Jack Antonoff’s new web series “Thank You and Sorry” is just as eclectic and interesting to watch as his career. The frontman of the band Bleachers lends himself to so many different projects, including serving as the former guitarist for the Grammy-award winning band fun. and the co-songwriter for artists like Sara Bareilles and Taylor Swift.
Antonoff has always kept things fresh for his work and everyone who follows it, and “Thank You and Sorry” is no exception: Gorgeously shot in black and white, the new six-part series serves as a part-documentary, part-comedy. Co-starring Olivia Wilde, Rosie Perez and Colin Quinn, the show serves as a completely honest look at life on tour, and all the emotional, hilarious and bizarre things that come with it. Indiewire spoke with Antonoff on the show’s conception, stylistic choices and his insanely entertaining pre-concert traditions.
I just want to start off by saying that I really love the web series. You guys do so much in fifteen minutes. How did the web series come into development? What made you realize that your life on tour would make for a good show?
It kind of started in my head a long time ago, because I think being on tour and writing music, and playing music, and existing in the music industry– It all feels occasionally very bizarre. So many things happen there, and I think to myself, “Fuck, was anyone filming that?” Because what just happened, should never happen, and is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever witnessed. And it’s been a great story, and some crazy stuff has happened. I love documentaries, in general, and specifically music documentaries, so I always wanted to do some film component to what I do. But over the past couple of years, I’ve had this fantasy of it being this weird dream-like, half scripted, half documentary piece of work where you don’t really understand what’s bleeding into what, and what’s real and what isn’t. Because that’s sort of the theme of being on tour. That’s actually what it feels like. Like which thing is happening, and what thing isn’t happening.
What really struck me was how seamlessly you moved from what felt scripted, and what might’ve not been scripted. The writing and editing really stood out to me, especially in that scene with you and Olivia Wilde. The pacing kind of reminded me of “Portlandia” in that way, where the right cuts can evoke so much comedy. Do you have a hand in that? In the writing and editing or any kind of production?
Well, Bill Benz, who directed it, he worked on “Portlandia” — so it’s interesting that you picked up on that. But it was extremely loose. We did the entire thing during one week of touring, and then one or two shoot days afterwards. There was no big script, even with Olivia Wilde, and scenes like that, they were just talking points. We would do broad strokes. We knew that we wanted different managers who would represent different aspects of my personality. And we knew that we wanted to go through and sort of hire and fire them really rapidly.
The scene with Olivia Wilde, we were like, “okay, she’s the germaphobe character.” And, there were points that we were hitting, but there wasn’t much out there, we were just kind of feeling it out. And that concept even got literal, we would shoot documentary stuff, and based on the documentary stuff we shot, we would sit down and be like, “Okay, this is what’s going on,” and get a script going off that.
So for example, I was on the phone with my girlfriend having an argument about her throwing away my shit, which was like an actual documentary moment — and then we were like, “Well how do we twist this?” So maybe at the end, Rosie Perez is your girlfriend, and you guys have this argument about how complicated it is to be away and not be there for the ones you love, and it’s actually extremely serious. And she leaves you, and it’s a super surreal moment. Everything was born out of real moments. There’s nothing that happens, even in the scripts and stuff, that wasn’t true in some way.
The idea of extending your reality of being a performer into a fictional space is really interesting. Does it kind of give you a distance from your life on tour, to be doing this? Is it nice to step back from being one kind of performer to another, by filming while on tour?
No, because it all feels like the same thing. So with my music or with the show, it all feels like this really really intense line, where I’m trying to put something out there- or I am putting something out there, that has to be very very honest. Even though it goes through all these phases of ways that it could become not honest. That’s what it feels like to make music during a performance, you have all these people looking at you, and you’re playing these songs multiple times. It can so easily bleed together- sort of like the documentary and the scripted stuff, it could so easily become not real and not honest. I guess the center of my job is to keep things extremely honest. It almost felt like I was taking my work and just sort of like squaring it.
You address a lot of emotional and personal things, not only through your show, but also through your music, which obviously touches so many of your fans. Is it different being able to manifest those thoughts more directly in the show? Is that a different kind of experience?
It does bleed together as well, because the way I write lyrics– I’ve never been the kind of lyricist who weaves these grand stories, and they’re metaphorical, and they’re about other people. I literally write as if I’m writing in a diary, so it almost felt like a natural extension of that. Songs like “I Wanna Get Better” is me just sitting there explaining all the shitty things that have happened in my life. And because I write like that, that becomes a lot of interviews and conversations with the band.
So to have that element in this show, it wasn’t like a weird thing like “oh, I have to step out and explain what I’m talking about.” It feels more like this part of me where I’m constantly spewing out all these things I’m feeling. And it felt like it was coming from the same place. That’s what meant so much to me about the show, and working on it. There’s no part of it that’s like “oh I do this, and I’m trying to branch out and do that.” It’s all connected to one body of work. That’s always been my goal with everything I do. I just want it to be me, and I want it to exist in new and exciting ways. But I don’t wanna be an actor, I don’t want to have a show. I just want to find exciting new avenues to keep expressing these things that mean a lot to me.
Shooting in black and white feels so fitting for your show, but I can’t really put my finger on why. Could you speak a little more to how you reached that decision, or who reached that decision?
Well, the director brought me the idea, and I loved it immediately. I thought it really added to it. I think it separates us. I mean, we live in this age where there’s so much fucking content, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But there’s so much content. Every big corporation is giving a bunch of money to every band or every actor who ever wanted to go shoot some content, it’s like endless. I thought it just automatically separates us in a way. It’s like a dreamscape, a little bit. Also maybe it’s just for the simple mathematical fact that “x” amount of things are in color, and much less are in black and white.
I have to ask about The Bleacher’s warm up chant, or poem, that we see in one of the episodes before you guys go on stage. Is that a culmination of inside jokes over the years? How did you guys come to this tradition?
It’s tour by tour. I don’t remember how it started, but we get in a huddle, and we think of something that happened that day. So, if we were in an Uber that day, and the driver was blasting Rush, then maybe we’ll be like “Uber driver, Rush.” Or like “Bill Cosby’s a piece of shit!” It’s just something that happens. It can be anything. We pick a word or a phrase that defines that day, and then throughout the tour. On day one it’s one thing, on day two it’s two things — and then at the end of a 30 city tour, we’re shouting out like 30 inside jokes. And each thing that we say, immediately brings us back to that city. It’s one of my favorite things that we do.
“Thank You and Sorry” is available for free on Google Play.