Songwriter, musician and producer Jack Antonoff of Bleachers recently launched a podcast, “god and new jersey,” spotlighting his home state in conversation with many notable New Jersey-native artists. Although those featured on the show are renowned creatives, Antonoff remains consistent in his themes, discussing New Jersey culture and its respective influences and impact.
After having lived throughout different areas of North Jersey during his childhood, Antonoff continued to pursue music with his elementary school friends, forming a punk rock band named Outline in 1998. Since then, he has kept his heart close to New Jersey, recently working in collaboration with Bruce Springsteen in latest Bleachers’ single “Chinatown.”
When premiering the podcast on Nov. 23, Antonoff tweeted his inspiration and personal motives for creating the show:
im from a strange place. want to understand it. why i sound like it. why all the hope and pain that new jersey carries is so present. the way we hug nyc. so close but lightyears away. living in that big shadow. a place thats a punch line for some people, zion to others.
— jackantonoff (@jackantonoff) November 23, 2020
Each episode is roughly 10-20 minutes long, offering an excerpt of what appears to be the most interesting clips from their conversations. The tone is immediately established as casual, informal and perhaps intimate, as listeners tune into a phone call between the host and guest. In turn, the show feels as though the audience is merely listening in as two friends catch up and reminisce together over a shared memory, creating an air of familiarity and comfort for the listener.
The first installment of the segment introduces Glen Ridge, NJ musician Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend in a new, personal light. Moreover, this feature set the stage for what to expect from the podcast. As they praise “The Sopranos,” Koenig draws relation to the tri-state area, honoring the parallels he finds between the show and certain experiences specific to New Jersey. In particular, they talk about the drive from Manhattan to the state, and like the opening credits of “The Sopranos,” an intense level of transformation gradually takes place.
“That show belongs to humanity,” he says. “It’s an important work of art, it belongs to everybody. But when I think about something that really belongs to the tri-state area, it’s the opening credits. I think it’s maybe one of the best opening sequences of all time.”
Even more intriguing, however, the duo further discusses New Jersey through a geographical lens and the rather controversial implications of its proximity to New York. Antonoff specifically questions what defines the city’s legacy and explores how it may claim ownership over customs that originated in New Jersey. For example, its notorious pizza and bagels. Nonetheless, he does not fail to iterate the privilege of growing up next to New York.
Antonoff says, “[we] are either in view or seconds away from the kind of view people around the world would travel to see … where things are happening.”
Although Antonoff relates to the nostalgic narratives shared by his guests, his role as an interviewer is rather disciplined. He maintains the controlled yet powerful momentum of their dialogue, asking questions tailored to understanding the personal story of a New Jerseyan. In doing so, he outlines how this individual experience can be representative of many, further answering some of his questions about the state’s supposedly ineffable beauty and significance.
This way of both wondering and celebrating carries over to the most recent episode on Dec. 14 where bestselling author, George R.R. Martin, known for “Game of Thrones,” speaks on how growing up in Bayonne, NJ drove his creative interests.
“I would see the lights of Staten Island, which … had a romantic appeal to me,” Martin commented, reflecting on his limited yet inspiring childhood environment. “I would walk to school every day … and I would walk home. That was it. That was mostly my world … Of course, for me, the way I traveled was my imagination.”
Antonoff draws questions from this, asking how and if this landscape influenced Martin’s later work. Although this discussion is specific to Martin’s upbringing, it also adds depth to the regular beat of New Jersey life, therefore developing a sense of community.
Since then, Antonoff has appeared to take a hiatus and devote time to his musical career, having released two singles, “Chinatown” and “45.” It is speculated that this may indicate he is working to launch a new Bleachers album in 2021.
While it is unclear whether or not Antonoff will return to this independent project, it seems that he has fulfilled what he set out to do. Some of the most private matters from the lives of accomplished artists are ordinary and common ground for New Jersey residents. This relatability does not come without a feeling of pride, and during a pandemic, it is heartening to be connected once more.
Have you listened to the “god and new jersey” podcast? Let us know in the comments below.