Nate Ruess: A cynical kind of romantic

CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star

Grammy winner recording artist Nate Ruess is coming to Manila on Jan. 19 for his much-awaited concert at the newly-opened Kia Theater at Araneta Center.

Ruess is known around the globe as the singer/songwriter of the indie pop super group Fun (a.k.a. fun.) that was responsible for the hits We Are Young, Some Nights and Carry On. He has gone solo with his new album Grand Romantic featuring the hit song Nothing Without Love.

In a magazine interview, Ruess said he has always been a romantic, even if he’s also always been the cynical kind. Last summer, according to a press bulletin from Wilbros Live (which is producing his Jan. 19 concert), as Ruess began writing and “demo-ing” tracks for his solo debut, his awareness of these dueling qualities was especially pronounced. Ruess was in the early days of a new relationship, with all of its anxiety and excitement.

A collaboration with some of the best producers and musicians in the industry namely Jeff Bhasker who has worked with Kanye West and Beyonce, Emile Haynie who produced for Lana Del Ray, and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, Ruess’ Grand Romantic is an album that’s meant to make listeners “experience music about issues like death, and dealing with the ugliest part of yourself or having to face really tough decisions instead of avoiding them.”

“I want to enjoy and embrace life,” he was quoted saying. “There has always been some theatrical aspect to my music. And I would love to bury it, but I can’t. I’m not ready to embrace it 100 percent, but I’m ready to accept it. I feel like, as a human being, I’ve grown so much in the process of making this album, and this needed to happen. I’ve never had a better time doing anything in my entire life.”

What was the first CD or record that you bought for yourself?

“I still remember the first record I ever bought, because I was the last person to get a CD player. My parents would never get a CD player, my dad listens to a whole bunch of vinyl. So I bought The Cure’s Staring at the Sea album which had a collection of singles from The Cure. Which, at my age, there weren’t a lot of people listening to The Cure, their crowd was a little bit older, so I’ve always felt a little bit cooler than anybody my age. I was an angsty type of teenager and I’ve always felt like I didn’t fit in, and I think that The Cure was so good at that. They wrote these heartbreaking love songs and I just felt like they spoke to me.”

Can you recall the most romantic gesture you’ve ever done so far in your life?

“The most romantic gesture I’ve done was to make an album for someone and it is my current album,  Grand Romantic. That was like six months of a romantic gesture.”

So how have you been since releasing your solo debut? How have you been taking in the feedback for Grand Romantic?

“I’ve been fantastic. I’m just happy to have finished it. It took so long to make and when I finished the album, I was so proud of it that at that point, it was all about when it’s going to get released you have to go through a long process of planning. As far as how have people been taking it, I haven’t read any reviews, all I see are people coming to the shows and they seem to be having a good time so that makes me happy.”

Over the years, you’ve established yourself as an artist both with the band Fun and as Nate Ruess. What were the factors that persuaded you to release a solo project?

“I’ve been in a band for 15 years and with the last album, I’ve accomplished more than I can ever possibly imagine so I kind of finished it up with the touring process and got home and started thinking about what I wanted to do next with the songs I was writing and it just felt natural to do it as a solo album.”

It’s apparent that the main theme for your latest record revolves around romanticism, from its lyrics to its instrumentation. What led you to this direction and theme?

“The title just came to me early, just like the Some Nights title did. And once you have a title that you believe in, I’ve learned that at least from the past few albums that the songs become easier to understand once you start writing. When they pop into my head, I already knew that the album is going to be called Grand Romantic, so when the song pops into my head, it’s like I’m already singing something romantic and you’re able to tie it together from there.”

In an online feature with SPIN, the headline read, “Nate Ruess Is the Happiest He’s Ever Been on Solo LP.” Apart from it coming from your own, what makes this record extra special? How different is this from your earlier projects?

“What makes it extra special is the body of work, the music that it is. I mean there’s really nothing else to it other than when I finished up the album, I had something that I had never been more proud of or enjoyed listening to. I think what makes it different is just that progression that I’ve had as a songwriter. It’s not all the same people that I’ve worked with from the last few albums but I’m used to changing and moving around and being on the road. I can’t help but be constantly moving.”

Much of the album was done with the help of Jeff Bhasker and Emile Haynie. How was it working with them?

“They’re the best. I’ve worked with them since Some Nights, Pink’s song and an Eminem song as well. They’re two of my best friends in the entire world and I miss them dearly.”

How different is Nate Ruess before from now? How have you matured as an artist?

“That’s a great question. I like to think a lot. When I first got signed in The Format, I got signed to a major label when I was 19 and I’m 33 now so that’s about 14 years. You know the expectations when I first got signed were, we were supposed to have this great big song and everything was supposed to go amazing and I’m sitting there a year later and nothing happened with the song and we had to learn not to take anything for granted.

“To build a fan-base through being honest and being yourself and going out there and putting it all out on stage. Knowing that, and learning that, I figured that I spent my whole entire life just doing that. I didn’t think that there would be radio success afterwards. And by the time we had radio success, I think I was just able to appreciate what it all meant.”

For Grand Romantic, you perfectly ended it with a heartbreaking song, Brightside. How do you manage to punch so many emotions in one song? Where do you get such inspiration to translate your stories into your songs?

“I think it goes from me knowing, when people say you’re not supposed to bottle up emotions. In my everyday life, I think I bottle up emotions. I’m not confrontational, I just chill out. I don’t think I’m that tough to deal with, I’m fairly responsible, I’m not reckless and I don’t get into fights with people. I don’t really like talking about my feelings, even when I’m in a relationship. It’s not something I’m into, and then suddenly when I start making an album, that’s when all the bottled up feelings just come out.”

You were honored with the prestigious “Hal David Starlight Award” at the 2015 Songwriters Hall of Fame. How do you feel about this milestone in your career?

“It’s as good any award as I have received. For me, songwriting is the absolute most important thing. I consider myself as a songwriter well more before I am a singer. I always say that I do singing because that’s something I love, I write songs because that’s something I have to do.

“For the Songwriting Hall of Fame, I know a lot of people who are in the Hall of Fame. My favorite songwriter was being honored during that time that I was awarded, so to get to share a room, to get to share an award or even just to share a piece of paper with Van Morrisen and all those people who were on that list was greatly flattering.”

(For tickets to Nate Ruess concert, call 911-5555 or 374-9999.)

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. You may also send your questions to [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)












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