Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff on the proliferation of producers

Jack Antonoff is more than just the guitarist in fun. Before joining that band he led the successful New Jersey band Steel Train. He’s also a producer, having been nominated for a Golden Globe for his collaboration with Taylor Swift on her song “Sweeter Than Fiction.” He has also worked with Sara Bareilles, co-writing her Grammy-nominated hit “Brave,” as well as Canadian indie rockers Tegan and Sara.

I interviewed Jack a while back (yes, he wore the ever-present red ball cap), and that interview will run Monday in The Bay Bridged. The story is part of my Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival coverage. Until then, here’s a short Q&A that I couldn’t squeeze into the story but still found interesting. Enjoy.

  • For all of my continuing Outside Lands 2014 coverage, visit the archive.
  • For previous interviews of artists performing this year, go HERE.
  • For a couple of Bleachers’ live videos I shot in June, go here.

Jack Antonoff of Bleachers

“I Wanna Get Better” deals with a lot of serious personal issues. How difficult was it to use that as the joke in the video?

I loved that. I always want to have a mixture of something you could laugh at or cry at.

Does that song hold the whole album together?

I wouldn’t say that, but it’s the first song I want to play for people. I think it’s the perfect door to open to get them inside the world where the album is.

You’re both musician and producer for others. What do you think of the rise of the producer-hitmaker, like Pharell or Charlie XCX.

It’s great. It’s like anything. There’s a lot of crap, and a lot of great stuff. With the way technology works, all of a sudden, everyone’s a producer. And so the world is flooded, no different than 10 years ago when everyone was in a band, and there was too many bands. But to me, it almost makes it easier to cut through the fat. Everyone is doing it because it’s so easy and so accessible. That’s why it’s bad, and the music that’s good is because it’s so easy and so accessible. If you know what you’re doing, you can do it in bed. You can make a Bleachers album in your hotel room. I like the idea of having an impact on culture as a whole, not just one band. It I could take my sound and bring it to other artists, and have it be on the radio, and have it permeate more than just one thing.

Who else would you like to produce?

I’m most excited to find that thing I don’t know about. Anytime I try to work on somebody I’m already a fan of, sometimes I’m too dug in to the culture of it. Look at an artist like Robyn. I love Robyn, but you already know too much about Robyn. 

Will Bleachers be taking a break as fun. gets back together?

I don’t know. I kind of just want to jam it all together and do everything at the same time – bounce back and forth, but not overdo it.

Any chance of Bleachers opening for fun.?

No, my body couldn’t handle that.

How do you deal with the tabloid exposure from having a famous girlfriend (Lena Dunham of “Girls”)? Are you used to having the exposure?

I don’t (deal with it). I really just don’t think about it. You can get struck by lightning right now, and you’re not going to think about it. I don’t think about silly things, and tabloids are silly. The thing about tabloids is they don’t really have to fact-check anything.

Radio Roman, “Wings” - Field Report

There’s so much atmospheric folk pop out there that it’s easy to give up on it all together. Everyone seems to be combining electronica with wood blocks and world-weary vocals these days. But this tune by Field Report is worth a listen from start to finish. “Wings” is a song from the band’s second album, “Marigolden,”out Oct. 7 on Partisan Records.

Marigolden

Outside Lands producers gear up for seventh year

I interviewed Allen Scott of Another Planet - the main producer of the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival - about what’s new this year and what’s in store for the future. Read about it in The Bay Bridged.

For all of my continuing Outside Lands coverage, including today’s story about the festival through the eyes of Bay Area performers, visit the archive.

For previous interviews of artists performing this year, go HERE.

Outside Land

Outside Lands a homecoming for performers with Bay Area ties

Don’t miss my all-encompassing story about what it’s like for local bands to perform on the huge stages of Outside Lands. It ran today at The Bay Bridged

For the extras (this year’s locals really, really love Tom Petty), move on over here.

For all of my continuing Outside Lands coverage, including today’s story about what’s new at the festival this year, visit the archive.

For previous interviews of artists performing this year, go HERE.

