[jack antonoff girlfriend]Jack Antonoff： ‘Irish music has had a huge influence on me – it’s steeped in celebration and sadness
A few months ago Jack Antonoff and Bruce Springsteen climbed into a car together and drove into the New Jersey sunset. Antonoff – producer/muse to Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Lorde and others – was eager to hear Springsteen’s opinion on the new album by his Bleachers project, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night.
But the rendezvous was as much about the vibes as the tunes. For both musicians, the opportunity to set out on the road in the company of a fellow Garden State rock nerd was just too good to resist. They cranked up the volume and hit the tarmac. “There are these small places in the world. Jamaica, Ireland and, I think, New Jersey, that have these massive, massive musical influences that are so much bigger than their size,” says Antonoff over Zoom.
“If you think about Jamaica’s cultural influence, it’s incredible. I feel the same way about New Jersey and about Ireland. Irish music is to me very close to what I consider New Jersey music. There is so much sadness and so much hope.”
Antonoff was thinking a lot about Ireland last year when he and Taylor Swift, together with Aaron Dessner of The National, gathered at Dessner’s Long Pond studio in upstate New York to work on Swift’s Folklore record. That album answered a very specific question: what if Taylor Swift made a mist-wreathed indie LP and it was really, really good? A great deal of the fun, says Antonoff, flowed from the opportunity to channel what he considers the essence of the Irish musical soul.
“The music of your country has had a huge influence on me. It is steeped in celebration and sadness. That’s definitely baked into [Folklore]. Working on the track August – in my New Jersey way, I’m imagining Ireland in my mind.”
Antonoff might be the most influential producer of his generation. In person he cuts a slightly nerdish figure, with Rivers Cuomo/Buddy Holly style oversized spectacles and the pallid complexion of a young Woody Allen.
Yet in pop right now he’s a titan. In 2019 he co-wrote and produced Lana Del Rey’s Norman F**king Rockwell!, arguably her best record. Twelve months later, he was all over the zeitgeist as collaborator on Swift’s Folklore and Evermore.
This year, he’s clocked up credits on Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over the Country Club and on Sling, by “bedroom pop” wunderkind Clairo. August sees the release of Lorde’s Solar Power, his second hook-up with the New Zealand artist. A single of the same name – the one with the Midsommar-esque video and the Primal Scream fade-out – has already notched up 17 million YouTube views.
With a streak like that, it would be easy to conclude Antonoff was fated to conquer pop. He in fact struggled for many years to get his foot in the door. And that despite a track record as producer of his own projects – including his early band Fun and, since 2014, Bleachers.
He reveals that he owes it all to Taylor Swift. Seven years ago, she asked him to help out on two numbers on 1989, the album that crowned her as as a global pop star. “I always wanted to be a songwriter and a performer. And producer,” says Antonoff from the studio at his apartment in New York.
“The thing is you can go and play and write songs. But if nobody’s letting you produce their records, it’s a little hard to call yourself a producer. Taylor was the first person to say, ‘oh yeah I agree’. Your name goes on it and if she was a small artist it would have been the beginning of me officially being a producer. She happened to be a very big artist. So it had an even bigger impact. Just like a marriage you need someone else to agree, ‘this is happening’.”
Antonoff (37) started Bleachers around the same time he began his musical relationship with Swift. He had been in bands since he was 15: music has always been a way to process the challenges life has thrown at him – including the death of his younger sister from cancer when he was 18. As one-third of Fun, he went so far as to clock up a hit when their 2012 single We Are Young topped the charts in Ireland, the US and the UK.
New Jersey roots
Bleachers is different in that it co-exists with and is arguably overshadowed by Antonoff’s accomplishments as producer. Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night is a case in point. It is a thrilling distillation of Antonoff’s melancholic sensibility, its roots firmly in his native New Jersey. Springsteen duets on Chinatown; Stop Making This Hurt features a sax solo straight out of Born to Run.
The album also plugs into New Jersey’s rich lineage of underdog indie pop. Its minor-key melodies and jangling chords evoke everyone from The Feelies to Yo La Tengo. At moments Antonoff even taps the emo yearning of My Chemical Romance.
And yet it seems inevitable that it will eclipsed by his blockbuster production work. Clairo’s Sling has just come out and has been rhapsodically reviewed – it may be the best album ever inspired by an artist’s dog.
