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Singer with Valley roots performs at, competes for, Grammy Awards

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WASHINGTON – Nate Ruess is a Glendale kid whose musical aspirations when he was in Deer Valley High School only extended as far as being in “a punk band and out on tour.”

He’s done that. And then some.

Ruess, now 30, will perform with his band, Fun., at Sunday’s Grammy Awards, where they have been nominated for six Grammys, including best new artist, song and album.

The awards show comes less than three weeks after Fun. played at an inaugural ball in Washington, an event that Reuss considered “the honor of my life” and where he got to shake President Barack Obama’s hand.

In between Deer Valley High School and the Grammys, Ruess traveled a road that included several bands, clubs from the East Valley to New York and a single, “We Are Young,” that topped the charts for six weeks. Combined single sales from Fun.‘s album “Some Nights” surpassed 10 million.

“It’s been like a wild ride,” Ruess said recently. “And it’s just getting started.”

It began almost 15 years ago in high school where Ruess joined friends to form a punk band, Nevergonnascore. His first label deal was signed with 16-year-old classmate Mike Jarmuz.

“We were somewhat kind of outcasts,” said Jarmuz. “Everyone kind of thought we were crazy.”

For Ruess, who describes himself as “very awkward” at the time, there were no lofty aspirations.

“I just wanted to be in a punk band and out on tour,” he said. “I wanted to come out and play a show someplace.”

After high school, he helped form This Past Year, a short-lived band that never released a record. But his next band, The Format, started getting play on Valley radio stations and started getting Ruess noticed.

“They were a big deal before they even played a single show,” said Bob Hoag, who produced “EP,” The Format’s first album. “The closest thing to Beatlemania I’ve ever seen locally. It was awesome.”

Ruess had approached Hoag with longtime friend and band partner Sam Means, a guitarist, about the possibility of working together, and in January 2002 the three produced “The First Single.”

“When we made the first mix of it and I went to write on the CD what the name of the song was, I’m like, ‘What’s the name of the song?’” Hoag said. “And they’re like, as a joke, ‘We’re calling this ‘The First Single.””

It turned out to be far from a joke.

Jarmuz, who was Means’ roommate at the time, took the song to Nancy Stevens, then the program director for alternative radio station KEDJ.

“We came out with this new project and hadn’t played any new shows before we recorded,” Ruess said. “We recorded the ‘EP’ with Bob Hoag, and we just came out on fire. Radio stations were playing us.”

The five-song ‘EP’ was released that summer. Jarmuz and Stevens formed a joint management company to take over the reins of The Format. By fall, Elektra Records had flown the band to Los Angeles to perform for company executives.

Steve Tramposch, a former director of talent scouting for Elektra Records, said the band’s sound “was just completely fresh to my ears.”

“There were pop elements in it. There were alternative elements in it,” said Tramposch, who found the band and introduced them to the national scene.

Ruess and Means would release their first full-length album the following year. The Format was on the rise.

That was obvious to Val Olsen the first time she saw the band perform. Olsen had lived a few doors down from the Ruess’ North Phoenix home and would babysit the “well-mannered” and “animated” kid she still calls Nathan, or Nater-Skater, his boyhood nickname in her home.

“And here’s Nathan on stage,” Olsen recalls. “And the kids in the audience – they were just so into it.

“(His mother) and I left where it was a little more quiet, and I said, ‘Who is that up there on the stage?’” Olsen recalls.

After The Format broke up in 2008, Ruess and others formed Fun. and moved to New York. The new band’s first album came out in 2009, but Fun. started getting significant attention with its second album, “Some Nights,” last year.

“I always knew that they had built an underground following and that once he put together Fun. that following would follow him,” Tramposch said.

“It’s just gratifying that they have good music and that his hard work and keeping at it really paid off for him in the long run.”