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Hit pop-rock trio fun. aim to savor every moment

BRIAN MCCOLLUM, Detroit Free Press

Publication: The Day

Published January 28. 2013 4:00AM
Cheryl Gerber/AP Images for Allstate
Grammy-nominated band fun. performs at the Allstate Fan Fest in New Orleans on Jan. 1.

If time flies when you're in fun., just remember to take a lot of photos.

That might as well be the mantra for Andrew Dost, the Michigan-born multi-instrumentalist whose pop-rock trio blossomed into one of last year's mega successes, buoyed by the grand, ubiquitous single "We Are Young" and million-selling album "Some Nights."

For Dost and his East Coast-bred bandmates - vocalist Nate Ruess and guitarist Jack Antonoff - the ride has been "very much a blur," as Dost says.

The past year has already delivered a career's worth of highlights for fun. After a jump start from the Chevrolet Sonic's Super Bowl ad - which featured "We Are Young" - the ascent quickly accelerated: A gig on "Conan." Letterman. Leno. Six weeks atop the Hot 100. "Saturday Night Live." Six Grammy nominations. The Inaugural Ball for President Barack Obama.

"There's been a lot of different, strange, awesome steps along the way," says Dost. "Every moment this year has been so special. Sometimes it's hard to appreciate - we're so focused on working and doing a good job - but at the same time, we're trying to take a lot of pictures and remind each other how special this is."

That stems in part from a heart-to-heart last year with a top label executive who gave the band some key advice: While you keep your eyes on the prize, don't forget to soak up the moment.

Band members ran right out and bought disposable cameras.

"Any time you're in this industry, the future is very, very uncertain," Dost says. "We've been touring for so long - I'm almost 30 - and we know how rare this is, how different the climate is now. We don't know if there's going to be another Inaugural Ball in our future. So we really do want to try to savor these things."

Growing up in Frankfort (population 1,286), about 40 miles west of Traverse City, Mich., Dost says he was "kind of left to my own devices." With a Frankfort High class of just 38 kids, there weren't too many fellow travelers as Dost nurtured his rock obsessions and skills on a variety of instruments, from guitars to French horns.

"Learning to play instruments, discovering bands - it was all up to me," he recalls. "There were a few helpful teachers, and my parents were supportive. But for the most part, it was me sitting in my room and practicing, trying to learn new music."

By the time he graduated from Central Michigan University in 2005, he had his foot in the music-biz door via the band Anathallo, which went on to earn a solid name on the national indie-rock circuit. Dost, who studied in CMU's journalism program with an advertising focus, penned a year's worth of columns for the Traverse City Record-Eagle as Anathallo hit the road in 2006, chronicling his new life as a touring musician.

It was out on the road that he met his future bandmates, whose own groups - Ruess' the Format and Antonoff's Steel Train - often crossed paths. In 2008, they formed fun.

"We had really similar sensibilities - we could talk about the Beatles, but we could also talk about Ladwagon or (Dr. Dre's) 'The Chronic.' We had eerily similar music backgrounds, shared musical ideals. We just sort of reached each other's minds right off the bat."

The group's 2009 debut, "Aim and Ignite," earned strong reviews but middling sales success, peaking at No. 71 on the Billboard 200.

The triumph would come three years later with "Some Nights," as producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Alicia Keys) helped animate the group's musical vision: the idea of pop "as high art, something that wouldn't fall apart in a couple year's time," as Dost puts it. Inspired as much by Kanye's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" as by Queen, the band hit the studio with a mission.

The resulting sound - infectious pop hooks with a cinematic scope - was unapologetically grandiose. And it marks a rebellion against the too-cool-to-bother ethos that long dominated indie rock.

"We know it's OK to be passionate, to write a giant song, to play a stadium," says Dost. "We know some of it might come off as campy, but we know it's OK to shoot for those things. We have great respect for the fact that Queen wanted everyone in the stadium to stomp along to 'We Will Rock You.'

"I think it's getting cool to care again. You're right - that's a trend in rock, and I think it's good. The Beatles cared so much, Van Morrison cared so much. It's OK to put your heart on your sleeve, and even if we kind of overshoot sometimes, it's OK to try."

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