“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 that.
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.