In a relatively short period of time, FALL OUT BOY have earned the respect of the Warped Tour faithful, as well as old-school hardcore types. And while they’ve definitely worked hard to enjoy the success they’re having, they’re just now learning to come clean about things.
Story: Leslie Simon
If you don’t have a Zen moment when you look out into the great wide open that surrounds the Gorge, you might want to have someone check you for a pulse. Describing the view from all sides of the legendary Washington State venue’s stage as “awe-inspiring” or “breathtaking” seems cheap: If you didn’t know better, you’d think the area’s grandiose mountains and dipping valleys were projected on a green screen. Today, however, despite the scenery, moments of serenity are few and far between, because the Vans Warped Tour is in town.
It’s about 2 p.m., and a mop-topped fan stands in line at the Gorge’s concession stand, waiting for a soft pretzel and wearing a handmade black tee that reads, in white iron-on letters: Who Is Pete Wentz? Good question. To his fans, Pete Wentz is a bedroom poet. To the music industry, he’s a shrewd businessman. To himself, he’s a mystery. Over the past year, 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,” explains Wentz, 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. From Under The Cork Tree, Fall Out Boy’s third album and Island Records debut, has already been certified gold. The disc’s first single, “Sugar, We’re Goin Down,” had to be retired from TRL after appearing on the countdown for 65 days, while the clip also landed the band an MTV2 Video Music Award nomination for Best New Artist.
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. “They came from our scene,” explains Josh Grabelle, president of the New Jersey-based hardcore label Trustkill Records and unapologetic Fall Out Boy fan. “They are not a prefabricated, put-together and made-up bullshit group. These guys are for real. It wasn’t like some fat, balding white dudes in suits said, ‘Hey! He’ll be the cute one, and he’ll play bass. He’ll be the weird one, and he’ll play drums. He’ll be the shy one, and he’ll sing.’ It was a group of friends who were all in Chicago bands already, and they all said, ‘Hey, we’re tired of playing mosh-metal. Let’s do something else.’ Lo and behold, it worked!”
For the uninitiated, Grabelle is talking about the scene that spawned the basement-show hardcore explosion of the mid- to late ’90s. For most who fell into the scene, it wasn’t social unrest or crooked politicians they were revolting against; it was the blasé atmosphere of the sprawling suburbs of North America-in Fall Out Boy’s case, Chicago and Milwaukee. “I think it definitely had to do with suburban alienation in mostly white kids from, you know, this really safe place,” waxes Hurley, 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,” explains Stump, 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 like Birthright, Extinction and Racetraitor, the last of which also included Hurley and once even made the cover of MaximumRockNRoll-light years removed from the audience that’s embraced Fall Out Boy. “[A typical Racetraitor fan] was your kid that loved Earth Crisis and other bands that were stirring up controversy, talking shit and making a difference,” says Grabelle, who in 1999 released the Racetraitor/Burn It Down split CD Make Them Talk.
“I liked hardcore music a lot at the time when I first got into it,” 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.”
One band that didn’t suck-relatively speaking, at least-was Arma Angelus, whose lineup would eventually evolve into Fall Out Boy (Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath was a member in an early incarnation). “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 kind of like, these are the politics we’ve chosen to embrace, and we’re just gonna try and get it out there.” Angelus built a following in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and in 2001 released an album on Eulogy, Where Sleeplessness Brings 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, ‘Oh, yeah, 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 was really bad, and neither of those bands made any money, but Arma Angelus lost me less money, so that was never a thought.”
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.”
For the rest of the interview, pick up issue #207 below…