Interview: Fall Out Boy
Thu, 01 May 2008 12:02:43
Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump doesn't seem like a rock star. He's very humble, intelligent and witty. Relaxing in Los Angeles, he's finally gotten a well-deserved breather after a rollercoaster seven years. Fall Out Boy are bona fide superstars now. After turning alt rock upside down with 2005's multi-platinum From Under the Cork Tree (Island/Def Jam), the band became an unstoppable, pop cultural force. Further carving the Fall Out Boy empire, bassist Pete Wentz's spearheaded not one, but two companies: his record label, Decaydance and his clothing line, Clandestine Industries. In 2007, Infinity On High raised the band to arena rock status, giving many denizens of Facebook nation their first big rock show experience. That's chronicled flawlessly in the band's recently released CD/DVD set Live In Phoenix, which highlights one of the standout shows on Fall Out Boy's States-dominating arena trek last fall. However, Stump and Co. haven't stopped since their indie debut Take This to Your Grave, and the time-off is welcome, to say the least.
Penning soaring, but sardonic hooks, Stump's more like the unassuming poet laureate for a restless nation of PacSun shoppers weaned on MySpace and Youtube. But make no mistake, Stump's one of the only rock stars we've got—in the best way possible. He redefines the term, and brings it down to the mall-level. He's the rare, smart frontman that can put on a show, but knows how to be a human at the same time. That's instantly apparent from his conversation with ARTISTdirect. In this exclusive interview, Stump talks Live In Phoenix, what "selling out" means, collaborating with John Mayer and how we should all take "Rock and Roll 101" from Foo Fighters and Queen.
Live in Phoenix really illustrates the evolution of Fall Out Boy as a live act. Now, you've got the big, bombastic rock show down to a science.
Yeah, well I guess it's one of those things. Every band has its time to do that. I guess this is the '80s for Fall Out Boy [Laughs]. I think there's a responsibility on a performer to put on a certain type of show, if you're going to be in venues that big. You do sacrifice a lot of intimacy by playing huge places. So you have to make it worthwhile for people.
During the first Infinity On High tour you utilized all of the star and space imagery from the album very well in the on-stage visuals. However, it seems like over the course of the last year, things changed immensely with the show.
Yeah, totally. I feel like our shows are always moving, probably because we do them so much. It's a weird thing being in a band that can play arenas, because your show has to be fairly locked down. It's well orchestrated and planned ahead. Then at the same time, we're a jerky, little band [Laughs]. So we push and pull on that structure during the course of a tour. It's weird, because the first day of tour versus the last day of tour is a completely different show, even though it's all of the same set pieces. It just moves and grows.
Your set list also incorporates everything from classic Fall Out Boy gems to brand new material, allowing the fans that whole spectrum.
Hopefully, it's one of those things…I say that a lot [Laughs]. That seems to be my go-to lead-in, "It's one of those things." But, there's nothing more offensive to me than when an artist belittles his or her own prior material. You're more or less belittling the people that bought those records, if you stand there and say, "That record was crap." I think you should perform the stuff that people want to hear. I don't think there's anything artistically compromising about being able to perform that. If you think about it, for us, it's probably more challenging to play the older stuff, because we're a completely different band now. It's louder and faster, and that's not quite the same thing as what we do now. Being able to go back and forth is a pretty good exercise.
Well, it's got to be fun for you to have all of those snapshots of your career across the span of one show.
Oh yeah, totally. It's definitely an interesting thing to see who are the fans of what songs too. It's a weird thing, because I feel like we're one of those bands where there are maybe two or three songs that everybody knows, but then in general, every song that we play has its own fans, which is nice. Then no one's really left out. I think there's really a purpose to playing what we end up playing, because hopefully there's someone out there that wants to hear it. That might be a total delusion though [Laughs].
Fall Out Boy is the last big, arena rock band right now. Very few young bands have that arena status. Also, each member of Fall Out Boy has his own persona, in some ways, hearkening back to that classic rock ethos.
Thanks! It's one of those things…there it is again, do you hear it? [Laughs] We are who we are, and there's nothing that we can do about that. That's what I like about us. We're honest, because we are four completely different people. We have these personas, but they're really just us, more or less—or arena-blown-up versions of us. It's not like we're acting or anything. I think there's a degree of faking it to certain types eras of rock stardom. You're right. Classically, during the late '60s and early '70s, I think people were still being fairly honest about who they were. At the end of the day, the crazy fact is that David Bowie really kind of was Ziggy Stardust [Laughs]. That's really just who he was. We are a little bit more subdued than that character. I think that's an understatement.
