By Brad Nelson
The lighting of Electric Lady Studios gives everything in its interior an autumnal blush, including Nate Ruess, as he approaches a microphone at the front of the room. A cap throws his features into a fingernail of shadow that’s occasionally penetrated by his glassy eyes. He thanks individuals from his record company, Fueled by Ramen, for allowing him to carefully shape his debut record Grand Romantic, which at this point, in mid-May, a little over a month before its release date, he’s still micro-adjusting on his phone.
“It’s in a folder that I’ve named ‘my baby’,” he says, and his smile briefly overwhelms his face. He gathered Grand Romantic together from various sources: Many of the songs were theoretically intended for the next album by his band fun., including “Harsh Light,” which fun. performed on The Tonight Show last year. At Electric Lady, he sings the first single from the record “Nothing Without Love.” Ruess doesn’t particularly need the microphone; his voice saturates a room.
I saw him do this once, three years ago, when fun. were just about to release Some Nights. Ruess, Jack Antonoff, and Andrew Dost performed three songs from the record, unamplified, from a pit in the center of a bar in the Lower East Side. Ruess’ voice is bright and depthless, like a concentrated beam of light, but also conversational and crowded with syllables. He grew up singing in punk bands, where one’s voice is only as capable as the amount of information packed into it. Ruess has often been compared to Freddie Mercury, and like him, his voice can endure impressive aerial flights. It can also be compellingly processed by Autotune into ribbony vowels, as it was on fun.’s “Stars,” Ruess’ digressive tribute to Kanye West’s “Runaway.”