With a uniquely defined vision and a geek-like obsession with detail to see it through, MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE avoided mere rock-critic shorthand to stake out their own post-emo territory. Now that the field is crammed with pretenders seeking a similar opportunity, the band plan on taking the next big riff out of the compound they helped build. But in MCR’s universe, the journey is more important than the destination.

Story: Jason Pettigrew

Gerard Way is stoked. Backstage at the Paul Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Massachusetts, the frontman for My Chemical Romance has a smile on his face so wide, you couldn’t smash it off with a crowbar. Is he blissful because the band’s Warner Bros. debut, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, has been certified platinum, signifying over a million records sold in a cultural climate where hip-hop is king and downloading is a way of life? No. Is it because when MCR started this final victory lap of the U.S. in September–spending the prior months opening for Green Day and headlining the Vans Warped Tour–they went from playing 3,000-seat venues and, in some places, graduated to arenas nearly twice that size? Uh-uh. Was he still beaming from the cover-photo shoot the band took earlier that afternoon for the British music mag NME, where they painted up their faces and dressed in baseball drag like one of the more deranged street gangs from the cult movie The Warriors? Nope.

Why is Way so damned happy? Band manager Brian Schechter has just presented him with a brand-new limited-edition Star Wars lightsaber. Way runs to a mobile supply cabinet to heist six AA batteries to get the toy lit and humming so he can bust some Skywalker-esque moves in front of a backstage audience made up of close friends, crew, band members, their girlfriends and one visiting reporter. It’s the reporter that turns out all the lights in the dressing room so Way can “power up” for maximum effect. The surrounding coterie hoots and hollers their approval, as Way pulls off everything from ninja-ballet moves to basic street-fight slashing. Yes, Gerard Way, 29, a man who has inspired both adulation and unbridled hatred–as well as kick-starting the libidos of women ages 15 to 50-is an unapologetic nerd.

But even before Schechter had dispatched a local runner to go toy shopping, Way was already feeling pretty good. The platinum record and the ticket sales are great, but there are greater things going down this evening. John “John Boy” Ramirez, the singer’s closest friend from his art-school days, is traveling with the band for a couple of days. Neil Sabatino and John “Hambone” McGuire from the band Fairmont have driven down from New Jersey to hang with Team MCR. Hambone-who booked some of MCR’s earliest gigs, helped roadie their gear and gave them punk-rock tutelage-is cited by guitarist Frank Iero as the man who “gave us the confidence to follow our hearts. He has more passion for music than anyone I will ever know.” (At the band’s insistence, Hambone joined MCR onstage this particular evening to sing “Astro Zombies,” the Misfits cover they contributed to the recent Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland soundtrack.) And then there are Way’s other best friends: brother and bassist Mikey Way, guitarists Iero and Ray Toro, and drummer Bob Bryar, who’ve collectively accompanied the singer through the highest peaks and most debilitating lows of the past two years promoting Three Cheers–most of which has been compiled in a CD/DVD, Life On The Murder Scene, which will be available in March.

According to Way, MCR have 14 songs in various stages of development (one of them, “Disenchanted,” the band wrote during rehearsals for this tour). They haven’t yet hammered out the specifics (like a producer or the exact date they’ll convene in the studio), but, as their career has proven, they’ll have a vision well in place by the time they do.

The operative word here is “vision.” Too many new bands are content to ape their influences to the point of parody (the need to name names is as productive as removing water from the Great Lakes, one spoonful at a time). MCR have done everything on their own terms, simply by flipping off punk-rock convention. For their major-label debut, they dared to mix up elements of punk and classic rock to forge their own post-emo identity. When MCR dared to bring out dancers on select nights of this tour, the message boards of the punk police were seeping with bile. While everyone at this year’s MTV’s Video Music Awards was obsessed with being oh-so cool and glamorous, Way, after the band’s performance of “Helena,” told his deceased grandmother (the person who taught him the most about art and aesthetics) he loved her in front of the international television-viewing audience. Gestures like these have made people both worship and patently despise MCR. And because of that duality, theirs truly is the Most Anticipated Album of 2006.

“Nobody’s in the middle with us,” says Way, firing up another cigarette. “It’s either ‘I love them’ or ‘I want to kill them.’ People love us and believe in us, or they want to see us destroyed. And I love that.”

This is for AP’s Most Anticipated Of 2006 issue. As a fan, whose new records are you looking forward to?

GERARD WAY: That’s a good question. I don’t know if there’s going to be a new Mars Volta record next year. I’m looking forward to see what the Dresden Dolls are gonna do. Oh, and the next Thursday record. We go way back, and I just know it’s going to be amazing. I think they got a raw deal. I think the media kept hyping them as the next big thing, but now they can just be Thursday.

Everything around Three Cheers–the music, the lyrics, the packaging–was well-executed in creating an aesthetic and image for the band. It’s as if a bunch of geeks were given a blank canvas by a major label and instructed to make their masterpiece.

Yeah, that is what happened. Put it this way: If we were in an art class and we were given that canvas, there would be the occasional instructor walking by, saying, “Oh, your technique is really good; why don’t you try this….” [That album] was made by five geeky outcast dudes who were aggressive [with their creativity] and still responding to shit that probably happened to them in high school, and were told to just do it. We were given that blank canvas because we were told [by the label], “We trust you guys because you trusted us.” I hate talking about money, but they knew we could get more money elsewhere. We were given an offer for more money at another label, but we turned it down. It’s never been about that, and it still isn’t, which is why we’re going to write the record we want. Because we’re going to have to live with the thing.

For the rest of the story, pick up AP 210 below…

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