Nate Ruess is having a lot more fun these days. It's apparent by the beaming grin that seems to be permanently implanted across his face—and he doesn't shy away from talking about it either. "I've never been this happy in my life," he tells InStyle at the Atlantic Records offices in N.Y.C., where he's putting the finishing touches on his first-ever solo effort, Grand Romantic, out June 16 via Fueled by Ramen. With his trademark soaring vocals and tinges of his previous band's haunting-but-catchy melodies, the 11 tracks encompass the best parts of Fun., but, with Ruess's rejiggered approach, have a decidedly more dramatic, orchestral sound. We caught up with the singer ahead of the album's release. Here's an excerpt from our conversation:
So why did you decide to go solo?
Somewhere in the midst of that crazy beast that became [fun.'s 2012 album] Some Nights, I thought it would be wise to take some time to myself instead of just taking a year off and doing it all over. I got into a great head-space and wanted the opportunity to enjoy that before going back. It gave me the opportunity to be like, "I don't care how much money is being thrown at us, I just care about doing what I want to do." I'm not necessarily motivated by what people expect.
Is Fun. over, or just on hiatus?
I think this is just something that I'm doing for now, and, when I do anything, I can't help but give everything to it. I'm not thinking I want to get back into the studio and make the next Fun. album—that's just not where I'm at. I literally have this body of work that I can't stop thinking about, but I'm sure at one point I'll get tired of that too.
All of the songs seem very personal. Was there a major—even romantic—event in your life that inspired this compilation?
I had the title for a while—I just liked the way those two words sounded together. And what happens is, those things just manifest themselves in your life. "Grand Romantic" really started to mean something to me I just started feeling happy for the first time in a long time. I think one of the greatest things about being a grand romantic is, if you're willing to put yourself out there and show up with flowers and a marching band at someone's doorstep, then you've got to be just as willing to walk down the street sobbing alone.
Have you ever showed up at someone's doorstep with flowers and a marching band?
I've done some cool things in my day. I've tied Valentine's Day notes to my dog with balloons when someone comes home from the airport. I've written melodies for birthdays that I've had friends and families write words to and sing along to.
As much romance as there is, “Great Big Storm” seems to be all about despair and self-struggle, so there's that too.
Absolutely, that's about the sad side of things. I wrote that at a time when people around me were going through some stuff. Musically, everything was successful, but success does not equal happiness. It's a way of saying, "We're going to get through all of this."
Is it true that most of the songs on the album were meant to be included on Some Nights, but you thought they were better suited to a solo release?
I had already started working on a lot of it [during Some Nights], and I figured they'd just go on the next Fun. album, but as I started getting into it, I felt like I'd rather make it my own. It started feeling hyper-personal. I'd always written the lyrics and the melodies and brought the songs, but there's something about this one that started to feel quintessentially me.
What was it like working with Lykke Li?
She's awesome. I feel like artists in general tend to sniff each other out, but I realized she was cool early on. She's a brilliant songwriter, and she does a great job painting depressive lyrics.
How did you get involved with The Voice?
It's funny. At first, I was like, "There's a zero percent chance I'm going to do this show." But I know Adam Levine, and he told me that the last people to coach were Chris Martin and Taylor Swift, so I thought, "Well, if Chris Martin did it!" It's great, the people on the show really take your advice and utilize it, so it challenged me to take more pride in what I do and proactively try and help people.
Listen to "AhHa" below, and buy Grand Romantic when it goes on sale June 16.