A Summer With Fun.

Jun 23, 2012
Originally published on August 18, 2012 11:26 am

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.

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It's been a big year for fun. - the band.


FUN.: Tonight, we are young...

SIMON: This song, "We Are Young," it's been a number one hit, and has spent six consecutive weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. Earlier this spring, lead singer Nate Ruess told NPR's Guy Raz how he landed a meeting with some hot-shot producer, and showed off the song's catchy chorus on the spot, in the producer's New York hotel room.

REUSS: I sang it to him. His jaw just like, dropped.


FUN.: (singing) So let's set the world on fire...

REUSS: And he had to go to the stu - we had to go to the studio either the next day, or the day after that. It was so surreal for me. This whole, entire year has just been - that.


FUN.: (singing) Now, I know that I'm not all that you've got...

SIMON: Now, fun. is taking their mega-hit on tour. So far this month, they've played Bonnaroo; they sold out shows in St. Louis, Cleveland and New York. Next Friday, they'll take the stage at Milwaukee's Summerfest. Now throughout the summer, we're going to check in with fun. to see what life is like on the road - not just for the band members, but the huge company of traveling techs, drivers, roadies, marketers and fans who move a band across the country show to show, stage to stage.

But we begin this week with fun.'s Nate Ruess. He joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

REUSS: Of course. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You've played some pretty big dates so far - New York, Cleveland, St. Louis. Any high points?

REUSS: It's been a wild summer. I mean, the crazy thing is, is the tour has really started - in February, and we haven't been home since. So everything's felt unbelievable. And I think Bonnaroo is something that - we're not used to playing festivals yet, and that was something that was pretty magical.



SIMON: What's important to you, when you're on the road?

REUSS: It's important that I get time to run, to just go for a jog for about 30 minutes. 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.

SIMON: Do you do anything to take care of your voice?

REUSS: Yeah. I try and get about eight hours of sleep every single night. And I like to think that I drink more water than anyone, ever.


REUSS: I guess we did - once we learned about this college game called Flip Cup.

SIMON: I don't know it, yeah.

REUSS: Yeah. It's like this game where it requires you to chug alcohol. But in our case, like, we did it with water. And there came a point, when we were playing the game, when everybody was like, so waterlogged. And that allowed me to persevere above everybody else, 'cause I think I'm a camel, in that regard.


FUN.: (singing) Oh, my head is on fire, but my legs are fine. After all, they are mine. Lay your clothes down on the floor. Close the door. Hold the phone. Show me how no one's ever going to stop us now.

SIMON: Let me ask you about some of your fellow travelers, if you please.


SIMON: Shane, the guitar tech.

REUSS: Yeah. Shane was someone that was referred to - had never been on tour before, but just wanted to get into it. He's actually like, a technician; like, works on Mercedes, and things like that. And he looked like a pirate. So it was a little weird for the first - I would say the first, like, two weeks, getting used to this guy. And one day, we were talking about working out and wanting to get in shape, and Shane had mentioned that his mom was a personal trainer.

So we asked him to put us on some sort of like, dietary plan as well as like, a workout regimen. For three weeks, he put us through hell. And we really got to know him. And he was still learning his craft but to us, it was like no matter what happens, this guy is with us forever. He's one of my favorite people in the entire world.

SIMON: Nate Reuss is lead singer of fun. Thanks so much. Happy trails.

REUSS: Thank you so much.


FUN.: (singing) No one's ever ...

SIMON: And we're going to check in with guitar technician - and aerobics instructor, whatever he does - Shane Timm, in a few weeks. We follow fun. and their backstage crew on their summer tour. Meantime, you can get a little bit of the live fun. experience on our website. You can see photos of the band, and listen to a full concert recorded last month in Washington, D.C. That's all to be found at nprmusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.