It seems like everyone’s got an opinion on FALL OUT BOY, whether you’re a diehard fan, an unapologetic hater or a begrudging listener who feels a little of both. All of which are okay: It’s all part of the landscape in the quartet’s journey out of the underground toward their bid for rock history.
Story by: JR Griffin
Photos: Chapman Baehler
In conversation, Fall Out Boy singer/guitarist Patrick Stump is often quick to quote poets like T.S. Eliot or artists like French impressionist painter Claude Monet. But tonight, Eminem serves as a better inspiration.
“Life should be played strategically, like an Eminem rap battle," says Stump, flanked by bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz and guitarist Joe Trohman, “If you have the best insult on yourself and you give it out already, then no one is armed to throw anything at you.”
Earlier today, the Boys fired a good one at their critics. For this month’s AP, they shot two cover options. A “Fall Out Boy Sucks” version represents everything the haters thrive on: An over-stylized band on the red carpet surrounded by screaming fans, featuring four guys that love every minute of it. The other, “Fall Out Boy Rules” scenario shows the guys making music in less fashionable digs, recalling their much-cherished Take This To Your Grave era. “We have plenty of humor about ourselves,” Stump continues. “We’re happy to do a ‘Fall Out Boy Sucks’ cover, because, well, that’s funny.”
With his springy hair tucked into a hat and sporting a shaggy beard, Trohman offers a different take on the experience. “During the ‘Fall Out Boy Suck’ part, I was actually panicking. It represented exactly, like, ugh. There was screaming, I’m wearing this suit and I have makeup on. It was like, ‘This does suck.’”
The band have commandeered a nondescript office space in their music publisher’s headquarters so AP may catch up with Fall Out Boy in full-court press mode. The band have finished up their fifth studio album, Folie À Deux, and are in a whirlwind of interviews, photo shoots and assorted online and marketing stunts. Drummer Andy Hurley (who remains typically silent during the interview) and Trohman are flying home, to Milwaukee and Chicago, respectively, in the morning. Even after the interview goes into the night, there is another photo shoot waiting for the band in the next room-literally. Even at their quick clip, FOB keep it fun: They’re doing that shoot in matching red sweaters, like a cheesy family portrait being taken at a Sears photo studio.
While giving AP a preview of a few new songs, someone asks the date on the unfinished mix being played. “Wait, what’s today’s date?” asks Stump. “Oh, it’s my mom’s birthday. Excuse me.” He steps out to make a call.
“That’s going into the interview,” jokes Wentz.
Wentz, dressed the most colorfully of the group in skinny jeans and a Pittsburgh Steelers hoodie, purposely reigns himself in. He remains mostly quiet and when he does speak, at first it’s at a near-inaudible mumble. But don’t start running off to your blog to post that he’s become a first class a-hole. He has his reasons.
“I looked at some of the interviews I’ve done and looked at some of the things that have been written,” he begins. “I was like, ‘This is so easy and trite and boring. It would be so much more interesting to write about the people around me that are fascinating, who didn’t happen to walk out of [Hollywood nightclub] Hyde every 20 minutes.’ People don’t get to see that, so I’m going to force people to see that.”
Wentz is also putting his lyrics where his mouth is, at least as far as Folie À Deux is concerned. He purposely wrote most of the songs from the perspectives of his bandmates. If you’re looking for a track about his wife and baby’s mama Ashlee Simpson, you’ll have to wait. “It’s definitely my attempt to kind of visualize where someone else is," he says. “It’s all going to be taken wrong when the record comes out.” He starts to imitate a message-board denizen. “‘This must be about his baby, because I read about that in People.’ But I’m going to leave a lot of money on the table and tell you it’s not.”
“[Lyrically], this is my personal favorite record of Pete’s ever, actually,” says Stump, back from calling his mom. “Pete really expressed a wide range of emotions. There are lyrics on this record that go into certain things that I wasn’t necessarily sure I wanted to admit. We haven’t been that openly political as a band, but on this record, there are some lyrics that spell it out. The irony is that people will probably mistake the title Folie À Deux as something about romantic relationships in some way. And it’s our only record where that theme is not touched upon.”
The French term folie à deux (literally, “a madness shared by two”) is a rare psychiatric syndrome in which a symptom of psychosis-particularly a paranoid or delusional belief-is transmitted from one individual to another. Stump is quick to point out that the “two” aren’t Pete and Ashlee. Or for that matter, Pete and Patrick.
Wentz: “It’s Bush and Cheney. It’s Romeo and Juliet.”
Trohman: “It’s Britney and the paparazzi.”
Wentz: “It’s Sid and Nancy. It’s the American public and the American government.”
