Jack Antonoff Talks Mixing Documentary, Dreams and Scripted Comedy in Thank You and Sorry

Gregory E. Miller
Courtesy of Google Play

When Jack Antonoff, the frontman for the band Bleachers and the lead guitarist for fun., set out to make a music documentary, he wanted to do things a little differently. Sure, there'd be the beloved behind-the-scenes access of popular tour docs, but he'd also blend in scripted scenes, representing the "dream-like state" of his life. The high-concept result is Thank You and Sorry, a new six-part web series streaming for free on Google Play, beginning today. Concert footage and personal moments like Antonoff arguing on the phone with his girlfriend Lena Dunham are supplemented with surreal scenes featuring actors like Rosie Perez, Colin Quinn and Olivia Wilde. We caught up with Antonoff to get to the root of his passion project.

How did you come up with this concept?

It was something that I had been fantasizing about for a long time. I love documentaries—more than anything, I just sit in bed all night and watch documentaries. I always wanted to do something, but I always had the concept of it sort of bleeding into a more bizarre sort of dream-like state that speaks to what touring actually feels like. Being on tour and making records and doing this in general, there's just endless moments where I'm like, "God, did anybody else f—king see that?" All these crazy things happen, and I wanted to find something that blurred all these lines of reality and not reality, and do it in a very literal way.

So is this mixing of scripted and reality something you've always been interested in personally?

Yeah, because it feels a lot like my life. I constantly feel like I'm in this weird middle ground between being a performer and living an actual life where I'm not performing, trying to blend those two things together. There isn't much of a cut-off in my work because what I do is very literal. As a lyricist and as a songwriter, I'm talking about the most specific things that have happened to me. They're very personal and occasionally extremely tragic. There's no line between me and the performer. There's no alter-ego, so it's always this weird blend. It's sort of like the passion and challenge of my life is to figure out how it all exists.

Is the goal that viewers aren't able to tell the difference between what's real and not on the show?

Not necessarily [to] not be able to tell the difference, but to be able to understand where the bleed is. Because [when] we're on tour, it's kind of like we're in this constant performative state, but then we're also in this like weird, nothing's-going-on, on tour state. I say "scripted" in a loose way because we didn't actually script much, it was just set[ting] up scenarios that were kind of coming out of what we were shooting as a documentary. That stuff, in a way, is even more honest because the documentary stuff is sort of existing on the surface, like peering into what we're actually doing. But the scripted stuff, that's the stuff that exists in my head and really concerns me and feels more like an expression of the things I'm actually freaking out about or actually thinking about. That feels like really showing people what's going on inside me.

Were you worried at all about getting too personal or revealing too much of yourself?

No, because I think I have crossed that line long ago in music. I don't weave stories about other people that are metaphoric. [My lyrics] read like a diary, like, they're very specific recounts of things that have happened. That's the only way I've ever been able to connect, that's the only thing that makes me feel less alone in the world.

Why is the whole thing in black and white? Is it because you dream in black and white?

I think I do, which I didn't realize until we worked on this. But I dream more in concepts than in specifics. My dreams are never, "I'm here, and it's vivid, and I can see it and smell it and touch it." It's more like an idea of something that has happened, and I'm living this idea. So for example, in the series, I keep having this dream where I cheated on my girlfriend, but I don't remember doing it. I just know that I've done it and I've ruined my life. And that's exactly the way I dream—it actually is a recurring dream with me—where the issues are feelings and that feeling is very black and white.

What is the last thing you said "thank you and sorry" for?

I say it all day, every day. It's like if my life is going into a fadeout, the final thing you hear is, "Thank you and sorry!"