Over the past year, Pete Wentz and his band, Fall Out Boy—rounded out by singer/guitarist Patrick Stump, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley—have become an unscripted Cinderella story. A group of suburban Chicago kids, unhappy with the path they’re “supposed” to be taking, who decide to forge their own way and, in the process, end up taking nearly half a million people (and counting) with them.
“I think a lot of kids have considered themselves personal ambassadors to Fall Out Boy,” Wentz explains, picking at his permanently chipped black nail polish. “The reason our record was No. 9 when it came out was because of all these kids—not because of radio and MTV. None of that had happened yet.” But it did happen—in a big way.
Fall Out Boy may have earned enough music industry bragging rights to last a lifetime of high school reunions, but somewhere between the adoration and the accolades, the band’s music also managed to speak to—and for—an entire generation that needed a voice.
“I think it definitely had to do with suburban alienation in mostly white kids from, you know, this really safe place,” Hurley waxes, a self-described “problem child” who spent most of his adolescence as an alcohol-addled underachiever before eventually discovering hardcore, going straight edge and taking up the drums. “People don’t understand that everyone experiences life or feels alienated in the confines of our white suburbs. There’s no community there.”
“The suburbs are so close to the danger and vibrancy of the city, but they don’t have [either]; so you can see it go by, but you can’t really experience it,” Stump explains, who grew up with an aspiring folk-singer dad and music always playing in the house. “It is one of those things, culturally, where the only thing you can rebel against is how confining the suburb is and how confining it is to live there.”
For Trohman—formerly known to his friends as “Number One Fan” (especially when the band was Kill The Slavemaster, Hurley’s pre-FOB group)—an open door to the scene came via Wentz, a longtime mouthpiece for the Chicago hardcore community. Wentz had been playing around the city for years in hardcore bands such as Birthright, Extinction and Racetraitor, the last of which also included Hurley and once even made the cover of Maximum RockNRoll—light years removed from the audience that’s embraced Fall Out Boy.
“I liked hardcore music a lot at the time,” Wentz says with a slight grimace. “Nobody was into it, so it was like the new punk rock. A lot of bands just sucked, but you were into them.”
“It was just such a vastly different thing,” Wentz remembers. “At the time, there were never any conscious thoughts about hooks, being on tour and doing [interviews]. It was like, ‘These are the politics we’ve chosen to embrace, and we’re just gonna try and get it out there.’”
Arma Angelus built a following in the Midwest and on the East Coast. In 2001, they released an album on Eulogy Recordings, Where Sleeplessness Is Rest From Nightmares. However, as the years passed, the once-peaceful Chicago scene became flooded with racism, sexism and “paper gangsters” who would migrate from the suburbs to beat up fans at shows. Unhappy and almost completely fed up with music, Wentz felt forced to shift gears and started to put more energy in a more melodic band he had formed on the side.
“A lot of people said, ‘That guy started Fall Out Boy to make a lot of money,’” he says. “At that time, it was a lot more interesting and exciting to me. Fall Out Boy were really bad. Neither of those bands made any money, but Arma Angelus lost me less money, so that was never a thought.”
Arma Angelus were in shambles, but it didn’t matter; a lineup of the best local musicians—Trohman, Hurley and Stump—had already fallen into place for Wentz. Although not as active in the hardcore scene as the other members, Stump brought in an outside and somewhat objective perspective, as well as an appreciation for pop music, and inadvertently supplied the ingredients to help make Fall Out Boy famous.
“Patrick doesn’t talk about the bands he was in,” Wentz says, “but the only reason we’re sitting [here] doing an interview with Alternative Press is because he spent a million hours home alone with a guitar or whatever the fuck he did to turn him into this weird master of writing hit music.”
“Their live performance blew me away,” raves Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, president and CEO of Def Jam Recordings and Roc-A-Fella Records, both of which fall under the larger heading of Island Records. “When I saw the audience responding to them, I realized that Fall Out Boy are a movement.”
So true, and it’s no more evident than at tonight’s show at the Gorge. It’s 10:30 p.m., and, after almost 12 hours of rocking, the Warped Tour audience still isn’t ready to leave. Instead, they pack themselves in front of the stage, pumping their fists and chanting “Fall Out Boy! Fall Out Boy!”
