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ATP Interview: Bleachers

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve most likely heard of Jack Antonoff whether you know it or not. He’s kind of a big deal. He’s been involved in the music industry since age 15 with his punk band and has since built quite the impressive resume. He fronted indie-rock band Steel Train, is dating Girls star Lena Dunham, written songs with Taylor Swift, and while touring the world with his insanely successful band fun., wrote and recorded an album for his latest project, Bleachers.

Antonoff announced his project with the release of the first single “I Wanna Get Better,” an unapologetically honest anthem earlier this year. Several months and several innovative marketing ideas later, Bleachers’ debut album Strange Desire was released just in time to become the soundtrack of summer 2014.

We talked with Antonoff about marketing, writing on tour, and 90’s music, so sit back, blast “I Wanna Get Better” through your headphones, and learn more about the next big thing, Bleachers.

Alter The Press: You used some overlooked platforms to market Strange Desire like your telethon on public access TV, the hotline, etc. How did you come up with the ideas?

Jack Antonoff: Um, basically just trying to think of ways to cut through the noise. One thing that I like to do is start with the worst idea and you know figure out what I don’t wanna do like in the landscape of how people promote things. You know I definitely didn’t want to do an interactive hashtag thing or some crap like that, and I thought that, I grew up in the 90’s and there was a lot of mystery and discovery with records and I like that idea to search to find more. I just wanted to find ways to have discovery, you know, so that’s why we used Craigslist and Yelp and the hotline and things like that its just ways to give people the opportunity to discover something and not have it in their face.

Did the youthful suburban vibe of the album have any affect on how you chose to market it?

Definitely like those things the album is very tied into, like you said youthful and suburban. I grew up in New Jersey and it was youthful and it was very suburban, you know, a lot of the perspective of where I’m writing the album works with that time period and would work with those elements.

Did you have any ideas to market this album that ended up not working out or you just thought were bad ideas?

No we kind of went with all of them like even when it came time to release the cover art. We had the idea to put it on sheet cakes and send it to fans for their birthday like, you know, that was probably the most out there idea and we went with it and it worked so we didn’t really hold back anywhere.

How did you come up with the idea to do track by track reviews on Yelp?

There were a lot of different conversations about like ideas that haven’t been done yet. That’s kind of like my biggest thing, I don’t mind if we do something that doesn’t really work as long as we do something that’s completely interesting and has not been done. And so like we were all talking like no artists have really used Yelp yet so you know it also ties into the fact that this album was made all over the world in all these different places so there’s like a geograph on it. Also you know finding ways constantly to do things that are completely unique which gets harder and harder as time barrels into the future and everything has been done before.

How did the geographic locations affect like the mindset you were in when you wrote the songs because they all feel like you wrote them at home but you wrote one in Japan and Malaysia and all over the place so how did the location affect the song?

The actual locations had no effect on them like being in Japan and Malaysia. I didn’t like get into local music or the atmosphere, if anything, I just stayed in this weird hotel room or I’d go to the studio or I’d be in bed on my computer but I think the real effect was the idea of being disconnected and being away, missing people and missing home, missing my life and feeling like I was in this bizarre mood. So the idea of traveling and being away kinda had an effect but like the actual places I was in did not have an effect.

I know that some artists lock themselves away and pump out an album and they don’t like writing on tour. Do you enjoy writing on tour more than just studio sessions?

I didn’t in the past, it used to be like I couldn’t write on tour, and then somewhere there was a shift in the past few years. Honestly they’re just so different so like it’s kind of impossible to compare them because writing at home and going to a studio is all about being in your element and you really have a perspective on what isn’t working. Writing on tour is all about, you know, trying things like we were talking about in Malaysia, you have these ideas and you try it and you come home and then you’re in your element where you have the perspective and that’s when you find out what to trash.

You’ve said that you love touring and you’ve been touring since you were 15, how has your love for touring changed with the success of your other bands and the locations that you’re in?

It actually hasn’t changed at all. That’s been a cool thing because no matter what happens, like no matter how big it gets, the actual act of what you’re doing doesn’t shift. You’re still going to a new place every day so its like that physical part of it is still the same thing. Learning how to manage playing bigger shows is a different thing because I feel like there’s also this weird shift from small venues like clubs it should feel like it’s an arena and an arena should feel like it’s a club it’s kind of like this weird back and forth. So in ways there’s a lot of different developments but your body is still doing the exact same thing. Like if you’re playing to two people in the tiniest club or ten thousand people in giant arenas you’re still literally going from city to city, you know it’s still that same act.

I know you’ve said that you miss the days when you were growing up when the best music was the music on the radio unlike today. How did that affect the way you approached creating the album?

I think a lot of really great artists and songwriters and really interesting musicians like shifted to making music that sounded like it didn’t belong on the radio and everyone shifts but the only problem with that is everyone starts to feed into it. So I think the way that that can change, and something that I really try to do, is to write the songs that I’m gonna write, like write stuff that is very personal and very honest. I would never write something to be intentionally on the radio or be mainstream or crap like that, but then when it comes, you know, to put it all together it’s not to make choices that are reactionary. Like I don’t need to produce a song so it sounds like so lo-fi that you have to listen to it 100 times just to understand what’s good about it or something. Take what you do, which is something different, and present it like here it is this is it and I think that’s a very 90’s way of looking at it where things are less jaded and less reactionary and, you know, give it a greater chance to have the good music be in a place where the popular music is.

Last but not least, what are you listening to a lot right now?

Well I just listened to "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart" by Alicia Keys like ten times on repeat because it’s like the best song ever, and I just re-got back into The Cranberries. So at the moment I’m super excited about The Cranberries.

- Caroline Hall

Bleachers' debut album Strange Desire is available now via RCA Records. Dates and ticket information for their "Strange Desire World Tour" can be found here.

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