It’s amazing what the right song can do. Just ask the NYC–based indie band fun., who are now reaping the rewards of 10 years’ worth of rehearsals, small gigs, and rejection with the success of their live-for-the-moment single “We Are Young.” They seem to have transitioned from “Who are they?” to “They’re everywhere” as fast as an light switch flips from Off to On. But like most “overnight success” stories, the trio’s rise is a bit more complicated than it seems. Lead singer Nate Ruess, keyboardist Andrew Dost, and guitarist Jack Antonoff are busier than ever as they tour behind the release of their sophomore set Some Nights. So busy, in fact, that they can't even keep up with their Billboard stats. Sitting backstage at La Zona Rosa with fun. last week as they knocked back shots of whiskey before their first of many SXSW performances in Austin, Texas, Complex had the pleasure of informing them that “Young” is spending its second straight week atop the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and also of learning what their new found fame has brought them.
First of all, congratulations on being No. 1.
Nate Ruess: On Hot 100? Awesome!
You didn’t know already?
NR: Yeah, didn’t know that. That’s really cool.
Jack Antonoff: I saw it on Twitter. You don’t know what you can believe these days.
NR: Should we believe you?
I believe me. That’s all that really matters. But yeah, I read it on Billboard’s site. How do you feel about this success?
NR: It’s been exciting. It’s nothing that we’ve ever had. We’ve spent 10 years in the music industry and we thought we knew everything and now this stuff has happened and it’s almost like we don’t know anything. That’s a little weird, but it’s also crazy. This is kind of everything you hope for when you’re a little kid. To have a No. 1 song, it seems impossible—but it happens. This whole year it’s felt like anything is possible.
When you first started making music together, what were your goals?
JA: Just have people give a shit, which we’ve always had, luckily. Whether it was going to be 100 people or 10,000 people, we can find joy in anything. That’s the dream and then the reality is being able to keep that going. Sometimes you need a little bit more to physically keep going, you want to have families, your marriage, things like that. But I think the specific goal is to have it matter the way records mattered to us when we were kids.
What changes have come with having a hit single? Are unlikely people reaching out to you? What’s the transition been like?
NR: It’s been the worst. I’ve heard from so many people that I just don’t like or that I don’t even remember in my life and I think it’s so weird that they’re now contacting me or, like, they’re contacting my parents—things like that. Everybody’s coming out of the woodwork and I don’t appreciate it. We haven’t talked for a reason. I don’t like talking to people generally anyways. Now suddenly all of these people are coming up and, I don’t know, maybe I have a huge underdog type of syndrome. But it really enrages me that most of these people weren’t there. We had fans. But I never had friends. I always just had fans.
JA: People are saying “I always knew” or “I always...” But you really didn’t because you didn’t come see us at Knitting Factory in 2003, when it wasn’t cool to come.
A lot of people feel like this is the first album. How do you look at the newcomers?
NR: As long as they come prepared. It’s all about live music for us. That’s such a huge thing. That’s kind of what we built our fan base on and that’s the only reason we’re able to keep going from the first album and do the second album is because we had so much support as a live touring band. As long as those people come and they understand the ground rules to a fun. show, which is basically just sing-along, have a good time, and don’t judge anybody. And you can really be anybody when you come to the show. As long as that’s the case, newcomers are more than welcome.
What’s the next single?
NR: “Some Nights.”
Did you know that was going to be the second single rolling out the album?
Andrew Dost: That would’ve been the last one, in my opinion. Especially when we were recording it, that wasn’t really one we were thinking of. We were kind of viewing it as the most experimental or the most far down this path we were going down with these sounds. I don’t think it stuck out as a single.
NR: Yeah it felt like a mission statement for the album, but not necessarily a single. If we knew that it was going to be a single, we probably would’ve ruined it in the process. The great thing is how people just responded to it. When we first started hearing chatter about how everybody loves “Some Nights” we got really giddy because we are so proud of the song “We Are Young,” but “Some Nights” is wonderful for us to put out there. It gives a whole completely different vibe from “We Are Young” and is a mission statement for who we are.
How did you guys come up with the band name? Do you always have to explain that you’re fun as a noun and not an adjective?
NR: Our Name Is Fun is the name of our website because “fun” is the most impossible thing to Google search.
JA: Dude we beat it though, we won.
NR: We won?
You guys are the first thing that pops up when I Googled “Fun.”
JA: It’s more exciting than the No. 1 song, I think.
NR: We have conquered the word “fun.” No more go-karts and porn. The name came up because we were coincidentally having dinner with a comedian friend of ours in New York. He was excited about the new group so he was like “What are you guys going to call it?” After his set, we had dinner at the Comedy Cellar.
NR: We’re all sitting around talking about band names. Someone said “Ice Cream?” That was a terrible one. So I think one of us was like, “I like the image that it conjures up.” I think Jack said, “What about fun?” It seemed so obvious. But we still waited another six months.
How did “We Are Young” come to be? How did you get Jeff Bhasker to produce it?
NR: We were just kind of obsessed with the things that Jeff had produced. I remember listening to [Kanye West’s] My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and 808s and Heartbreak a ton. And the stuff he did with Alicia Keys. So I was looking through the liner notes and I was like, “Oh they all have a common dude.” Dream-case scenario we can go do this album with Jeff and when our people reached out to his people they didn’t know who we were, but then I guess they even starting joining our side and said, “Alright, get Jeff into a room with these guys.” These two guys were out of town, so it was just me meeting him after he’d blown me off twice before at the Bowery Bar. He was working on the Beyoncé stuff and I guess we hit it off and he took me up to his room to listen to some of the Beyoncé stuff and I must have been inebriated because I started singing him the chorus of “We Are Young” and no one had heard it except for him at the time. His jaw dropped to the floor and he was like, “We have to go into the studio.” Jeff’s a smart guy. Granted, he heard the song before anyone, but he also got the feeling that the song is going to be what it is before anyone.
With all the success and touring, are you guys getting to enjoy yourselves as well? Do you all have time to party?
JA: Our focus is taking care of ourselves. I think we’re real conscious of the concept of burning out hard with the schedule and we’d rather be crazy losers than fucking awesome for a month. We’d rather be dorks in 10 years, still doing it.
NR: We had two days off recently, which was our first two days off in a month. Someone told us, “You know what? Go to a spa.” So we spent the last two days at a spa outside of Austin, getting facials and back massages.
Jack Antonoff: I know what you’re thinking: “No one looks this good in the afternoon.” [Laughs]
NR: I didn’t drink then. I plan on resuming within the next hour.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)