One year ago this month, the cast of the hit television show “Glee” performed “We Are Young,” a triumphant duet by the then-widely unknown New York indie-pop trio Fun. and rhythm-and-blues singer Janelle Monáe.
Fast forward to this December. Fun., which includes guitarist and Woodcliff Lake and New Milford native Jack Antonoff, has been nominated for a whopping six Grammy Awards: Record of the Year and Song of the Year (“We Are Young”), Album of the Year (“Some Nights”), Best New Artist, Best Pop Duo/Group performance and Best Pop Vocal Album.
In a banner year for Bergen County music, The Lumineers, two-thirds of whom hail from Ramsey, are also nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy. The 55th Annual Grammy Awards show will take place on Feb. 10, 2013, in Los Angeles.
“The past year has been crazy in so many ways,” Antonoff said in a recent interview. “There’s been so much insane non-stop work and travel.”
“We Are Young” hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100, was used in a Chevrolet Super Bowl commercial and sold five million copies. In February, Fun. released its sophomore album, “Some Nights.” The CD entered the Billboard charts at No. 3, and its irresistible, hook-laden title track was a No. 3 hit single.
Antonoff said that it’s hard to wrap his mind around the events of the past 12 months. “We’re still in the eye of the storm,” he said. “I feel like two years from now I’ll be able to sit down and click through the YouTube videos and get some perspective on what’s happening now.”
Antonoff got his start performing in punk bands in high school at venues like the Wayne Firehouse and Teaneck American Legion. After graduation he played with his band, Steel Train, before joining singer Nate Ruess and keyboardist-horn player Andrew Dost in 2008 to form Fun. The band released its debut album, “Aim and Ignite,” one year later.
Fun.’s fateful collaboration with Monáe occurred through “Some Nights’ producer Jeff Bhasker.
“We knew we wanted a female vocalist on it but we didn’t know who,” said Antonoff, 28. “Jeff played it to her and she didn’t know who we were but based on the song she wanted to be a part of it. When we heard her, it was like, ‘Oh my god, she’s perfect. She’s such an inspiration.’”
Antonoff said he was especially pleased that the relationship occurred naturally, a rarity these days in major label commercial pop music. “Some Nights” (Fueled By Raman/Warner Music) is the band’s first album on a major label.
“On major labels a lot of collaborations happen because the label says, ‘we’re going to put this artist and this artist together,’ he said. “With Janelle it was completely organic.”
Fun. chose Bhasker (Kanye West, Drake, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé) to produce “Some Nights” to help incorporate the growing influence of hip-hop on the band into its modern-day pop framed by elaborate arrangements and orchestration that recall Queen’s heyday.
“Kanye’s last album truly launched something in us,” Antonoff said. “Hip-hop was his roots but the album (“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”) had all these other elements.
“For us, alternative music is our root and we sought to bring in other elements and not be relegated to being solely a pop band.”
The Lumineers have also enjoyed a breakthrough year. The Denver-based trio, led by Ramsey natives Wesley Schultz (guitar, lead vocals) and drummer Jeremiah Fraites, are up for Best New Artist and Best Americana Album.
Schultz said in a recent interview that he’s excited about the Grammy nominations, more so for their power to bring increased attention to the band’s music than for any personal accolades.
“As musicians, you can’t concern yourselves with awards and things that are out of your control,” said Schultz, Ramsey High School class of 2001. “At the same time, it feels very fitting in wanting recognition for something you think is worth hearing.”
The Lumineers’ self-titled debut album was released in April and has sold more than 500,000 copies. Sing and stomp-along hit single “Ho Hey” hit No. 4 on the Billboard charts and has moved more than 1 million copies. The band opened for the Dave Matthews Band earlier this month and has sold out shows scheduled for Feb. 1-2 at Terminal 5 in New York City.
The band’s album includes an addicting assortment of beautifully stark folk tunes like “Flowers in Your Hair,” “Dead Sea” and “Stubborn Love” and upbeat pop-folk numbers such as “Ho Hey,” Big Parade” and “Flapper Girl.”
“We’ve always been minimalistic and we like things that sound very human,” Schultz said. “It’s an economy of sound and lyrics with a lot of melodies. I find a lot of joy in saying a lot with a little.”