The fun. Activist

Jack Antonoff of fun. is not only a pop-music powerhouse, but an outstanding advocate for the LGBTQ community

Interview by Doug Rule
Published on July 11, 2013, 6:36am | Comments

''It's all fun. and gay 'til someone loses their rights.''

The phrase comes from a T-shirt sold by the rock band fun. on its website and at its concerts. The tagline on the shirt, which benefits the LGBT-rights organization Revel & Riot, reads ''LGBTQ Equality Now.''

fun

fun

(Photo by Lindsey Byrnes)

''The band has just always used whatever platform we had to raise money, raise awareness and then, as we got bigger and bigger, we realized we could do even more good work,'' says fun.'s guitarist Jack Antonoff.

It's certainly been a whirlwind year and a half for the New York trio led by lead vocalist Nate Ruess and also featuring multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost. Earlier this year, fun. – the period is to distinguish the group from a punctuation-less Scandinavian noise rock band – won two Grammys, for Best New Artist and Song of the Year, the latter for its towering hit anthem ''We Are Young.''

The 29-year-old Antonoff has spearheaded the group's pro-LGBT activism, including founding the LGBT-supportive nonprofit The Ally Coalition. He spoke to Metro Weekly not long after the Supreme Court issued its historic rulings on same-sex marriage late last month.

''When everything does get completely sorted,'' Antonoff says, ''I will just be the happiest person to go to a hundred gay weddings, and get married myself one day. But until that day, getting married is not something that I would feel comfortable [doing].''

Fortunately the feeling's mutual. His girlfriend, Lena Dunham of HBO's Girls, has publicly said as much. Says Antonoff: ''It's nice to be united in that."

METRO WEEKLY: What triggered your strong support for the LGBT community?

JACK ANTONOFF: About five or six years ago, I just started thinking about it more and more, and talking about it more with my group of friends. A lot of my friends are gay. I was watching their lives and how all these things connect them. And then I hit a point, which I think a lot of Americans have hit, where it just became the most obvious thing in the world. It was a complete human-rights issue, it's the way we should all be. And then it just grew from there.

MW: I understand you started The Ally Coalition with your sister, Rachel.

ANTONOFF: Yeah. She's been kind of on the same trajectory as I have on a lot of these things. We'd been talking about it for years, and it's just a process that we've gone through together.

MW: Are your parents on board too?

ANTONOFF: Yeah they're incredibly supportive. I was very lucky to grow up in a forward-thinking family. I think my parents did a great job of raising me in a way where homosexuality wasn't a strange thing at all. When I was a teenager, gay rights were really starting to be discussed. And in my 20s, it really started to get out there. I don't have a lot of, ''This is how it's always been.'' I'm from a generation of fighting against homophobia.

In being for gay rights, I think it's important to understand where people are coming from. And my parents are from a time when the government was reporting that being gay is a mental illness. And that was an accepted fact – it's obviously not a fact. Just watching them have the transformation of like, ''Yeah, equal rights would be great.'' Or, ''Sure, I would love it if gay people could get married the same way we can.'' Watching them go from that sentiment to realizing that it's the civil-rights issue of our time; realizing that it's massive and it's not just some sort of casual like, ''Yeah, I support it'' – that's been amazing.

MW: But even among your generation, there are still some holdouts. There are still some people who don't support LGBT equality.

ANTONOFF: Without a doubt. That's kind of the scary thing. For the most part I'm very proud of my generation, but you're right, there are holdouts. And that's the religious thing.

June 26 was a historic and incredible day, but it also still makes you think of what lies ahead. And it will be ongoing even when there is full equality, and there's no difference in any rights -- there's still going to be decades of assimilation and people coming to terms and figuring the whole thing out. It's definitely tough when there's a book out there that calls homosexuality a sin that a lot of people feel very strongly about.

fun

fun

(Photo by Lindsey Byrnes)

MW: Explain a bit more about what you do with The Ally Coalition. I understand you do some sort of pro-LGBT messaging at concerts.

