INTERVIEW: Bleachers

Music can be so many different things to different people, but to most it’s a form of escapism. It’s allows you to step out of your life for a brief moment and be transported to a visual soundscape that could feel freeing, or it could allow you to address your introspective thoughts. Through the exploration of different sonical layers, it’s really up to the listener to where they would like their experience to lean towards, but the artist can guide them there with their own vulnerability and that’s the ultimate power of music. 

Jack Antonoff is a singer, songwriter and producer who has mastered creating safe spaces within his music. His confidence bearing his vulnerability is beautiful and through his solo project Bleachers and working with artists like Lorde, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey and The Chicks, he’s helped create intimate and cathartic moments that have really helped people through dark times, as well as create moments of euphoric release. 

Soaked in deep nostalgia and introspective revelations, Bleachers looks towards the ideology of the future for their highly anticipated their studio album ‘Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night’ (out now!). Contrasting those two distinct feelings of vulnerability and catharsis together, this cohesive listen hears him explicitly exploring the two sides of a situation. Writing songs as pairs, he tackles both sides lyrically to give listeners a unique perspective. It’s a very comforting and immersive listen that blends together 80’s inspired pop-rock with introspective lyricism.

I recently chatted to Jack Antonoff (AKA Bleachers) about the futuristic themes behind his third studio album ‘Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night’, explored the creative processes behind the songs ‘Don’t Go Dark’, ‘Secret Life’ and ’91’, and reflected on what he’s learnt about the artists he’s collaborated with over the past year. Check it out BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: Your third studio album ‘Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night’ is a record that feels like a joyous and reflective form of escapism. It transports the listener into this night-time world of love and heartbreak. But when you listen back to it, where does it transport you to mentally and physically?

JACK ANTONOFF: Almost still to the future. If I know something really well, I don’t write about it. I’m always writing with what I imagine to be these little voices inside me shouting from very far away, and I’m just trying to hear those voices. The things that scare you, freak you out, or feel like they’re asking questions about things you’re going to experience in the future. I wrote this album from that perspective of me trying to break into the next phase of my life and try to understand these tiny voices. 

So when I hear it back I feel like I’m still not there yet. I  think that’s what sharing it helps you do. When the album comes out, that’s me saying it out loud. Or even hearing that you’ve already heard the album makes me feel like some of these thoughts are real and I have to come to terms with them, and that’s when you ‘re kinda living them. It’s like this moment right before birth for me, it’s really weird. 

TB: When you finished touring ‘Gone Now’, did you know sonically and visually where you wanted this next album to take you? Or was the vision you had back then completely different?

JA: No. There’s almost two phases to the process. There’s the phase of trying things, and then there’s the moment where you see it. It might be a few songs, the theme, or one image, but when you see it then you’re immediately in a new time period and you’re in this place where you’re filling in the puzzle. You know what you need and you know what you’re missing. I didn’t hit that phase where you really start to understand what the album is until mid pandemic. 

TB: What was the vision that came to you that made you go; “this is the album I need to make”?

JA: There were two things. I saw myself literally sonically and metaphorically going from New York over the George Washington bridge into New Jersey. It was kinda telling me I need to go home to find the future. It was all about the future to me. I then saw this image of a doorway with myself standing there with all these bags. I was recognising all the joy, hope, and how I had this crazy struggle where you can’t take it all and you can’t leave it all, so what pieces do you drop as they are going to define you. I then felt this feeling of sandpaper inside of me that was coming out through the music and lyrics. I was writing from this place of right on the edge of the next phase. It spoke to me because I recognised myself in that duality of the darkness and anxiety of being stuck and all the hope and joy of seeing the future. I wanted to write that moment. 

TB: ‘Don’t Go Dark’ is this festival ready anthem that captures a similar energy to ‘Don’t Take The Money’. Can you explain the creative process behind this track? 

JA: ‘Don’t Go Dark’ is probably the meanest song I’ve ever written because it’s this idea of this person in your life where you’re like “I don’t love you and I don’t hate you, just don’t fuck with me”. I usually write from this place of “I miss you”, “I want you”, “I want you in the future”, “I don’t want you in the future”, but this was the first time in my life where I was like “please get off my back, stop bringing all of this darkness, I can’t anymore”. It’s this plea where you don’t care what they do, but you’re just asking them to not go dark on you. 

I was in the studio with Lana and we were finishing ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ and I was telling her this idea with these lyrics I had and we had this weird role reversal where she was like “just say that” and I was like “I don’t know, I don’t usually say that” and that led to Juno and started playing it and she helped me write as she was like “you’re over thinking it, that is the song”. I liked it being this festive bouncy “please leave me the fuck alone” song.

