Q&A: fun.'s Nate Ruess On Self-Help Lyrics, Second Chances, And "Pessimistic Optimism"
fun., "Some Nights"
I wanted to ask you about a specific lyric, the opening to "At Least I'm Not as Sad," which is "have you ever wondered about our old nu-metal friends and what became of them?"
That was one of the oldest songs. I'd written it initially for The Format and it just didn't work out. It was one of those things where, it somehow wasn't working when The Format broke up, and as soon as I brought it to fun., those guys automatically picked up on it. I just thought about growing up in the late '90s. I was a punk rock kid, and I was going to punk rock shows every weekend, but there's still kids in my high school that were into that nu-metal type of music. Because we were the different kids in high school, we all got along despite our musical differences, because we were "the music kids." It didn't matter about genre necessarily. So I think it was looking back fondly on that time and kind of wondering where all of them went to.
I wanted to talk about Fueled by Ramen because I think they're a really interesting label to even consider. I started paying attention to them around 2005 and to sort of see the arc of bands like Gym Class Heroes and Cobra Starship, how they enjoyed success then but are enjoying a different level of success nowit's really peculiar. And also I've been thinking about Some Nights and how, where Gym Class's and Cobra Starship's recent records engage more with the current pop world, Some Nights exists on the same label and is more inspired by a relatively successful but still fundamentally weird Kanye record.
I think FBR has been really special for us. We were aware of what they had done with things like Gym Class, but I was so focused on the back catalog. I had a relationship with the head of the label. He was the first person that tried to sign The Format back in 2002. And having all of those other problems that I had that I talked about in a song like "The Compromise" on Dog Problems, I was really wary about signing to another big label. Having the relationship that I had with John [Janick], the head of the label, from those early days, was really awesome, because he tried to sign every single album.
After every album I put out, he'd always send an email, like, "What's the deal? Any chance I can sign you?" I think we felt for fun. it was the right time. It truly was. What was so awesome about it is, none of the success that's happened from Some Nights... there was no pressure on the songwriting. When I told him I wanted to do this album that was a little more inspired by hip-hop, he paused for a second, and then he was like, "You know what? I've been blown away by every single album you've ever done. I have no doubt that this one's going to be the exact same thing." It was great to have that faith early on, in making the album. It was like, whatever we needed in order to accomplish the album that we wanted to make, him and everybody else at the label was right there for us. I think that goes back to them starting as an indie label. It's a very family-based world over there, and I couldn't be any happier, being associated with them.
One thing that I love is that it's the same people, just doing different things on a different level. That's just one thing I've noticed about that label. And you guys are still around.
Most bands, people don't get a second chance. That was a big thing for me in the first place. When we started fun., I was so grateful that a lot of the old fans from The Format were giving me a second chance. And I remember we had talked to labels, and nobody was very into giving someone coming out of an old band a second chance. It's almost automatically, "Well, if that didn't go well, you must not be good at what you do." And the truth of it is, so many different things can end a career or end a band. I think John and everybody else at FBR has done a great job of looking past whatever that band was and seeing the potential in the songwriting or the other things involved. That's a pretty freaking awesome thing.
"Take Your Time" from the first record incorporates a kind of Paul Simon, Graceland influence, and then "Some Nights" further explores that kind of template. That's a neat thing to hear across two records.
It's a keen observation and one that is very true. I remember when I first started writing "Some Nights" and I was so excited about it. I have a note in my phone around the time I started writing it telling me to finish it. The thing was: "Paul Simon song question mark" or "Graceland type song question mark... This could be your favorite song you've ever written." I wrote that to myself. So it was like, "Finish it!"