Jack Antonoff on Starting a New Jersey Music Festival and Recording with Taylor Swift

Singer Jack Antonoff poses for a portrait at the Logo TV's "Trailblazers" at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on June 25, 2015 in New York City.
Photo: Megan Mack/Getty Images

The band Fun. may be on hiatus, but its lead guitarist, Jack Antonoff, has no intentions of slowing down. In the past year, the 31-year-old musician embarked on a co-headlining tour with Charli XCX, launched his own docu-series, and co-wrote and co-produced two songs on Taylor Swift's mega-hit album 1989—all while penning songs for his own solo project, Bleachers. Now, the New Jersey native is one-upping himself by starting a music festival, Shadow of the City—a term that he also coined. "I think of it as looking into the window of the party, being right on the edge of the greatest city in the world," he tells InStyle. Before the fest kicks off today at the legendary Asbury Park, we caught up with Antonoff to talk about, well, everything he’s up to these days. Read on for the interview.

First off, what propelled you to start your own festival?

It’s been something that I’ve dreamed about ever since I was a kid—I paid a lot of money on Pay-Per-View to watch Woodstock ’94. In this business, it’s important to constantly do things that you don’t know how to do. I love touring and making records, but I’ve learned how to do that, so sometimes you just have to dive in and try it.

New Jersey obviously gets a bad rap. Did you enjoy growing up there?

I loved it, because I was so bored. I remember just being in people’s basements or sitting on a curb waiting for my mom to pick me up. So I just thought a lot, dreamed a lot, and after I went to New York City for high school for my junior and senior year, I realized that’s not how everyone grew up. All the kids I met that were raised the city had done all the drugs, seen all the bands, had all the sex by the time they were 13, and it’s just so opposite from my experience. I still have that feeling like I have a lot to prove, and I’m alone in my room dreaming of something and trying to actually do it.

Does Asbury Park hold a special significance to you?

I’ve gone down to the Jersey Shore every summer since I was born. It’s like a second home, and Asbury Park is like the capital—it’s the center of all of it. Musically, it’s incredible. Last time I was down there, there were people driving by in their cars taking pictures in front of The Stone Pony. That’s not something that happens at House of Blues in Cleveland. There are very few venues in the world that hold that much history and intensity.

Did you used to see bands there when you were a kid?

I’d go see all my shows in New York City. A huge part of why I wanted to do this festival is because New Jersey is this amazing place with amazing bands, but very few actually play there because you always play in the city, and you’re not allowed to play in New Jersey because it’s too close.

Speaking of touring, you helped produce two songs for Swift's 1989. How did that collaboration come about?

Really naturally. I think with records that big, there’s this assumption that it’s a crazy process with studios and tons of different people working on it, and that’s true a lot of the time. But with her, we met, became friends, talked about music, and then a bunch of emails later we had three songs. Just because you’re a huge superstar doesn’t mean that songwriting shouldn’t be different than you and a friend coming up with ideas. Great songs come out of people’s bedrooms; they come out of studios; there’s no formula for it. The process couldn’t have been more the opposite of how massive the end result was.

Jack Antonoff and Taylor Swift
instagram / lenadunham

Both 1989 and Strange Desire have a decidedly '80s sound. Are you largely influenced by that era?

It was a really great time in music. My reference point at that time was John Hughes films, and the biggest pop songs in the world were also these songs that you could cry to in your bed. There’s a really special quality to that—that’s a really wonderful thing. It shows how the radio be a place where really intense emotions are happening.

You also just did a docu-series, Thank You and Sorry. How did you enjoy the different artistic medium?

It doesn’t feel too different than anything else I do, which essentially revolves around trying to make sense of why I make music and why I make art. What’s funny was that all the scripted stuff felt so much deeper than anything else, because that is the stuff I sat down and laid out—my major fears in my relationship, with my family and friends, writing songs. That was all so personal.

To what extent was your girlfriend, Lena Dunham, involved?

Not much more than when we collaborate on anything. We go to bed in the same place, so whatever I create during the day, whether she was an artist or not, and she happens to be a great one, she’s the first person I want to show things too. It’s a really natural thing: The people closest in your life are the people you want the first opinions from. At the end of the day, if you’re not trying to impress those people first, then I think there’s something wrong there.

Let's talk about style for a minute. Would you say your onstage wardrobe differs much from what you wear day-to-day?

I’d say it’s a more heightened version. I get in these habits where I find something and I can’t stop wearing it. Two tours ago it was a cut-off jean shirt. On this last tour, I was in JFK airport, and they were selling these Mets tank tops for $50, and I wore it at every show for that month.

You’ve also been pretty vocal about how you enjoy a good pedicure.

It’s extremely luxurious. I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t want to do it all the time, always. I wear socks most of the time, so at the end of the day, I can take off my shoes, and I’m like, “Those things are f*cking gorgeous.” It’s a fun thing that makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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