Last spring, Nate Ruess was in the studio with producer Jeff Bhasker, recording a demo of “Nothing Without Love,” a song meant for the next album by his band, fun. Ruess had been tinkering with it for months. Now, at a loss for lyrics, he began to sing about the recent changes in his life: His new relationship with fashion designer Charlotte Ronson, his burgeoning career as a songwriter-for-hire, the happiness he felt away from the grind of fronting a platinum-selling rock band. Suddenly, the song clicked.
“It felt so believable; I was saying what I was thinking,” Ruess tells Rolling Stone in an exclusive interview. “This is the first time I’ve been comfortable in my own skin, and it’s with someone who’s comfortable in their own skin. The reason I’m making a solo album is because it’s the first time.”
“Nothing Without Love” won’t be on fun.’s next album, because – as the band announced in a Facebook message on Thursday – there is no next fun. album in the works. Instead, Ruess is going solo. Their erstwhile frontman says fun., whose breakthrough, 2012’s Some Nights, sold more than a million copies, spawned three hit singles and won two Grammys, have no plans to record or tour in the immediate future. And their Facebook post backs up that claim.
“It would have been very easy for us to jump back in the studio and capitalize on our momentum,” their statement reads. “But making records and touring when it’s ‘good for business’ means nothing to us. We make records and tour when we are inspired to do so.”
That news undoubtedly came as a shock to fans; last year fun. performed a new song on The Tonight Show and promised they’d be back on the road soon. Studios had been booked, itineraries finalized and dividends analyzed. To Ruess, that was part of the problem.
“People were expecting a lot out of the next fun. album. Everybody wanted to squeeze every last drop out of it, but those things are hard to duplicate,” he says “The smartest way to look at things is to know they’re never going to happen again. People thought I was fucking nuts, but I’m not out to chase something. I’m out to be happy.
“Some Nights was a huge catalyst for my happiness, but it also helped me identify my problems a bit more,” he continues. “I remember when we won the Grammys; everybody was very happy, and rightfully so. But I was like ‘We didn’t win Album of the Year,’ which is the dumbest fucking thing ever.”
Ruess says that relationships within the band never soured, and that the success of bandmate Jack Antonoff’s side project Bleachers had nothing to do with his decision. (“Fuck no,” he spits). So why is he striking out on his own? Mainly, because he fell in love.
For nearly a year, he’s been dating Ronson. When the two first met, Ruess had been writing songs intended for the follow-up to Some Nights. Needless to say, those songs – and his plans – quickly changed (“I was listening to a shit-ton of Belle and Sebastian,” he jokes). In May, Ruess moved to New York City, in part to be closer to Ronson, and, like magic, the songs started flowing. “Nothing Without Love” took shape, along with several others. Ruess could have brought them to Antonoff and fun. multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost, but he decided to keep them for himself. He wasn’t willing to compromise.
“You get a little selfish about the songs that you write, and it’s really hard to do that in a group setting, where there are two other people, and you have to think about everybody else’s feelings,” Ruess says. “I’m writing and singing these songs about myself. When you work with producers versus bandmates, that line becomes a lot less blurry.”
Of course, there was the matter of informing those bandmates that there would be no new fun. album. Ruess admits that the news wasn’t received well when he told them late last summer. “I handled things poorly. It was a sloppy, long, kind of ‘Guys, I’ve got something that I really want to do, and I need the opportunity to do that,'” he says, in between diplomatic pauses. “The emotional me got in there, but I was gonna be a lot happier making this album by myself.
“Sometimes when you act, you just act like a fool,” he continues. “You just hope that you learn from it.”
Sitting in producer Emile Haynie’s studio in New York, Ruess definitely seems like he’s learned a few things. For starters, he’s stopped making sweeping generalizations: When asked if fun. are truly finished, he answers, “No, that would be speaking in definitives, and we don’t do that.”
And based on the new songs he played for Rolling Stone, he’s realized that ambition isn’t a bad thing. His still-untitled solo album (tentatively due out this summer) is brimming both with stadium-sized anthems – “Nothing Without Love,” which he says will be the first single, is a worthy successor to “We Are Young’s” stomp and scope, and “Great Big Storm” follows the same ELO-illuminated path as Some Nights‘ “Why Am I the One” – and quiet ruminations like “Take It Back,” a somber ballad punctuated by a guitar solo courtesy of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.
“Getting that from him was the biggest gift of my life,” Ruess laughs. “Emile and Jeff both kind of fell to the floor after they heard it.”
But mostly, Ruess has learned how to be happy, both professionally and personally. There are plentiful mentions of it on the album: “I’m ready to free/this grand romantic in me,” he sings on the opening track, “Ah Ha,” and “Take It Back” has him declaring, “Every single black eye has some blue.” And his new relationship has brought with it a new outlook on life. While the future of fun. may be murky, for the first time, Ruess isn’t worried about what happens next. Instead, he’s content to enjoy the now.
“For so long I had this chip on my shoulder, but when everything’s going great, the chip kind of disappears,” he says. “I want everything to work out with this album, because I love it, but at the end of the night, I end up in bed with one person, and that’s what puts me to sleep.”