Outside Lands 2014

Artists with Bay Area ties reflect on Outside Lands

I interviewed all but one of the artists with direct local connections to the Bay Area for a story on the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, running Wednesday in The Bay Bridged. The result was a magazine length-worthy piece, and I still had a bunch of quotes left over from the artists. I’m sharing the best of the leftovers here with you right now. 

Outside Lands 2014

Who are you excited to see the most this year?

Emma Oppen (Trails and Ways): I think we’re all looking forward to seeing Petty. 

Mikal Cronin: I’ll be wandering around for sure. I want to see Tom Petty. He’s going to be fun. Phosphorescent is a great band. There’s quite a handful of bands I haven’t heard yet. That’s always a really fun part of festivals for me — wandering around and watching as many new bands as I can.

Mikal Cronin

Nicki Bluhm: Tom Petty, always. We’ve seen him a bunch. Actually, the first time I saw him was at Outside Lands. That was a big moment for me. I feel like everyone’s a Tom Petty fan, just by default — by osmosis — if you’re in your 30s, especially. I went out into the crowd and I knew every word of every song. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much a part of my childhood his music was. Tedeschi Trucks I love. I think Susan is an amazing singer, and Derrek of course is great.

Alex DiDonato (Finish Ticket): There’s so many good bands at Outside Lands. I’m really looking forward to Tom Petty myself because he’s playing the same day as us. Arctic Monkeys are one of our favorite bands, and we can speak for Brendan, who’s a big fan of The Killers. I want to see Kanye, too.

Finish Ticket

Gabe Stein (Finish Ticket): We’re all happy that Outside Lands has a unique line-up. It seems like the same bands playing everywhere else.

Alex DiDonato: Also, we’re excited to play; for sure.

Do you have a favorite non-musical aspect of the festival? 

Ben Morrison (The Brothers Comatose): I would say my favorite non-musical aspect is that I get to see one of the most beautiful city parks that’s pretty much in my own backyard transformed into a massive festival. The festival grounds are a 20 minute walk from my front porch and it’s pretty great to see it transform from empty fields into a bustling festival. 

The Brothers Comatose

Will you be doing anything to prepare for Outside Lands?

Oppen:  We’re playing 30 shows right beforehand.

DiDonato: We don’t have any kind of ritual to prepare for specific shows. Usually before every show, we’ll do a pre-show huddle. We don’t really do any special preparation because we don’t want to get it in our head that it’s a different or weird show. We just want to go out and have fun every night.

Gabe Stein: Luckily, we’ve been touring a lot this year. We’ve played a lot of shows. We played bigger shows and smaller shows and everything in-between.

Feel any pressure about playing in front of such a large audience, and what would you like to accomplish?

DiDonato: We’re a little more excited and nervous about it than other shows because it’s a big festival and a big show for us locally. A lot of our friends … will be able to see us, and possibly a lot of new people. We’re definitely stoked to play.

Nick Stein (Finish Ticket): We want to play in front of as many people as possible.

DiDonato: I would love to meet Tom Petty and hopefully the Arctic Monkeys, too.

Keith Brower Brown (Trails and Ways): I want to see the people in the back row to feel the songs we’ve been working on.

Trails and Ways

Oppen: We want to make people feel good.

Brower Brown: And then not good, and then good again. It should be transcendent.

Bluhm: We want to make people happy, really joyous.

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers

Cronin: I just want to have fun and put on the best show I can for hometown friends.

Scott Hansen (Tycho): The accomplishment is already accomplished. I’ve always wanted to play at Outside Lands, so just the fact that we’re getting to play there is a big honor. It’s one of my favorite festivals. I go to it every year anyway.

Do you think it’s important for local bands to play Outside Lands?

Oppen: If presented with the opportunity, it’s really great to be able to play to that many people. It is important to be able to get music out there. But it’s not a requirement for bands in the Bay Area to play Outside Lands.

What can fans expect with your performance.

George Watsky: We’re definitely going to do our best to put on a great show. It’s our last show before we do a club tour. It’s one day before my new album comes out. It comes out on the 12th, and we’re playing Sunday, the 11th.

Watsky

Do you have a favorite non-musical aspect of the festival?

