“I’m in Berlin right now, so forgive me if there’s a
slight delay,” says Andrew Dost, keyboardist for six-time
Grammy-nominated band Fun. Since their runaway smash single “We Are
Young” catapulted the New York trio to international acclaim, Dost has
been losing sleep and gaining frequent flier miles on the band’s nearly
non-stop worldwide tour. With their latest album Some Nights
chock full of pop hooks, killer keyboards, and soaring Queen-like vocal
harmonies, it’s little wonder why. On a brief break between overseas
shows, Dost made time to fill Keyboard in on what it’s like in the eye of this sudden success hurricane.
I read that all three of you were in semi-successful
bands before Fun. How has the transition from working musicians to
overnight stars gone?
The funny thing is, all three of us were very happy with
what we had going on—either in our two previous bands, or in the early
stages of Fun. We had a loyal fan base, albums we were proud of, and the
ability to tour successfully. So I think our success was already there,
it was just on a different scale. It’s all about being happy with
whatever stage you’re playing on. For us, we still know that our first
order of business is making our fans and ourselves happy.
Who were some of the keyboardists that influenced you as you were developing your own sound?
I grew up playing trumpet in a band and then later I
learned how to play guitar. I had taken piano lessons when I was in the
second grade, but had basically given up on them after a few years to
focus on guitar. But when Ben Folds Five appeared, I was reminded of how
versatile and cool the piano could be, and how much you could really
express on it. So they were a huge influence on me. I also want to
compose for film, so many of my influences in terms of texture, harmony,
and orchestration come from composers like Mark Mothersbaugh—who’s my
all-time favorite—as well as Danny Elfman, John Williams, and François
de Roubaix, who did a lot of interesting work with unusual
instrumentation. I think that’s one of the big things I bring to the
table in Fun.: a cinematic, orchestral approach to sound. A lot of that
comes from composers like Debussy, whose work is just beyond perfect. But I love modern stuff, too. I love the Moog synthesizer, so I love Matt Sharp, and the Rentals.
Were there any interesting or unusual pieces of gear used on Some Nights?
In my mind, the album was mostly about the Minimoog
Voyager, which is all over the record and played a critical role on the
low end. We also used a lot of the Roland Juno-6 and the old Roland
SH-101, which is awesome. I just bought the modern version, the SH-01,
which is great, too.
Do you remember the first keyboard you ever owned?
My parents had a tiny white Casio keyboard when I was five
that could make those crazy Samba beats. I don’t remember what model it
was, but I think I wrote my first “songs” on it. I think there’s no
keyboard or instrument out there that you can laugh at. You can get
amazing sounds out of just about anything. These days I’m
traveling with just a little M-Audio KeyStation Mini 32-key controller. I
use it to compose on the road with Pro Tools and Sibelius.
What gear is in your touring rig with Fun.?
I’m using a Yamaha CP5 for acoustic piano sounds, which we
just recently put inside of a gorgeous Grand Illusion case to make it
look like a real piano. I think the CP5 sounds and feels incredible. Its
action is almost exactly like the Hallet, Davis, and Co. upright I have
at home. I also use the Juno-6, as well as a Yamaha S90ES for a lot of
our other sounds like flutes and harmonium. They stopped making that
version of the S90 about two years ago, but I think it’s just the best.
The sounds are incredible, and the navigation and editing of patches is
really easy. We also use a Minimoog Voyager, but our other
keyboardist-slash-guitarist plays that one because there’s no room for
it on my side of the stage.
How do you approach finding your own unique sounds on the keyboard?
I think you need to look in lots of different places, from
searching thrift stores for unusual instruments to being unafraid to
mess with presets or have your piano sound a little out of tune. Each
song is special and has to have its own sonic landscape. Every song
should be its own little “ecosystem,” and every sound plays a role in
What have you learned that might help readers hoping to have a career like yours?
I think first and foremost I’ve learned to be nice.
You bump into a lot of people on the road, but the ones you want to
work with over and over again are the nice ones. So be nice, respectful,
and organized. I think that’s a really important lesson to learn.
Also, tours and album cycles are long. So if you’re
not thrilled with the music you’re playing every night, it can change
your whole attitude. You have to put in the work beforehand to make sure
you love the songs. Even when things weren’t going so well
business-wise, I was really proud of the music in both this band and my
old band. That happens by putting care into every detail of your songs,
and building them to last. It’s about crafting parts that will stand up
over time. I think musicians have to pursue perfection in craft just
like, say, a chemist. You have to show up every day and push and push
and never give up. I think that’s true of each song, as well as a career
in general. You should want a career that outlives you. And to do that, you can never be truly satisfied.