Stump: “It’s America and the rest of the world.”
Recorded with longtime FOB producer Neal Avron, the breadth of new tracks include Depeche Mode-esque bass grooves and anthemic Queen moments, alongside a solid footing of pop-punk, emo or whatever tag you want to throw on the band. Beyond picking apart pop culture (“I Don’t Care”) and looking at a disheartened generation (“(Coffee’s For Closers)”), Wentz also wrote lyrics about issues he saw his bandmates struggling with. Each of the guys can call out their moments, even if they’re not willing to reveal them outright.
Stump, who was particularly touched by a rare ballad, perks up. “That says something about Pete Wentz. The Pete Wentz you read about isn’t empathetic enough to write a record from the perspectives of his best friends. This Pete Wentz did that. Where’s that story?”
“Don’t print that,” mumbles Wentz. “I don’t want to be empathetic.”
Stump doesn’t want to let it go. “I’m going to say something about Pete that’s never made it into a printed interview because it must not be that interesting, but it is the fucking truth,” the singer declares. “The thing about Pete is that people have always watched him and given him attention, and you have two options as far as how you are going to handle that. Either you are going to totally shut off, or you are going to occasionally say you’ll smile for [the cameras]. He does both. Before he was Pete Wentz, ‘Rock Star,’ people just paid attention to him.
“A lot of time I’m around this dude, he’s very shy,” he says, turning to address Wentz directly. “But I get the impression that you don’t really like attention that much, but you face it. So the one time you smile for the camera, people go ‘Oh, he’s a fucking ham.’ That’s one of the things that’s really frustrating.” He turns back to address the interviewer. “It’s not even something Pete has control over, the stuff that gets thrust on Pete, like the greatness or the shallowness of Pete Wentz. He’s neither, he’s just Pete. And I think that’s one of the huge things about the band. We don’t rule. We don’t suck. We’re just a band.”
Of course, there are people who beg to differ on both sides of the argument. With each Fall Out Boy album, the chorus of dissenters (at least on message boards and other easy places to bitch) has gotten louder and louder. Former AP editor Aaron Burgess felt the sting and he’s not even in the band. He wrote a favorable review of Infinity On High for The Onion A.V. Club and got it from commenting hipsters who are usually preoccupied with exalting Rilo Kiley and Deerhoof.
"The commenters at the A.V. Club remind me a lot of me [when I was younger], and I don’t like me back then," says Burgess in a separate interview. “But don’t get me wrong: As a man in his 30s who’s heard a whole hell of a lot of music myself, even I felt a little awkward about posting such a positive review of the thing. I don’t regret it, though: I still think those first few songs are a triumph. That Jay-Z spoken intro, especially in the larger context of just what it means for a formerly small-time band from this scene to open their album that way, still raises my arm hair. And the whole record is reflective of where they needed to go after Cork Tree.”
But still: Why? Why can you walk into a record store or log onto a message board and find one fan who worships Fall Out Boy and another that would just as soon have them drawn and quartered? “Every new Pete Wentz venture seemed to be fodder for the snark machine, and I think that Fall Out Boy, because of the scene they came from, have always been in a no-win situation,” says Burgess. “Pete and Andy’s hardcore roots aside, I also don’t necessarily think Fall Out Boy were ever truly ‘legit’ in the old-fashioned, DIY, hard-scrabble sense of the term. I think they just needed a few albums to discover their inner pop star.”
“Truth be told, I don’t read the message boards,” says Wentz, who uses his personal blogs like petewentz.com and friendsorenemies.com to get the word out-like when he railed against an edit of the “I Don’t Care” video that contained too much product placement for his liking. “It’s such a dicey thing to do. It’s a fast way to want to fucking kill yourself.”
“Pete gets more heat for the band than he deserves. Some of those bad ideas that [fans] don’t like were my ideas,” adds Stump. “Some of those songs that [fans] don’t like are the songs that I fought for. So I’ll get this thing a lot, ‘Oh, I hate Pete Wentz. Patrick Stump is cool or Andy is the only cool one in the band.’ That’s not really the case at all. We are all four of us, we all sink or swim together."
Call them what you will, but at least Fall Out Boy are trying to keep their universe interesting. From making a whole vampire mini-movie for the “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More ‘Touch Me’” video, to trying to break a Guinness World record by playing all seven continents in under one year (bad weather grounded them in Chile before they made it to Antarctica), to whipping up a dizzying John Mayer-assisted cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” on the ****: Live in Phoenix DVD, the guys in Fall Out Boy keep it fun and weird. For the release of Folie, they created and gave away a free mixtape called Welcome To The New Administration with song snippets from the album (and tracks from Decaydance bands) that fans found via an internet puzzle. They knocked out Spencer Pratt from The Hills in the video for “I Don’t Care.” Wentz dressed up like a “Sabotage”-era Beastie Boy as “the Baker” to deliver custom Fresh Only Bakery T-shirts and very limited FOB recordings to random people on the street. He even illegally tagged the band’s street marketing billboards to promote the stunt.