Hanson: The environment is about as good as you can get for a festival. I love the layout because it feels like one of those pick-your-own adventures. You have all these stages hidden. The main stage and the second biggest stage are completely on opposite sides of this long, narrow corridor. You pass through this forest on the way, and it just feels like you’re in a new environment. 

Tycho

Desccribe your current relationship with the Bay Area.

Watsky: I come to the Bay all the time. My parents still live there. I was just there last week. My mom teaches at Sherman Elementary School in the Marina district, and I talked to her fourth and fifth graders. And my dad has a psychotherapy practice in Cow Hollow. I went to a couple of Giants games with him. … I’m on the Warped Tour right now but we’re trying to work something out with the Giants for me to do something for Jewish Heritage Night with them.

Photos and videos: Phono del Sol 2014. 

Thanks for coming out to our festival. The videos were filmed in HD so you can increase window size and quality. If you haven’t yet, you can read my stories on Wye Oak, Nick Waterhouse and Thao.

Former Port O’Brien frontman Van Pierszalowski keeps iron grip on WATERS

Check out my story on the end of Van’s career in coffee — yes, coffee — in the San Francisco Examiner. Go see Waters perform with SF electronic R&B duo Cathedrals Thursday at the Chapel

Click here to read some more excerpts from the interview.

WATERS

Outside Lands 2014 coverage: A quick preview

I tend to go all-out for Outside Lands. It’s really the only remaining time I get as excited as a kid about going out into the woods (not enough time to actually go camping, and if I did, I’d start complaining about the bugs and lack of hotel bed). But OSL is like a grownup day camp. I like to show up before gates open and just watch the venders prepare their booths and food. Sometimes they give me a little something to try; but now I’m completely off-topic. This year I interviewed Haim, Chvrches and Bleachers in advance, as well as eight out of nine performers with direct Bay Area ties for a longer festival preview of how they prepare to play in Golden Gate Park in front of thousands. (No thanks to Christopher Owens’ marketing team to be the only ones to turn down an interview request). Last week, I also chatted with Allen Scott of Another Planet Entertainment (one of the festival’s organizers and planners) about what’s new and exciting this year). My previews will appear in The Bay Bridged (mostly), and my coverage will be for TBB, as well as San Francisco Examiner and Paste Magazine.

I thought I’d give my coverage a soft opening. Over the years I’ve interviewed many musicians. Eight of those are playing at the festival this year. There’s little about these acts you might not know, but I thought I’d throw it out there for folks who may not be overly familiar with some of them.

MACKLEMORE 

THE FLAMING LIPS

CUT COPY

GROUPLOVE

TYCHO (I interviewed him again for OSL. Stay tuned).

HOLY GHOST!

JAGWAR MA

FINISH TICKET (I interviewed him again for OSL. Stay tuned).

Outside Lands

Radio Roman: Stream Magic Man’s debut album, “Before the Waves.”

I’m still home with two new babies, but if I had some free time, I would have previewed this new band’s San Francisco show on July 13, at the Independent. Magic Man was started in New England by two childhood friends: Alex Caplow (vocals) and Sam Vanderhoop Lee (guitars and keyboards). Much of this album was originally written while they were traveling in Europe and working menial jobs. The band — which includes Gabe Goodman (bass), Justine Bowe (keyboards) and Joey Sulkowski  (drums) — has recently toured with Walk the Moon, MS MR, St. Lucia and New Politics. Fans of those artists should dig Magic Man as well.

"Before the Waves" will be available for purchase on July 8, but you can stream right now at Hype Machine.

Before the Waves

Van Pierszalowski of WATERS on trashing his guitars and starting over

Waters is headlining The Chapel on July 10, and I interviewed ringleader Van Pierszalowski recently for the San Francisco Examiner. Here’s what didn’t make the story but would have had a been able to write longer. Those coming to the show, which also features San Francisco duo (and new Neon Gold artists) Cathedrals, should expect to hear a bunch of new songs, a couple of older ones, as well as a tune from Pierszalowski’s former band, Port O’Brien.

You basically got rid of everything in your life, even your guitars, when you pulled the plug on Port O’Brien. Drastic, no?

