Exclusive: Ex-MCR drummer shares his memories of recording ‘The Black Parade’
In 2004, BOB BRYAR replaced Matt Pelissier as the drummer in My Chemical Romance. He played with the band during the writing, recording and touring of The Black Parade before leaving in 2010. He shared some of his memories of that time exclusively with AP. From staying at the haunted rehearsal facility the Paramour (where much of The Black Parade was conceived) to hanging out with such characters as Lil Jon, Liza Minnelli and Carrie Underwood to almost burning to death on a video set, one thing is crystal clear: Bryar has some stories to tell.
What are your best and worst memories of your time at the Paramour? Did you feel any bad vibes there?
The Paramour was interesting, to say the least. The house is a perfect place for a band to write and record: everyone had their own bedroom if they needed to get away, and then there’s a giant ballroom where we all got together with tons of gear to play with. I believe it's very beneficial to be able to try something or record an idea as soon as it pops in your brain. I remember multiple times when I would have someone knocking on my bedroom door at 4 or 5 a.m. asking me to come out to the ballroom and play a beat behind this idea they just came up with while laying in bed. If we had to wait until the next day to try that new idea, we risked losing the specialness or the whole idea completely. Every morning, we would have “family breakfast” and talk about what we wanted to work on that day.
On the other hand, the Paramour was fucking creepy. There are four bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs. I remember having five crumpled-up pieces of paper lying in a pile on one of the beds on our very first night. Each paper had a number, one through five. Each bedroom was also numbered one through five. When I grabbed my paper and looked, I saw the number one. I got the downstairs room. I accepted that it was going to be just the ghosts and I every night in a different part of the house for a while.
There are tons of stories about hauntings and general creepy things that have happened there. I can't remember which actor it was, but one of the actors from the TV show Friends was in the room that Frank [Iero] lived in, months before we arrived. I've been told by many people he ran out of that room crying and screaming and never returned. Something was in that room. I remember walking into [Ray] Toro's room one day and seeing him visibly shaken with a toothbrush in his mouth. I asked him what was wrong and he said he was 100 percent positive he saw a lady in a white dress walk down the hallway.
A very strange thing for me was the clawfoot bathtub in my bathroom. I take showers, I don't mess with baths. I was also told not to use that bathtub because it didn't work, anyway. There were at least five times where I went into the bathroom and there was water around the very edges of the tub. There was no possible explanation for it, so I just ignored it and moved on.
One other fun story was when I had a friend come visit me. As soon as we pulled through the gates, she said, "I know this place.” It took her a minute but then realized it's where one of the Scream movies and one of the Halloween movies were filmed. We went and rented the movies and watched them in my creepy room. Watching a movie where a killer is walking through the room that we were currently sitting in was very weird. I'll never forget the scene in Halloween where Michael Myers goes over the railing and falls into a classroom. That classroom was the ballroom where we were writing.
I can't recall any specific things that I experienced, but I was still creeped out daily. I don't know why, but they made the worst decision ever and put the washer and dryer in the basement, down a creepy hallway, then through a small door. That was probably my most nervous time. I remember I would constantly be spinning to keep my eyes on everything. When I got close to the end of the hallway, I would just run for the stairs to get out of there.
A bit of comfort for me were the dogs roaming the property. If you felt sketchy going somewhere you could bribe one of the dogs to come with you with a little treat. I also had one little pup friend that liked to sleep on my bed, so I wasn't alone.
Overall, I think the creepiness and the history made the Paramour a great place to write and demo. The setup was perfect and the spookiness added a whole new element. Full disclosure: We did bail and move to apartments a few months early because that place eventually became far too creepy to get any work done.
What are your favorite memories of recording The Black Parade? Were there any songs you loved playing that were difficult?
I have so many memories of making that record, as well performing it live. I had recorded a lot before but never at that level. I was used to recording an entire record in three days or whatever you could afford. Everything from setting up a studio in our bus to having an amazing facility like the Paramour to write and demo, then moving into a pro recording studio with actual working gear, was all new to me; I was a bit overwhelmed. Then to top it off, I walk in and there’s someone tuning my drums. That was new and a little embarrassing for me. I felt like Madonna for just a second. I walked over and the drum tech introduced himself and we shook hands. He said, "My name is 'The Sack' and I'm here for you." His real name is Mike Fasano and to this day he remains a very good friend. The nickname comes from his abnormally large ball bag that he likes to show everyone. That huge ballbag actually almost got kicked out of Henson Studios at one time. I love that dude.