Teen sensation Olivia Rodrigo has, for her part, formally acknowledged her debt to Swift and Antonoff by giving the duo writing credits on two of the tracks on her debut, Sour. Solar Power, meanwhile, looks set to achieve supernova levels of buzz, thanks in part to Lorde’s performance of the title track from atop a Manhattan rooftop for Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.
Solar Power is about moving from darkness into light. As, in a way, is Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night. The LP has its origins in Antonoff’s difficult break-up from Lena Dunham, the creator of the TV show, Girls, with whom Antonoff had been in a five-year relationship. She wasn’t his first celebrity girlfriend: in high school he had briefly dated class-mate Scarlett Johansson. Nonetheless, the split from Dunham – accompanied by a bit of a media circus and unfounded speculation that Antonoff was romantically involved with Lorde – came as a wrench.
“To be low is to be low and to be high is to be high,” he says. “The best place I’ve always been able to write from is at the end of the low. There’s that moment when you’re trying to get out of something. It’s an intense feeling. It is filled with a lot of darkness.”
One of the first songs he completed for the project, Don’t Go Dark, came out of a conversation with Del Rey. “We had been in the studio working on a bunch of her records. I remember saying, I had this lyric I couldn’t get out of my head. It’s this specific kind of break-up song: ‘I don’t miss you, I don’t love you, I don’t hate you… I just want you not to bring that darkness… here because I’ve got my own’.”
His instinct was to rewrite the couplet. Del Rey told him to follow his gut and stick with that first draft. “She helped me frame the whole thing. It’s interesting when someone can do for you what you can do for others at other times – which is just to sort of push in the right direction.”
Is he ever surprised when a record takes off? As in, when it completely dominates pop’s news cycle? Folklore started as a lockdown assignment for Swift, yet has become arguably one of her most defining releases. Lorde’s Solar Power doesn’t really have a chorus until the end, while the sensibility throughout is Primal Scream’s Loaded meets George Michael’s Freedom! ’90. And yet it is inescapable.
“I’m not surprised how much they mean to people because they mean so much during the process,” he says. “All the records that I make. . . they’re not like ‘hey we just threw it against the wall’. They’re very intentional in terms of the depth of them and the care. But any time I have been part of something that hits this sort of cultural moment – that is a little more surprising and amazing because you can’t plot that and you shouldn’t try to plot it.”
Antonoff’s job description may be “producer”. But what he brings to the process is as much emotional as technical. Before he agrees to work with someone he will sit with them and tease out what they want to say and why. Prior to co-producing Sling with Clairo, for instance, they met for ramen in LA. Pleasantries soon gave way to psychoanalysis.
“I was crying that entire lunch,” Clairo, real name Claire Cottrell, would tell Rolling Stone. “He confirmed things that I was feeling that I wasn’t telling anybody about: being depressed, even though I managed to have a music career. I felt so guilty for being terribly sad while the best thing that’s ever happened in my life happens to me.”
Secret to success
Taylor Swift, Lorde and Lana Del Rey – to say nothing of St Vincent, who collaborated with Antonoff on 2017’s Masseduction – aren’t simply successful. They are singular and iconic. Antonoff thinks he has worked out the secret to their success.
“There are brilliant, brilliant songwriters out there who know how to tell a story and how to work with melody and lyrics and make it happen. But when someone can do that but also has the ability, and also the desire, to tell a hyper-personal story in a hyper-personal way, then they create something which nobody else could do,” he says.
“You could like Bob Dylan or not. You could like Joni Mitchell or not. You can like Tom Waits’s voice or not, or D’Angelo’s voice or not. You can’t ever even consider the idea that there is anyone but that one artist could do what they do.”
Given that he’s so effusive about Ireland and about musicians who can only ever sound like themselves, would he consider producing U2?
“I would say Springsteen and U2 are prime examples of ‘tough’ and not ‘macho’. These are artists who would and have cried on stage. They’re not playing with any of society’s versions of machoness. I love U2.”
That isn’t to say he’s desperately waiting for a call from Bono. “It’s always interesting – I kind of feel the same way any time I get asked, ‘oh would you work with this person?’. When you work with someone it starts with a conversation about the future. If I was imagining being in a studio with U2, my only knowledge is their records. And that’s the past. I adore U2. But I don’t know them. I only know where they’ve been. So it’s almost like a blank concept.”
Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night is released on July 30th