Interview with Nate Ruess
While Nate Ruess has made quite a name for himself as the lead singer of the Grammy-award winning band fun., yesterday’s release of his debut solo album Grand Romantic marks the beginning of a brand new chapter in the eclectic frontman’s musical journey. Not only can you trace some of those sonic steps through his exclusive NoiseTrade sampler A Nate Ruess Retrospective (featuring new solo single “Take It Back,” two fun. songs, and a track from his pre-fun. band The Format), but you can also delve deeper into Ruess’ new solo adventure with our intimate and enlightening NoiseTrade One-on-One Interview as well.
NoiseTrade: Grand Romantic has such a diverse sonic range – sound collage-based pop, emotive piano ballads, a little vintage country crooning, cinematic strings, and arena-ready, singalong choruses. Did this diversity come from the unencumbered experimental atmosphere of recording as a solo artist or has it just always been mixing around in your head ready to come out?
Nate Ruess: I've never felt the need to be genre specific and fortunately I've always been in bands with people who think the same way. With that being said, I think it was easier for me in the writing process to allow these songs to be whatever I wanted because I didn't have to tailor certain things around other musicians specifically. That itself can be a blessing and a curse. I think the excitement of trying new things made it much more a blessing for this album.
NT: In February you told Rolling Stone that you decided to make a solo record because “This is the first time I’ve been comfortable in my own skin.” What flipped that internal switch for you and how did that realization manifest itself?
Ruess: I like to think time has made me that way more than anything else. I can point to certain relationships or the surprising success of Some Nights as well, but more so it's just all of life's experiences (good or bad) accumulating and leaving me no choice but to accept who I am - whoever that is.
NT: Did the pressures and expectations to try and top the huge success of Some Nights impact your decision to go solo in any way?
Ruess: The success definitely helped. A lot of goals I didn't even know I had were checked off once we put Some Nights to bed. That made me look around and think, "what's something new I can accomplish?"
NT: Just a week or two ago you played your very first live set as a solo artist (with backing band “The Band Romantic”). How did it feel to take these songs out of the studio and set them free into the wild?
Ruess: So incredible. I'm lucky to have such a great band behind me (I've always felt very fortunate to have the people I've played with throughout). They took it upon themselves to really learn everything and I think they love the music. It makes it even easier when you enjoy what you're playing every night. That, coupled with an amazing crew that makes us sound great, no matter the weirdness of a room. Plus, Jeff Bhasker came in during our week of rehearsals (as Musical Director) and MD'd like he used to with Kanye. I think that really helped with the backing vocals and people knowing exactly how something was played, getting it from the guy who played so much of the stuff on the album.
NT: Your song “Take It Back” features a wonderfully Wilco-esque guitar solo from Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. How did that pairing come about and are you a Wilco fan at all?
Ruess: Wilco is my favorite band of the last 15 or so years. I shouted out my favorite song of theirs ("More like the Moon") in a Rolling Stone interview years ago and Jeff Tweedy reached out about possibly collaborating. I think both of our schedules disallowed us to ever meet up. But once “Take It Back” was written, I intentionally left a gap just for him. Fortunately, he filled it with what ended up being my favorite part of the album.
NT: Your A Nate Ruess Retrospective NoiseTrade sampler features a new solo track (“Take It Back” from Grand Romantic), two fun. songs (“Carry On” and “The Gambler”), and “Oceans” from your pre-fun. band The Format. Is the intention here to craft a bit of a narrative arc of your musical career or are these just some of your favorite moments from your catalog?
Ruess: Great question. I think these are just a few of my favorite moments. As a songwriter - not just on Grand Romantic - but for a career, I've wanted to be diverse, because my taste and what inspires is so eclectic, and I feel like this is a nice eclectic bunch of songs I've written over the last 10 years.