“You can just embark on these ideas and see what happens,” opines Wentz. “You can create wonder. It’s like Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory: Every now and then you send a golden ticket out and you let somebody in the factory,” adds Wentz. “Sometimes you just have to inject ideas out there and let people go ‘Huh?’"
Fans turn on bands. It’s inevitable and it’s always for the most arcane reasons. They either get too big, change their sound or something stupid rubs them the wrong way. Most music fans grow out of that mindset; some already have. Andy Hurley understands and remembers a time when he thought a band totally sucked for no real reason.
“I remember one time I saw Rancid, and Tim Armstrong changed guitars too many times-and I thought that was a sellout thing,” Hurley says, chatting from his home in Milwaukee the next day. “I was really young. I don’t know if I thought you should have one guitar and having more than one meant anything. Musically, I will always love Rancid. But just at that show, I remember thinking that.”
Hurley is the least like the other three members of FOB. He’s a vegan anarchist who’s working on covering his entire body in tattoos and is most likely to be found in the seedier side of town. He owns two pairs of shorts and flip-flops, and wears those every day. When it’s cold, he wears his one pair of jeans and slip-on Vans. The other guys have girlfriends, fiancées or wives, while Hurley lives with a crew of dudes-most of whom are in the hardcore band Misery Signals-in a place dubbed “Fuck City” (calm down, it’s an Arrested Development reference).
The band jokes that Hurley is a machine, and he kind of is. He records his drum parts to scratch vocals and then splits back home. It allows him to keep a certain fandom for his band, which is rare in any situation. “By the time I hear [a song], it’s like a completely different thing,” he says. “I never want to ruin the surprise. I want to hear it and go, ‘Whoa, this is what the song sounds like.’ And be totally stoked.”
The distance serves Hurley well. He gets to jam with a different set of guys to “scratch his hardcore itch” in a side band called the Departed. Milwaukee makes him comfortable, keeping him out of the L.A. limelight. Yet he proudly echoes the other members’ sentiments: Fall Out Boy trumps all.
“They’re still my best friends. I still love doing this band. And when I’m in a shitty mood and I don’t want to be in L.A. and I don’t want to do this video and do all of this press and shit, I’m with my best friends and I want to do it,” he says. “I love this. And I feel more like this than ever. It’s awesome, and I couldn’t imagine not ever doing this band.”
It’s been a bumpier ride for Joe Trohman since the release of Infinity. There was a time not long ago when the FOB co-founder didn’t feel so connected to the band, mainly because he fell for one of the newer “old” tricks in the books: He started believing the internet. “I felt, ‘Man, this isn’t my band anymore.’ It’s no one’s fault, and I don’t want to make it seem that way. It was more of a complex I developed based off of stuff I was reading,” he says during a follow-up phone interview from his home in Chicago. “It’s hard to hear ‘Joe and Andy are just along for the ride.’”
Trohman, who recently popped the question to his fiancée during a trip to Tokyo, took some time to himself and worked on music with other people (nothing he wants to make public). Then he had a heart-to-heart with Stump, leading to more collaboration on Folie À Deux. “It made me feel like I owned the songs a lot more,” he says. “It made me really excited about contributing to Fall Out Boy and made me find my role in the band.”
“We’ve all had our times like that,” says Stump later about Trohman’s story. “I’ve had times like that in the band where I’m like, ‘Oh, no one cares what I think.’ Pete’s had times like that, Andy’s had times like that. We’ve all quit at some point. And all of us are still here, so that tells you something.”
Trohman is in a different mindset now, so when you get him going about the new album, he won’t stop. “There are just these different weird guitar parts in it. I think a lot of our influences get overlooked, like Metallica, Prince, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones. People hear maybe some funk and the pop-punk and stop at that,” he says, before going on a Queen rant. “I love Queen, and I hear a lot of that on the record. I think the guys might get annoyed with me saying that all of the time, but I just love Queen. And all of the vocal harmonies and guitar harmonies remind me of Queen.” He stops for a moment and laughs. “Man, I feel I need to get a new shtick.”
Or maybe regain an old one. One of the biggest reference points for Fall Out Boy fans is 2003’s Take This To Your Grave. But like the old adage goes, you can never go back home.
