For years as the lead singer of The Format, Nate Ruess let fans know about the hole in his heart. He urged them to clap their hands and cause a scene, but then things changed. The Format, which is primarily comprised of Ruess and Sam Means, high on the success of their sophomore album, “Dog Problems,” was just making the rounds on alternative music networks like Fuse, MTV2 and mtvU, but almost as quickly as they shot up in popularity, they were no more.
Now, over half a year after their breakup, Ruess has announced his next project, fun, a new band along with Andrew Dost and Jack Antonoff. Ruess took a break from recording fun’s debut album — due out February 2009 — to talk to Release about The Format’s breakup, moving forward and “Wayne’s World 2.”
Release: First of all, how’s recording going? What’s the energy level like in the studio?
Nate Ruess: Thus far fantastic. We are having a great time and I’ll knock on wood while I say this, but we haven’t really commented to each other a lot about what’s transpiring in the studio because I think everyone involved with the project really feels something special happening and we don’t want to jinx it.
Release: It’s the winter of 2008, you and Sam have just completed a mini-tour of sorts, what happened? What happened to The Format? I read the notes and posts and what not, “creative differences,” but can you elaborate?
NR: Nothing too specific that I could think of. I would like to believe with everything I’ve been told that it was more a matter of being burnt out and not feeling like we could make another record together because we never had a free moment away from each other. It was nothing dramatic. Sam and I have never really fought before, so it was nothing like that. I think he wanted to do other things and I’ve always wanted to be in a band with Jack and Andrew, so it really worked out nicely.
Release: In my opinion, The Format was just starting to reach a new level of popularity with music videos, bigger shows, etc. Did that have any impact on why you guys split or lead to any apprehension about starting anew?
NR: Nah. That had nothing to do with it. It made it hard for me to stop because we were working so hard to get there, but sometimes that doesn’t mean everything. I had the opportunity to keep The Format name, but it’s not The Format without Sam. And right now, I’m so excited to be part of something new.
Release: Can you explain the reasoning behind naming the band fun?
NR: It was on the list of names we kicked around for five months, but we never could commit to anything. Then we were offered the Jack’s [Mannequin] tour and were forced to announce that we existed and had a band name. So we thought that fun was the most appropriate, and in hindsight, we couldn’t be happier about it.
Release: I have to admit, the “Benson Hedges” demo kind of blew me away. How has it been working with Andrew and Jack? What are some similarities and differences working with those two compared to Sam?
NR: Thanks. I love working with Andrew and Jack, they both offer such different things that I crave as a songwriter. I like to complicate things sometimes and they do a great job understanding and correcting. Nothing has felt better for me musically than when they take the song and make it their own because I respect them so much as songwriters. I think Sam and I had something that was kinda similar but we were also very cohesive with ideas and so, as opposed to Sam and I bringing a lot of the same thing — which is great in its own way — Jack and Andrew bring their own thing, which feels good because I’ve never had that and probably could never have functioned like that unless I didn’t have such an easy time with Sam and our ability to think alike.
Release: You and Sam were working on some new material before the split. Will any of that material transition over to fun?
NR: I wrote a few of those songs in mind for the next Format record and I really loved them, which is one of the reasons I kick-started fun so fast, because I really wanted to record them.
Release: “Dog Problems” told a story. What will fun’s first album be like, a concept album? Can you describe the sound/feel you guys are going for?
NR: It’s not as conceptual, but it does have a feeling behind it. A lot of the songs were written about Arizona and the feeling that I had to get out. There is a big portion of the record about feeling bored and old and trying to make yourself go out and feel young, but also feeling like a change of scenery might be the best option. It’s weird how that ended up working out.
Release: Any special guests we can expect to hear on the album?
NR: I don’t think so. We don’t have enough time out here to make famous friends.
Release: What’s touring going to be like with Jack still a part of Steel Train? You’re doing acoustic shows, will it be completely new material or will any Format stuff be part of the set?
NR: Jack will be here when he can. He’s been out here recording for the last month. And then we will go our separate ways for our separate tours and I’m sure we will be touring together soon. I told Jack when I first called him that the most important thing for his involvement was in the songwriting and in the studio. Everything else is an added bonus. But he’s just as much a member as Andrew and I. Not sure about Format material. I would love to play a lot of those songs ‘cause I wrote them, but as of right now, we are trying to establish our own identity. But that doesn’t mean we won’t bust out one or two every now and then.
Release: What will fun’s first single be? “Benson Hedges?”
NR: Not sure. Right now in the studio we are pretty up on a song called “At Least I’m Not As Sad As I Used To Be.” But that tends to be the case with most of the songs we start working on.
Release: Can we expect to hear any other demos before the single is released?
NR: Yeah. Nothing as crazy and produced as “Benson Hedges,” but we might put up a piano and vocal demo of a song.
Release: How important is mainstream success to you?
NR: There is no better feeling than playing a large show, so I guess it’s important for that. Oh, and the money. (laughs) Nah. I just want people to enjoy it.
Release: The Format was a big touring band, will that continue with fun? I imagine it’ll be difficult with Jack’s Steel Train schedule. Can fans expect a headlining tour when the album drops?
NR: Yeah, almost definitely a headlining tour in the new year. And a lot of this music is bigger in sound than The Format, so I hope to have people a plenty on stage. I would like to get large enough to afford backup singers. (laughs) That’s my only motivation for success. Backup singers. But no, it’ll be similar to the live setup of The Format, but everyone will be singing. I’m sure Jack will play with us a lot too.
Release: What’s your take on the music industry as a whole? In recent years we’ve seen the rise and fall of the boy band and now the charts are dominated by Disney-owned pop acts like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.
NR: It’s fine. It’s not totally for me. I’ve always moved at my own pace and I honestly have never heard the bands mentioned above. However, the three of us did watch some of [MTV’s Video Music Awards] and it was sad how painfully out of touch I am.
Release: Who are some influences you look to personally?
NR: Personally I have to go the cheese route with my parents. Musically I’m a little too all over the map. Van Morrison has become my life.
Release: You recently moved to New York. Has the move changed the way you make/write music?
NR: It has inspired me. It’s easier on life in general. It just feels right.
Release: What’s on your iPod/MP3 player?
NR: Van Morrison, “Veedon Fleece”
NOFX, “The Decline”
Jellyfish, “Spilt Milk”
Release: I think I remember reading that you were a vegetarian. Is that true?
NR: Not anymore. I’ve gone back to the dark side, but I do prefer eating veggie.
Release: Name one band/artist you think everybody should listen to once.
NR: I’ll keep dropping it, Van Morrison’s record “Veedon Fleece” has made me a better person.
Release: Favorite TV show?
NR: “Mad Men.” It’s all we watch when we come home from the studio. Draper ‘08.
Release: Last movie you saw in theaters?
NR: “The House Bunny.” Blah.
Release: Favorite movie?
NR: “Wayne’s World 2.”
Release: Favorite book?
NR: “Storms.” It’s trash, but I love it.