TB: It’s going to be so euphoric to sing live with an audience screaming it back to you

JA: Exactly! There are some people in your life where it’s complicated and you’re like “I miss you”, and there are some people in your life where you’re like “I fucking hate you”, but then there are some people and you’re like “you’ve taken everything that I’m willing to give, so you just gotta cut me a break and don’t go dark on me”. 

TB: ‘Secret Life’ is another standout on the record, and it’s a track that hears Lana Del Rey on backing vocals. Originally you said this track was going to be a duet between the two of you, but then you wrote the song and realised it was only from one perspective. Why do you think this song went in that direction instead of opening up into a duet like you imagined initially?

JA: I imagined it as a duet just because I just had this concept. I wrote a song called ‘Big Life’ before that which was all about wanting to go out and find all these things and have this big life. It’s this big romantic song about having this big wild life, and ‘Secret Life’ is like its sister as it’s about having this shut the world away tiny life. So I thought it was going to be a duet until I realised that it was more of a duet with ‘Big Life’ and I realised that it didn’t really work with someone else. But I liked the idea of hearing Lana’s vocals in there really reverby. It kinda makes you feel like that it is the person I’m talking about, and she’s not, but she’s playing the character. 

TB: The album opens with ’91’ which has this really cinematic string arrangement which to me felt a little reminiscent to ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ from The Chicks’ recent album which you also worked on. So what was it about this song that felt like it needed to be an orchestral moment? Do any other versions of this song exist? 

JA: Firstly, that’s my favourite song we did off The Chicks’ album! Secondly, there is many versions of ’91’. I started on a piano and wrote with Zadie Smith, and then I had it on the guitar for a minute, and it felt too sentimental or something. The lyrics tell such a story and are so deep that you kinda needed this hypnotic energy. It was Annie Clark (St Vincent) who produced the song that had the idea for the strings. I brought it to her and I was like “I don’t know what to do here. I love this song but it’s just not right”. I couldn’t figure it out, but she cracked it. The cello’s are very anxiety inducing, but there are really beautiful strings that Warren Ellis from the Bad Seeds played. So it’s this perfect duality of this hypnotic anxiety and beauty that I could not get on the guitar and piano. It also functions as an overture, so the strings work in that capacity too. 

TB: ‘Strange Behavior’ hears you using the imagery of “chasing shadows” which immediately really stood out to me. Where was that reference drawn from?

JA: I talk about shadows a lot. I have a song called ‘Shadow’, a song called ‘Shadow Of The City’, and shadows comes up a lot. ‘Strange Behavior’ is actually a really interesting song as I wrote it probably 12 years ago. It was actually first released as a Steel Train song. I wanted to include it because I realised when making this record that there is one song from my past that I felt like I wrote yesterday, and it was that song. I produced it all wrong when I did it originally with it being big and loud, and it just wasn’t right. I felt like it was meant to be this weird dark dream.

With this idea of chasing shadows, you are chasing all these things that you find hope in, and sometimes you turn around and there’s nothing there and it’s just a ghost or a shadow. I think that puts you in a position where you have to realise that it’s its own beauty when you’re chasing things down that aren’t really there. There’s more to it than just a dark feeling. But the song is that dark feeling and then you come back around with “What I’d Do With All This Faith?’.

TB: Sonically this record feels really nostalgic and sits in a 80’s Bruce Springsteen soundscape. So when you listen back to the record does it feel like it lives in a different time for you? Does it feel futuristic for you like you wanted it to be, or is there that nostalgic era in there too? 

JA: It does, because I think this is what the future sounds like. I think the future is a band playing in a room, and that sound will become shocking again with a rubber band to the past. 

TB: What song from the album took the longest to really hone its sound and vision for you?

JA: ‘How Dare You Want More’ was a song I chipped away at for a long time as I really wanted it to be so unhinged and wild, but also tight. I wanted it to have this tightness that Elvis Costello songs have, but then I wanted it to feel like the band were going to fly off the cliff. I finally got there but it took a while as I was like “how the fuck do I do that”. I heard it in my head but I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. 

TB: Last year you kept pretty busy by working on a lot of new music with this record but you were also working on projects with Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey and The Chicks. So from working with all of those incredible artists, was there something from those sessions that creatively sparked something in particular for this album, or made you think about something in a different light? 

JA: Tons! But the biggest one I can say is to just be surrounded by people who are so emotionally vulnerable and dedicated to their work the same way that I am. To be surrounded by people that reflect this lack of cynicism towards what you’re doing is the most beautiful thing. The biggest takeaway is to just feel so intensely supported and give you the encourage to keep going. 

‘Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night’ is out now!