We TAKE NOTE this morning of singer-songwriter Jack Antonoff, a composer of hits who's never forgotten where he came from. After all, as Tracy Smith will be showing us, it hasn't been that long since he LEFT:
You may not think you know Jack Antonoff, but you probably do. For instance, you might recognize the song "We Are Young," which he co-wrote with his former band, Fun.
When Sara Bareilles wrote her breakout hit "Brave," she had help from Antonoff.
And in 2015, when Taylor Swift won the Grammy for Album of the Year for "1989," her co-writer, Jack Antonoff, was one of the first people she thanked. He actually knew the way to the Grammy podium: this was his third.
The secret, he says, is making music he likes … and letting the rest take care of itself.
"You have to believe that people don't want what you think they're going to like, you know? They want what you like," he said. "Once you start doing that, you actually start connecting with people."
And now, that connection is undeniable. For the people lined up outside New York's Webster Hall on a recent night, his sold-out show was worth a long wait in the pouring rain.
Jack Antonoff is the lead singer, songwriter and soul of the indie rock group Bleachers -- and a guy who still can't quite believe he's made it.
Smith asked, "What's it like to go from nobody watching, to sell-out shows?"
"It's not easy because, even like right now, I always have this feeling like, 'Are they gonna come?' And they'll be like, 'But it's sold out.' I say to myself, 'Yeah, but what if there's this freak thing where half the audience has an emergency and then the room is thin?'"
But like nearly every place he plays now, it was packed wall-to-wall.
Born in 1984, Jack Antonoff grew up in the northern New Jersey suburbs, with sisters Rachel and Sarah. He fell in love with music as a kid, and with a few friends formed a band. The reminders of his earliest gigs are still written on the closet door of his boyhood bedroom, including the first show he ever played: 12/16/98.
He would document every show, where it was, who else played, when he played in the bill, and how much he got paid. "The first time I ever got paid to play was 1/18/99, Fire Hall in Bordentown, New Jersey. Played first on the bill, we got paid $20!"
That would be for the whole band.
Music became an escape. For most of his early life, Jack watched his younger sister Sarah battle brain cancer. And when he told his parents Rick and Shira he wanted to tour with his band, they didn't stand in his way.
"I mean, there was much of the time that I was deeply involved taking care of a sick kid," said Shira Antonoff. "But you also just gain perspective on what's really important. So when Jack was a senior and said, 'I got my first record deal and I really wanna go out on the road, I don't wanna go to college,' we went, 'Go.'"
Jack was only 18 when Sarah died, but you can still hear his anguish in his work, like "Everybody Lost Somebody," from his just-released new album, "Gone Now":
"Everybody lost somebody, something. [But] we keep going. That's what is incredible about human beings, is the choice to keep going," said Antonoff.
"You chose to keep going," said Smith.
"Yes, I did, and that's what I'm saying I feel bad about. Everybody has this sack they're carrying. Some are heavier. Some are lighter. But no one doesn't have it. And if you think someone doesn't have it, they have a bigger one than you imagine."
It's not all darkness: "Don't Take the Money" was inspired by the love of Jack's life. In the video, he's an imaginary groom at an imaginary wedding:
Somebody broke me once
Love was a currency
A shimmering balance act
I think that I laughed at that
And I saw your face and hands
Colored in sun and then
I think I understand
Will I understand?
Will we fight, stay up late?
In my dreams I'm to blame
Different sides of the bed
Roll your eyes, shave my head
Now we're stuck in the storm
We were born to ignore
And all I got is a chance to just sit
(I'm in love and you've got me -- run away)
It was filmed at the real Los Angeles home he shares with his real-life girlfriend, actor and director Lena Dunham, the star of HBO's hit comedy, "Girls." On this day, she was Jack's director.
Smith asked, "How does Jack take direction?"
"I will say that Jack is his own man, and that none of my previous directing accolades are meaningful in this situation," Dunham replied.
"We have jokingly been calling him the 'hit man.' That's what we've been calling this piece."
"Yeah, a lot of the women would love to work with him because he's one of the few guys in the entertainment industry who comes in with no agenda, no sleaze -- he's there just to make art," said Dunham. "And I think people feel that and they feel safe with him. And so I'm very proud to be able to call someone like that my partner."
In fact, he's become sort of a musical Midas: his recent collaboration with singer-songwriter Lorde helped cement him as one of the most sought-after producers in the business.
But he's never too big to come home. And when a triple-Grammy-winner gets a splinter, there's no one better than Mom to pull it out. Believe it or not, until fairly recently, Antonoff lived here full-time.
How old was he when he left home? "Twenty-nine. And I had number-one records at that point!"
His boyhood bedroom, a sanctuary where he wrote many of his songs, is nearly intact. Except that now he's yanked most of it out of his parents' house and reassembled it, piece-by-piece, in a trailer, to take with him on tour. "This is, literally, my room," he said. "This is the exact carpet. These are my drawers.
"I'd write and record in here forever. This is, like, all my stuff. Like, that's my underwear drawer."
"Even taking the underwear drawer?" asked Smith.
"Well, the whole concept was, nothing changes."
His fans may have heard about Jack Antonoff's inner sanctum. Now, they can stand in it. "God, this is weird," he laughed.
For the record, Mom was fine with all this. She just has one small request: "The only thing I've ever said -- and this is the truth, Jack -- is I really want a grandbaby, someday," said Shira. "I do. I would be very disappointed."
"'Disappointed,'" said Jack
"That's it. Jack, but have you ever felt that in ..."
" ... any, no, no. Can we cut that? Can we redo that?"
"Don't cut that," said Jack. "Leave the part where she asked to cut it!"
"No, please. That's really bad!"
"No, leave all of it!"
Kidding aside, Mom is understandably proud.
Jack Antonoff has found a way to turn personal heartache into something awfully close to joy.
"If you're lucky enough to find anything in life that gives you five seconds, let alone an hour, of relief from life, you should try to do it forever," he said.
You can stream the album "Gone Now" by the Bleachers by clicking on the embed below (Free Spotify registration required to hear full tracks):
For more info:
- "Gone Now" by the Bleachers (RCA); Available on CD (Amazon, Barnes & Noble) limited-edition vinyl (bleachersmusic), and via digital download (Amazon, Google Play and iTunes) and streaming (Apple Music, Spotify)
- Follow @JackAntonoff on Twitter and Instagram
- Follow @Bleachersmusic on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube