Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Jack Antonoff, the erstwhile guitarist of fun. and current front man for the band Bleachers, is in his element when he’s on the road or onstage. He’s currently on a co-headlining tour with Charli XCX, and this week he announced a brand-new music festival in Asbury Park called Shadow of the City. Somewhat surprisingly, Antonoff also just wrapped a new six-part web series called Thank You and Sorry that’s scheduled to debut on Google Play for free this Tuesday. He has a hard time describing exactly what happens during each of the 15-minute episodes but is confident that the series is both honest and bizarre in its attempt to capture the life of a touring rock-and-roll band. It’s part documentary, part screwball comedy, and the line between what’s scripted and what’s real is intentionally blurry, which makes Thank You and Sorry awkward, disorienting, and counterintuitively sincere. Antonoff spoke with Vulture over the phone from Charlotte, North Carolina, this week about the show, his love of coconuts, and being yelled at by Rosie Perez — one of the handful of celebrities cast in the new web series.
You’ve got this new web series, Thank You and Sorry. How did you come up with the idea?
The idea has been floating around my head for a long time. I love documentaries, everything from weird, shitty prison-gang documentaries to Grey Gardens; I love the whole spectrum. Even more so, music documentaries, and also being on tour, and how bizarre it all feels. A lot of times my life has the potential to feel like a really fucked-up sitcom. Sometimes I end up seeing things and moments and being like, Holy shit, did anyone else see what just happened? and wishing there was a camera there. So all of those things got mixed up in my head, and I thought, What if there’s a documentary-type situation, where there’s a scripted element and everything is just playing off of itself, and the line becomes really blurry. It actually did as we were making it, as to what is real and what isn’t.
So it’s not a rock-doc, and it’s not entirely scripted. It’s a weird combination of Spinal Tap meets Last Waltz meets Louis C.K. meets the internet. Or, how would you describe it? What’s your elevator pitch for the show?
I don’t really have one, which is weird. It just feels like me in this weird way. We weren’t setting out to do blah blah blah meets blah blah blah. We didn’t have a good pitch, we just kind of had this bizarre idea, and we wanted to go create it. I think, in all of its bizarreness, it actually really speaks to what I feel and what’s going on in my head. I get to play out a lot of fantasies, and I get to express things that are really happening. It’s almost like therapy, to sort of talk about the things that I’m wrestling with. I think it’s bizarre because there are moments of it being painfully honest, and then it will slip into something insanely goofy. It will go from a scene where we’re chopping up coconuts to me talking about people who have died in my life and why I write about that and how I move on from that, and panic attacks, et cetera. I really, really don’t know what it is, but I also recognize that every time I do something worthwhile, whether that’s this or making a record, I have a hard time saying exactly what it is because it feels bigger than that.
Have you seen Broadway Danny Rose by Woody Allen?
Yeah, I’ve seen all of his movies, no matter how complicated I feel about him at the moment.
Did you ever think of it while working on this project? In addition to both being black-and-white, they seem to share a droll, ambivalent attitude towards show business.
That didn’t come into play when I was working on it, but that concept is at the heart of what it is. It is exactly what I feel every day and at this moment right now. There’s a deep fear and hatred for the music business and the idea of selling art, and how that all kind of plays into itself, mixed with this unbelievable excitement, like being 9 years old and waking up the morning of Halloween. It’s like the way I see the world; there’s so much fucking ridiculous, stupid shit that needs to be pointed out about making art, and then there’s beautiful, incredible things that are worth dying for. That’s at the heart of what this is.
There will be a bizarre, goofy scene with me doing something on radio, and then it cuts to fans talking about something horrible they went through and why the music matters. In the first episode there is a bizarre, silly scene where a guy walks out of the water and immediately [a voice-over] dives into the concept of someone who is obsessed with their art and their work and becoming complicated, and this inevitable fear of success and work and becoming shitty. How do you know when you’ve become shitty? How do you know when you’ve become complicated? Do people tell you, or do people just start to drift away, and all of a sudden you’re 31 and there aren’t many people in your life anymore? So it’s very connected to that idea. It really is this super-tense love letter.
