Summer of last year the wishes of loyal Format fans was granted (in some capacity). Nate Ruess, lead singer and one of the songwriters of the band struck out on his own with a few friends (Jack Antonoff of Steel Train and Andrew Dost of Anathallo) to form a new group called fun, and after teasing us for months and months with the demo "Benson Hedges" on their Myspace, released Aim and Ignite on August 25th, 2009. I spent a few long car rides with it, let's put it that way.
Not that it's a surprise for long time fans; Dog Problems really stuck with me all these years and Aim has a lot of the same stylistic eccentricities. Some of it is undoubtably Ruess, some of it the return of Roger Joseph Manning Jr., who provided arrangements for both albums. If you've never heard Ruess's work, arranging might seem a bit left field for a rock record... but you'd be wrong. fun, like its predecesor, relies heavily on the use of occasionally bombastic instrumentals to boost the climactic moments: a feat that needs a bit of professional finesse. Ruess has always admired Manning, he told me over a phone conversation. A legendary footprint in Beck's backing band, Manning is pretty infamous for his arranging capabilities. "We just called him up again", Ruess said. He makes it all sound so effortless.
Seeing The Format play in New York in summer 2007, the sound of the band was incredible. Ruess didn't lie one bit in his recordings; his geniunely unique timbre and style were perfectly recreated on stage (something deeply admirable and rarer than anyone realizes). Thus they were a group I trusted, so when Steel Train opened for them, I pre-ordered the CD at the show (Trampoline, which came out in the fall of that year). Little did I know I was putting together the pieces of the future.
The Format playing their biggest song (arguably), "First Single", shortly after I saw them:
Hearing that the band broke up was all sorts of heartbreaking. Back then Ruess was really "on edge" about the breakup, and it didn't seem likely we'd hear from The Format again. But Ruess had a bunch of new material prepared, and I'm sure you can't sit on stuff like that forever. Of course, he has a treasure trove of material to still play around with.
fun covering The Format:
Luckily the new group was a no-brainer to form. When I talked to Ruess about how the band came together, he said the "transition from a writing perspective was really easy". Antonoff and Dost were two guys he'd always wanted to work with, so he "called those guys right away" after The Format broke up. "After one song, we knew our strengths with each other" Ruess said. Finishing up the half-written bits and getting the recording together must have been a (relative) cinch. "It was pretty easy," he told me, "Andrew and Jack are such incredible musicians and songwriters".
fun performing "All The Pretty Girls":
Nate is a deeply personal musician, and I think that is what is so attractive about his writing... the words feel real, and the tone is always genuine. Themes of love and friendship, good times and dealing with stresses are all relatable and . The songs on Aim and Ignite are still on that level. "A lot of them are still reflections of what is going on in my life" Ruess said. "Makes it that much more enjoyable to play them." Good thing he feels that way, when we talked Ruess he was on his ninth hour of traveling for the day, and the weeks on tour were seeming a bit never-ending. "Every week it feels like another week has been added". Antonoff, busy with Steel Train, has only been out on one tour with the band so far, but that hasn't interfered with current or future plans for another record. Good news all around, a new one is in the works ("there will be another record"!!!).
The band will have a nice reprieve from touring when they decide to record again. Ruess has some early ideas written, but he is "not a big fan of writing too far out", instead preferring to do everything in the same period of time. And although Ruess did "most of the writing" himself, this time around he is excited to let Dost and Antonoff contribute more. Calling each "great songwriters in their own right", he told me "this time around, we'll probably write together even more". Sounds like fun to me. -joe puglisi