It was kind of a symbolic thing with starting a new project, wanting to shed your skin. Also, it was just my acoustic guitar I had was a total piece of shit. I wanted to burn that thing… Also, my old electric was a Telecaster – I wanted something that sounded a little beefier. There’s something really great about having a new guitar. Neil Young talks about this a lot. Whenever you pick up a new guitar that you haven’t played before, it really brings something else out in a song, or if you’re trying to come up with a song, if you just pick up a guitar at your friend’s house that you never played … it’s oftentimes true, something comes out of it. I don’t know why.

Why’d you want to take a break and slow down in San Francisco following the release of your first WATERS album?

We moved back, and Marte moved with me in January of 2012. The first Waters record, named “Out in the Light,” was kind of wrapping up. We’d already toured quite a bit by then. It just felt like it was going to be time to start working on the next record. At that point, I hadn’t written any songs for it. To be creative, I wanted to do something kind of radically different for the next Waters album, and I could feel it was going to be kind of a long process. So it felt like, “OK, gotta hunker down.” We tried living in New York for a while before that. It didn’t quite feel right. I went to school in Berkeley and had a lot of roots here in the Bay, and it felt like it was a good place and time to kind of settle down and start working on the next record.

You recorded with Ryan Rabin, the drummer-producer from Grouplove. What was that like?

That’s been great. We’ve done 10 songs with him, and it’s been incredible. It’s been a little patchy in terms of when we’ve been able to do it because Grouplove is always touring so much. But whenever we have a chance between tours, we go down there. This recording process has been a lot faster, a lot more of a pop style of recording. He has a very promising career ahead of him.

Tell me about your live band members.

Brian DaMert and Greg Sellin, that’s the bassist and the guitarist, they’re both in another band called the Tambo Rays, who I’ve played a show with about a year ago. I’d never heard of them or seen them (before then), but I was so into it that I asked them to be in my band. Andrew Wales is the drummer. We went to (U.C.) Berkeley together, but we never met. Marte Solbakken, my girlfriend, she plays keys and sings. She’s been helping a lot on the songwriting, and she has her own band called Elskling, which is an ancient Norwegian word. It kind of means beloved. If you Google-Translate it, it says, “honey,” but that’s not quite right.

WATERS

Phono del Sol: Nick Waterhouse uses past as inspiration, not blueprint to copy

Check out my story about Los Angeles crooner Nick Waterhouse at The Bay Bridged

See him July 12 at Phono del Sol.

Catch other interesting comments from our interview right here on this blog.

Nick Waterhouse

Nick Waterhouse can’t afford San Francisco

The  thing you notice foremost about Nick Waterhouse in an interview is how carefully he chooses his words. He’s direct, and there are very few tangental stories with the possibility of confusing you. When we spoke in late May, Waterhouse spoke slowly, clearly and thoughtfully about his music and his image, including misconceptions some people may have about him. Most of our chat ended up in my article in The Bay Bridged, which will run June 23 to help preview our summer music festival, Phono del Sol. It’s because of the lack of tangents that I was able to squeeze so much of the chat into the main story… very unusual from most of my interviews. The rest is right here, starting with his thoughts on San Francisco, which I can best summarize, in my professional opinion, as “meh.”

Nick Waterhouse

How is your life similar and different since you moved back to Los Angeles from San Francisco?

I’ve continued doing all the things I’ve always done, just in different ways, I guess. I keep buying and listening to records and playing my instrument and reading books and drinking coffee. I don’t get to go out as much, but that’s all right. I miss being able to go on a walk. I miss some of the night life. A lot of the people I knew from that scene have moved away anyway. It’s hard to live in that town. (Musicians) don’t develop apps. We’re not needed.

“Holly” (his second full-length LP, released earlier this year) was written after you finished the tour for the first record and took a week-long trip to SF. Did that influence the record at all?

I did it to clear my head. It’s very hard to walk Los Angeles the way that I walk in San Francisco. There were a lot of things going on when I was writing the record.

What elements have to be present on a Nick Waterhouse record?

It’s got to think, and it’s got to have feeling. 

How do you pull from the past, but still make it modern?

