Nate Ruess explains the decision to go solo on Grand Romantic, why he always ends up writing about heartbreak, and how lucky he’s been to work with the people he’s met throughout his career.
How’s the new lineup been going over? I know you’ve played a few shows so far, kind of all over the world.
It’s been pretty awesome. I’ve been having a wonderful time. We’ve only been playing together for about a month. I’m usually hypercritical after shows and I’ve found myself walking off stage, trying to find something to be mad at, and being like, “OK, great! Let’s keep going.” It’s been beyond wonderful.
Yeah, I’m super excited for the show tonight.
Yeah, I’m super psyched. L.A. shows to some can be a little daunting, because they can be a little industry heavy. New York can be the same way, too. In Toronto, we were pretty lucky to have people singing along the whole entire time, and the show at Webster in New York last week was one of the craziest shows I think I’ve ever been a part of. So I’m looking forward to this.
At the beginning when you first started working on this album, you’ve said the songs didn’t feel right releasing under a band name and that it felt more natural to release it under your own name, which I assume wasn’t an easy decision to come to. At what point did you realize that had to happen and how did you break the news to Andrew and Jack that you would be doing this instead of another fun. album?
After three or four years of touring, after you end up accomplishing things you never, ever thought of, the workload was just insane. It was totally crazy. We went everywhere every day, doing 50 trillion different things. I’m beyond proud of it, but as soon as I got home, for the first time in my life I had a nice little break and some time to myself.
I was just writing songs and enjoying the way that was going. I was not necessarily ready to jump back into this massive machine. So I spent some time kind of going back and forth, and then we talked about it. It’s not easy. It’s especially not easy because we also employ so many different people and we care about those people.
I’ve always been driven by the music and wherever the songs take me. That’s why I think Some Nights was really a success, because it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be. It was just the next album, which coincidentally happens with Grand Romantic. They’re songs that a lot of people just end up listening to.
In the very first interview you did when you announced this whole thing, you expressed this concept how this was the first time you’ve been comfortable in your own skin. From an outsider’s perspective, you’re coming from two different bands that have had devoted followings and you’ve have had all this success recently, and some people might be a little taken aback by that comment. What makes this time in your life so different that you’ve been able to feel that and has allowed you to write this album now?
I was just really, really proud of what we were able to accomplish. It’s not like I haven’t been proud in the past, but it always felt like maybe there was a little something missing. I’ve been so lucky since the Format to have people listen to the music and support me in ways that have always made me feel important and always made me want to make music.
Then when you have a song go big, you have the most random people coming up to you and talking about what that song meant to their relationship or whatever. It ends up hitting me pretty hard, and there’s a certain level of fulfillment that I got out of that. To couple that with just getting into a relationship, I felt really great.
More than anything, you have to take into account that when I look at myself 15 years ago, I was a slightly more miserable person. I’ve learned how to deal with that misery in appropriate ways. It’s really about maturing.
Looking back through all the albums you’ve done, they come from this viewpoint of being disillusioned by love and relationships, and there’s still a few depressing moments on this album but you’re a quote-unquote “Grand Romantic” now, so a lot of these songs are coming from a positive and hopeful place. Was that challenging to write from a more uncynical place this time?
Yeah, it was much more challenging. The problem is when you tell people you’re happy, it doesn’t mean that I’m not aware of all that has gone wrong or all that could go wrong. I’m fortunate and I’m thankful for everything that has gone wrong. I know that there’s going to be days and there’s going to be years where I’m not as happy. I just wanted to bottle, at least for a few songs, that feeling of happiness.
When we got towards the end of the album, that’s when I started going back to that heartbroken person. I don’t know what it is about the way that I write, but I always find myself back there. It’s easier to say those things, and it can be cathartic to perform them. It helps me get over a lot of stuff.
I’m not a big talker in life or a big social person. I don’t have many friends or anything like that. Usually, I do most of my talking and most of my looking back through my music.
For that award you just accepted recently, didn’t you say something onstage about how you’re more comfortable singing than talking?
Yeah [sighs], it’s unfortunately true. I’m definitely a better singer than I am a talker. I can admit to that.
Another thing I noticed when looking back on your career, going back to Interventions and Lullabies, is that this album seems to be more of a continuation of the one directly preceding it than probably any other album you’ve made up to this point. What about Some Nights, besides the fact that it was really popular, was it that you wanted to ruminate more on and expand upon a little bit more?
I think it’s that Jeff Bhasker sound that I’ve been lucky to have fallen into at one point. Jeff and Emile, who are my two producers and co-writers, just have a way of capturing the songs, recording them and producing them. I would bet Dog Problems could sound like a continuation if they were the ones producing it. It’s amazing. Those guys deserve so much credit. I don’t get to talk about what they do enough.
You three have such a great partnership and that sound has really had a broader impact in music over the last couple years. That must be pretty cool to see your music experienced on that stage as well.
Yeah, it’s exciting. What’s interesting is I didn’t really play a part in that. I knew early on that I wanted to make an album with a hip-hop producer before I made Some Nights. I was listening to a lot of the Kanye West stuff and I was like, “Who’s this Jeff Bhasker?” I didn’t really know who he was, but I saw his name on everything. I was like, he was to be the one responsible for the sound.
At the end of the day, if he didn’t produce it, those songs would not have sounded the way they sounded. As much as I wish I could take any sort of credit for it, he did a good job of modernizing it. Even when you look back at the Format and stuff like that, I’ve always been someone who’s been obsessed with the ‘60s and ‘70s, or to a lesser extent the ‘80s. To still be able to write those types of songs but with a modern element to it, that was really important.
What was crazy about that was when we were making this album, he was already over that sound that he had done on Some Nights. There are certain elements of it, but all of us were like, OK, no electronic drums. Nothing that sounds like it is from a keyboard or anything like that. We wanted to take a step back a little bit. It was really cool to see how adaptable they are with their sound, and how much even they are willing to change up their sound.
After everything you’ve experienced, from the Format to fun. blowing up to now releasing a solo record, all the ups and downs, is there a bigger lesson or idea you can take away from it all?
I feel very, very lucky that I’ve been able to work with the people that I’ve worked with, from Sam, to Jack and Andrew, to Jeff and Emile. My songwriting process is a weird one, and it’s not for everybody. I’ve been very lucky that there have been people there to help me along the way bring these things to life and kind of keep me alive in the process. That, I’m particularly proud of.
Honestly, talking to Absolute Punk right now, the core that was intact when the Format started, I can’t ignore that by any stretch of the imagination. That feels like my home. Those people that have listened since then feel like my family. They’ve kept me up and going at this and they’ve helped me as much as anyone, without a doubt.