence.

RY: Since coming out in 2014, Strange Desires has been received really well. How surprising was that for you?

Jack: “Everything was shocking. All I knew was how badly I wanted to make the album, write and play the album live. From there, I didn’t know what to expect…because you never know what to expect when you put something out.”

RY: In hindsight, did not having any attention on the album from the outside world help with its creation?

Jack: “At that point, it wasn’t real yet – it was something that existed in my bedroom. It literally didn’t matter which other bands I was in, or where I was coming from, or what I had done in my life. That body of work was no different than [what would come from] any other 15-year-old kid writing songs in his bedroom. The album sounds like you’re alone with me.” {Laughs}

RY: Has the form or concept of the album changed for you as it’s become accepted by a wider audience?

Jack: “People change albums all of the time, so as soon as it came out, it shifted. I see it in two ways now. I listen to the album now and I hear this moment in time of me being alone in my room. Then I experience the live shows and the whole culture of what Bleachers is – that feels very present and like a community. I always want both of those sides to it. I want people to feel welcome, but I also want the music to be super personal.”

RY: As personal as this album was to make, were you thinking about how others would perceive it? Many musicians claim to just write for themselves.

Jack: “I think the best way to write for your fans, is to write for yourself. I don’t know if I can agree that the two [can be separated] because if you write for your fans, how do you really know what your fans bleachers-14want? The only way you can really know what they want is to be honest. That’s what I’ve always loved about albums from other artists: I want to see myself in them.”

RY: Did the experience of Strange Desire album teach you anything about yourself? 

Jack: “Yeah, it gave me this feeling that I can have an idea and although the end of it seems impossible, I can just stay the course and have it happen. I really cherish that feeling of being able to day-by-day make this unimaginable thing slowly happen. I’m working on an album right now and I don’t know…I can’t even imagine it being done. But, I know that tomorrow I can write and one day there it is.”

RY: Is it weird working on the next chapter of Bleachers with an audience and expectations intact?

Jack: “It’s exciting. The first time around, it was, ‘Is anybody going to give a fuck?’ This time, I have to do right by these people. I don’t ever want to be in a position in my life where I don’t feel some weight of the world on me.”

RY: That said, do you thrive on expectations and having that wait of the world on you?

Jack: “I don’t know if that part matters to me because I know that I am only going to do what’s really exciting to me anyways. I don’t know what makes me work better or worse. I haven’t figured that out yet.”

RY: Maybe it’s best that you haven’t figured out the process.

Jack: “I don’t want to devote my life to something that can be figured out anyway – I don’t know why anyone would. And I don’t think anything great can be figured out. I don’t think you can figure out how to write, create music, or create art. I don’t think those things are about being figured out and mastered: they’re about living until the day you die and along the way documenting [life] the best you can. I try to focus on making the album I can do right now, as long as I work as hard as I can.”

RY: What do you want from the next album?

Jack: “From a creative level, I want it to be the best thing I’ve ever done, because that’s what I thought Strange Desire was. Everything has mortality to it. Everything that happens creatively, there is this part of you that says, ‘If I died now, would I be happy with this?’ When I did Strange Desire, I thought that if I left the apartment and somebody shot me or I spontaneously combusted, I’d be pretty proud that I got this done. And, I feel like there’s this race to get things done.”

RY: Does that mean you are big on the idea of leaving something important behind for future generations? 

Jack: “Yes, but no. I don’t think about it in the sense of leaving something behind. I think of it in the way of getting it done and stamping it so it can never go away. That gives it permanence. I think that’s the comfort I get from not being permanent. I’m not permanent, I’ll go away at some point, but if I do an album, it is permanent and no matter what happens, those recordings will be in enough places.”

-Adam Grant

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