In the radio scene set in Chicago where everyone is talking about not knowing whether “the Chi” is a real thing or just something made up by Kanye West, is that scripted?
That’s completely unscripted, that scene.
There’s a ton of shit where it’s very hard to tell. Actually, one day I’d love to do commentary, to say, “This was scripted, this wasn’t,” because it really becomes hard to understand.
You deliver a lot of monologues where you’re standing in a solitary spotlight onstage like a comedian, and it’s almost like you’re performing a stand-up routine without any punch lines. Do you feel the series is a comedy?
I definitely don’t like the word comedy, and I don’t know why I don’t like it, but that’s an argument that I had when we were putting this whole thing together. Like, what do we call it? I really don’t know. The one thing I keep coming back to is that it just feels very personal. In some ways, it feels like a diary because you go into actual documentary or these scripted things, which, in a weird way, are almost more emotional and more deep. The documentary stuff, that’s what’s happening on the surface. The scripted stuff, that’s the really weird shit. There’s one scene in the second or third episode in which I keep having this dream where I cheat on my girlfriend but I didn’t want to cheat on her. So I wanted to write about that. We had this idea where I’m in therapy with the whole crew and I’m being tortured by these things. That was a silly, fun idea that we coupled with something very serious. There’s a whole sequence where I’m talking to the crew about cheating on my girlfriend without having sex, why I’m this kind of person, that I’m ruining my life, and dreams, and also not capable of having sex with another person. It reads kind of funny and strange, but that feels way darker and more honest.
There’s a scene where Colin Quinn sends you multiple bushels of apples. How many apples does one bushel make?
I think it’s 126, which I learned in that scene.
How many coconuts were harmed during the filming of Thank You and Sorry?
Uncountable. The bigger question is how many coconuts are harmed on an average day being on tour, first to stay healthy, and to stay eating all the time. My situation in life and certainly on tour is I’m always going to be putting something in my mouth. I know it’s repulsive, but I’m going to be putting something in my mouth all day long, and it’s really important that it’s not a Mounds bar. So I’ve learned that buying coconuts and having them in the rider with a machete is a great activity where it can take 10 or 20 minutes just to get into it, and you get to drink it, and you can take 30 minutes scooping out the meat. And by the time it’s all done, you’ve engaged in this really exciting and physical eating activity. So, coconuts are everywhere.
Are machetes on your rider?
There’s another great scene in the first episode where you talk about only having close friends and no acquaintances, then you make a phone call to a loved one. Is that your girlfriend, Lena Dunham, on the other line?
I speak to my actual girlfriend a lot during the documentary stuff. In the spirit of the whole thing, we’d shoot the documentary stuff, we’d have all of these shots, and then I’d have the director come up and say, “We’re getting all of these shots [of you] having these light arguments with your girlfriend about you not wanting her to throw your shit away,” which was really happening. And then we had the idea where, at the end of the series, throughout all of these random shots, I come home and my girlfriend is actually Rosie Perez, and we have this crazy argument and she leaves me, and that leads into the last scene of the show, [the band] playing. And that’s exactly in the spirit of how the show was, taking something that’s actually real, building something that’s a hyperabsurd version of it, and mashing it all together to create this sense of where does it become fiction and where does it not. But that was cool, I really love Rosie Perez, it was nice to let her yell at me for an hour.
What is your biggest horror story from the road IRL?
God, there are so many. Well I’ve been on tour for so many years that they change over time. When I was 16, 17, 18, my biggest horror story was buying crack in Cleveland. I did it just for the joke of buying the crack, and we never even did anything with the crack. We ended up throwing it out. I told my parents the next day and they were like, “You fucking idiot. What judge is going to believe that you bought crack as a goof?” That kind of shit, that’s what it was like in those days.