“I know as fans of music we all have certain artists where we say, ‘Why don’t they just put that thing out again?’ But it’s way easier to ask [for] it than it is to be in that band and do it,” says Trohman. “It’s like capturing a moment in time. We can’t re-do Take This To Your Grave. I don’t think people would really want us to. But those are parts of Fall Out Boy that will always be there. And I think they’re very apparent in many of these songs."
A few days later, inside Greenblatt’s Delicatessen on Sunset Boulevard, Patrick Stump is eyeing his egg salad sandwich from multiple angles, contemplating how to make his first strike. “I’m looking at this sandwich and thinking, ‘I’m going to totally make a mess of myself trying to eat this thing.’” He goes for it. Fortunately, the spillage makes it to the plate instead of in his lap.
Stump’s not here just for the egg salad (he ordered without even peeking at the menu), but because it’s walking distance from the place he shares with his girlfriend. Stump lives in Los Angeles because there’s production work here. His name can be found on the liner notes of records by the Hush Sound, Gym Class Heroes, Cobra Starship… Okay, just about the entire Decaydance roster. But he’s not looking to turn his studio into the next hit factory. “I have a grand piano and now the place to play it,” he says. “But the real main goal is so I can play drums again as loudly as I want."
For all of the attention Wentz gets for his non-FOB activities, Stump is no slouch, having just finished a short film The Moustachette, which he wrote, directed and acted in. (“I want to see the final cut. If I like it, I’ll let it out there. If not, it was good practice.”) Budding film auteur aside, there’s also the singer’s hip-hop connections. For a guy who is humble to a fault, the last place you’d think Stump would pop up is working with Lupe Fiasco or appearing on the Roots’ “Birthday Girl.” Pharrell made an appearance in the “I Don’t Care” video, and Stump recently released a cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” Yet, he downplays any talk of street cred. “No one wants to hang out with me, because I’m not a fun guy to hang out with. I’m not a lame guy to hang out with, but I’m kind of a wallflower. The only thing that people want out of me is music. When I hang out with Kanye, we’re talking about music.”
Talk to Stump for mere seconds and the word “art” will inevitably pop out. Putting out the Administration mixtape is part of the album, “part of the art,” he’ll say. Having Wentz dress as the Baker is part of the art. Even the conversation he’s now having can be art.
“This is promotion, but at the same time I get to talk about art,” he says. “I get to say the word ‘art.’ That discussion is interesting enough to me that I’m willing to overlook the shameless implications of it. Just because you have to do an advertisement or marketing or a video doesn’t mean you can’t make it art."
The first part of this art experiment-the actual album-was created under a tight, self-imposed deadline. The guys began working on Folie À Deux without notifying their label and went with a “first-thought, best-thought” mantra to try to keep it fresh and immediate. Naturally, it led to struggles, fights and self-doubt in the studio, but ultimately the next piece in the band’s continuing mythology.
“There was something about Take This To Your Grave,” Stump says. “No one outside of the band gave a shit about that record while it was being made. And we had, like, nine days to record the girth of it. We went in there and we did it and we were so pissed off during the course of it and then we got out. [Folie] took a little longer, but I think we were trying to find what making a record that way would sound like now, but with four adult Fall Out Boys."
Stump finishes his sandwich and quotes a different kind of artist, one that’s seemingly more apropos than Monet or Elliott.
"Rodney Dangerfield said, ‘Never change your act for the audience,’ and that’s kind of the feeling I have about the band,” he resigns. “For all of the crap that we get from people who don’t like our band, at least they know who we are. When we started, they didn’t care one way or the other. And we’re still here because we like what we’re doing. For us, it hasn’t really changed much from the inside.”
That change is clear when Pete Wentz shows up 40 minutes late for the scheduled interview and walk through Hollywood’s Runyon Canyon Park. He pops out of the back seat of his assistant’s car. The paparazzi were on his tail on his way to the meeting spot, so he had to go back home, and hide in the backseat of a nondescript car to get here.
Even in the late summer heat, Wentz sports an Ocean Pacific hoodie, sweatpants and a touch of style with his Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses. He’s trying to be inconspicuous, but a female passerby recognizes him from the day they worked together on the set of Californication. Wentz just can’t stay out of the limelight: Infinity On High came out after naked pictures of him made their way onto the internet. Since then, the tabloids have been devouring tales of his marriage to Ashlee Simpson and announcing her pregnancy. If he says that he contemplated suicide or played Russian roulette (the latest to light up the blogosphere), the tabs are all over it.
