Fun.'s Nate Ruess is NOT just a boy inside a voice
If that were true, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing. The frontman of fun. just released his first solo album- Grand Romantic. Wait, Nate’s doing solo stuff, Jack Antonoff has Bleachers, Andrew Dost is scoring movies (The D Train) and TV shows (Faking It)…is fun. over? No. Guys, they’re just taking a break. They’re all super creative dudes doing their own thing at the moment.
I had the awesome opportunity to go to a listening party before Grand Romantic was released. The Atlantic Records/Fueled By Ramen execs introduced him before he sang basically saying that he gives them the feels too. Grand Romantic is filled with triumphant pop songs about the highs and lows of being in love and marching on through life while appreciating every moment.
fun. opened up a whole new world for Nate, but now he’s taking it to another universe. He was a “Key Advisor” on the past season of NBC’s The Voice—taking on the role with his awesome advice and hilarious commentary. In the month of May, he was VH1’s “You Oughta Know” artist. Last month, Nate was honored with the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s prestigious Hal David Starlight Award—an award presented to original songwriters that are making a major impact in the music industry. (Past winners include Taylor Swift and John Legend!)
I had the amazing chance to talk to Nate about everything that’s going on.
Hey Nate, how are you doing?
I’m good! How are you?
Good! Guess, we’ll just kick this off. I’ve been a fan of you for a while and this may sound a bit corny, but your music literally fills my heart with joy.
Oh, thank you! By the way, that’s not corny at all. That makes me really happy. That made my day..thank you.
Oh, you’re welcome! Is it crazy to think that your music, your voice, your lyrics have that affect on people?
Yes, it is. Absolutely crazy. That’s why I got into music in the first place. I remember listening to my dad’s records when I got into high school or middle school with all that adolescent, tween angst. I was lucky because I found music and I just didn’t feel alone. Words did that for me. So I got into music with that in mind. So when I write a song, I can’t help but think that- even if it’s super personal. That’s why I have a tough time telling people what lyrics are about because it’s just so much more important that they’re about what they want them to be about.
So true. To follow up on that, the greatest writers/lyricists have the ability to evoke the reader’s/listener’s emotions, from pure happiness to overwhelming sadness. You have that ability. What music does that for you?
Well, there’s about a trillion. Off the top of my head, I’ll go with Van Morrison because he’s my absolute favorite songwriter of all time. And I really got into him later in life, but I believe that my life has been better because of it. I had an opportunity to meet him last week and I got to tell him that, which meant a lot to me. I got to see it from a side where people tell me that. You always want in your heart for someone to tell you that, but to say it to someone is really an amazing thing too. I think Pearl Jam—Eddie Vedder has been someone like that for me. There’s a group called The Weakerthans that writes some of my favorite lyrics. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who is someone I got the chance to work with, is someone that does that for me. Shoot! I could really literally go on for days. It’s so funny because every time I play my girlfriend [Charlotte Ronson] something I say, “Oh you gotta check this out!” I probably preface everything by saying “This is the best lyricist ever!”
Speaking of Van Morrison, I was at the last Format show at Webster Hall. That show was insane. It was like a festival in one show. Even Mike Birbiglia did a set!
Oh hell yeah! We were relentless back in the day and that was Sam’s idea to have like 5 bands and put all of our friends on the bill. And it ended up being kind of the best tour ever and in some ways like the straw that broke the camel’s back for The Format. I wish there was a documentary of that tour.
I wish! I actually have a video of the encore of that show where all of you came on stage and played Van Morrison’s ‘Caravan’.
Yeah, that was special playing that Van track. It’s my favorite cover that I’ve ever done. I almost wanted to go back to it for this tour now, but that was a special moment. I want to keep it there.
Yeah, it was incredible! If you could go on tour with any bands/artists and jam at the end, who would it be?
Oh, that’s a good question cause you gotta jam out at the end. Wilco would probably be the most ideal because they’re such amazing musicians. I could just go out there and kinda wail as a vocalist. I don’t wail often, but I always wish that I could. I’m terrible at doing like the Beyoncé free-for-all vocal stuff. I could hold one note until people are like, “Holy cow! He’s still holding that note!”
So good! Within all your music, I feel like you’ve always been a “grand romantic,” what made him come out?
There was more love songs. I feel like for the last 10 years or so, I’ve had my heart broken so many times and I’ve written about it so many times. I’m an adaptable person, so I learned how to put myself in a nice middle ground in my real life. It can be like a pain in the ass for the people around me. I don’t get up and I don’t get down. I’m just like okay, cool, whatever. And coming up with the album title Grand Romantic, I was like you know what it’s time to bring that back. Fortunately, I just got into relationships and whatever happened in my life where I felt like I could let a little bit of that back in. I try to be aware every day and not go back to the okay, cool, whatever.