ANTONOFF: On the very top level there's just advocacy for LGBT rights. On social media, people fill out these signs, ''I'm an ally because… I support marriage equality.'' Sometimes it's as simple as, ''because I believe love is love.'' Sometimes it's as deep as, ''because I want my father to be happy.'' When people share that and it goes out to a hundred of their friends on Facebook, or a thousand, whatever it is -- it's these small things that just really take fear out of the issue. When people's family members or friends who maybe don't support it, or don't know where they stand, they see these things and go, ''Oh, so-and-so supports equal rights.'' And even if they don't necessarily take that as a moment to really get all the information and find out, it's just a little bit more familiar.

But then on the much deeper level you have the trickle down of what discrimination really means. One thing we've realized is, there's this massive population of LGBTQ homeless teens. Forty percent of homeless kids are LGBTQ, and it's because they're being kicked out of their homes after coming out. So we've been working with these different centers, like the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit. There are great places all over the country that really cater to this very specifically. We'll do anything from selling a poster, to a specific show with all the money going to the Ellis Center, to a dollar from every ticket to a fun. concert going to The Ally Coalition, which then gets divvied up and goes to several organizations and shelters like this.

MW: You just wrote a song with an explicitly pro-LGBT message with Sarah Bareilles called ''Brave.'' Do you think you'll write such an anthem with fun. in the future?

ANTONOFF: I do, just because it's on my mind and it's very present. And you know my favorite songs and my favorite artists are the ones that reflect on society, in the moment. When Sarah and I wrote ''Brave,'' we were having this general conversation about coming out and the state of marriage equality and the state of rights. And it just sparked this thing in her when she started exploring the concept of being brave. I think it takes an unbelievable amount of bravery to come out. I also think it takes an unbelievable amount of bravery to support and to be an ally, depending on where you are and who you're surrounded by. It's not easy. It's getting easier, but even in the context of my life, I realize it's not always easy to stand on the right side of history. Sometimes you take a lot of guff for it.

MW: In addition to ''Brave,'' there's also Macklemore having a hit with ''Same Love.''

ANTONOFF: Yeah, it's incredible to see. The fact that they're starting to play ''Same Love'' on the radio -- first of all, that's just awesome. But second of all, I think that really shows great progress. I don't know if that song would have been on the radio five years ago. I don't know if people would have heard that song and been like, ''Yeah, this is what I want on the radio.'' I think there might have been more resistance. It's a great statement to how far we've come.

MW: Is there a certain fun. song that stands out or means something special to you?

ANTONOFF: ''Carry On'' always means a lot to me, just because you'd have to be a robot to not, on a daily basis, feel some sense of inadequacy or helplessness. I love playing that song. I love seeing how it affects people. I love reading online what people say about it. My favorite songs are the ones that are built to connect large groups of people, and that's what I get from that song. And seeing 2,000 people shriek back ''Carry On'' while we're playing it is an experience that makes me feel as one with humanity that has no equal.

MW: That is something distinctive about your music -- fun.'s songs are mostly big, joyous, sing-along anthem-style numbers. So it must be a trip to perform them live.

ANTONOFF: It really is. Watching people sing along is the greatest joy. Even a decade ago, playing really small clubs, the first thing I would always look for is the one or two people singing a lyric -- the greatest feeling on Earth. And that feeling, whether it's one or two people, or 20,000 people, it's just magical every time.

MW: What can we expect from the concert itself?

ANTONOFF: You can expect a band that's just been in a complete tornado over the past two years and has somehow landed on their feet, playing bigger than ever, happier than ever, and more in touch with why we're doing what we're doing than ever -- and that it's 100 percent reflected in the tour.

Jack Antonoff performs with fun. Saturday, July 20 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 to $45. 'Call 800-551-SEAT or visit merriweathermusic.com'.


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