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Nate Ruess: On his bold solo endeavor

  • Yuliasri Perdani

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sun, August 23, 2015 | 08:19 am
Nate Ruess: On his bold solo endeavor

Bold could be the word that best describes fun. frontman and Grammy award-winning songwriter Nate Ruess.

After gaining global fame with singles '€œSome Nights'€ and '€œWe Are Young'€, Ruess and his bandmates put fun. on hiatus.

For the first time in his nearly 15-year musical career, Ruess is on his own '€” kicking off his solo career with a single that breaks the formula of a chorus-centered hit song.

'€œNothing Without Love'€, as he describes, is his grand statement on what it feels like to listen to the rest of his newly launched solo album, Grand Romantic.

'€œMost songs nowadays, they have a chorus and they do all these different types of things. And as a songwriter, [...] I'€™d like to challenge myself,'€ Ruess said during his July 31 promo tour in Jakarta.

'€œI wanted to make a song that felt powerful but wasn'€™t relying on having some like big massive chorus in order to do that. So, I wanted to take the risk of doing a song like '€˜Nothing Without Love'€™, which I believe is much more powerful than, like you know, a standard chorus.'€  

Ruess says '€œNothing Without Love'€ is among his favorite three songs that he has ever written.

Music has always been Ruess'€™ endeavor since graduating high school.

With his longtime best friend, Sam Means, Ruess formed The Format in 2001 when he was just 19. To support himself, he took a clerical job in a law firm until the band was signed to a label. They released two albums before splitting up in 2008.

With his next band, fun., Ruess'€™ career as vocalist and songwriter finally took off.

With Jack Antonoff on guitar and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost, the indie pop band took the world by storm with singles off their second album, Some Nights, which has sold 1.6 million copies as of February this year.

The band won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist and Song of the Year with '€œWe Are Young'€.

'€œI mean, I'€™ve always been happy, but whatever happened on Some Nights was absolutely insane. I just felt like I accomplished something that I never even thought of. So, I thought I'€™d like to challenge myself,'€ Ruess explained.  

'€œI have been in bands for 15 years, I thought '€˜why not do a solo'€™?'€

On Feb. 4, the band announced on its Facebook page that it was taking a break to work on respective projects. Like Ruess, Antonoff is busy with his one-man-band, Bleachers, while Dost is scoring films.

Grand Romantic, as Ruess describes, is a '€œhyper-personal'€ album that boasts his whole musical vision and his personal stories.  

'€œOn the last album, I was saying '€˜we'€™ a lot more. On this album I found myself saying '€˜I'€™ so much more.'€

When he started working on the album, Ruess was falling in love, inspiring him to write a number of love songs.

'€œAs I was getting into the recording process, I realized that you can'€™t necessarily be a grand romantic '€” in order to be that high, you have to be prepared to go that low. And so, as I started finishing the album, I started writing a lot more sad songs,'€ he said.

'€œTo be a grand romantic, you know, you really have to let your feelings out for better or for worse.'€  

As he does not play instruments, Ruess relies on his music producers and backup band to capture the melodies he orchestrates in his mind.

'€œI am not an easy person to work with in the studio. It is not just about lyrics, it is not just about melodies. The whole entire song, I hear in my head. And not playing any instruments, it is really tough to kinda like say, horn part or whatever it is and then hope that someone understands it.'€

A recipient of the 2015 Hal David Starlight Award for his songwriting achievements, Ruess said he was glad to collaborate such accomplished artists, like P!nk and Eminem, as they helped him develop professionally and personally.

'€œOn one hand you are learning musically, but you are also taking some life lessons from these amazing people.'€

With P!nk, Ruess co-wrote and employed his big, boisterous vocals on their chart-topping duet, '€œJust Give Me A Reason'€.  

'€œI always admire her [P!nk] ability to be herself as an artist and that is something that I am trying take a lot of pride in and do.'€

Ruess describes his collaboration with Eminem in '€œHeadlights'€, as '€œa dream comes true'€. He appreciated how Eminem could understand the song, which Ruess dearly called one of his oldest and most precious songs.

'€œMost people that I'€™ve played it for in the past did not understand it. He [Eminem] heard it. He understood it. That is such a flattering thing.'€

Describing himself as a shy person, Ruess seems not accustomed to receiving immense attention.

Upon arriving at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport after a flight from Seoul, Ruess looked bashful when he was met by screaming fans.

'€œIt was very cool, very flattering. It is always so nice when people show up at the airport and give gifts. Especially in a place like Jakarta, where I had no idea that anyone even knew who I was or what my songs were.'€

His apparent penchant for distancing himself from the spotlight made Ruess doubtful at first when The Voice, a popular singing competition, approached him to be an adviser for the show'€™s coaches.

'€œI did not want to do it at first, but I am glad that I did,'€ the 33-year-old singer said.

A golf session with Maroon 5 lead vocalist and one of The Voice'€™s coaches, Adam Levine, changed his view of the show.

'€œI'€™m very scared of cameras and things like that but when they reached out I saw it as such a cool opportunity. I go golfing occasionally with Adam and he was telling me how it'€™s like the best show. '€œ

He was excited to lend his knowledge to aspiring singers on the show.

'€œThese kids, this might be their biggest chance to sing in front of people ever. I'€™ve never considered myself someone that had, like, great advice until I actually got on the show. And I really focused on what people can do to make their voice better.'€

It remains unclear as to what the future may bring for fun.. Ruess said he had '€œno idea'€ whether going solo would be a long-term career, or when fun. would start working on its next album.

'€œI just kinda like to move around and go wherever the music takes me.'€

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