Nate Ruess Has Some Fun. At Zia Records

While the GOP presidential candidates debated in Mesa last night, folks at Zia Records in Chandler gathered for a different kind of spectacle: NYC-based pop band Fun. (featuring Nate Ruess formerly of Tempe rockers The Format) played an acoustic set and signed autographs for about 400 fans.

The band isn't playing a proper show until Friday, June 1 at Mesa Arts Center (where said Repubs goofed on each other last night), so the in-store appearance marked the only chance fans had to catch the band without road-tripping to Tucson in March. The band's profile has never been higher: The gigantic sounding "We Are Young" (featuring Janelle Monae) was featured in the Chevy Sonic Super Bowl commercial, and subsequently became the most downloaded song on iTunes. The band released Some Nights on Tuesday, February 21.

The line wrapped around the record store, kids stretching to the loading dock of the neighboring Basha's. Fans sat on folding chairs, strumming acoustic guitars and singing a campfire version of the Format hit "Tune Out," while further down the line some fans had a stereo blasting selections from Fun's debut album. One couple even camped out over night (in case the band decided to show up a day early, I guess). People really love this band.

While his bandmates sound checked with versions of Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," Ruess took some time away from visiting with his parents and grandmother to chat about the band's recent appearance on Conan, the breakout success of "We Are Young," and trying to top the high score on the Megatouch Erotic Photo Hunt, before softly rocking the crowd with renditions of "At Least I'm Not as Sad as I Used to Be," "All the Pretty Girls," "We Are Young," and more.

Up on the Sun: You guys played Conan last night. How did it go?

Nate Ruess: It was a disaster. A mad disaster.

Really? It didn't look a disaster.

That's the magic of television [Laughs]. That was our third take that we had to do, because our drum machine was breaking on stage, so it was just like...I was fuming. Just because I didn't want to waste everyone's time there. I was like, "Fine, give them the second take." But they let us to a third take, then I felt uneasy about performance of that. So I'm not ever going to see that. I don't want to look [Laughs]

Did you meet Conan?

Yeah, very briefly.

Had you ever met him or seen him around?

No, no. That was my first time, and it was [pauses] He was pretty weird. I think he's super friendly, but I might have been giving off a vibe that I was too cool for school or something. But my vibe inside was, "Holy shit, I can't believe I'm doing this." I was trying not to sweat all over the camera. So he was like, "You don't have to be cool," and I was like, "No no, trust me, I'm not cool. I'm freaking out."

I overheard one of the dudes saying that one of the kids in the children's choir had a meltdown.

Who told you that? [Laughs] It was cool that we were able to get those kids to come and do that. But yeah, in rehearsal, the day before this poor kid [had problems.] He was just a short, short kid, like the tiniest of the kids that would have been up he had every right to feel that way. [Laughs]

If you're stressing out, imagine his situation.

I'm freaking out, so imagine this poor kid just going nuts inside. [In rehearsal] someone put earplugs in his ears, and he started crying, because I think it was a new feeling for him. We were like "Oh buddy, no, don't sweat it." But when we got to Conan the next day we saw them as we were driving up and rolled down the window and said "Hey buddy you okay?" He had a very uncomfortable look and we were like, "He's not going to do it." And sure enough...but it was okay, being short one voice in a children's choir.

So obviously, the new single "We Are Young" is massive. Did you have a sense of that when you were recording it? Maybe half way through when you realized, "You know what, this song is gigantic?"

No...I never really think that way. The song started out because I sang it to our producer Jeff (Bhasker) when I first met him, and it was only he and I in New York. Andrew and Jack hadn't even heard the song yet. Jeff and I started recording it, and we finished that chorus later that night as I remember it. The whole situation was just surreal, when it was happening. He was freaking out about the song and I just didn't hear it. [Laughs] I was like, it sounds exactly the way I want it to sound, but I don't know if that makes it a hit song or not. If I've made four albums, I would say there have been at least ten songs as catchy as that one...

You never know when something is going to resonate with people. It seems like it's done that.

Yeah, everybody else felt so great about it. The head of our label called me the next morning just freaking out. So I was like, "Oh there's the single. For the rest of the album I don't have to worry about writing any more singles."

So the record is different than Aim and Ignite. Did you have kind of a sense that you wanted to make something very straightforward? It's got classic pop themes and melodies.

There was an emphasis on Elton John. I write [songs] in my head and I don't play any instruments I have to end up explaining it, and there's a uniqueness in that. That's why there's always been kind of a theatrical feel and ups and downs, because I don't have a real frame of reference other than what I hear in my head. Usually when I'm ready to sing it out, it's got to sound exactly how it sounds in my head. There's not any time to put it on a click track or quantize it or stuff. With this album, I wanted to make a conscious effort... It wasn't that I wanted to quantize the songs, but I wanted to take a more classicist approach in the songwriting.

Were you watching the Super Bowl when the commercial was featured?

I was, yeah. I was at home in my apartment in New York. I knew it was supposed to come on at some point, and then it did, and I was like, sweet. I wonder if the Giants are going to win.

That's how it felt for you? It wasn't like that scene in That Thing You Do where everyone is jumping around when the song on the radio?'s been ten years. Nothing is going to impress me at this point. It's all...constantly just...what's next and how do you sustain it? I want to be able to do this forever, not for a great week. I want this to be a long career.

Is it hard to do that at all? To just keep your head down and keep pushing?

Not at all. When we were making the first album, we would go to this bar on the Lower East Side and they had the Megatouch machine, so we would do the Erotic Photo Hunt game and try and get the top score every single time. And I think I remember one time someone was like, "Oh we're about to get it." And I was like, "You say nothing." I don't think we ended up getting it, but from that point on it was almost like the same thing. Just don't say anything, just keep going until you get the high score, and when you get it, just try and get a higher score.

I'm sure it feels good to come back here and see your family, though I know you haven't had a chance to settle in.'s a drag that I have to come back to Phoenix under these circumstances. It's not bad [because of the fans] but I have a two-hour window to see my family.

There's kids out there with guitars and camped out. It's something when you see folks genuinely excited about stuff.

That's how it's been. We feel insanely lucky that people come to these things and our shows. It's a real melting pot of people, you're not just looking at one scene. And I've never belonged to anything, so it's cool that all kinds of people and come and be comfortable.

Fun. performed Thursday, February 22, at Zia Records in Chandler.

Follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.