When Bleachers front man Jack Antonoff arrives in your city on his current tour, he’ll have something unique in tow: his childhood bedroom, painstakingly reconstructed in the form of a traveling art installation. It makes sense, since Antonoff is fascinated with the idea of baggage, mostly the emotional kind. “We all have this stuff we carry in an invisible suitcase,” Antonoff tells me over dinner at a tour stop in Seattle. “You can’t keep it all, because if you keep it all, you can’t move forward. But you can’t let it all go, because if you let it all go, you’re not yourself. The great balancing act of life is, What do I keep in here?”
Gone Now, Antonoff’s new album, out June 2, offers answers. The music is deeply personal and more than a little bonkers–pop music without guardrails. (Antonoff calls it “the sound of a person going crazy alone in a room.”) For the 33-year-old singer-songwriter, who has been in bands since he was a teenager in New Jersey, it’s the opportunity to make music unfettered by anyone else’s creative impulses.
After his rock band fun., Antonoff’s most commercially successful project to date, earned a No. 1 hit with its 2012 single “We Are Young,” he decided to pursue other enterprises. Since then he’s released two albums as Bleachers and written hits with artists including Taylor Swift and Lorde. That has made him one of the most in-demand craftsmen in the current pop economy.
Antonoff’s greatest strength is as a songwriter, whether for himself or for other artists. He’s willing to tell deeply emotional stories–to unpack all that “stuff”–without the disaffected cool that’s common in pop. He also writes frequently about mental illness, including his struggles with anxiety and grief. “You wake up one day and don’t want to get out of bed?” he asks. “Maybe it’s not because you’re a loser. Maybe it’s because you’re depressed.” The result taps into a chorus of work about young people grappling with mental health, like the musical Dear Evan Hansen and 13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s series on teen suicide.
On Gone Now, even profound sadness hums with electricity. “Sometimes I wish that I wasn’t myself,” he sings on the bouncy “Hate That You Know Me.” Like many of his lyrics, it’s loaded. But Antonoff’s gift is that when he sings it, it doesn’t sound heavy.
This appears in the June 12, 2017 issue of TIME.
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