Sunday Night Blues: the phenomena of anxiety, sadness, or despair that hits prior to the start of a new week and toward the end of a weekend. Still, Saturdays always fascinated Jack Antonoff more. “Sunday night blues are for people who love the weekend and are sad it’s over,” says the Bleachers frontman, writer, and producer. “Saturday night blues are for people who can’t find their way in the weekend.”
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Serving as a metaphor for all the bigger pictures on Bleachers’ third album, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night is a collection of imprinted memories, familial flux, shifting relationships, and mental anguish.
“I was combing through what degree do I have to exist in all of this darkness to feel myself and get these ideas out,” shares Antonoff, who says Saturday nights as a child were rarely what he saw in movies. “You’re looking for the breakthrough. You’re coming from the other side, that feeling that holds you back is that kid that can’t figure it out. That’s how I grew up. I felt that way musically as well. I just wanted to get out and start my life and had this phrase [album title] spinning around in my head for a while now.”
Saturday Night was some time coming, and another turn for the Antonoff, who has kept busy since the band’s Gone Now in 2017, with long time collaborator Taylor Swift, most recently co-writing and co-producing Swift’s 2020 double release of folklore and evermore—Antonoff recently co-produced St. Vincent’s Daddy’s Home and co-wrote and co-produced Lorde’s upcoming Solar Power.
Assembled by Antonoff more than a year ago, the 10 songs of Saturday Night shift from depression to hope and a myriad of in-betweens. Lyrically and sonically, opener “91,” co-written and sung with the author Zadie Smith, is the overture setting the tone of breaking into the next phase of life.
“The simplest way to put is, it’s all the sadness and all the joy that comes with entering another phase,” says Antonoff. “The image I had in my head is knocking at a door that you want to open and the push and pull of trying to get through it with all your baggage… you’re put in the position where you have to leave some of the past and bring some with you.”
Where “91” is a narrative of family ties, “45” spins through a breakup in relation to a 45 record—Always holding your love supreme / Old 45’s / Spinnin’ out of time… I’m still on your side.
“The hook is me saying ‘I’m still on your side,’ which is an interesting feeling with a breakup,” he says. “When a breakup happens, you’re obviously combing through only the darker parts of each other. It’s not a time when people are digging through the wonderful parts of each other, so here is a person I know and care about, and we spent all this time treating each other like villains it makes you want to shout ‘I’m still on your side.’”
The 45 record is another passing metaphor that became a title. “There’s something about that one line almost like a throwaway line,” he says, “like a 45 spinning out of time.” Antonoff took similar liberty on “91,” a reference to the Gulf War, his mother dancing around, and a metaphor for his family dysfunctions. “There’s enough going on in the song that I don’t have to dress up the title,” says Antonoff. “If anything I can play it down.”
On “Chinatown,” a brazen duet with Bruce Springsteen leaves his heart planted across the Hudson But a girl like you / Could rip me out of my head / Black tears on your cheek / I want them in my bed with the chorus nod to the album title. Lana Del Rey joins on “Secret Life,” an ode to a less chaotic, no-drama courtship pleading I’m sick of chasing after holy ghosts / Been trying to tell you I want you the most. “Secret Life” marks a reunion for the duo since Antonoff co-produced Rey’s sixth album Norman Fucking Rockwell and most recent Chemtrails Over the Country Club in 2020.
Through Saturday Night is the push and pull inside and out of depressive states on “Stop Making this Hurt” and the dejected drift of lonely ghosts on “Strange Behavior,” all around to the “Big Life” inferences of love and fulfilling lives.
Writing is unlike anything in life, besides falling in love, says Antonoff. “It’s one of the most powerless things you can do that leaves you feeling very powerful,” he says. “I never felt more powerful when it happens, and I never felt more powerless the rest of the time wondering if it’s going to happen again.”
Clearing the common misconception that he writes for other artists, in reality, he spends most of the time writing alongside them.
“I’ve never written a song and said ‘so and so should sing this,’ which is a very different craft,” he says. “If I sit down and write a song, it’s my song. Writing in a room with somebody is a really different experience. If you’re going to write a song that has perspective and value, it has to be coming from someone.”
He adds, “When you’re in a room with someone there’s the clear distinction of this is you and this is me. That’s why I write things that are hyper-personal and tough for anyone to sing but me.”
Then, there are different phases of an album and it’s hard to pinpoint when it becomes an album. “I’m always writing,” he says. “I’m always hoping for an album, but that doesn’t mean much until you see the framework. Then there’s that wild excitement. It’s like you’re doing a puzzle and you really start to see the shape of it, and there’s also the intensity of knowing what you want you want to do, which can be really intense on your body and mind. When you understand exactly the story you need to tell and what that’s gonna sound like, those are two different things that have to seamlessly fit together.”
Some songs stick around, while others are written and done. A song can either be an important statement piece for an album, or has yet to find a place.
“There’s a huge difference between what makes a great song and what makes a great album,” says Antonoff. “You can very often find yourself in a position where you can feel that you have this perfect little song but there’s no place on the album you’re making and it’s a really interesting place to be.” The trick, he says, is to make peace with this if your intention is to make an album.
“Songwriting is maddening,” Antonoff says. “It’s something you chase, and it’s hard to connect to the why and how or when it happens. It’s also scary because it’s clearly not forever. I think for awhile, I had more of a romantic hope about how you could make it happen… but you can’t know when it’s going to come and you don’t know why, and it can drive you insane.”
Photo by Daniel Silbert