It's Her Spotlight, The Band Just Lives In It
Summer's slowing down, but the band fun. is still cruising at a high speed. Along with Weekend Edition Saturday, NPR Music has been following fun. this summer, checking in with the band as it continues on its world tour.
Why fun.? Because no touring band is having a moment quite like this one. The trio at the center of the band — Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost — have been in moderately successful indie bands for nearly a decade. But this year, fun. stepped up its ambition and got results.
The huge-sounding "We Are Young," the lead-off single to the band's second album, Some Nights, soundtracked a Super Bowl ad and topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for six consecutive weeks in the spring. Spots on half-a-dozen major festival bills and appearances on Letterman, Kimmel and Fallon followed.
This week, the album's second single made it to the top ten and the band played a concert on a decommissioned aircraft carrier/museum hosted by Stephen Colbert. The performance was preceded by an interview in which the host reclined on a tiny bunk below the three band members' dangling legs.
Lighting director Jackie Finney joined the fun. tour in February, and she says she's barely seen her apartment since.
"To get to know them ... and see how hard they work every day, it's great to see such good people have such great success, because they've earned it," Finney says.
Like other members of the band, she says that she can see her contributions during the show every night. "It's really fulfilling when I've worked all day and got this whole lighting rig up and focused it regardless of any issues that arise, when people come in and they're freaking out and they're so excited, it's kind of like, 'This is awesome. I helped do this.'"
Since the band's tour began, the dozen members of the company (which include the band members and crew, including guitar tech Shane Timm) have squeezed into a single tour bus, with all the equipment in a trailer. This week things got a little roomier. There's now a second bus and a semi-truck to carry, of course, more equipment.
It's Finney's department that got the boost. Until now, the band's light show has been contained to what Finney could pack onto the stage — spotlights to illuminate the band from the sides, or from the foot of the stage, and a few video screens at the back of the stage.
It's possible to pre-program a computer to make the lights automatically correspond with changes in a song, but Finney says "that's a really boring way to run a show." With fun., she's running things manually.
"When the show starts, anything that happens with the lights — any time they change, any time something different happens in any part of the song — that is me controlling it all," she says.
Her new package includes overhead lights and a feature she's particularly excited about: a set of "kryptons," towers of white lights that, when placed behind the band, are powerful enough to create a wall of light.
The new lighting package is a particularly well-suited metaphor for the band's new status. Or maybe a few possible metaphors; choose one: A bigger spotlight? Weightier cargo to serve as a constant reminder of increased expectations? More complex machinery to suggest the Chaplin-esque cogs in the industry they have become?
Perhaps that's a bit much. Anyway, when I speak with Finney, she doesn't have time to vet overwrought parallels to the task immediately before her. She's in a warehouse in Los Angeles, and in the background I can hear the sound of metal echoing off concrete walls. It's just after one in the afternoon in L.A., and already, it's been a long day.
"I was here until four in the morning last night," Finney says. "We had, like, an 18-hour day and our first show with this package is tomorrow in San Diego."
Finney barely has time to talk — she's taking a quick break in between programming the lighting cues for every song the band will play on the tour — 21 originals and a few well-chosen covers.
Usually, this kind of work happens well before a tour starts, but fun.'s rise occurred smack in the middle of the band's marathon tour. That mean Finney's now got just a two-day window between concerts in Southern California to come up with a light show that will provide a visual counterpoint to every big moment in every song on the set list.
How exactly does that work? Take an upbeat song like the current single, "Some Nights."
"It's such a big hit when they play it, and I always start the lights sort of in the crowd when that drumbeat kicks in, because that's when the song also heightens to a new level," Finney says. "So I have white light and blue light that are kind of blinking on and off real fast. It's an intensity effect. Everything's just going fast and crazy and everyone's singing along."
"For a really slow ballad, there's more ambers and magentas that are just kind of soft and really beautiful together," she says. But "I wouldn't say it's just the color. It's really a mixture of the effect and the song and the energy on stage as well as the energy in the crowd."
If the stage separates the band from the audience, Finney's lights can break down the space, bleeding from one to the other. Helping to turn a club into a communal space is a big part of her job.
"I'm really excited to see how the audience responds, because usually when you have a strobe effect or something really intense, you can tell," she says. "It just heightens the excitement and people, they yell louder or sing louder, so I'm interested to see how the crowd is going to respond to these new fixtures."
Over the next two weeks, she'll get a chance to see. fun. plays two more shows in Los Angeles this weekend, then travels up the West Coast and into Canada before completing the tour over Labor Day weekend.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
FUN.: (Singing) Tonight, we are young...
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
By now, you've probably heard this song over and over and over again - in commercials, on the radio, on TV shows. The tune, "We Are Young," shot the band fun. into stardom. So this summer we're following fun. on their world tour, to see how long they can keep that fame going.
As bands get bigger, so does the size of their road crew. On this check-in, we spoke with Jackie Finney, who's the band's lighting director.
JACKIE FINNEY: Basically, when a band hires a designer, they put together a look that - you know, when you go to see a live show, that's what you see. It can be anything from video to special effects - like, confetti - to the lighting fixtures. And we go into a warehouse, and we build the entire thing, and we set up the lighting console. And we program, cue-by-cue, every single step of every single song. So if you have, like, a really upbeat song - like, for example, their new single "Some Nights." It's such a big hit when they play it. And I always start the lights sort of in the crowd, when that drum beat kicks in.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME NIGHTS")
FUN.: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. This is it, boys, this is war. What are we waiting for?
FINNEY: So for a song that's really upbeat and moving fast, I would do something like a white light, that's going to be bright and in people's faces. And then for a really slow ballad, there is more of like, ambers and magentas that are just like, kind of soft and just really beautiful.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARRY ON")
FUN.: (Singing) Well, I woke to the sound of silence, the covers were cutting like knives in a fistfight. And I found you with a bottle of wine, your head in the curtains and heart like the Fourth of July. You swore and said we are not, we are not shining stars. This I know, I never...
FINNEY: For me, it's really fulfilling when I've worked all day and, you know, got this whole lighting rig up, when people come in and they are freaking out, and they're so excited; it's kind of like, this is awesome; like, I helped do this, you know? So as the shows get bigger and the crowds get bigger, it's just more fulfilling to see more people enjoy your hard work as well as the band's hard work.
SIMON: Jackie Finney, lighting director of the band fun. You can hear more from the band, and see a live performance, at nprmusic.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CARRY ON")
FUN.: (Singing) Carry on, carry on.
SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.