I don’t think about it too much. I think that’s the best strategy. I believe in developing tools and then stopping thinking about it so it becomes an unconscious thing. If you look at other walks of life, whether it’s military training, emergency workers, artists, authors, painters, educational assistants – it’s about hammering something into your subconscious and then being able to leave it alone.

Tell me about your part in an upcoming Terrence Malick film. (The untitled film stars a bevy of famous actors, has been filing since 2012 and according to IMDB, is currently scheduled for a 2015 release).

I shot some scenes around Austin, Tex., with some Hollywood actors. … It’s about musicians, apparently. Rooney Mara is in it and Val Kilmer and Michael Fassbender. … It was very surreal. Oh, and John Doe, from the band X. I don’t know, Terrence Malick might just edit me out and put a bird there for 20 minutes.

Wye Oak will adapt or die trying

It takes a certain strength for a musician to publicly say that she had lost a skill like songwriting, but that is the position Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner found herself in as she and Andy Stack tried to record a follow-up to 2011's “Civilian.” Wasner spoke openly about what she went through to regain the magic for a story that ran Monday in The Bay Bridged to advance our Phone del Sol festival, which Wye Oak headlines.

Here’s what didn’t make the story but I thought you’d find interesting.

Wye Oak

What do you suddenly have against the guitar? Were you trying to send a message about what the band should sound like, or trying to distance yourself from something you consider to be in your past?

When it came time for me to write, after we had toured for several years — 200-some shows the first year and probably the same the next year — we really ran ourselves pretty ragged. When it came time to finally settle at home and try to write again, a lot of the methods I used to use just weren’t working for me.

There was a time after your Civilian touring ended where you thought the band may come to end. Tell me a little about that.

Honestly, I think it had to do as much to do with my exhaustion. Touring, in excess, is really difficult for me, and we definitely did that. It puts you in a very difficult place as far as your relationships and the music that you’re making. … I had more control over those decisions than I was really giving myself. A lot of that was letting go of my own ideas of what I was allowed to do with it and what it was allowed to be, and making it new again. 

How would you describe the narrative of “Shriek?”

It’s a documentation of the process of figuring out a lot of the stuff that I’ve been talking about. Figuring out how to be creative, how to show myself love and believe that the things that I have to create and share are of worth. If there’s a narrative in there, it’s a very self-contained one.

What have you learned from your “Civilian” tour that you want to apply this time around?

One major thing is we’re not going to tour as much. That’s already sort of happening. It’s still a challenging lifestyle for the both of us so we have to be really careful about it. That’s one major thing; letting ourselves breathe a little bit and have lives and existences outside of this band.

The new stuff sounds like a challenge to play live. How’d you go about preparing? Is there a tendency to simplify some of the songs?

Unfortunately, they’re not simplified at all. They’re very much in the arrangements that are on the record in a lot of ways. It’s a huge challenge for us, but I think that was part of the point. We wanted something that wasn’t going to be so easy that we would get bored with it very quickly. It was almost like a self-preservation thing – if we could create something that was very challenging, it would take us much longer to tire of it. However, on the other side, it’s difficult, and it’s frightening. It can be really tough to make it happen at times, but we put a lot of work into it, so at this point, we’re just starting to feel as comfortable with it as we’re ever going to get.

On her and Andy Stack’s favorite place in the Bay Area, the Marin Headlands:

We’ve probably been up there like 10 times. When it’s a clear day, it’s one of the best views I’ve ever seen. You’ve got the bridge, you’ve got the ocean. It’s really stunning. It doesn’t even look real when you’re there. We always try to pop in there when we’re on our way in or out and hope that there’s no fog.

Tommy and the High Pilots singer’s film stunt to dump unwanted SF hitchhiker

Read my Q&A with Tommy Cantillon of the Santa Barbara band at The Bay Bridged. See them Friday at Yoshi’s.

Tommy and the High Pilots

Phono del Sol: Wye Oak nearly broke up on quest for creative freedom

Check out my story on the near collapse of Wye Oak at The Bay Bridged. Come back later this week for some of the fun extras that didn’t make it in to the story.

Wye Oak