“I was disappointed with my lyrics on ‘Some Nights'” — Nate Ruess of fun. gets honest about going solo

photo: Daniel Silbert

The mood is tense on a late-April evening as Nate Ruess paces the floor of a New York City studio where he’s finishing up recording his debut solo album, Grand Romantic. With only six weeks remaining until record is due, the vocalist best known for his work in Grammy-winning trio fun. is a cocktail of nerves and excitement, readying the chance to share his months of work with the public. Grand Romantic may seem to some like the artist’s chance to break through the barrier of overwhelming success he’s received in his past projects, but to Ruess, the album is much more than that. It’s the opportunity to express himself through a new outlet, to demonstrate his progression as a songwriter, to show off a wide range of emotions through his craft and, hopefully, become a force to be reckoned with in the world of pop music. If one thing’s for sure, however, it’s this: Grand Romantic will be the soundtrack to secure that status.

Ruess recently spoke with Substream about Grand Romantic, his writing process and how it’s felt to be back in the swing of things, musically.

Now that Grand Romantic is near completion, what are your thoughts on how it’s turned out before the public gets to listen to it?
NATE RUESS: Right now, we’re in the middle of picking out the final sequences. The producers and I are in a studio in New York and, they’re playing chess right now, but I can’t stop freaking out about the way the tracklisting is, while they’re rolling their eyes at me. I keep telling them, “Maybe we should move this part one second up?” With that being said, however, I’m having a blast doing it because I really love this album. I’m very excited about it and I want it to be just perfect, which is a great sign because when I’m not working on an album, I’m not as pressured like that, and I always wonder if I’ll ever pressured like that again. When you start working on an album, and over the course you make it—however many months that may be—you become so obsessed by the end.

When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a solo album?
It was something that I had been thinking about for a couple of years now, just wanting to take a break and feeling very, very accomplished with everything with fun. and the success I had writing for other people. I felt like I was at a point in my life where I wanted to get away and do something.

Jeff Bhasker and Emile Haynie did the production for Grand Romantic, who you’ve worked with in the past already, but you also collaborated with artists like Lykke Li, who you haven’t worked with before. What was it like having the input of both old and new on this new record?
It was good! It was nice being able to have someone there being able to break up me, Jeff and Emile. I think we can get so close, which allows us to get on each other’s nerves, so it’s always good to have a random person come into the studio that has their own unique style because it puts us on our best behavior, and we turn it around and use it as inspiration.

What kind of an impression do you want to make as a solo artist?
I feel like I have a natural progression with every album that I make, so I wanted this album to be a part of that. I’m proud of Some Nights, but there was stuff that I wanted to do differently. After spending a bunch of time on tour, you listen to other music and your tastes change a little bit, so I wanted to bring some of those things into my next album. For me, I was more disappointed with my lyrics on Some Nights, and wished I could go back and change certain things, so this time around I was very hyper-focused on my lyrics.

How do you think you’ve grown as a lyricist since Some Nights and some of your other recent co-writes?
I think my favorite album that I’ve written, just as a lyricist, would be Dog Problems when I was part of the Format. It was at a point in my life where I just felt compelled to write and I really, really cared about my lyrics. I think at one point I was listening back a couple of years ago, I could hear the level of lyrical commitment I was putting into it. On Grand Romantic, I found myself wanting to bring that level of commitment back to sitting down and writing lyrics. What I’ve learned, over the years, is how to say things a little easier, where I’m not the only one that understands what the song is saying. At times, you can use that to your advantage, while others you can ignore that and leave certain parts to yourself.

Your fun. bandmate Jack Antonoff has found a big success with his project Bleachers. How has it been for you to see his work with that band take off?
It’s awesome! It’s true, anytime anyone that you’re close to has success it’s an amazing thing—even with Emile, one of my co-producers, he’s released an album here and it’s just a phenomenal, phenomenal thing. To see other people creating and doing things that are great, knowing people you worked with are just full of creativity, it’s great to see that get out and find that people are appreciating it.