Bleachers: Jack Antonoff on How Girlfriend Lena Dunham and Trump Inspired New Album

Bleachers Jack Antonoff
Bleachers, aka Jack Antonoff, speaks to Newsweek about his new album, "Gone Now." RCA/Sony

From the opening chord of “Don’t Take the Money,” the first single from the new album Gone Now, Bleachers immerses you in an '80s synth-pop nirvana. The album—the second studio release from the indie pop act—plays like a sonic John Hughes movie; this is fine-tuned nostalgic pop with booming basslines, snares and euphoric hooks. But the lyrical content on the songs, including the standout track “Hate That You Know Me,” is a lot darker than you might notice at first listen.

Bleachers is, in fact, a one-man act. That man is Jack Antonoff, the former lead guitarist of the band Fun (of “We Are Young” fame), frontman of the now-defunct indie rock group Steel Train and frequent collaborator of pop stars Lorde and Taylor Swift. Antonoff, 33, is also the longtime boyfriend of Girls creator Lena Dunham. They share a multimillion-dollar apartment in Brooklyn, New York, which also doubles as his recording studio. (Dunham directed the video for “Don’t Take the Money.”)

I meet Antonoff mid-May in a London hotel ahead of the June 2 release of Gone Now. He tells me he prefers to record under the name Bleachers because “I liked the idea of it being beyond me—it belongs to more people than me.” And although the record has a feel-good pop flair, he tells me, many of the songs come from a more melancholy place. Antonoff spent two years in deep reflection while working on Gone Now, documenting his thoughts on the world, his relationship and even the U.S. presidential election in November.

BLEACHERS DGS_3520 PRESS[1] Jack Antonoff speaks to Newsweek about his new album.

Gone Now, for Antonoff, is a wholly personal diary of those last two years. The lyrics may get dark, but the music never betrays Bleachers’ rocking pop sound. “I like setting very dark concepts to big, euphoric feelings,” he tells me. “When I was [a baby] breastfeeding, I guess late-'80s music was entering my body without me knowing it. There’s a very deep part of my soul that those sounds—like a Juno-6, the way a bass can harp, or a LinnDrum—they just feel like they came from me.”

Here, Antonoff speaks about the inspirations behind Gone Now, from Dunham to Trump, and the persistent scrutiny his girlfriend comes under in the press and on social media.

Did you worry about suffering a “sophomore slump” with this album?
I only work on things when I feel an intense gut feeling to do something. I only started to make the album when I felt a deep purpose to make it. The process is an intense one, it’s strictly about documenting perfectly a moment and capturing it so it’s the conversation I want to have with people.

The big shifting point was the song “Everybody Lost Somebody.” In the past, I’ve written so much about what’s happened to me, what I felt after, what I felt during. I wanted to make that conversation with other people. You look at people and think, God knows what they’re going through. You start to think about the moments you felt isolated on earth, and you realize everyone’s got a version of that; it’s binding tissue between all of us.

What does “Don’t take the money” mean?
“Don’t take the money” is a phrase I say in my head a lot—basically, it means “don’t sell out.” It’s about a relationship, hitting rock bottom and then choosing to be with them. It’s a very powerful moment—letting go of the we-were-made-for-each-other concept and more the we’re-choosing-to-be-here concept. That’s what it truly is to love someone.

That’s what “Hate That You Know Me” is about also. You walk by a mirror...I can walk right by it and not have to deal with what I see; but when I live with someone or have relationships with family, I have to be really present. Sometimes you hate that someone knows you because you can’t run from yourself, and it makes you wish you weren’t yourself.

Are the songs about your relationship with Lena?
Yeah. It’s the only one that I’m currently available to write about.

So it’s about this realization that love isn’t this big, romantic fairytale all the time and accepting that?
Then you realize it’s actually more grand. I actually think it’s more grand to choose to be with someone than be blinded by chemicals. The cruel joke of it all is the actual harsh reality [of love] is more inspiring and romantic than anything you’re sold in a Disney movie—the concept of this heightened place you can get to by actually knowing someone, that’s very thrilling. What some people articulate as boredom, others articulate as the deepest sense of knowing yourself and someone else.

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While you were recording Gone Now, Lena was obviously working on the final season of Girls. What kind of environment did that make for at home?
Two people who are deeply immersed in things and trying to care for each other at the same time, it’s challenging. We both give ourselves over to the work that we’re making, and that’s a very intense experience. It’s a lot for anybody to live around, let alone two people to live around.

There is a song on the album called “Let’s Get Married.” Is that about Lena?
That song isn’t about what it seems. I wrote that the morning after the election. I spent so much of my life traveling around America, getting to know America, and loving all those people.... I felt so broken that I could feel so disconnected from all those people because of the result. How could people want that?

My reaction to that was this lyric: “It’s bad when we look out/But bad people don’t live in our house.” It’s like, fuck it, let’s get married. If everything is falling apart, let’s reinvest [in] people we love the most. The ultimate connection is marriage; if this is going on, let’s get married. I twisted it and made it this much more anthemic sounding song.

It’s funny to think it could turn into some goofy [headline], like, “Is this Jack’s way of [proposing]?” I expect that, but it’ll be extremely ironic that anyone that cares to find out will know that the song came from a very deep and sad place.

How have you been dealing with the last few months under Trump’s presidency?
It’s hard. It’s hard for a lot of us. I haven’t been as deeply affected as others. But it’s a very stressful time. The people that voted that way got such a bad deal. Everybody else did too. It’s not what they thought it was. It’s classic bullshit—the people that need the most get the least. And why do we, historically, continue to hate women and darker people? It’s a cycle that you can’t understand. Why do the coasts seem to be more liberal than the inlands? Is it because more ships come there, and bring different cultures and ideas?

I’m about to go on tour, and I want to understand people, I want to relate to people. I don’t want to judge people. This situation is very hard for me to understand.

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Lena was vocal during the election, and is often very open about her opinion on wide range of subjects, and gets pilloried for it.
Find me a woman in history that had an opinion and didn’t get beat up for it? Find me a black man in history that had an opinion and didn’t get beat up for it? Unless you’re an old, white Christian man in America, someone’s going to come after you for your opinion. It’s not new. It’s boring. It’s just sad that it doesn’t change. It’s a control issue. In many ways, we’re very evolved, and in other ways, we’re not.

You’ve also been working with Lorde on her sophomore album, Melodrama, and co-wrote the song “Green Light.” What can you tell us about the album?
We’re almost done with it. I did the whole thing with her. We’ve got just a couple more mixes.

Lorde seems like she’s matured a lot as an artist since her last record.
Who is the same person as a few years ago? You talk to someone who’s 60 and ask them about being 55, it’s a different fucking person. There’s a pressure when you make records and something works, everybody’s pressuring you to do it again. It’s not honest. A lot of records I make or I’m involved with, they’re very honest.

You’ve worked with Taylor Swift too, on tracks for 1989. Are you making any new music together?
I’ve just been focusing on the Bleachers record and the Lorde record. I don’t have a lot of bandwidth outside of that, if I want to have a life.

Gone Now by Bleachers is out now.