But it’s his entrepreneur tendencies that keep him in the front lines. He’s got Decaydance Records, Clandestine Industries, Bartskull Films, co-owns two Angels & Kings bars and still had time to host MTV’s FNMTV over the summer (which has been picked up for a second season). The experience gave Wentz a new appreciation for being on the other side of the interview and allowed his comedic side to show through on a series of skits. Ironically, hosting a show on MTV gave Wentz, who will turn 30 next year, a dose of old-guy reality. (“I felt like my dad. It was two 17-hour days and one 10-hour day a week. I would sit in traffic on Sunset and come home to a pregnant wife and two dogs. It was like, ‘You are your dad, you’re working a day job and complaining about traffic.’") But Wentz is more in touch with what’s going in modern punk than most of his detractors think. His current favorites include scrappy rockers Tokyo Police Club, electro-poppers PlayRadioPlay!, everyman revivalists the Gaslight Anthem and next-gen pop punks All Time Low and the Maine-as well as the Decaydance roster. “A lot of my genuinely favorite bands do happen to be on the label. If I say that in an interview, a reader would be like, ‘Of course, he’d say that.’ Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I’m more involved [in the current scene] than people would expect. I saw the Maine play with Rocket To The Moon at a tiny club. Going to those shows is kinda cool.
“It’s interesting to see a band like Forever The Sickest Kids on the cover of AP. It’s interesting to see that growth. Seeing a band like Boys Like Girls become a big band. To see them have a serious presence is pretty crazy; I met Martin [Johnson, singer] on a FOB tour years and years ago. We The Kings snuck backstage at a FOB show in Texas-I think they got kicked out. [Laughs.]
Despite maintaining an interest in the scene now, Wentz can see a day when he steps out of the rock ‘n’ roll spotlight and stays behind the scenes. (“Nobody wants to see the Fonz at age 50 in eyeliner and girl jeans.”) He knows Fall Out Boy are at a crossroads. You can only keep one foot in the past for so long before you have to become a band that’s not defined by a genre, but be a band that defines itself. It’s not easy, and a lot of bands never pull it off. It remains to be seen if Folie À Deux is the album that allows the band to transcend the genre, but Wentz’s ambitions are apparent.
“You have these bands, like the gilded bands, and it’s so hard to get grandfathered in,” he begins. “A band like U2 are in there, the Rolling Stones are in there. Do we want to be a gilded band? Of course; at some point you want to go on the adventure and not leave all the breadcrumbs. I don’t know how you get in that club. We might be up for membership, but I’m not playing croquet behind the place with Bono. I don’t know what the secret password is. But can bands of our generation get in? Someone like Green Day who have been through so many ups and downs with memorable songs. You can take a record like Dookie, and I know where I was the first time I heard some of those songs. I think Blink  were headed there, and they still might get there, regardless.
“People ask me, ‘why is your band still relevant?’” he continues, adjusting his sunglasses. “There’s a lot to be said for bands who fight to be relevant. But convincing people you’re relevant? That’s like telling people it’s not raining when they’re soaking wet. Sometimes, I feel FOB is perceived as killing the message for the messenger. You don’t want to like it and you immediately assume it’s going to be a guilty pleasure, as opposed to liking a band that you’re proud of that you’re stoked on. Getting around that is a matter of waiting it out in time or proving it to people. That’s why I’ve tried to withdraw the personality of Pete Wentz from the band as much as possible. At some point, you reach an over-saturation of how familiar people are with you and they aren’t familiar with the songs.”
Pete Wentz is so late to his next appointment, he may just cancel it all together. As he heads off to dodge the paparazzi, a thought comes up that we talked about with the group. Yes, the four guys are bringing different ambitions into the fold, from the band’s appearance in Sexdrive to Wentz’s "pussy-pounding" parody in Californication to Stump’s immersion into hip hop. There are songs to write, labels to run, businesses to attend to, babies to have. But when these guys come together as Fall Out Boy, it’s all about doing the Deux. No matter what adventures they embark upon, it’s good to know that whether people love them or hate them, deep inside, Fall Out Boy are the same pals that rocked VFW halls for $30 and felt like millionaires-long before they were.
“I definitely wouldn’t argue that we’re the same four dudes,” Wentz says. “I get the message of that, and I agree with that. Over the course of seven years, three or four records, it would be impossible not to change. It would be damaging and stupid if we didn’t change. If you look at this band like a relationship analogy, we’re still in the boning-on-the-kitchen-floor phase. Everything is still new and exciting-we’re still kids. We’re still every bit that little band that could. We go to award shows and lose all of the time. I feel like we’ve always been a small fish, the pond just keeps getting bigger. If we are superstars, we’re the smallest superstars in the world.”