“It doesn’t get stuck in your head; it haunts you”—We preview MCR’s unreleased ‘Black Parade’ demos
My Chemical Romance fans won’t have long to wait until the release of The Black Parade/Living With Ghosts, the hotly anticipated reissue of the band’s classic 2006 album. Slated for release Sept. 23, the set will include a second disc of demo/rehearsal recordings made at the Paramour mansion in Los Angeles’ Silverlake area, where the band moved to write and record the album. During these rehearsal and writing sessions, producer Rob Cavallo and engineer Doug McKean were there, documenting the process as it happened by recording everything that was being worked on. It’s those tapes from whence the 11 tracks on Living With Ghosts were culled
“The way I work, the number one rule is ‘the “record” light is always on,’” says Cavallo. “In the case of The Black Parade, I had Doug set up a small Pro Tools rig and six to eight really good microphones. While we were setting up things, you can get some insight into the creative process. You hear these songs in their embryonic stage.” The producer is quick to add that what you hear on Ghosts wasn’t “fixed” up with post-production effects: The tapes were mastered for volume levels “so it wouldn’t sound anemic. We are giving it to the fans the way we heard it.
“We spent eight to 10 nights [taping]. The 11 songs on the disc are culled from 23. There has to be 400 hours of recordings.” He begins to laugh. “I don’t know who wants to listen to 400 hours of this stuff! But [My Chemical Romance] picked the right tracks.”
We can tell Mr. Cavallo exactly who would want to listen to 400 hours of that stuff: Pretty much any fan of the band. Living With Ghosts is a glimpse into MCR’s creative process unlike anything to which fans have previously had access, stripping away some of the mystery in MCR’s writing process. One could argue that isn’t a good thing when considering the very personal experiences fans often have with the band’s music. But as often as fans want to build their own narrative into MCR’s work, they also want to psychoanalyze it and theorize about the songs’ intended meanings and inspirations. For the diehards, playing “spot the difference” between the roughs and the finals will be a truly enlightening treasure hunt.
In turning the key and entering this previously shrouded world, it’s easiest to notice patterns by their absence in the final recordings. There are are either one or several female characters in the demos who don’t seem to appear on the final album, for example. And themes of abandonment loom heavy over the forsaken tracks on Ghosts—a sentiment that isn’t nearly as pronounced in the finalized album.
“House Of Wolves (Version 1)” is one such example of the overwhelming theme. A sombre song that could easily fit on Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge both tonally and lyrically, this version of “Wolves” could very well function as an epilogue to the Demolition Lovers story arc. In it, Gerard Way frantically begs, “Don’t leave me here/Don’t walk away/Let me die in this House Of Wolves/Pray for my soul…” There’s a palpable urgency for contrition, draped in the Catholic imagery fans will have associated MCR with before the release of The Black Parade. By contrast, the second version of the song is nearly true to the finished version. (“I never did know why we had two songs with the same title,” says Cavallo. [Ray Toro and Frank’s Iero’s] approaches are totally different and that’s what made [the band] different. If you isolate the guitar tracks, you can hear them smashing into each other.”) In version two, there’s a bit of bite that didn’t make the final cut when Way snarls, “I want to see you burn in Hell” rather than “I think I’m gonna burn in Hell.”
And there’s more anger where that came from—a lot of it, especially on the rough version of “Kill All Your Friends.” In its raw form, the song that would become a B-side is lyrically more bitter and on target in its disdain toward small-town thinking. (The “you’ll never take me alive” chant toward the end of the song was originally, “You’ll never get me alone/You’ll never take me back home.”) It’s clear in many of the songs that as their creation progressed, concepts became more abstract, and melodies and cadences that were awkwardly placed previously found their appropriate homes.
Then there were the songs that never quite found themselves at all. “Party At The End Of The World” reveals just what might turn a decent song into a scrapped one. It doesn’t have the grandeur and guts of the final album. It’s just a song. And no MCR songs are just songs. “Not That Kind Of Girl,” which, as a whole, never saw the light of day, features parts that almost certainly were to be resurrected for the writing of the Conventional Weapons song, “Gun.”
“All The Angels,” on the contrary, could have fit very well on The Black Parade. “It’s a joy that was thematically in line with [the vibe of the album] but for reasons unknown, did not make the final cut,” Cavallo says. The song is a slow-building and painfully realistic death narrative akin to “Cancer.” However, what it has that “Cancer” doesn’t is a repeating and powerful phrase to latch onto: “All the angels say/You are all to blame/All the angels say/You are all the same.” It demonstrates how catchiness, when paired with sadness, doesn’t get stuck in your head—it haunts you.
But, if there is any one song that truly demonstrates just how dark things got during the recording of the album, it’s “Emily.” Much like “Bulletproof Heart” from Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys, it explores the concept of a missing person, but there’s nothing upbeat nor lighthearted in its delivery. Listening to it is nearly chilling. It is, without competition, My Chemical Romance’s darkest song. Though Cavallo ponders the memories the song would conjure wouldn’t be so painful. “It’s a real cool song that I’m glad everyone gets to hear in this form. The purpose of this record is to include people into what was happening at the time. I would imagine the guys listening to this and going, ‘Hey, remember…’ and then fit [the song] together in the end. They thought their fans would [enjoy that], too.
“My Chemical Romance were really great young men going through what they were going through,” he resigns. “There was such great chemistry. When you have great rock ’n’ roll to record, you can just feel it in your bones.” Alt