With Bleachers Debut ‘Strange Desire,’ Jack Antonoff Tackles Love, Loss & High School
By Shannon Carlin
A few years ago, Jack Antonoff was in the hospital with a serious bout of pneumonia. It was so bad that the fun. guitarist wasn’t able to play, or even gather up the energy to hear music, for five days. When he came to, he immediately listened to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.”
“I was crying in my hospital bed, and I was thinking this is so powerful,” Antonoff told Radio.com. “It’s making me cry. Someone’s dancing to it in a club somewhere. What a brilliant song.”
This dichotomy is something Antonoff thrives on, noting that director John Hughes had a knack for picking this very type of music for his films. “You can dance to it or you could weep to it,” he said. “I don’t know what anybody else wants, but that’s what I want from music.”
And this ability to make you either weep or dance, maybe even experience the two simultaneously, was what he was going for with his song, “I Wanna Get Better,” the debut single off his upcoming release under the name Bleachers. “That physical quality of music that makes you want to move or feel something is just as powerful as the quality that makes you want to not kill yourself,” he explained.
The song takes a look at Antonoff’s existence up to now, covering a bad acid trip, the death of his sister–who passed away nearly ten years ago–and the bane of everyone’s existence, high school.
For Antonoff high school was a half horrible, half great time. The truly horrible being the two years he attended public school where he was tortured for being gay, which he is not. He’s currently dating Girls creator and star, Lena Dunham. “It’s a really of that generation moment,” Antonoff said. “Like I had blue hair, so everyone said, ‘You’re gay.'”
It wasn’t until he switched to a private arts high school, where ironically, he says he was one of only two straight kids in the entire school, that things started to look up. But even now, those terrible high school memories inspire him. “I think we’re all in some way stuck there,” Antonoff explained. “Not in a forever young way, but in a forever tortured way.”
The album itself, which according to a Craigslist ad he posted is called Strange Desire and out July 15, covers different periods in Antonoff’s life and though it’s quite hopeful, he says, it’s coming from a dark place. Antonoff keeps the music itself grand and bombastic–not unlike “I Wanna Get Better”–using the lyrics to tell his story, which is sometimes tragic, sometimes wonderful, but always real. His approach is not unlike fellow New Jerseyan, Bruce Springsteen, who Antonoff says inspired the song “Rollercoaster,” his full-hearted attempt at making his own, modern version of “Dancing in the Dark.” “He’s like the greatest songwriter in history, ever,” Antonoff said. “He’s just unapologetic and not afraid to make you dance or make you cry.”
Another unapologetic artist who played a role in the making of Bleachers’ debut was Yoko Ono. She appears on the final song of the album, a reprise to the record’s opening track, “Wild Heart.” Ono was his first choice for the song and she ended up dropping by the studio to offer her unique brand of sounds, noises, beautiful vocal parts, along with a little spoken word. “It’s a weird alter universe version of the first track with her on it,” Antonoff said.
Inspired by the skits often featured on hip-hop records, Antonoff included his own little spoken word elements throughout the album, using voicemails left by friends and family and asking others close to him (Dunham’s little sister, Grace included) to come in and record monologues about growing up. Antonoff knows this all sounds weird, but swears it will make sense in the context of the album.
But, perhaps the reason why these skits seem totally commonplace to Antonoff is because the idea of making this album at all is pretty strange. He’s made it very clear that the height of fun.’s world tour last year was not the most opportune time to go off and do a solo album. But early on while working on the songs which would eventually become Bleachers debut, he got a sign. “Sleeping is a big thing for me, it’s sort of like the most specific way to stay healthy,” he explained. “If I choose something over sleeping it’s got to be very important to me.”
Antonoff said that if he doesn’t get eight hours of sleep he feels like he’s in a state of panic. Like when you go out for the day without charging your phone all the way. But all of that fear subsided when he started working on the album nearly seven months ago.
“I was so excited about it. I guess I was ready to be unhealthy for it, which is probably the biggest compliment you can get,” he said. “That’s exactly what being in love’s like.”