Mito Habe-Evans /NPR
Nate Ruess before fun.'s show at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on Friday.
Nate Ruess before fun.'s show at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on Friday. Mito Habe-Evans /NPR
Fun. is in the middle of quite a run. For six weeks this spring, the band had the No. 1 song in the country with "We Are Young," an anthemic pledge of drunken solidarity that has appeared in countless commercials and TV shows, and dominated radio playlists and sales charts since March (it's still in the top five).
Pretty impressive for a trio of guys whose careers tended more toward "indie journeyman" than "pop star" until about six months ago. Each of the main members of fun. — singer Nate Ruess and multi-instrumentalists Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost — spent the previous decade playing in bands that flirted with mainstream pop success without ever sealing the deal. That changed with the release of the band's second album, Some Nights.
"You think about the utmost goal that you think will never happen," Ruess told NPR's Guy Raz the week after "We Are Young" hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. "This whole year has been that."
It's only getting more so. This summer, fun. will play on stages in the United States and Europe that would have been unimaginable just six months ago, touring with a crew of a dozen (including the three main band members, backing musicians, and technical and support staff).
Because we rarely see this kind of meteoric rise play out in real time in today's music industry, Weekend Edition Saturday and NPR Music asked the band if we could check in every few weeks with a different member of the fun. family to see how the tour is going. They said yes, so we'll spend the summer talking with the men and women — guitar technicians, lighting designers, fans and the musicians themselves — who put fun. on stage. This week we start with the voice of the band and its most visible member, lead singer Nate Ruess.
The band is no stranger to touring, but nearly everything about this tour is different.
There's no better place to experience the improbable magic of fun.'s rise than at a live show. The band's songs are full of melody and stomping beats, lyrically optimistic even when describing the years of frustration that preceded the recent successes. Ruess has an astonishing voice, one he can bend into almost any shape he wants with little apparent effort. But fun.'s songs, despite their formal ambition, seem built with the explicit conceit of sounding great as massive singalongs. When the band played the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., in May, I walked in expecting that the sold-out crowd would be waiting on their heels for the hit, but the majority of the crowd sang along to every word of songs from both albums. Ruess's voice rose above the crowd, less a figurehead than a choir leader.
"The crazy thing is the [tour] really started in February," Ruess tells NPR's Scott Simon. "We haven't been home since."
For a brief moment, the band is getting a break. Ruess spoke with Simon in between shows in New York, the band's hometown. Next week they'll be back on the road. Endless tours are a part of the life of many working bands, but for fun., nearly everything about this one is different: They've got a tour manager to keep everything running smoothly and a crew that's starting to feel like family.
When the band first hired Shane Timm as its guitar technician, he hadn't ever done the job before, but he wanted to be on tour and he came highly recommended. The band was skeptical. "He looked like a pirate," Ruess says, "so it was a little weird for, I would say, the first two weeks, getting used to this guy."
The change came when the band was talking about wanting to get in shape, and Timm mentioned that his mother was a personal trainer. So the band asked him to devise a diet and exercise regimen. "For three weeks he put us through hell," Ruess says. "And we really got to know him. He was still learning his craft, but to us, it was like no matter what happens, this guy is with us forever. It's been unbelievable to watch him grow into an incredible guitar tech. He kind of runs the stage and makes sure everything is working for everybody. He's one of my favorite people in the entire world."
Also new is the expectant audience at every stop along the tour. "We've been fortunate that most of the shows have been sold out," Ruess says. On previous tours, the band had to pay close attention to the number of tickets sold — the measure of whether a tour would end up making money. "Lately that hasn't been our focus. We've just been able to enjoy it."
Despite the constant touring, it hasn't gotten old yet. "I find something great about every city," Ruess says. "I don't know if that's the optimist in me. The low points in the tour are the times that you get sick."
Since the tour started in February, that's happened to Ruess three times. Two weeks ago, he felt poor enough that the band canceled a show for the first time on the tour, a free show in Santa Fe. He says he's doing what he can to take care of himself.
"It's important that I get time to run, to just go for a jog for about 30 minutes," he says. "It helps with my voice, but it also kind of gives me a little bit of time to myself and you get to see a city."
Ruess says he's also trying to finally give up smoking for good while on the tour, and adds that sleep — at least eight hours "every single night" — and "more water than anyone, ever" are the real keys to protecting his voice.
He'll need it to keep leading those singalongs, especially as the stages get bigger.
"We're not used to playing festivals yet," Ruess says. Earlier this month, the band played a set at the Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tenn., that Ruess describes as "magical." Rolling Stone called the band's performance of "We Are Young" "the defining singalong moment" of the festival. By the end of the summer, they'll have even more practice: fun. is scheduled to appear next week at Summerfest in Milwaukee and, in August, at Lollapalooza in Chicago and Outside Lands in San Francisco.