The band take the stage, slap one another five (a tradition they partake in before every show) and then plug in for the first chord of “Our Lawyer Made Us Change The Name Of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued.” Trohman and Wentz sprint back and forth, throwing in a couple of spin kicks and bass twirls for good measure, while Hurley pounds the shit out of the drums and Stump shimmies and shakes behind the microphone.
“We’re not up there to play perfectly,” Stump explains later. “I’m not a good singer—I’m a good singer for a dude that dodges fucking basses. It’s one of those things that, given the chaos that goes on, we’re impressive. But if you close your eyes and listen to us, we suck. There’s this weird tension there between how nutty it is and how unpredictable it is. You never know what’s gonna happen with us. I never know what’s gonna happen with us. That’s another reason it’s entertaining: It’s always gonna be havoc.”
The crowd couldn’t care less if there are a few wrong notes. Looking out from the stage, you’d assume the ground had been replaced with a giant trampoline. Crowdsurfers catapult over people’s heads during “Grand Theft Autumn / Where Is Your Boy,” and circle pits sprout up throughout “Dance, Dance.” By the end of the set, it’s a tie between who’s more exhausted: the fans or the band. Luckily for both, no one on either side of the stage got hurt this time around.
“Every day I play, I get yelled at by our tour manager,” Wentz says, laughing. “He says that I’ve done something that he’s pissed off about. On our tour, we spend probably on an average of a grand a week fixing different things. Not to say that’s what makes this cool or what makes us different; we’ve been doing this since we were the smallest band you ever heard of. We were doing it when there were two kids watching us. That’s just how we are.”
When Fall Out Boy had two kids watching them, they released Evening Out With Your Girlfriend, and when they had a couple more, they released Take This To Your Grave. The band don’t talk about Girlfriend much, partly because it’s kind of embarrassing and partly because of a rift between them and their then-label, Uprising Records.
“Everyone comes from somewhere. No one was born cool,” Wentz says, offering an analogy. “To me, it’s like you work in this office. You go to the office Christmas party, [and] there’s this crazy, fat secretary there. You get wasted and do some very compromising things, and someone takes pictures of you in your worst moments. Every single Christmas from there after, they send them to you and the entire office as their Christmas card. You have no control over it.”
“Early on, the band were open about the record and did their part to [promote it],” Uprising owner Sean Muttaqi counters, who released Girlfriend back in 2003 and then again in 2005. “But once momentum started building for the group, I think the guys didn’t want to divert energy from their No. 1 priority, which was their new release for a new label. [Take This To Your Grave] was gaining more and more momentum, so it’s easy to see them not wanting to look back. That said, since the remix has come out, we’ve been talking to their camp about possibly working together a bit more in regards to Girlfriend.”
For most Fall Out Boy fans, the band’s debut is considered to be Grave. Crafting a combination of melodic breakdowns and heartbreaking lyrics, they not only managed to stick a foot in the door; they pulled the damned thing off its hinges. As Stump puts it, he simply decided to memorize the songwriting rulebook and then add his own chapter.
“I think it’s arrogant for any band to think they can hold anyone’s attention for longer than three minutes and 40 seconds,” he insists. “So, whatever I gotta say musically, I’ve gotta finish that thought in that amount of time. The other thing is that if you don’t repeat the meat of the story, no one’s gonna get it. Shakespeare had to restate the point for the groundlings several times in several different ways so everybody got it. If anyone ever asks, repeat your chorus at least twice or go home. And your vocals better start within 30 seconds. [And] for the chord progression to have continuity, you have to have some sort of common ground. You can’t start with the ornamentation and try to build back from that. That’s like makeup before you have the face. It’s pointless. It’s formless. You have to lay groundwork.”
That musical groundwork lent the support needed to hold up Wentz’s tragically hip yet deeply personal lyrics.
“All the bands that I’ve ever really loved, where the songs have meant so much to me, whether it’s [the Get Up Kids’] Something To Write Home About or [Saves The Day’s] Through Being Cool, I took away what was real,” Wentz says, wide-eyed and insistent. “I took away that there was a Holly Hox [from the STD song “Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots”], [so] to find out in an interview that Chris Conley said only two songs he’s ever written were actually autobiographical just about destroyed everything I thought. I was so obsessed with it to the point where I’m thinking, ‘Maybe he’s just saying that so people won’t ask him about it.’ That’s insane. You just need it to be true because you’re addicted to it, and you bend it in your head.”
