|From left, Andrew Dost, Nate Ruess and Jack Antonoff. Lindsey Byrnes|
Bergen County was kvelling during last week’s 55th annual Grammy Awards when the group Fun., featuring Bergen County native Jack Antonoff, took home awards for song of the year and best new artist. (Yes, the period at the end is part of the group’s name.)
Last year’s release of Some Nights, the group’s second album, featuring the chart-topping song We Are Young, propelled Fun. to the forefront of the music industry. Even with all the accolades, it’s still all sinking in for Fun.
“I don’t think there’s any way you can prepare yourself,” Antonoff told the Jewish Standard during a phone interview last week.
Some of you may know the story of how Fun.’s Antonoff, Andrew Dost, and Nate Ruess got together. Antonoff and Ruess met when they were both 18, at a punk rock show in southern New Jersey. Later, Ruess, the lead singer of the Format, and Antonoff, front man for Steel Train, ended up on tour together. After the Format broke up, Ruess called Antonoff and Dost to form a new group. Fun. released its first album, Aim & Ignite, in 2009.
What you might
not know is that
Antonoff’s first band was with friends he made when he was a student at the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford. Antonoff, 28, grew up in New Milford and Woodcliff Lake and went to Schechter before continuing on to public school.
“I was just really happy there and I’m not even that extremely religious or observant,” he said. He met some of his best friends through Schechter, he said, and still keeps in touch with many of them. Judaism remains “a big connection culturally,” he said, and he especially identifies with the idea that “no matter where you go or where you come from, they’re your people.”
Judaism may not have provided Antonoff with his musical inspiration – for that he credits greats Tom Waits, Jack White, and Neil Young – but he does possess a devotion to social justice that has been ingrained in the tribe. Antonoff is wholly dedicated to pursuing civil rights for all minorities, and to that end Fun. has partnered with Antonoff’s fashion-designer sister Rachel to launch the Ally Coalition, a nonprofit group fighting for gay rights in the music, fashion, and entertainment communities, he said.
Antonoff’s maternal grandfather, Rabbi Max Wall, marched in Washington, D.C., with Martin Luther King Jr. in support of civil rights, and that spirit has been passed down through the generations.
“I was raised in a home where human equality was deeply important, and I see my children continuing this legacy,” Antonoff’s mother, Shira, said. “There are American citizens being treated as second class. I could not be prouder of my children. And as a parent it’s really thrilling to see your children working together on something.”
Growing up hearing stories of the Shoah, and inspired by his grandfather’s work for civil rights, Jack Antonoff is determined to stand up for others who face oppression.
“If people for whatever reason are being oppressed or treated differently, we have to fight for them,” he said. He hopes that his grandchildren will grow up in a world with marriage equality, and look back at this time “just like I asked my grandfather what it was like in America fighting for African-American civil rights.”
The perseverance of the Jewish people in the face of oppression provides Antonoff with inspiration for pursuing rights for other minorities, and the struggle for marriage equality is like any other civil-rights issue, he said.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is just get the conversation going,” he said, noting that a lot of people just don’t have a lot of information on the issue.
“When you live in a country where certain people are treated as second-class – it’s no different than African-American civil rights, no different than any other form of oppression through history,” he added.
That’s why Antonoff and his girlfriend, Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s “Girls,” have decided not to get married until marriage is legalized for everybody.
“I don’t want to indulge in rights other people don’t have,” he said. “I wouldn’t shop somewhere if it said ‘No Jews,’ and I wouldn’t want to get married if it’s straights only.”
“We’re incredibly proud of our son,” Shira Antonoff said. “He’s worked so incredibly hard. As a Jewish mother, it’s great naches to see them succeed in doing what they love and what they’re passionate about.”
|Jack Antonoff and Fun. are hitting the road.
For tour dates and other information on the band, go to www.ournameisfun.com.