I remember we tracked the drums for “Dead!” first. I was extremely nervous but I hid it very well. I played the song and went into the control room to listen and everyone was happy with it. There was one thing I played that I didn't like, so I tried again. Eventually, I was happy and that drum track was done. It was so nice to not feel rushed or like I had to nail every song in one take—I did nail most of them in one take though, toot-toot.
I have some specific song memories that I'll never forget. I remember “This Is How I Disappear” was being a huge bitch. I couldn't nail the whole song in one take, and it was my goal to record every song in full with no overdubs or punch-ins. I ended up jumping in one of rental cars, driving into the middle of the street, doing burnouts and spinning the car all over in a cloud of smoke—I had to do something dumb to to reset my brain. I parked the smoking car, walked back in and recorded the whole song in full on the first try. That made me happy.
Another vivid memory was recording the intro to “Welcome To The Black Parade.” I felt super-rushed because I was already late to leave for a flight, but I had an idea. The Sack and I quickly threw a couple more toms up and I made up the intro tom fill idea right as they hit “record.” I played it one time and went in to listen. If it wasn't good, I was going to walk outside and cancel my flight. I remember thinking that it wasn't the most inventive and crazy drum part, but it really worked perfectly. I put a copy on my iPod and peaced out to the airport. I remember when I landed, I texted everyone and we kept those parts.
“Cancer” is definitely a song where the drums had to be big and present but also leave room for the lyrics to be out in front because the lyrical content was so important. I learned a lot about not overplaying; there is always time to shred, but not for this song. Songs aren't good when everyone is just trying to show off all at once—that's where the guitar solo originates from. I actually just made that up but it sounds reasonable. I barely play on that song, but it remains a favorite to me.
I remember going to lunch with everyone except G [Gerard Way] and the engineer who stayed at the studio. When we got back, he had completely changed the vocal parts to the chorus of “Famous Last Words.” I remember feeling like, “Holy shit, this is now a major song.” It was so exciting to hear.
Here's my last studio story. Like I said before, this was the biggest record I have ever done and I was nervous. Along with being nervous, we all had to feel out the writing dynamic between all of us. I was very vocal about my drum parts, but let the other dudes do their thing because they were doing so well and didn't need anyone chiming in every second. That leads me to remember one situation where it was super-late and only G, the engineer and myself were at the studio. There was a vocal harmony that I kept hearing. It was the first time I got the balls to ask someone to try something. That idea made it to the record, which was really nice for me to see happen.
Did you get the feeling that you were going to be part of something legendary? Was there a personal high point of the touring experience that you cherish to this day?
I left a very good touring gig where I was tour managing and doing sound. I left that job to join a band that was filthy, had shitty gear, a smashed-up, smoking, death-trap van and was poor. They smelled bad, too. I was so happy to receive the offer. Long before we recorded “Welcome To The Black Parade,” I knew that [MCR] were special and I wanted in. I wanted to help evolve the band and be able to shred with them every night. During our first rehearsals right after we finished a tour, I noticed that the songs were really taking shape and becoming very ambitious. We had a few producers come in to listen and see if we would work well with them. One of them [Rob Cavallo] jumped up and started screaming while jumping: He wanted to go into the studio right then. We stayed at the rehearsal space for a while longer to create some more material and eventually moved into the studio with him.
As we were recording the record, I was getting more and more excited. It was turning out to be a very complete and a very entertaining audio story. I would sit in my apartment with my roommates, the genius Patrick Stump and my best dude Matt Cortez and listen to everything we had worked on that day while taking notes. I was nervous that it may not be well-received by old school My Chem fans, but also had a feeling that they had grown just like us and would probably love it. I don't want to sound like a jerk, but I really feel every part of that record, down to the artwork, is pretty unbeatable. I hope those songs will be around for a long time.
