A little more than three years ago, The Format shocked the Valley with the announcement of their breakup. The duo of Nate Ruess and Sam Means seemed poised to put Arizona music in the national spotlight. They had established their own imprint, The Vanity Label, with national distribution through Nettwerk Records, and released an acclaimed sophomore album, Dog Problems.
After touring in support of the album and releasing a live DVD, it all just ended, with little explanation from the band beyond a statement on their website, which included, "Please understand this was a tough decision and we're both upset about it."
Three years later, Ruess still refuses to talk about the breakup. He offers little insight beyond saying that, back then, he enjoyed spending time in New York because that's where his girlfriend and best friends were. He eventually started living there during The Format's breaks from performing, and The Format "kind of evaporated."
Ruess saw the breakup as an opportunity to start something new, so he teamed up with Jack Antonoff of Steel Train and Andrew Dost of Anathallo to form the indie pop band fun. The band's sound isn't a huge departure from The Format's, with a breezy pop-rock vibe and Ruess' signature prose-like lyrics. Now as frontman in fun., Ruess calls the East Coast his home. As for the history of The Format, that seems to be the last thing on Ruess' mind.
"I don't know. There's no story," Ruess says when asked about the exact cause of the breakup. "I really can't remember it all now." Considering, he says, that he and Means still talk and meet for dinner when Ruess is in Phoenix, things could have ended up worse.
fun. released its debut album, Aim and Ignite, on indie label Fueled By Ramen in 2009, and has since toured with bands such as Jack's Mannequin and Paramore. The band is working on a follow-up disc that they hope to release by the end of September. Ruess says the new album is less frilly than previous material, and his love of hip-hop artists such as Nas influenced the production. "I think there was a lot more focus done trying to be a little more concise with my thought process and ideas," Ruess says.
In advance of the new record, fun. recently released the song "C'mon," an upbeat collaboration with current tourmates Panic! at the Disco. Panic! singer Brendon Urie says he grew up listening to The Format in high school, but Ruess says he's just as big a fan of the younger guys he's touring with. "I really love their new album [Vices & Virtues]," Ruess says. "It's pretty phenomenal. I love the dudes."
The bands play Tempe's Marquee Theatre on Friday. Ruess says fans can expect a taste of songs from fun.'s new album — plus, Urie adds, the bands have been performing "C'mon" together on stage. Ruess says audience members will also be treated to ever-expanding visual elements, as the band has a cool lighting set throughout the show.
Though Ruess wasn't too excited to talk about The Format, he did let readers in on some of his favorite spots to hit up whenever he's back in town, noting that Arizona food and his family are what he misses the most about the state. The heart of the Valley is where he likes to spend his time. "I usually just tell people to go to downtown Phoenix," Ruess says. "It's the place that I really like to go, and that means a lot to me."
Nate Ruess' favorite Phoenix haunts:
Breakfast: "Matt's Big Breakfast's (801 N. First St.) egg and cheese sandwich is to die for. You could get just a bowl of cereal there, and it's so good."
Lunch: "Pane Bianco (4404 N. Central Ave.) is amazing — best mozzarella sandwich."
Dinner: "Barrio Cafe (2814 N. 16th St.) is probably one of my three favorite restaurants in the world. Every time I go back, I absolutely have to go back there. The guacamole is insane, and I've tried to rip it off myself."
Coffee: "Lux (4404 N. Central Ave.) It's some of the best coffee I've ever had."
Mexican food: "I have to go to any of the Bertos joints because they have the best hot sauce. The red and green sauce is the best in the world. Mexican food is probably my favorite food, and Arizona does it better than anyone."
Drinking: "I like going to The Roosevelt (816 N. Third St.). I'm not much of a beer and wine guy, but we meet our friends there. It's a subdued bar situation."
Live music: "I love the Rhythm Room (1019 E. Indian School Rd.). I like the way it's built-out. I like a lot of the concerts put on there. It's very chill. It's nice because it has a patio right next to the stage. It's a really great room, and it has a great minimalist vibe. It seems as thought most of the shows I've seen there don't require a lot of high-tech people setting stuff up."
Shopping: "My girlfriend and I are into really any of the thrift shops along Seventh Avenue. For Christmas, we generally just buy a lot of old clothes and pass them around. I got her these wonderful ballerina paintings there, so she's really into it."
Music stores: "All of the independent music shops there, and Zia Records (multiple locations) and Stinkweeds (12 W. Camelback Rd.). I love Phoenix because of that — there's a really great independent music vibe between the fans and music retailers."
Sporting events: "US Airways Center (201 E. Jefferson Street). I've been to tons and tons of Suns games in my life. I'm not that into the Suns, because I'm not that into the owner, but I do appreciate the team, and I do appreciate what they've done lately, rallying around their president. I think it's wonderful for those guys to come out and support him."
In-state vacations: "Anywhere. Just getting out of Phoenix, whether it be to Sedona or Flagstaff or any of the surrounding areas. Tucson, I love it."