If you’ve listened to a Top 40 radio station in the last decade, you’re familiar with Jack Antonoff’s work. The song “We Are Young (ft. Janelle Monae)” by Antonoff’s former band, fun., dominated pop culture in 2011 and more recently, he’s produced for everyone from The Chicks to Kevin Abstract. But he’ll play Roots N Blues Festival as Bleachers, the moniker given to his solo project, which combines his hit-making talent and far-reaching industry connections with his genuine love of the craft to produce a feel-good, pop-rock sound guaranteed to get a crowd dancing.
Born and raised in suburban New Jersey, Antonoff grew up in close proximity to the rich culture and vibrant music scene of the Big Apple. He formed his first band at fifteen with a few classmates, a punk rock group called Outline, and has been consistently involved in music ever since.
Though his projects have varied widely over the years, as have his collaborators, where Antonoff is involved, two things are always true. Firstly, the lyrics will carry weight. The musicians he chooses to work with are those whose work is pop-heavy and chart-topping, yes, but also deeply intimate and honest. The same is true of his personal work. Drawing from his experiences with grief, joy, mental illness, suburbia, city life, love, and heartbreak, Antonoff juxtaposes his anthemic, upbeat sonics with rich, emotional lyrics.
Secondly, Antonoff has an affinity for all things retro. In everything from his fashion sense to his album art to, of course, his music, there is a nostalgic feel that harkens back to the latter 20th century, with a particular emphasis on the 1980s. Beyond his simple talent, it’s his unique ability to communicate retro moods through modern electronic sounds that makes his work especially appealing in today’s zeitgeist of throwback culture. This has made him a hot commodity in the world of production, with many heavyweight musicians eager to get his modernly retro signature on their songs. For this reason, musicians and critics alike have noted his massive impact on modern music, with the BBC saying he’s “redefined” pop.
It was none other than Taylor Swift who gave him his big break as a producer when she and he co-wrote and produced “Sweeter Than Fiction” for the 2013 film, One Chance. The two have remained regular collaborators ever since, with Antonoff lending his production and/or writing talents to every album Swift has put out since this initial union, including the re-releases of her earlier work. His success with Swift revealed his knack for production and led to a number of other notable collaborations, including Lorde’s Melodrama (2017), St. Vincent’s Masseduction (2017), and Lana Del Rey’s Norman F*cking Rockwell (2019), just to scratch the surface. Over the years, his production work has earned him a slew of joint Grammy nominations and awards, and he’s been individually nominated for Producer of the Year in 2020 and 2021. He won the award in 2022.
While the mark Antonoff leaves on all of the music he produces is distinct, he is quick to note that on these songs, he is simply that—a producer. Being as his collaborators are largely women, he takes care to remind audiences that though he helps in the process of bringing a musician’s vision to life, the vision is still ultimately theirs. So, to get some through-and-through Jack Antonoff, look no further than Bleachers, his only long-term solo project to date. Started in 2014, Bleachers takes the hallmarks of his production work—a nostalgic mood and big feelings—and turns the dial to the max.
“Being from Jersey, to me, is all about existing within, like, earshot of the greatest city in the world,” Antonoff told Live Nation. This attitude permeates his work, which encapsulates both the bright, bold energy of a place like New York and the isolated melodrama of suburbia.
In his own discography, he’s collaborated with legends of both past (Bruce Springsteen) and present (Lana Del Rey) and never shies away from filling sonic space with heavy synths, soaring beats, and impassioned vocals, sometimes all at once (“I Wanna Get Better,” “Don’t Take The Money”). But he also makes room for quieter moments, where intimate vocals and acoustic instrumentation can let his more vulnerable subject matter shine (“What’d I Do With All This Faith?”). Some songs feel like a Saturday night in Manhattan, others like riding through the quiet streets of New Jersey in comfortable aimlessness in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. The songs that don’t fall neatly into one of these categories sit on a sliding scale between them, oscillating between the extremes. “I just want a secret life / Where you and I can get bored out of our minds,” Anontoff sings softly on “Secret Life,” a track which sits nestled between the loud, rock-heavy songs, “Big Life” and “Stop Making This Hurt” on his newest record, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night.
This duality can be found throughout his discography, beginning with his beloved debut, Strange Desire (2014), and moving into its follow-up, Gone Now (2017). While some musicians take major style departures between albums, Antonoff continues to hone in on his distinct sound. Traces of the early hits that put him on the map like “Wake Me” and “Rollercoaster,” marked by their upbeat tempos and scream-along choruses, can still be heard throughout more recent Bleachers outputs, though Antonoff never stops upping his game and pushing his own production abilities.
He’s cited John Hughes movies as a major influence on Bleachers. Hughes is a master of infusing significance into the ordinary characters and scenarios of his films which, executed by the wrong hands, would be painfully boring to watch. “A group of kids spend a day in detention” and “high school student cuts class” don’t sound like particularly compelling plots, but The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have become touching, timeless works of art that continue to impact pop culture. Antonoff hits the same target with his music. His catchy choruses may be what initially hook listeners, but it’s the heart he puts behind even his poppiest tracks that sets his music apart from disposable Top 40.
Bleachers’ timeless pop-rock creates the perfect musical bridge between generations and is guaranteed to get the whole crowd up on its feet. Come see this icon-in-the-making live when he takes the Equipment Share Stage on Sunday, October 9th at Roots N Blues Festival in Columbia, MO. Get your passes here: https://rootsnbluesfestival.frontgatetickets.com/