Sometime in 2013, while touring as the lead guitarist for Grammy Award-winning band Fun, Jack Antonoff had an idea.
That idea materialized in secret — as lyrics scribbled in hotel rooms and guitar riffs practiced backstage — all while Antonoff catapulted across the world to play for a new set of fans every night.
“It was sort of this top-secret thing I had,” Antonoff said in a phone interview with The Daily Californian.
Then, in July 2014, Antonoff let the world in on his secret with the release of Strange Desire, the debut album of his indie-pop act, Bleachers. And fans seemed to appreciate being let in on this secret, as the album peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s U.S. rock and alternative charts.
“In one sense, it feels like an eternity because the time (it took to write and record the album) was really stretched out,” Antonoff said. “But the other way, it also feels like you just had this idea, and then all of a sudden, it’s sort of materialized into a real thing.”
And despite what many might think, Bleachers is very much “a real thing.” In an interview with GQ, Antonoff quickly clarifies that Bleachers is not a side project and that it doesn’t mark the end of his time with Fun. “(‘Side project’) is an annoying phrase,” he said to GQ. “It’s just meant to scare us into doing one thing.”
Instead, Antonoff presents Bleachers as a new project — one that Antonoff feels is an accurate representation of his whole self.
“A lot of it reads like a diary,” he said to the Daily Cal. “With anything else, it felt like me taking a piece and putting it in. With Bleachers, this feels like the whole thing.”
Although Bleachers grew from a project that Antonoff started on his own, Antonoff recognizes that the fan base is one of the biggest reasons Bleachers exists at all.
“(Writing and recording) was such a lonely process that didn’t even matter, and (the music) didn’t exist,” he said. “But to put it out and to have it exist for other people — and even emotionally exist for other people — is mind blowing.”
Antonoff also notes that Bleachers’ history is rooted in touring and live performance, from finding inspiration to write while on the road with Fun to the unique, transformative audiences with which he interacts every night onstage with Bleachers.
“There’s the kind of artists where you go, and you pay money, and you sit, and you watch. … It happens with or without (the audience),” he said. “Then there’s the kind of show where it’s only about the audience.”
Now it’s July 2015, and Bleachers is about to embark on a nationwide, co-headlining tour with Charli XCX.
“The goal every night is to create an experience completely unique to that night because the band and the audience are working together,” Antonoff said. “It’s collaborative.”
The project has come a long way since its “top-secret” inception two years ago, but the highly personal content of Antonoff’s music makes Bleachers still seem like the intimate secret it started as.
But now, instead of being a secret that Antonoff keeps to himself, tucked away in notebooks and scraps of paper, that secret is shared with the thousands of fans who flood to the shows every night, echoing the entries pulled from Antonoff’s diary — pieces that invoke the therapeutic release of music created in collaboration.
“I didn’t know I was lonely till I saw your face,” Antonoff sings in the album’s lead single, “I Wanna Get Better.”
While it’s easy to speculate that this lyric is dedicated to a sympathetic lover, it could also be about the face — or faces — that are standing at the foot of the stage, singing his words back to him.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Antonoff said. “Anything else I do is something I am a part of, and Bleachers is a part of me.”
Bleachers is playing at the Fox Theater on July 23.
Rosemarie Alejandrino is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].