News Column

A 'Strange Desire' for the '80s comes over Antonoff

July 14, 2014

By Korina Lopez, @KorinaLopez, USA TODAY

In 1984, John Hughes' iconic film Sixteen Candles made its debut, Prince's Purple Rain stormed music charts, and Madonna seared herself into pop-culture history with her performance of Like a Virgin at the MTV Video Music Awards. Hair was big and shoulder pads were bigger. It was also the year Jack Antonoff was born.

Although he's technically a child of the '80s, Antonoff didn't experience the decade the same way as Hughes' characters.

"To me, the '80s were epic and sincere. Music was large and grand and unapologetic," says Antonoff, who is famous for being a member of the band fun. (which won Grammys in 2013 for best new artist and song of the year, with We Are Young) and Lena Dunham's boyfriend. "I don't feel connected to the apathy of the '90s."

Today, he releases Strange Desire, the debut album of his first solo project, Bleachers, a name he says conjures up "suburban vibes."

Though the bold, synth-pop songs on the album are fun and danceable like the songs of the '80s, their inspiration comes from a place of sorrow.

"There was 9/11, my sister died (of brain cancer in 2002 at age 13), and my cousin died in the Iraq War (in 2003)," he says.

"So a lot happened in a short span of time. It was an end to an age of innocence. I had (post-traumatic stress disorder) and rarely left the house, and I disassociated from everyone for a long time. This album is about that and finding a way to move on, without leaving it behind."

As Hughes did with his films, Antonoff wrote Strange Desire to have an element of hope. "I Wanna Get Better (the first single, No. 2 on USA TODAY's alternative airplay chart) reflects that. My verses are literal. I'm not a songwriter like Billy Joel who can sing songs about other people. I write about what I've been through," he says. "I also want the album to be something relatable. It's not just me ranting about my own problems."

Also as in Hughes' films, Antonoff packs in the romance. The album is a peek into his relationship with Dunham, whom he has been dating since 2012. The Girlscreator also left her mark in the I Wanna Get Better video, which she directed.

Antonoff wrote the album over two years while touring with fun. "Lena and I talked about the music over dinner, and the guys in the band knew I was doing something, but the album was largely a giant secret," he says. "It wasn't the ideal time for me to start a solo project, but when it comes to songwriting, you have to follow your ideas when you have them. I'd wake up in the middle of the night in Japan and start writing.

"One day, I realized that these aren't fun. songs, and they're too personal for other artists, so I kept them."

But, he stresses, the fun. will go on. When Nate Ruess, Andrew Dost and Antonoff started the band in 2008, "we were in three separate bands, so fun. was really our idea of a supergroup. So I'll be doing fun. and touring as Bleachers simultaneously. I wrote this album while I was on tour with them, and that didn't sound like it would work on paper, but it did."

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Source: USA Today

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