Photos and words by Colleen Callahan
I often liken growing up in Centerville, Ohio to something straight out Glee. You had your popular kids, your jocks, your nerds, your every stereotype-under-the-sun. I’d go to school each day struggling to impress my teachers, trying to keep up with the latest Abercrombie line and playing two sports in any given season to get a coveted, yet expected D1 scholarship. The constant worry of never attaining perfection in my small world made me feel inadequate among those who I thought had.
Fast forward to this past Saturday night in Los Angeles, and as I sat in LACMA’s Bing Theater watching The Breakfast Club to the tune of Bleachers’ original live-scoring, I recognized these people. The jock, the beauty, the weirdo, the nerd and the rebel onscreen were all from my past. However, in this round of high school, as characters revealed their true insecurities and issues it affirmed how we’re not just stereotypes. We’re all just people looking for connection and love.
The epiphanies and honesty each character faced and revealed was something I couldn’t do until I really found music. Sure, I sang in a choir and listened to the radio and did a musical here and there growing up, but it wasn’t until the year I left undergrad that I actually started listening. While a song could be bubbling pop or soaring rock on the outside, it could be telling a tale of deep sadness or trouble within. I finally felt like I could relate to someone, these artists who were baring their souls but seeking truth and hope.
This type of honesty is something I deeply respect in Bleachers, also known as Jack Antonoff’s solo outfit. Antonoff’s music consistently opens the door for his fans to make it ok to talk. I’ll let you read his Instagram post about the latest single, “Don’t Take The Money,” as evidence.
hi. today i'm releasing the first song from an album that has taken every piece of me to make. there are endless things i'm dying to tell you about the past two years of making this album – some incredible and filled with joy, some deeply painful. but i'll wait on that because today is just about this introduction. don't take the money is the front door to this house. it's a big strange house but this is how i believe it should be entered. dttm is something i say in my head a lot. it's not about actual money. it's about following a light. a gut feeling. not following a deep gut feeling destroys your art and the people around you. so i say it in my head constantly. sometimes about something very specific relating to music, sometimes about a bigger question about marriage or depression :):). point is, it's become my phrase to stay on track. specifically in don't take the money i'm taking about my relationship. verses go through the past, pre is an explosive fight and the chorus is that moment when you hit rock bottom and everything is clear. you know that feeling? when you've tried your best to destroy yourself and someone else but it's too strong to be destroyed? when you've tried to fling you a your partner out of an emotional window but you keep landing in heaven? that's when it's all clear. as much as i say don't take the money in my head, i also can beg it of the people i love. that's what i'm doing in that chorus. beyond the lyrics, so much of everything i'm working on is meant to have an intense push and pull between euphoria and sadness. dttm is the front door because it hold both of those feelings so specifically. that is the core of bleachers. ok. i'm in bed and just woke so i'm very clear right now. no strange baggage yet from the today. i've missed sharing music with you. sometimes you have to go into a hole and gather things before you present them. gotta find things that are the ones you need to present. i'm ready to show you all the ideas of gathered. here's the first – and here's tour dates so we can celebrate it all together. much more to come. god this is such a bizarre and wonderful feeling. ranting. sorry. love you very much. jack x dttm x
He’s one of those artists who’s able to illustrate how those in music have to work in music. It’s our lifeblood. It’s our only voice and way to make sense of demons in our heads, the ones that run especially rampant in high school and don’t ever quite let go, no matter how much you think you should grow out of it.
Case in point: I’ve spoken with Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff twice in my life, albeit briefly. The first time in 2015, I got to ask him one question over Skype for a branded web series. I asked him, “Your music has often drawn comparisons to popular ’80s movies, so if there’s one movie you wish you would’ve scored which is it?”
In a response which eerily told the future, Antonoff thoughtfully replied with, “It would be The Breakfast Club, because I love how the whole thing is in one space the whole time. So it seems like, just as a fan of that movie, the music really kind of guides it in a way. It could’ve been very monotonous but it isn’t, and I constantly write from the point of view of that age. I’m always thinking of my life at that time. I think a lot of us do.”
This brings us to Saturday’s set, where Antonoff got to live out such a wish on his birthday weekend. The first song was a completely original track with vocals and set the tone for the night. While any band could bombastically steal the film with a completely new sound, Bleachers reinvented the original while never straying too far. This is understandable, since Antonoff routinely cites John Hughes’ movies as inspiration for his own work. From playing a doubtful warble of synths when Mr. Vernon stepped into frame, to inserting Bleachers’ track “Wake Me” while the five students bided their time in detention with naps, shoe fires and dandruff sketches, Antonoff respected the vibe and utilized appropriate emptiness which characterizes many ’80s movies.
Throughout the night, you could see the band watching and enjoying the movie too, mouthing along word-for-word to Brian’s ramblings and breaking into fits laughter. However they were always focused on the score, having rehearsed but tellingly going with the right tone felt within a given moment.
As the film concluded, the moment fans were hoping for arrived: the live debut of Bleachers’ latest single “Don’t Take the Money.” As the credits rolled, we heard what must have been the way Antonoff first played it in full: intimately and empathetically, like how most songs start out in his Brooklyn apartment. Trust me though, the track is primed for its anthemic debut on the festival and tour circuit this year, where we are all ready to welcome Bleachers back.
Oh, and that second time I talked with Antonoff? It was on Saturday. While the crowd sat waiting amidst excited, silent anticipation I yelped out “‘Don’t Take The Money’ is really good!” Antonoff acknowledged me, asked for my name (“Colleen!” I yelped again, waving in the dark) and carried his stage banter into the performance. I mean, I just had to let him know.