Fun.'s Nate Ruess on sports, amazing year

Nate Ruess of Fun. said 2012 was a double-edged sword: Great success and great stress. Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

When you have one single -- "We Are Young" -- that sold more than 5 million copies in the United States and a second single -- "Some Nights" -- that sold 3.5 million copies, you'd think it's been a great year.

But success is a double-edged sword for the New York City band Fun., which was formed three years ago.

"I suppose it's been a successful year and easily our best year of music," lead singer Nate Ruess said. "But it's also our most challenging year, too. With good comes the bad. We had no time off and it's been a real strain on our relationships and our families."

Ruess, formerly of The Format, formed Fun. with Andrew Dost and Jack Antonoff. Their debut was "Aim and Ignite" in 2009, but they hit it big in 2012 with the February release of the album "Some Nights."

Three weeks ago, the band was nominated for six Grammy Awards, including record, song and album of the year, best new artist, best pop duo/group performance for "We Are Young" and best pop vocal album.

"From an accolade standpoint, I hope this isn't the biggest year we'll have," Ruess said. "I still have some depressive moments but it's been an amazing time."

On Jan. 1, Fun. will perform a free concert in New Orleans at the Allstate Fan Fest (a two-day event affiliated with the Sugar Bowl). The event will be live-streamed on the web on the Allstate site.

Playbook talked with Ruess about sports, looking back on the year and what's ahead.

How big of a sports fan are you?

"I was on ESPN.com this morning! I'm a crazy basketball fan. I'm as obsessed about basketball as much as I am about music. I live in New York but I'm a Toronto Raptors fan. That's really the only team I cheer for. Sounds kind of weird, right? This is how much I love basketball: I don't have time for any other sport."

So what will it be be like playing in New Orleans in front of a lot of college football fans?

"I hope it's not hostile. The college football environment scares me. I never went to college. I went straight out of high school right on tour. This will be interesting. I can't wait to see what it's about. I am a fan of Queen's 'We Will Rock You.' Hopefully, one day we can have our own version of that kind of song."

You've been in the music business for more than 10 years. Why do you think this past year was so special?

"I really don't know. There is strength in the fact that I don't know. The writing process really was lightning in a bottle. I was so inspired. I wrote the album in a month. We were sitting in the room and not leaving for days. We didn't have a lot of time to think whether this would be a hit or not. As musicians, we gave up a long time ago trying to figure out what makes a hit song. We realized that didn't define us. I think maybe this year the music, in general, was getting a little too monotonous, so they gravitated to our songs. We don't write songs to make hits. We write songs because we're artists."

What was your reaction when fans started thinking "We Are Young" is an uplifting song?

"That was the weird thing when 'We Are Young' came out and did so well. On our last album, people paid a lot of attention to the lyrics. I guess, on the surface, this song was something easy to attach to. It's been crazy to see the song as positive. I saw it as a sad song but the audience has been redirecting it, singing it back, as something positive. That's when we started to play it as a positive song. We all need a little positivity. I'm always very cynical. I see myself as a pessimist. But if people are chewing it up and spitting it back out very happy, we will gladly regurgitate it, too."

What about the negative reaction to Kesha's "Die Young," which you helped write, in which radio stations have stopped playing it because of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy?

"I only found out about it the other day. I'm not surprised. It's an unfortunate coincidence. Because of Newtown, the song means nothing to me now. I don't really want to think about it."

So after the bowl game, what does 2013 hold for you guys?

"It'll be a lot more touring. Before, we had about 1,000 people at our shows. We released this album and things got crazy. Now we have no idea how many people we can put into a room. It's going to be exciting. It's all a stepping-stone. It's been very gradual. When 'We Are Young' came out, we started seeing 3,000 people at the shows. Then 'Some Nights' comes out and there are 5,000 at the shows. We're now looking for theaters that hold about 7,000 people. It's been great. We're happy where we're at, but we don't know if it's a barometer of where we are. We'll spend the rest of the year figuring it out. Then, we'll start recording a new album. We hope this is really just the beginning."

Final question: What's with the period at the end of your name?

"When we were forming the band, we Google searched the word 'fun.' We didn't find any other band after five pages. We started touring and we show up in Norway and someone asked us, 'You know there is a band here and they want to start a fight with you.' They asked us to make a subtle change, so we added the period."