Jack Antonoff knows he took a huge risk when he cast out on his own from chart-topping band fun. to form Bleachers. “That was scary because there is a statistic with people coming from other bands and how things like that normally do,” the musician tells Rolling Stone. “I’m very, very honored to be some sort of exception.”
Stepping out of his comfort zone is a new thing for Antonoff, who’s finally starting to feel settled in his Brooklyn home after 28 years of living with his parents in New Jersey. “I think that’s kind of the weird, fucked up thing about touring is that you feel so fiercely independent,” he says. “I was 15 years old and I was driving around the country. I was doing it all myself. I never felt compelled to leave home, so I never left.” While the balance made sense to him, those on the outside found his lifestyle peculiar. “When I was in commercially unsuccessful bands, the neighbors thought I was a loser,” he explains. “When I was in commercially successful bands, the neighbors thought I was mentally ill.”
Today, Antonoff shares a Brooklyn Heights home with his girlfriend, Lena Dunham, who often serves as a creative sounding board. “I love having Lena as an ear to play things for, because she’s so creative but she’s also not a musician, so she just can hear things,” he explains, saying he’ll play her new work on his phone when they’re in bed to gauge her response. “She just hears things and she likes it or she doesn’t. So she’ll often be the first person to hear things. . .and she’ll either have an emotional reaction or not, and that’s a really important barometer for me.”
With a studio set-up in his house that lets him create music anytime he wants and a diner that reminds him of the ones he spent his entire life frequenting in Jersey, Antonoff has come to embrace this new phase of his life. But he still hasn’t strayed from being “unapologetically personal,” as he describes his songwriting. His lyrics still address all the issues he’s facing in his day-to-day life, including the lingering effects of losing a sister when he was 18 years old. “[For] all my friends, their world was opening, and mine was closing,” he says of how it felt at that time.
When he’s not recording at the house, he’s often at Manhattan’s Jungle City Studios, the spot where he’s currently working with Canadian dance duo Chromeo. Bringing our cameras along to check out the session, Antonoff explains that collaboration has always appealed to him (he also co-wrote Taylor Swift’s anthemic hit “Out of the Woods”).
“Art and business really have nothing to do with each other when you’re making the art,” he says. “You can’t make art because it’s good for business. You have to make the thing you’re excited about.”