New record is amazing by the way.
Thank you! It’s my favorite one. It’s funny because I was listening to it all day. Like I haven’t stopped listening to it, which is strange because you never want to listen to your album. But this one, I don’t know if it’s lyrically or whatever, but it keeps me going. It means a lot that it means anything to anyone, so thank you.
Love it and also love that Sam Means (bandmate in The Format) did the artwork for “AhHa” and all your merch. Do you think you’ll ever musically collaborate again?
I don’t know. When I got Sam back to do all this stuff…He’s a brilliant songwriter. He’s a brilliant artist. His mind is amazing. Fortunately, I learned so much from him without even knowing it. But it kinda took us a while to get back on really really solid ground. And for the last 2 years, we’ve been having a great time as super close friends again. He was doing all this art stuff. It’s not easy to deal with me. I can be a bit of a burden especially artistically with songs and stuff like that. I always trusted Sam with the artwork. At one point, he just told me, “This is amazing. It’s like being back in The Format, but I don’t have to deal with you and the songwriting.” With that being said, I think our friendship remains the most important. I mean, I just finished an album and I just finished driving Jeff [Bhasker] and Emile [Haynie] crazy, so I just wanna reserve that for my girlfriend.
Well, I think you guys found the perfect way to collaborate. You’ve collaborated with some great artists like P!nk, Brian Wilson, Beck, and Jeff Tweedy—any other artists you’d love to work with?
You know, if you asked me that question two months ago, I would’ve said Paul McCartney. But then Beck asked me to sing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with him and at the end we got to sing on stage with Paul McCartney. I don’t think he knows I was there, but I know I was there. I was so scared that I just found a corner. I was like, “Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact.” Ask me that question in like a year when that’s kind of worn off a little bit.
That’s pretty epic to be on stage with him. Kind of serious question: in your Rolling Stone article you said, “This is the first time I’ve been comfortable in my own skin.” and “I’m not out to chase something. I’m out to be happy.” Do you have any advice for people struggling within themselves?
Um you know, I don’t realize until afterwards, but I always try to throw a little optimism in my lyrics. Kind of like a more glorious version of the cat poster that says, “Hang in there.” That’s really the only thing that I have other than being yourself. I know they’re super cliché, but I’ve found that they work. I mean I still have bad bad days. I think it’s just important to acknowledge the moments when they’re good.
That’s true and I feel like your music helps people too. A lot of your songs also have a Broadway feel to them. In the future, do you think you’d ever take your music from The Format, fun., and your solo stuff and create your own Broadway show?
Umm no probably not. I’ve been approached before—you know commissioned to do stuff and what not. I guess I just grew up in rock n roll and that feels like home to me, so that feels a little too foreign. With that being said, you can never say no to anything, but you know as of right now. They take years to do. It takes so much out of your life. I start every album thinking, “I’m going to write about someone else” and then I’m just too selfish and I end up writing about myself. I think in Broadway, you’re truly writing about someone else. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m a great songwriter or lyricist if I’m not writing from within.
Yeah, that makes sense. If someone hasn’t listened to your music before, what songs would you tell him or her to listen to?
That’s a great question. Well, you know, I’ll go 1 song per album. So starting off on Interventions & Lullabies, I would go with “Career Day.” On Dog Problems, I’ll go with “Dog Problems.” On Aim & Ignite, I would choose “Take your Time.” On Some Nights, I would choose “Stars.” And on Grand Romantic, I will go with…It’s tough because I’m obsessed with the album right now. I’ll go with a slow song, “Take It Back.”
Nice! Is there anything else you’d like to tell the HelloGiggles’ readers?
Mad props to HelloGiggles! That’s awesome! My girlfriend reads it.
Have a great show tonight. It was amazing talking to you!
Thank you so much! You’ve lifted me up. I love it.
If I have a great show tonight, you’ll definitely play a part in that, so thank you. Have a good rest of your day!
If you want to see a show that will put a smile on your face, fill your heart, and make you feel like you were a part of something magical, check out Nate on tour! Seriously. Listen to Grand Romantic. I can’t choose a favorite song, but my favorite lyric is in “Brightside”: “I never meant to set the world on fire. Just wanted something you’d remember me by.” Nate will forever live on in his songs. The songs that make us feel alive and fill us with hope. At his New York show, he thanked the crowd for sticking around and supporting him through the years. On behalf of the fans, I want to thank Nate for sticking with it and creating the music that keeps us all going.
Featured Image & 1st image by Lindsey Byrnes. Album art painted by Teresa Oaxaca. Live photos by Gabby Kirschberg.