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Jack Antonoff on Bleachers' newest album


The songwriter Jack Antonoff spends a lot of his time behind the scenes, producing albums for the likes of Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey. That work has earned him the producer of the year Grammy for the past three years straight. But then, when he feels like it's the right time, he steps back into center stage.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) Crossfade in the dark, have a smoke, yeah. Take another drink or walk with the news playin'. That was me, too.

DETROW: Antonoff says releasing a new self-titled album from his band Bleachers feels like letting the world read his diary for the past few years. Those diary pages include happy events like getting married, but as he told my colleague Rachel Martin, he's also still working through the pain of his past.

JACK ANTONOFF: I lost my sister when I was 18. And I've written so much about grief and the past and the future, what has happened, what could happen, this endless back and forth. And what I realized now is that I was working really hard and having a lot of fear about how to live in any sort of present way, and does that mean I'm giving up on her memory or something.

So through the lens of the deepening relationship with my band, my relationship with my audience, so these sort of, like, deepening relationships, I was finding myself more and more and more present, which is a beautiful thing. Getting married is obviously a part of that. And then the real dark side is, well, if I have this presence about me in my life and I'm not just someone who sort of, as I say, tribute lives, am I letting go of this memory of this person, this honoring, right? And so that's the heart and soul of the album.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: It makes sense to me, though, that it would come from those two poles of inspiration, both the dealing with your sister and that loss and that dark and this, like, intense, bright light of love.

ANTONOFF: Yeah. Well, I mean, the song "Tiny Moves" is very, like, sweet and sounds kind of bright and up.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) The tiniest moves you make, the whole d*** world shakes.

ANTONOFF: But it's really about, you know, like the shaking of the ground of if you find love or fall in love - right? - you're also left to dismantle all your weird self-mythology.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) Watchin' it all come down, watch it go 'round and 'round. The tiniest moves you make, watchin' my whole world shake.

MARTIN: I'm going to shift and ask this question.

ANTONOFF: What's it going to be?

MARTIN: What do you love about the saxophone?


ANTONOFF: I've always loved it because I feel like it's the opposite of what it tells you it is. You know, it's this, like, party instrument, but it's really, really sad.

MARTIN: Oh, interesting.

ANTONOFF: Yeah. Like, it's this big, you know, loud thing. But it also can be, like, incredibly tender and breathy. And I like the oppositeness of hearing it playing, like, more, like, melancholy lines.


MARTIN: It's sort of - I mean, I don't think of it as being a very hip instrument.

ANTONOFF: No, no. I mean, you wouldn't be alone thinking that, but, like, I think there's a need to define yourself outside of what's going on.


ANTONOFF: And then there's an authenticity within that. So it's like, yeah, like, I could throw a ton of, like, accordion or something on my music, but that's not really what I'm into - you know, just to differentiate myself in, like, the landscape. So it's like...

MARTIN: Right. It has to be authentic.

ANTONOFF: Yeah. So like, what are these things - and I think about this anytime I'm working - like, what are those sounds as literal as an instrument or as the way you play an instrument that just pull you away from the pack?

MARTIN: So much has been said and written about your admiration of Bruce Springsteen. There's a lot of E Street Band comparisons that are made.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) Ooh, and all the modern boys, all the modern boys, are going out tonight.

MARTIN: A lot of the record does feel like this throwback with a totally modern sensibility. Were - do you feel like you could have been born in another era? Do your parents look at this stuff and be like, oh, my God, how did this happen?

ANTONOFF: No, I feel - it's weird. When I hear stuff, I feel incredibly, like, future. That's how I hear it. And I've thought a lot about this because it's, like, we have reached this interesting point where there hasn't been a lot of new instruments developed...


ANTONOFF: ...Right? Like, obviously, like, you think about the way the electric guitar started sounding different through the '50s, '60s and '70s. Like, you know, obviously then the '90s, you get into, like, a crazy version of, like, sampling, which has really carried us through into the past two decades. You know, the newest of instruments you could really think about is kind of more like recording techniques.



ANTONOFF: You know, there hasn't been some sort of, like, earth-shattering new sound. And I recognize that, and I think to myself, the way I can, like, shock the system the most is to just identify my feeling, my soul and the personality of my band the most and then find all the most interesting and modern ways to record that.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) You only call me after midnight. I pull up on your lawn like, baby boy, are you all right? You only call me after midnight.

MARTIN: Why are you so good at the collaboration required of producing? I mean, we just have to list - you've co-written and produced songs with some very big names - Lorde, Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift.


TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) It's me. Hi. I'm the problem. It's me. I'm the problem. It's me. At tea...

MARTIN: When you were starting out in this line of work, what were the early signs that this was a thing that you were going to excel at?

ANTONOFF: I just always did it. There's three things I always did since I was about 13 or 14, right? I always sat in a room alone and wrote songs. I always had a band and played and sang those songs, and then I always helped my friends with their songs. Nothing's changed, just the...


ANTONOFF: ...You know...

MARTIN: But the helping, it's not everybody who makes a living out of the helping.

ANTONOFF: No, it's - a lot of people who do one or the other will dabble on the other side. But I truly do both, like, not in a way where I even want to. It's just, like what my body does. I need to make my own work. I need to work on other people's work. It's just what I do. I don't know.

MARTIN: Oh, yeah.

ANTONOFF: I don't know where it comes from. I know I've been doing it long enough to recognize the, like, rareness of it.

MARTIN: Right. What do you do when an artist isn't feeling it, though? Like, you're in the studio, and they're just coming up against a wall. And then you're like (ph)...

ANTONOFF: Then I go home.

MARTIN: Do you?

ANTONOFF: Yeah, just go home and do something else.

MARTIN: Yeah. Take a break.

ANTONOFF: Yeah. It's not like - it's not a place to force anything. It is what it is. It's like, you get it, or you don't. And, like, the one thing I know is that you don't get it by pushing further, further, further, harder, harder, you know? Like, this is not what it is. Like, you know, you - go find it somewhere else.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) But you were just a kid when they told you...

ANTONOFF: You know, like, sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't. And I've had moments where I've, like, worked on something, trying to find them, trying to find it, and then like, I'll, like, go get a cup of coffee and just get, like, hit with an idea that just, like, is so much better than that one. And then I just kind of throw everything out and just follow that new one.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) Look at you. You made it out.

MARTIN: Jack Antonoff, award-winning musician, songwriter, producer - his band Bleachers has a new self-titled album that is out now. Jack, this was super fun. Thank you.

ANTONOFF: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.


BLEACHERS: (Singing) No, you don't wear an inch of it, babe. I'd follow you down, down, down, down, down to the water, way down to any kind of chance, to a stone in a creek, till you're out of the blue. Honey, I can see it too. 'Cause I was just a kid when they showed me this great big weight that would come and pull me... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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