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Nate Ruess Reveals How Depression and Heartbreak Inspired His New Solo Album: 'I Had Just Given Up'

Norman Seeff
Nate Ruess photographed in 2015.

Nate Ruess of Fun looks tired, and under­standably so. The 33-year-old's first solo album, Grand Romantic, is due June 16; an extensive press tour is underway; and he suffered a recent bout of pink eye. It's a late morning in May, and the Arizona-raised, Manhattan-based singer is slumped on a couch at Atlantic Records' Burbank offices, ready to discuss the album's big themes: his struggles with depression and past relationships. (He's currently dating designer Charlotte Ronson, 37.)

While he's not religious, Ruess sometimes ponders the nature of existence and death. He grips a maroon pillow between his legs and says, "I've never gotten further than thinking, 'What would it be like to die?,' which probably everybody has thought at some point in life."

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First, your Fun bandmate Jack Antonoff released a solo album as Bleachers, and now you're releasing Grand Romantic. Is Fun over?

We are just taking a break. A solo album takes a long time, and it's where all my thoughts are right now.

Are you nervous that your album isn't going to be as well-received as Fun's last LP, Some Nights?

(Laughs.) No. I'm just happy to be making it. I cried last night while listening to it. It's the best thing I think I have ever done.

Between the album title and lead single "Nothing Without Love," were you inspired by romance to make this project?

Yeah, I think so. I caught myself in a great head space. My current relationship feels like it's not letting up; it clicks, and I'm learning so much. But to me, love means all the people around you. It wasn't necessarily about one relationship. I'm very thankful for the people I have in my life, and I think that was a big catalyst. The whole Grand Romantic theme is a return to being that kid who could cry, because I hadn't been that person in a long time.

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Why not? Were you emotionally numb?

Life is tough. I think life is tough for everybody. My life is still as tough as it ever was. I want to acknowledge all the highs and lows when they happen.

What were some other issues you worked through on this album?

It was a lot of old relationship stuff. I also didn't realize until afterward that there are a lot of mortality and random religious references. When you are writing individual songs, you lose track. Last night, I started picking out things lyrically and I just thought, "Shit."

On "AhHa," you mention struggling with depression and suicide. What was going through your mind?

I had grown up very much wide-eyed and optimistic. After being in a few tough relationships, I learned how to shut down. I think I had just given up.

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Did you ever attempt suicide?

No. It was one of those things that flashes across your mind, but I never took it any further than that.

Do you still wake up and feel anxious and down, or have those feelings subsided?

Yeah, they have. It's not something worth bragging about, because I believe that it can happen at any time again. I don't think I'm in the clear. So I'm thankful for feeling better now than I think I ever have.

This story originally appeared in the June 13 issue of Billboard