Well the big show gives fans an escape, and that iconic status gives them something to look up to.
Yeah. That's one of the things that frustrated me. There was this era where it really wasn't about if you could play, sing, write or any of that. It really came down to what you were wearing, if you were attractive, what part of the country you came from and all of these different things. That cycles in and out of being in vogue. We came in at one of those times where it really didn't matter. I look around at where pop music was—it's only been seven years since we started—and music has changed already. When we were coming up, it was right when Kelly Clarkson and Kanye West had become big. There was this fresh, new thing where everyone was honest. Kanye West isn't this tough, street rapper. He's the talent. He's the producer. He wrote everything. Kelly Clarkson got big, because she could out-sing everybody [Laughs]. I love the honesty behind that, and I like to think that we were a little brick in that wall.
If you look at music right now, the rappers have become the "real" rock stars in terms of decadence, the big shows and the large public profiles.
Totally, it's very true. A band like us, I think our idols, as far as rock stardom and how to portray ourselves as a band, are along the lines of Foo Fighters and Green Day. They're mentality is, "So we're this big band, but we're not assholes because of it." Bands like that set a really good example. That's what we hopefully shoot for.
There's a humor and truth to Fall Out Boy's lyrics too. You don't ever mince words.
It's just part of who we are. At the same time that I think we came out at a good time, we also came out when one of those big, cultural shifts was happening. So this whole emo-thing happened. Of course a rock band with members coming out of punk rock bands is going to get tossed in with that. It's weird, because everything often gets clumped in with whatever is the big thing at the time. I felt like it was a disservice to a lot of bands in the '90s coming out, because everyone was trying to find a way to angle them to look "grunge." I feel like that's something we've gotten saddled with a little bit too. Everyone's looking for the "emo" in us. It's ridiculous, because there are so many things. We always get shit-talked because Pete wore eyeliner for a little awhile, and that's so emo. Well, when he wore it, it really wasn't, and it was a few years ago, and he doesn't really wear it anymore. But, we'll never live that down, because it became a big thing for that whole iconography of whatever that is. I think what you said is true. We've always been honest. I think that's the difference. I don't know what "emo" is or what it means, but we'll always be the same band, because we're honest about who we are regardless of whether or not that's still going.
Fall Out Boy also has a sharp, sarcastic sense of humor, and that speaks to a lot of fans. Lyrics like "Wear me like a locket around your throat…you look so good in blue" are so clever and catchy. You're an anti-pop band.
I look to bands like Foo Fighters and Green Day as modern examples of what we want to be doing. There aren't a lot of those. I lose count of all the bands that had one hit and took themselves too seriously. The whole thing takes hold of them—the tour bus with the groupies and the drugs. It's funny, because I live out here now in L.A. I'm still "Chicago" until I die, but I'm out here now. There's this thing that's so frustrating. I don't think L.A. represents that "Hollywood" thing—the guy in spandex with the poodle hair and the cowboy boots walking down the street. But, there are so many people coming out here looking for that, so they bring that to Hollywood, in a sense. That's one of those things. At the end of the day, the rest of my band members and I became musicians because we wanted to make music, and that was the end result for us. There are a lot of bands, and you can tell, that want to be rich and famous. We've gotten a certain degree of fame and money, but those things will always be tertiary to the fact that we get to make records that we like. Hopefully, we have a certain degree of integrity in what we do. We haven't really gotten pushed into doing anything that we didn't want to. Hopefully that comes out in the live show. We're having a good time doing it.
There's a big progression on Infinity on High. At points, it's almost like a musical with how visual it becomes, yet, you do stay true to your roots in many ways.
Thanks, I'm really proud of that record. I think that was a pretty good show for me. I felt pretty good about that one. Again, you were talking about being able to play your own set list, and I think there's a certain amount of respect for your old material by changing on your new material. Because, if you're more or less plagiarizing yourself and you keep putting out the same record, it's disrespectful to your early material. You're ignoring that there was something special about that first record. Take This to Your Grave, I recorded when I was 17. I was in a completely different state of mind than I am now. Of course you're not going to be able to just sound like that, because it wasn't about just sound. It was about where you were. It was about being emotionally excited about what you were playing. If I play the same old thing with new words or chords over it, it doesn't make it new. I always looked up to bands like Queen. They have a bunch of these songs that are really great, but they don't sound the same at all. They all have the same thing that was good about them, but musically, they sound completely different.
That's what you achieved with the last record. It seems like you guys went in the studio with the idea of challenging yourselves.
