March 27th, 2012
01:41 PM ET
FUN. debuted their first album, "Aim & Ignite," in 2009, but for singer Nate Ruess it was actually a new beginning.
Before there was FUN. there was The Format, a band which Ruess co-founded. But when the fruitful success of The Format went sour, he panicked.
“In music, you feel like you only get really one chance to do it, especially in my position because I felt like the band was doing really well,” Ruess recently told CNN. “So just to uproot and start over? I was freaking out.”
For Ruess’ second chance, he knew exactly who to call: Jack Antonoff, guitar player and Steel Train's front man, and Andrew Dost, piano player and former member of Anathallo.
The three musicians first met when their three former bands ended up on tour together. And when it came time to start collaborating on music, Ruess felt like he was on the “dream team.”
Now two albums strong, FUN. released "Some Nights" in February. The single “We Are Young,” featuring Janelle Monae, topped Billboard's Hot 100 and the Digital Songs chart for multiple weeks.
Before their recent show at Center Stage in Atlanta, the FUN. trio sat down with CNN to talk about the inception of their music careers, hip-hop’s influence on their latest album, and their sudden success on the hit TV show “Glee.”
CNN: What was the very first performance you ever did?
Nate Ruess: I was in a really crummy pop-punk band. I think we did a whole bunch of Blink-182 covers, and we were on the fringe of losers and jocks. So we invited all the cool kids to come watch us play in our bass player’s brother’s bedroom. And it was terrible, but everyone thought we were so cool. That was the moment I was like, "Alright, if I can fool even more people, I’ll be good."
Jack Antonoff: I went to [a] private Jewish school and they had a Purim carnival, which is like Halloween, if you don’t know what that is. And a bunch of us assembled a band to cover Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll,” the song they play in stadiums and stuff. Nonetheless, it got a big reaction because of the chorus and audience participation. I thought it was really cool, and I thought that I would one day play that song for a larger crowd.
Andrew Dost: Mine was a piano recital when I was in second grade or something. I was really, really nervous because it was with all the older students, and I was playing a really simple, stupid song and...I couldn’t compete and felt terrible. But I played my song really well, I guess.
CNN: That all starts to answer my next question: How did you first really get into playing music?
Ruess: It started for me just because I wanted to fit in – I went to a lot of concerts as a kid. My parents had normal jobs, and I didn’t just want to work all day, and so I thought if I could break into music I wouldn't have to work all day. And I had an uncle who was on Broadway, so I was like, "I have to be able to sing."
For a good four years, people tried to kick me out of my band because they thought that I couldn’t sing. But I don’t know how to play an instrument so I was like, "No, I’m just going to do this."
Antonoff: My father played guitar, so I always wanted to play for that reason. But I think the biggest reason was just the '90s in general – growing up listening to the Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day and bands like that, and going to concerts and thinking it was the coolest thing in the world.
Dost: My dad bought a Beatles tape when I was in fifth grade, and that was the first time I ever really – I mean I was into music, but that was the first time it really blew my mind. When I heard the "Red Compilation," which wasn’t like a proper album, I thought, "music was more than I had ever thought it was before." I knew that I didn’t ever want to do anything else other than play music after that.
CNN: Let’s talk about FUN. Tell me how this all began...I understand it wasn’t love at first sight between some of you.
Ruess: Yeah, we might be hamming that up now.
Antonoff: No! Think about it.
Ruess: You sure?
Antonoff: Positive. I remember meeting you with Richard Reines and I was like, "douche!" (laughing)
Ruess: I was thinking the exact same thing by the way.
Antonoff: Yeah, that’s like one of the only things I ever read in a bio that is true.
Ruess: I guess we didn’t like each other.
Atonoff: Like I say, most of the important relationships in my life start that way.
Ruess: (laughs) But as soon as we got out on tour, we formed a bond talking about things that upset us...I think we were both having relationship problems at the time and I think it’s easy to commiserate with people when you’re both having relationship problems.
CNN: When did you know it was time to move on [to FUN.]?
Ruess: I didn’t. I was writing for our newer Format album one night and the next day I got a call basically saying ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ So I was just in a complete state of shock.
I...called both of these guys at the same time and was just like, "I have to just move." In music, you feel like you only really get one chance...I knew I had to just move, and move as quickly as possible. Fortunately I knew these were the guys I wanted to work with.
CNN: Andrew [Dost], what about you and Anathallo?
Dost: I had been out of the band for about a year at that point for various reasons. My relationship with those guys had sort of run its course. So I was working on other stuff and frankly not much (laughs).
I was living at my parents’ house, and to get that call from Nate, I kind of thought it was a prank or something at first. To get the chance to work with guys like this – I felt like I hit the lottery.
CNN: Was it a plan to make “Some Nights” different than your first album, “Aim & Ignite,” or did it just happen naturally?
Antonoff: “Aim & Ignite," in a positive way, [sounds] like all of us throwing [out] our ideas, full of excitement, not holding back anything. With “Some Nights” - which was not even something we talked about as much as it’s something that just happens when you keep working with people and you mature - [the plan] was to make the choices more weighty by having a 'less is more' kind of mentality on every level. Whether [with] song writing, or physical production – literally less, and therefore sounding bigger.
CNN: You got some good, heavy beats in this album, and I read you were getting into hip-hop.
Ruess: As soon as we finished “Aim & Ignite” I was trying to write songs, and nothing...I hit a wall. And I tried to infuse all these different styles...but I wasn’t inspired by any of it. So when I heard the Drake album – we listened to it so much – and then Kanye West put out “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," and I thought that that was such a theatrical album.
I just love how modern, how in the future those hip-hop beats sound – [and] I wondered why we couldn’t do that to our songs. And by the grace of God it worked! We found the right people to work with.
CNN: "Glee" picked up one of your songs, “We Are Young.” What did it mean to you that "Glee" performed it?
Dost: The most important part about "Glee" for us wasn’t the fact that people started listening to it after that. I think for us, it was [that] we worked so hard to make it perfect, and then we saw it on "Glee" and realized, so did these people.
They learned all the parts. They made a new recording of it. They filmed it. There are camera people, there are audio engineers working on this. It made me realize the song wasn’t ours anymore. And I think that’s the best thing that can happen. The "Glee" thing, more than anything else, made me realize that the song had become bigger than we are, which is a really good feeling.
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