Format Busters


Bassist Andrew Dost knew he had found his musical soul mates when he met singer Nate Ruess and drummer Jack Antonoff. When they started jamming together in 2008, the three of them realized they were all big Beatles fans and started playing Beatles covers to help hone their songwriting skills.  

"The biggest touchstone for all of us is the Beatles," says Dost. "Our initial practices were covering Beatles songs. We can play the back half of Abbey Road. We just love the Beatles. That's how we learned to write songs and put chords together. Listening to 'Penny Lane,' it has such a sophisticated structure. It sounds so seamless but it's difficult to play. We grew up with that and trying to figure out those songs."

Dost also cites the Beach Boys as an inspiration and says he and his two bandmates are also big fans of '90s rock acts such as Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Oasis and Pearl Jam. Those influences first revealed themselves in Ruess' power-pop Format, the indie rock band he fronted for several years before forming fun. While the Format had a loyal cult following of young fans and attracted attention from major label record labels, the band never found huge commercial success and went on hiatus in 2008. That's when Ruess recruited Antonoff and Dost, who had respectively played in the indie rock acts Steel Train and Anathallo, to form a new band.

"Nate and Jack toured together and developed a friendship and mutual admiration for each other," says Dost. "My band toured with Nate [Ruess'] band and I did some horn arrangements for him. We just hit it off.  I had met Jack [Antonoff] a few times, but I didn't know him that well. When Nate called, he told me he wanted us to join him in a band. I figured if Jack is good enough for him, he's good enough for me. We've become great friends."

Dost says that recording the band's debut, Aim & Ignite, was a challenge. But the results make it sound like the band had been performing together for years. And right from the opening tune, "Be Calm," which has some elements of Queen, it's apparent the group wanted to embrace a theatrical element.

"At the time, we were really into musical theater and the highs and lows that musicals have," says Dost. "We wanted to have that drama. We wanted those tempo shifts. A lot of 'Be Calm' was setting the statement for the entire record. We wanted some punishing guitars and drums. We wanted to have some softer stuff. We wanted crazy orchestration. We wanted it to be a mission statement for the entire band. That's my favorite song on the album because we just went for it. Whether or not we succeeded isn't as important."

Aim & Ignite immediately won critical acclaim and the band toured relentlessly in support of it. When it came time to record a follow up, the guys knew they didn't have as much to prove.

"On 'Be Calm,' we wanted to show each other what we could do," says Dost. "On Some Nights, we wanted to let the songs breath a bit more. They were more universal and had more of a groove. Minimalist isn't the right word because there's still lot of stuff going on, but we didn't want to overcomplicate things. That was our goal."

Some Night's title track commences with an a cappella vocal intro and then swings into a soaring rock anthem. It has some classic rock elements and one fan even put together a mash-up featuring it and Paul Simon's "Cecelia."

"We wanted it to be a driving percussive anthem that still had a hummable melody," says Dost. "When we were mixing it, we talked about the vocal sound of [Queen's] Freddie Mercury on 'We Will Rock You.' We pushed it in our own direction but vocally, we wanted that gritty sound. You can hear a lot of Queen in our music. It's not something we consciously do, but we know we sound like Queen. I hope that people say that in a good way."

The album has sold by the truckloads thanks to the fact that the soaring "We Are Young" has become the pop hit of the century and has found its way into film trailers and TV commercials. But to hear Dost tell it, the guys didn't initially know if it would become a hit.

"We're not good judges of what makes a song a hit," he says. "That was one of the songs the label heard and they knew. We thought, 'Okay. We like it as much as the rest of the songs.' We didn't think it was any bigger or better than anything else on the album. We shouldn't be the ones picking our singles because we would have picked something else. We never could have predicted it would have taken off in the way that it has.

Dost says he simply doesn't know why the band has become such a smash, but he concedes that Ruess' Freddie Mercury-like vocals probably have something to do with the success.

"Nate has a powerful voice and he's very charismatic and charming," he says. "His lyrics are both universal and specific. I hope people appreciate the depth of harmony instrumentation that we bring to the table even though I know that might not be the case. I can't explain it because with the first album, that has songs that I expected would have caught on in a similar way. It's the right songs at the right time. It's coincidence and timing."

Since Some Nights was recorded in 2011 and released in 2012, it's about time for a new studio release. Dost says the band's starting to think in those terms.

"We've started talking and sharing musical snippets and getting in the room and going through some ideas," he says. "Nothing too thorough but we have tons of ideas. Once the tour winds up in October, we'll build the songs in a way that makes them a 'fun.' song," he says. "That's when they start sounding good. Once we get serious, it'll happen. Right now, it's just lots of ideas and different ideas and lyrics written on napkins."

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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