“To me,” he continues, “that’s one of the most important things: It’s scaringly honest. I love it [and] I love how it feels. I love hearing those songs, and I love writing those songs. It’s just everything about me.”
But how much is too much? For Wentz—who has a hard time telling his closest friends and family what’s going on in his life but has no problem opening up to hundreds of thousands of strangers—bearing your soul in song simply fuels inquiring minds who want to know everything. But the phenomenon of celebrity has a ripple effect. The ex-girlfriends who inspired Wentz to write some of his most hurtful words of resentment and revenge now wear those songs as badges of honor, and the ex-friends he once name-checked in songs are now signing autographs.
“[I’m] writing these words that people hold in their hearts, and before, no one cared. Now, all of a sudden, people are going through my parents’ garbage,” Wentz says, amazed. “When I look in the mirror, I see the same person I was when I was 14. I have the same flaws, the same strengths, [and] the same fears. Then you have someone picking through your garbage trying to figure out who the person in the mirror is. The line gets hazy, because you wrote all these songs about these people, and people are so interested in it. It’s like, you let the dogs loose, gave them the scent and then you say, ‘Don’t kill!’ when you get there. There are days when I read the stuff about me on the internet, and I want to cry and quit. People hate you without knowing. That’s what this little world has become.”
“I think of it as being a superhero,” Hurley says, who was recently the victim of the LiveJournal paparazzi when an intimate conversation between him and another person was posted less than 24 hours after it happened. Also hurt and somewhat betrayed, Hurley took the incident in stride and let it roll off his back. “You’ve got powers and shit, but you never thought about the fact that you have to have a secret identity. I have to have an alias because of the forums of other people you hear about.”
“When one of us is clearly out walking in a field having a conversation on the phone and a fan runs out and starts wanting to talk…” Trohman adds before pausing, “it’s a blessing overall. It’s just that once in a while, everyone wishes they could go back to being this normal shitty dude.”
Fast forward 72 hours to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. At 4:30 in the afternoon, the sun is blazing, and nearly all the concertgoers who attended today’s Warped Tour stop at the Race City Speedway are covered with a thin layer of dust kicked up from the racetrack encircling the festival grounds. White shirts aren’t white anymore. Fans are taking shade wherever they can find it, pouring water over their heads, digging under their nails with car keys and trying to mop up the sweat that’s washing down their faces like rain on a dirty window.
The crowd seems sufficiently burned out; but then, as if on cue, nearly 3,000 fans drop their bottled waters, close their flip-phones mid-conversation, spill out from every direction of the track and storm the Warped Tour’s Brian Stage for a midafternoon performance from Fall Out Boy. However, to some fans’ disappointment—and others’ indifference—only three-fourths of the band walk out onstage. A few days earlier, Trohman received a phone call saying one of his close friends had died of an overdose. He flew home for the wake, leaving a hole in the band’s lineup, which was quickly filled by his friend Ray Toro from My Chemical Romance.
— 🎃Museum of horror💀 (@MCR_museum) August 23, 2014
“It’s definitely really weird because there’s definitely a lot of nervous energy going through you,” Toro says post-gig, failing to mention the cheering section of his MCR bandmates at the side of the stage, all masked in black hoodies, oversized sunglasses and huge smiles. “You’re constantly like, ‘I hope I remember this next part, and I hope I’m doing a good job. When we did ‘Sugar, We’re Goin Down,’ I was like, ‘Fuck yeah!’ I was almost inspired to do some spin kicks, but I was afraid I’d fuck up.”
“While you could sit here and say [this] is why the record turned out the way it did, I don’t want to look back and be remembered as the kind of person who was stuck in a rut,” Wentz says. “I don’t want to be remembered as the kind of person who got all the mileage out of feeling depressed. I want to get to the point where it’s OK to be happy. At the same time, it’s OK to have a bad day or feel blue or cry. But it’s all right to be happy. No one’s gonna look at you and go, ‘Your words aren’t real, and I think less of you.’ That was a really hard thing to get past.”
Sitting in the back of the tour bus, Wentz takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “We’ve already begun writing the next record, and it’s obviously going to be a different place. I love verbiage. I love words a lot. It’s an obsession. If anything, words and lyrics and Fall Out Boy are my Rushmore. [Even] when people are talking about TRL and screaming girls, [this is] something I breathe and believe in, as cheesy and cliché as it sounds. I’ll catch myself in a corner and laugh when I say that, because it doesn’t make any sense. It’s just something I really love.”