We did, but we also went in and said, "We're going to make a record, and we're not going to be restrained." I felt like it was a little bit of a challenge, but it's a really strange thing making your second major label record, especially in the current climate. There's absolutely no indication that you're going to be around much longer. I felt with that record it was our last chance to know that someone was going to be paying for strings, horns, studio time, etc. So if we wanted to get anything out, I thought, "Let's get it out now." Someone said this too. "It felt like our last album, but it's not." It just had this feeling, like we were going balls-out. That's really because the industry is in a funk, and there's really no way of knowing that you have any longevity—in as much as somebody fronting the bill for you to record. Studios are going under left and right. We pushed to experience making a big record while we still could.
It's got a classic rock boundlessness too. Anything goes on that album.
I think that's something that I was definitely inspired by—the whole classic rock thing. Like I said, Queen's a huge example when you look at "Another One Bites the Dust," "You're My Best Friend," "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Will Rock You." Those are like four completely different bands, but they all have this common thread. It's something that you can't put your finger on, and I don't know that we have that, but it's something that we definitely try to achieve. Basically, as long as you feel the same way making it and you feel good about the product, that's what matters. There's this idea of "What is selling out?" I don't really know that it exists anymore. I read a really interesting article that the guy from Of Montreal wrote about selling out. I think what it means to us is we will never sell out, because we will never make music that we don't like. If we do, that's the day. I think it carries over to the show. That's another thing about the last tour that I felt really good about. We had to put out this DVD, because that was one of those important moments in time. We flew out of the floor on this tour! That's not going to happen every tour. Being able to do that and being able to get it on tape was so awesome. We were like, "A lot of kids won't be able to see this, so let's get it on tape." It's not one of those get-rich-quick schemes, because if it was, we wouldn't have spent so much money on the show [Laughs].
It seems like that Phoenix show was pretty special for you guys, too.
It was right in the middle of that tour. It was one of the most fun U.S. runs for us. The kids that showed up were excited, and they wanted to be there. The bands were great. It was a really awesome time. There was just something great about that night. So we got it on DVD.
“We've gotten a certain degree of fame and money, but those things will always be tertiary to the fact that we get to make records that we like.”
How'd the John Mayer collaboration come about on "Beat It?"
John's basically been a friend for a while. I think I met him at Live Earth, but Pete's known him for a long time. We've been talking for a while. I feel like you can always do the guitar solo. We've always been very communal on our records, having our friends appear. It became this thing where it was, "What singer do we have sing backup?" That gets tiring after awhile, because you only have so many friends that sing. It's like, "Let's give a guitarist a chance." We started it on "Take Over the Breaks Over" from Infinity. We had Ryan from Panic at the Disco and Chad from New Found Glory play a little solo on it. We had such a blast doing that. We wanted to follow that idea, but we were like, "Who's the rock God, guitar legend right now?" It was the Eddie Van Halen part in the original "Beat It." So John Mayer was the first person that we thought of. It's awesome, because he's a friend of ours. He's someone we respect. It was great, and I loved it. John went out of his comfort zone a little bit, but he brought a lot of it with him. John is such a naturally blues player. He's got a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan in him, but he brought that to the Van Halen-style runs. There's something about that I was so excited about. It's better than I could've imagined, when I heard it. It was both. It did the flashy stuff, but there was some really nice restraint in there.
We really don't know right now. "Beat It" kind of took off, which we didn't expect. We just put it on the record, and we didn't think anything of it. We thought it would be fun to record, because we were doing it on that tour. Radio started playing it. The label called us up one day, and they were like, "Do you want to make a video for it?" I was like, "I guess it's a single now." So we're doing a little bit of that. We just shot a video for it. There really aren't a lot of plans for Fall Out Boy. I think a lot will happen this year, but nothing is planned. Also, I really have no idea at the moment.
You've been going for so long that it's probably good to have a little bit of a break too.
Yeah, that's how it started. Basically after this last tour, since around Christmas time, we've been relaxing or whatever. We've just been doing our own things. That was something that we really had to do, because we've been out for, more or less, seven years. So a break is a really welcomed thing for us. I think that's one of the biggest things for us. I think that's going to be huge for us whenever the next record is—it's not on the books anywhere and it's not anything we're talking about—that'll probably play into the next record a little bit, the fact we got to breathe in. I think the last three records were like one big piece. There are certain things that I did to tie them together, but that's over now. The next record's going to be different.
You've got the intelligence and relevance to go on forever.
Hopefully we stay relevant, intelligent and fun. As long as we're having fun, we'll be doing it. I think that's the key.