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Talking with The Format

Don’t think of the guys from The Format as underdogs. Sure, they may have Dog Problems and have been dropped from their label twice, but in the process their fan base has tripled. Staff writer Candace Braun spoke with lead singer Nate Ruess about the band’s history and the positive things that have come from their bad experiences.

Candace Braun: How did The Format come into existence?

Nate Ruess: Sam and I were in a few bands together in high school. After that was all over we just did it for fun while I was trying to go to school and Sam had his own business. Then someone caught wind of our demos and a radio station started playing it, and that was that.

CB: Most promo pictures feature just you and Sam, but your Web site lists additional members. How many people actually comprise The Format?

NR: Now it’s about six.

CB: So are you two just the most photogenic or what?

NR: No, we just started the whole thing and were writing all of the songs. We still pretty much write all of the songs, but now it’s becoming more of a group effort.

CB: How would you describe your sound?

NR: I guess I’d just call it pop music.

CB: Do you feel that your sound has evolved over the last three albums as time progresses and new members enter the mix?

NR: Definitely. I think that’s what you have to do if you want to be content as an artist. I don’t know, I mean, that’s the only thing we really know how to do because we listen to so much music – we’re influenced by so much different music – that we’re kind of let down if we don’t progress.

CB: Who are some of your musical influences?

NR: I’d say ’60s music, Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles, Perry Nelson – a lot of older stuff. The Zombies, maybe.

CB: Your album cover features pastel dogs on it. Your Web site is navigated by some kind of wonder dog incarnation, and your latest single is called “Dog Problems.” I’m sensing a trend, but what does it all mean?

NR: Uh, well, Dog Problems is just the name of the record, so that’s why the dogs are on the cover. The song “Dog Problems” just has to do with this relationship I was in. It was long, and every single time we thought that maybe we were going to break up, we’d try to save the relationship by getting a dog. Some people have babies; we got a dog. It’s a little safer.

CB: I know getting dropped from your record label can be a difficult experience, and The Format has been through it twice. How has that positively or negatively affected the band?

NR: It was all positive. We were only negative when we were on the label. I don’t know – nothing ever went right from the business end. Then we just straightened things out and hoped to be released from our record label and finally that happened.

CB: So how did you guys start your own label?

NR: We have a really great management company, and they’re pretty big, so they have a lot of resources – they’re a record label as well. So we just go through them and use their distribution, which is major-label distribution, so not too much has changed. We have to put up the dough for a lot of things, but it’s definitely worth it.

CB: I’ve heard that getting released from your label inspired “The Compromise.” Can you explain that connection?

NR: It wasn’t written because we were dropped, but in an attempt to get dropped from our label. They wanted something catchy, so we gave them something catchy – only it was about (our experiences with) them.

CB: So when you’re not writing to annoy your record label, what’s the songwriting process like?

NR: Well, (Sam and I) either write together or separately. We take what we have and show the other person and just work through it. Then we take it to the studio and add all the beats.

CB: Do you create the lyrics first, then?

NR: No, I usually don’t start with lyrics. I usually come up with the melody before the lyrics. I keep a notebook full of lyrics, and I’ll use that to try and put some stuff together.

CB: Where do you draw inspiration from for your songs?

NR: Just other music and things that have happened in my life. For the last few records that’s how it’s been, anyway. I want to start writing more fictional songs, so I guess I need to be a little more observant of everything around me.

CB: If you could play one song to convince the world to become Format fans, which would you choose?

NR: I don’t know – maybe “Time Bomb” off of Dog Problems.

CB: What makes you choose that song?

NR: I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s diverse, and I feel like it best represents who we are.

CB: What’s been the most difficult aspect of touring for you?

NR: It’s getting sick constantly. We have a bus on this tour, and fortunately no one’s gotten anything yet. In past bus tours it’s been easy to get sick. I mean, you’re sharing such close quarters constantly, so if one person gets sick then everybody else does.

CB: Do you ever have time to enjoy the city you’re in or are you always so on-the-go that you don’t have time to sightsee?

NR: Maybe about 10 percent of the time we are able to check out the city. Typically, we’re just sort of stuck at the compound. We spend all day waiting around for our stuff to get set up on stage, so we’re not exactly the most active people.

CB: What’s the craziest venue you’ve ever played at?

NR: There’s this place called The NorVa (in Norfolk, Va.). It has a hot tub and a ping-pong table and a basketball court backstage. It’s pretty awesome.

CB: That does sound awesome. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Sun Dome offers all that.

NR: Aww, man. I think we’ve played at the Sun Dome before. Is that at UCF?

CB: No, no it’s at USF, in Tampa.

NR: Oh, shoot. No, we’ve never played at the Sun Dome.

CB: Well, you’re in for a treat.

NR: I’m sure. Definitely.