There are a few shows and events that really stick out for me. The first one involves the entire Black Parade tour. I thought I was dreaming most of the time. I really wish everyone could have a chance to sit at my drum kit, having the best time ever and thinking of how crazy this is during a show. We spent a lot of money to put on that tour. We also put all of the money that we made right back into the production. We did that because we were more into the show, not the money. This also helped us keep ticket costs fairly low. I still wish I had a piece of that set to keep as a memory. It was the most fun period of my entire life.
[One] huge memory of that tour was when I was able to have a limo pick up my mom and a couple friends to watch us perform. I could tell she was proud of me, and I won't forget that ever. Another vivid memory was the five-city record release shows in small clubs. It’s always so fun to play club shows. One of those shows was at House Of Blues in Chicago, a place where I worked for five years. It was such a weird feeling to have all of your old work buddies staring and judging. They all said we played really well, which also made me really happy. The release show at Maxwell’s in New Jersey is another show I think about a lot, but hate it because that was the show where the tendons in my wrist snapped. That's all you get on that; that was no fun at all.
I think my last huge memory was playing [a sold out show at] MSG to end the tour. I never thought that would ever happen to me, and I still can't believe that was for real.
Here's a good one: For some reason as we were recording a song for the record, we got put into car and taken to a private jet. They flew us to Las Vegas and put us in a huge multi-level room with a full-size basketball court in it. I’m telling you all of this info to give you a chance to understand the setup. At one point, I was upstairs and heard someone come in talking really loud; someone had just invited themselves, I guessed. Then I heard, "YEEEEEEEEAAAA." I look down over the railing, and motherfuckin’ Lil Jon was there to bring us a case of his Crunk Juice! That's a good memory that I will keep forever.
The worst memory was when I met Carrie Underwood on that tour. She said “Welcome To The Black Parade” was one of her favorite songs. I stuttered, got nervous and then pretended I had to go do something. I totally blew my chance and now she's waaay out of my league. She lives down the street now and I'm still too nervous to talk to her.
In hindsight, do you think that your accident on the “Famous Last Words” video shoot was an omen or something wild?
That video was shot in the middle of the night after we finished the “Black Parade” video. The float from the “Parade” video was driven out and parked behind me for the “Famous” video. There were tons of safety people, crew, some pyro guys and the fire department. As you usually do in music videos, we played the song maybe five times to get different angles. There were controlled fires all over the place: They had fire all around us and a controlled propane fire laying on the float behind me. There was a ton of fire. We finished with everything and we were done. All of a sudden, the director decides we should do one more take and really fuck up the float.
I had two guys from the fire department and a stunt guy explaining how they are going to have to cover my entire back and head in fireproof gel. All of a sudden, we get called to set for the last take and we start playing—but I never got the gel. Toward the end, I could feel the float burning up. There were 60-foot flames behind me. At right about the second chorus, my leg started to hurt—you can see me keep trying to sneak a look to see why my leg is hurting. I then realized that the shiny silky lining in my pants on my left leg was completely melted to my leg. Any reasonable person would stop playing so they aren't burned alive. All I could think about was how this was the take, because the float was burning to the ground. I couldn't stop playing because it would ruin the shot that we only had one chance to burn the float. When the song finished, I gave it a couple seconds and ran like a maniac. I ended up with third-degree burns, gangrene and, when I decided to go to Japan, a blood infection. Eventually, [doctors] had to dig and cut the infection out to save my leg. It was not fun for a minute, but I would do it again if I had to.
Fun fact: I do not allow fireplaces to be turned on or candles to be lit in my house because I'm so paranoid of fire now. I think that video is great and came out super-well, other than that fancy haircut of mine.
Have you played the record lately?
To be very honest with you, no, I have not listened to the record in a very long time. I am very proud of it, but the memories that come along with listening to it are too much for me. I wish it wasn't like that, but it is. You won't find one My Chem item in my house. Not one. I don't need to be bummed out everyday by hearing or seeing things relating to something that I thought would last forever.
Read more about 'The Black Parade' in our special collectors' My Chemical Romance issue: