"Rock ’n’ roll is this progressive idea [with] room to be dangerous"—Pete Wentz on new Fall Out Boy

It wasn't quite a sneak attack on caliber with Save Rock And Roll, but FALL OUT BOY’s November 24 announcement of their new album, American Beauty/American Psycho (due January 20 on Island/DCD2), and the debut of the album's spring-loaded title track were still a very pleasant surprise. Then again, the quartet—vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stump, guitarist Joe Trohman, bassist Pete Wentz, and drummer Andy Hurley—are pretty much back in the driver’s seat of their career, powered by the commercial renaissance kickstarted by Save Rock And Roll, last summer's well-received Momentour with Paramore and the monstrous sound of such new songs as “Immortals,” “Centuries” and the album's topsy-turvy title track—a usual mix of fluid grooves, punky riffs and outré pop sensibilities.

Last week, AP reached Wentz via phone, just a few days before the album announcement. He was hanging out at his Los Angeles home, though relaxing wasn't quite in the cards. “Unfortunately, not really,” he says. “We're trying to get the album done. And I have a 10-week-old baby that relaxes in two-hour increments.” But he was his usually philosophical self as he discussed Fall Out Boy's place in today's music scene, working with producer Jake Sinclair and what's inspiring his lyrics these days.

Read our newly published follow-up to this interview with Patrick Stump.

How close are you to being done with the record?
PETE WENTZ: We're 80 percent of the way done. We [have a] bunch of songs mixed and mastered, but there are some songs that still need to be finished, as well. We have it all written. In order to hit the deadline of getting it out, we have to get it done very soon here. [Laughs.]

If it's 80 percent done, what's the direction? What's it sounding like?
With Save Rock And Roll, we were just realizing that music—or the way you can record music now—is so much different than before we took a break.  I think we've fully embraced it now. We also went around the world: We played festivals, we got to play with different artists and kind of feel those influences. I think this album more than Save Rock And Roll probably presses further out on the boundaries. While “Centuries” and “Immortals” from Big Hero 6 could fall in line with where we were at with “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark,” I think the album as a whole presses a bit further out.

We realize that while we are not in the upper echelon of [acts] like Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Coldplay—these bands that are clearly legacy [acts], they are huge, and everyone knows them and what they sound like—I think we're also not a starter band. We're somewhere along, like, the JV. Our goal—or the mission statement—is to make rock music that can be played in big venues, but is also contemporary and you can hear it on the radio. It is a bit of a challenge to do it, because I feel like… we feel like a little bit more on an island. I feel like when we started this out, there was a movement of bands, and now it feels like we're alone. We toured this summer with Paramore, which was really cool, because I feel like we have some like-minded [friends]. But in general, it feels a little bit like we're figuring it out on our own terms.

Fall Out Boy and Paramore are both rock bands who are not afraid to embrace pop music or to be considered pop music. I think that's still weird for people.
Right. It's hard for people to swallow, kind of. But there are parts of me that want to be like, “Yeah, but Guns N' Roses were a pop band,” you know what I'm saying? Led Zeppelin were a pop band. They're not remembered like that in history, but that's the way they were played on the radio, and that's who their fans were. That's the way stadiums were sold out. To me, in order to influence pop culture and to change the shape of what we're doing—of what we're all doing—you need to be in some kind of venue like that and look at it in those terms. Kanye West is not going to be able to shift art the way he has without being involved in pop art. That's just what it comes down to, simply. It's a quandary. It's a little strange for us, because I feel like on one hand we do that and we need to do that, and being culturally relevant is important. But our legacy is important to us, too. We've been doing this band for 12 or 13 years. It's like fighting wars on two fronts, kind of.

What specific producers have you worked with, and are there any guests confirmed on the record?
We have been working for the most part with this guy Jake Sinclair. He worked with us a little bit on the last record—or a bunch on the last record—and he was co-producing with Butch Walker. We worked with Butch Walker, as well. Then there are one or two songs we have not finished that are with different producers, and they're not done yet, so I don't want to throw that out there.

As far as guests, we haven't had any guests lay down anything yet. But we've been talking about it. With Fall Out Boy, it's always like, how will the songs be better served by the guest? Because every once in a while, your label or manager would come to you and be like, “Yeah, if you do this thing with this person, it'll be blah blah blah,” like it's a math problem or something. But that's not the way our band has ever really worked. We've been talking about it; no one we've worked with before, though, or anything like that. No one's put anything down yet. Maybe there will be no guests.

What have you been liking best about working with Jake? What has he brought to the music?
We're a band that always does too much of everything. We've always been a band that wants too many guitar tracks and Patrick wants to do too many vocal tracks, and I want to cram in too many syllables. He's helped us get a little bit more breathing room. And at the same time, he's helped us understand… The way contemporary music, whether it be EDM or pop music or hip-hop or rock, the way that it's made is a lot more piecemeal. He's helped us realize that we can record parts that are essentially for demos on our laptop, and they're able to make it to the final product. It's interesting; it's kind of like showing cavemen how to use an espresso machine. We're like, “Whoa, that's cool—that's awesome! I didn't even really know about coffee.”

That's the whole pop vs. rock thing again—it's such a weird, foreign concept for a lot of people, to be able to say, “Whoa, I can really do that.” It's a different mindset and a different way of working.
To me, it's unfortunate; there are a lot of rock bands that have determined—or decided—that rock ’n’ roll is this thing where you get guitar sounds for three weeks and you have to record it in this way and it has to sound like this. To me, that's antiquated, and to me it also is not rock ’n’ roll. Because rock ’n’ roll is this progressive idea, [with] room to be dangerous and futuristic. To think it's this idea that has to be set in stone is just, like, making it not only not dangerous but this quaint little thing. It's not what it is to me. To fence yourself into this little area and chain yourself to the doghouse has never been what I thought rock music was.

In light of that: Lyrically, what is this record leaning toward?
On Save Rock And Roll, there was an overall theme that we were dealing with. I feel like it was a pretty positive record. I've had enough perspective on my personal life to write about it a little bit more. I don't think I did that so much on Save Rock And Roll. I think that's something I really wanted to do. I also think that beyond that, there's these things that I've seen go on—whether it's what happened with Ferguson, Missouri, and stuff like that—that I don't really feel comfortable addressing on social media. A couple of times, I've addressed it onstage and stuff. But there's things that are still that, as an artist that has a platform, there's certain things that if you believe, you should say. I think some of that is going to come across in the lyrics. We're not a political band. I love political bands; I'm good friends with Tim [McIlrath] from Rise Against, and I like Rage Against The Machine. But we've always done it kind of when we speak about that stuff, [it's in] more subtle ways; I'm not the kind of guy that crams it down your throat or anything like that. That's going to come across. More than anything, I think that this record has more perspective than Save Rock And Roll.

Is there anything on this record that's going to surprise people? Are there any curveballs?
I do; I think so. I think there will be one or two curveballs that will blow people's minds. But I don't want to it put it out there and let them know the curveball's coming. I do not want a home run being hit off of it. [Laughs.] alt