Jack Antonoff’s first big hit was the song of 2012—it was called “We Are Young,” and released while he was in the band Fun. Since then, he’s started the band Bleachers, written dozens more hit songs, and emerged as one of the most influential music producers in the industry. He’s collaborated with everyone from Lorde to Lana Del Rey to Diana Ross—helping some of your favorite artists find their distinctive sounds.
He’s won eight Grammy awards, including Producer of the Year in both 2022 and 2023. And he frequently collaborates with Taylor Swift, and—as you know—this is the summer of Taylor.
All that means that Antonoff is the perfect person to help us understand what’s happening in the music industry right now, including how changes in streaming and touring have affected artists, and how musical trends mirror broader cultural movements.
Plus, his surprising argument for why our shared home state of New Jersey is actually one of the most creative places in the country.
Tune in every Thursday, and join us as we continue to explore the minds that shape our world. You can listen to the full episode in the player above, but here are a handful of excerpts from our conversation, which have been condensed and edited for clarity. And check out our episode playlist on Spotify to hear some of our producers’ favorite Jack Antonoff hits.
On why New Jersey produces so many creative people:
The trick with New Jersey, and why it’s so inspiring to people who are from there: it is the ultimate landscape of ‘in but out.’ Outside the window of the party. There, but not…
I’ve been living in Paris for a while over the past little bit and the biggest thing I’ve noticed about it is to be Parisian is… you’re from a place where when you were raised, your culture said, ‘We have the best food, we have the best art, we have the best music, we have the best city. We’re the top of culture.’
That is the polar opposite of New Jersey. Because of its proximity to New York City, it has to be self-deprecating. And in my opinion—and this is no knock on the Parisians or anyone from big cities. But in my experience, it’s not necessarily the recipe for the kind of work that I gravitate to. The kinda work that I gravitate to—and it’s probably from being New Jersey—is hearing someone dream, and struggle, and get there in a backward way.
On how Taylor Swift launched his career as a producer with “Out of the Woods:“
She’s the first person who recognized me as a producer. A lot of people are afraid to sign off on something that isn’t done by a proven person.
I had written lots of songs and produced them, but they would always sort of go somewhere else. So the label or whoever could say, oh, we had this person produce it.
And, you know, I put my heart and soul into that song and she said, ‘I love it.’
On working with her again on “Anti-Hero,” which builds on “Out of the Woods:”
It’s such a different approach. “Anti-Hero” was mostly built around an OB-8, which is a really weird synthesizer that has a different attitude every time you turn it on. And then I had this Linn Drum beat that I made. These are all things I didn’t even have when I was producing “Out of the Woods.” And I just put a tremolo on it. And that became the whole pulse of the of the thing.
That tremolo is so singular, and it’s not something had really heard. And then the way the OB-8 is, I always think of it as like a ballpark melody. Like something someone would play on an old organ in a baseball stadium. I heard those two things together, and I was just like, ‘Damn, that’s cool.’
I had played her that track, and I remember, we were at my apartment in New York. And sometimes she gets this look in her eye where she’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going in.’
You know, she goes in in many different ways and is just the greatest writer and vocalist ever. But on that one, I just remember watching her and being like, ‘Uh oh. We’ve got a live one.’
On how his sister’s death changed his life:
Today is August 8th, which is the day that our younger sister, Sarah, died, in 2001. So it’s an interesting time to be talking about this … You know, in the culture that I grew up in, a lot of people really worked hard in school, strived to go to college. Those were things that mattered. And my parents just had a much bigger fish to fry… And then right at that time when everyone sort of launches and decides the next chapter of their life, you know, 16, 17, 18: Are you gonna go to college? Are you gonna do this? What are you gonna do? In the house, there was such an energy of ‘nothing matters besides what makes you feel alive in the face of death.’
On how his music intersects with cultural trends— and how it doesn’t:
The worst thing you can do is to chase culture. Because you’ll keep missing it. If you see it go right and you follow it, it’s over by the time you get there…
If you chase it, you’ll miss it. If you do you, then you’ll have these moments where you feel seen, where it touches you. And then you’ll also have many moments where you don’t feel seen, but after some period of time you realize that, that doesn’t really have anything to do with what you’re making.
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