Over the past few months a band that has been on the scene for years has finally crossed the great divide between alternative rock and mainstream pop. The band, Fun (stylized as fun.), will be coming to Los Angeles to perform for three straight sold out nights. The fact that each night is already sold out makes it obvious that Fun has arrived in more ways than one.
The genre-defying group, consisting of Jack Antonoff, Andrew Dost, and front-man Nate Ruess, will be performing all over the globe, selling out a number of shows into October. The popularity of the group’s performances mirrors the triumphant success of their break out song. The single, “We Are Young,” features powerhouse vocalist Janelle Monae, who unfortunately won’t be traveling with the trio.
This hit gave Fun international recognition and broke down music’s version of the Berlin wall between indie pop and the mainstream top 40. This was the first single released on the band’s second album, Some Nights, which debuted at #3 on Billboard’s album charts and has sold close to 450,000 copies so far. With their alternative single suddenly skyrocketing to #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 after being featured on a variety of hit television shows and a Superbowl commercial, the band seems like an overnight success. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Ruess, the self-taught singer/songwriter, and founder of Fun, has been at this for over ten years. In 2000 the Arizona-native formed his first band with his childhood best friend. This band, Nevergonnascore, quickly morphed into the more well-known, but still slightly obscure band, The Format. This group experienced minimal success and broke up after seven long years, much to the dismay of the dedicated following the band had garnered.
In search of new inspiration and a chance to finally get onto the charts, Ruess immediately contacted Jack Antonoff whom he had met when The Format and Antonoff’s band, Steel Train, had been on tour together. Ruess’ next and final recruit was Andrew Dost, formerly of Anathallo. They decided to name their band Fun as a symbol of their commitment to their musical and philosophical decision to shake off the energy of their past unsuccessful bands and to simply have fun.
Following the formation of the group, the trio threw themselves into making their first album, Aim and Ignite, which ended up selling 70,000 copies. After this album failed to gain any mainstream popularity, Ruess decided perhaps it wasn’t enough to just have fun. He needed a little help and direction as well.
For this reason, Ruess sought out producer Jeff Bhasker who has worked with the likes of Kanye West, Alicia Keys and Beyonce, and is widely known in musical circles for producing mega-hits. Bhasker had brushed Ruess off multiple times, but due to a few serendipitous scheduling mix-ups, the producer begrudgingly decided to meet him at the Bowery Hotel’s bar and give him five minutes of his time. Countless drinks later, Ruess found himself spontaneously belting out an a cappella version of “We Are Young” to Bhasker in his hotel room. That was all the convincing Bhasker needed. He instantly agreed to produce Fun’s second album.
True to Ruess’signature sound, their second album, Some Nights, experiments with melding the best of different genres. It mixes vocals sincere and powerful enough for Broadway, with electronic undertones, pop beats, and, with the addition of Bhasker, hip hop influences. It’s not uncommon for a mash-up of styles to sound contrived and unnatural, but with Fun it just works. It seems like Bhasker’s Midas touch was exactly what they needed to transform them from mainstream obscurity to widespread popularity.
It is possible that long-time lovers of The Format or enthusiasts of Fun’s first album will say that Ruess has sold out by tweaking their sound, but they were always an evolving/experimental band, weren’t they? True, they’ve gone mainstream. But amazingly they don’t sound mainstream; they haven’t lost their Ben Folds/Queen-like vibe that lets their songs read (and sound) like a poppy modern rock opera. And there’s no point in dwelling on the past anyway. As Ruess himself sings, “you can never look back.” So, I’m in the camp with those who think Ruess is finally hitting his stride and figuring out where his true strengths as a musician lie. But when it comes down to it, our opinion doesn’t really matter. He didn’t write this album for us. He wrote it for Fun.
Fun will play to a packed house at Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theater this weekend, starting August 17th for three nights in a row.
By Darianne Dobbie