The first New York performance from Bleachers, fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff’s new solo project, was a sellout at Brooklyn’s 600-capacity Music Hall of Williamsburg on March 27. The venue was filled with fun. die-hards, some followers of Steel Train (the band he played with before joining fun. in 2008) and, of course, more than a few “Girls” fans gawking at Antonoff’s girlfriend Lena Dunham, who was beaming and whipping her bob haircut from the balcony.
But Bleachers are quickly building their own fan base, thanks to a forceful introductory single that’s moving up the charts: In mid-February, Antonoff officially announced the long rumoured project with “I Wanna Get Better,” built around chopped keyboard samples and a 1980s pop-rock vibe reminiscent of Simple Minds and Madness. The song rises 19-16 on Billboard’s Alternative chart dated April 12, its fourth week on the tally, jumping by 18 percent to 3 million in audience, according to Nielsen BDS. The single and its quirky video — directed by Dunham — preview a still-untitled Bleachers album, due in June on RCA Records.
The day after the show, Antonoff, 30, sounded shocked at how well the 45-minute set was attended. “My mind was blown that people came,” he says. “With Bleachers, it feels like people are aware of it, and interested because of what has gone on the past 14 years with fun. and Steel Train. It feels like people are putting their faith in this.”
The project began to take shape while fun. toured behind its 2012 breakout album, “Some Nights.” “I don’t really take pictures or write in a journal,” says Antonoff, “so the past two years of being on the road and seeing the entire world is documented in the Bleachers album, more than anything else.”
A jet-lagged Antonoff would wake up in the middle of the night and track song ideas; some of the single’s vocals, for instance, were recorded in a hotel room in Malaysia.
Onstage, Antonoff is backed by a four-piece band, but he played all of the instruments on Bleachers’ debut, which he describes as “moodier” than “I Wanna Get Better.” “I was very conscious about making an album that didn’t sound like 11 singles,” he says, adding that he received some production help from John Hill and Vince Clarke, and worked with Yoko Ono on a song that revolves around a spoken-word segment.
Looking for a home for a project that then existed as a handful of demos, Antonoff met with RCA over a year ago, though he stresses that he has no complaints about fun.’s label home, Atlantic. “It’s like I have two great families,” says Antonoff.
RCA VP of marketing Nick Pirovano says the label’s goal is to “let the music lead,” in order to establish Bleachers as more than a side project. “We can’t, and don’t want to, shy away from the fact that he’s also in fun.,” says Pirovano, “but the goal is to launch this as a brand-new project.”
Two years after fun. exploded with help from a Chevrolet Super Bowl spot that licensed “We Are Young,” RCA is “actively pursuing” synchs for the Bleachers album, although nothing is confirmed at press time, says Pirovano. Meanwhile, the label will cross over “Better” to pop radio ahead of the album release. More material from the album — perhaps the song “Shadow,” which Antonoff has been playing acoustically during a radio promo tour — will be released in the weeks leading up to the album.
Bleachers will embark on an East Coast tour in late summer, with other legs planned for early fall. The act will also play summer festivals like Firefly and Governors Ball (the project’s name first made the rounds when it mysteriously appeared on festival lineup announcements this year).
During his work on Bleachers, Antonoff contributed production and writing on Christina Perri’s “Head or Heart,” released April 1. Last year, he also worked with Taylor Swift, Tegan & Sara and Sara Bareilles, co-writing the lattermost’s Grammy-nominated hit “Brave.” “My goal is to jam it all together,” he says. “We’ll obviously make a new fun. album, and I’ll keep working with other artists. I want to work on what I’m excited about at the moment. That’s why Bleachers is happening.”