Pete Wentz Talks Black Cards, "Dark City" and Fame
Tue, 12 Oct 2010 10:03:15
Black Cards make magical pop.
The duo of Pete Wentz and Bebe Rexha cast a spell with flourishes of theatricality and a punk bounce that's as intricate as it is infectious. "Dr Jekyll and Mr. Fame" combines Wentz's witty writing and Bebe's sassy, sexy delivery for something utterly fresh and fiery.
For Wentz, Black Cards is a very natural evolution from his last offering with Fall Out Boy, Folie A Deux. He's penning lyrics from a different perspective and writing music that's unlike anything in the modern pop landscape. In fact, this may very well be transformative for the zeitgeist as a whole. Bebe's got a classy voice that perfectly complements the intriguing bombast at the heart of tunes like "Beating in my Chest" and "Club Called Heaven."Wentz's greatest trick with Black Cards is making you dance and simultaneously making you think…
Pete Wentz sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about Black Cards, writing from a female perspective, what he's reading at the moment and Dark City.
Was the theatrical vibe on "Beating in My Chest" intentional?
There was some imagery that I was thinking about when we were writing it. It's really interesting because it was all done without a plan whatsoever. At the beginning, I was going off this reggaeton idea that I had. I'd just gotten back from Jamaica, and Sam Hollander (S*A*M), who I was writing with, had this British vibe going on. That mash-up that led to this. The album is actually going to be a body of work. I think each song stand on its own, but it's very interesting how people will pick up on it and how they'll see things when it finally gets out there. Sam has a studio in the back of my management's office. I'd moved to New York for the winter because my wife was on Broadway, and I wasn't really doing anything at all. Sam and I were kicking ideas around and, the next thing I knew, we were writing. It happened by chance. We listened to all of these different vocalists, and we were like, "This isn't really working." We were in the "A" room. In the "B" room, Bebe was singing. So I said, "Why don't we try her?" That brought the songs to life.
Did you have a cohesive vision for all of the Black Cards music from the beginning?
I think I had an inkling of where it was going to go, but I didn't really know that it was going to be so specific. I also didn't know I would get so into writing the album. It was definitely influenced by the music I grew up on—whether it was Tom Tom Club or ABBA. I just didn't know that would be the finishing point. Now, it's all come together.
Is storytelling a big part of what you're doing on these songs?
Definitely! In some ways, the song "Baby Blackout" explains a real low night I had last winter that I never really talked about. On the other end, some of it has a strange quality because I have a tendency to write from a very masculine perspective. A lot of people might say it somewhat borders on misogyny. To go and try to write from a female perspective is so different. It's just a different idea. Telling those stories is more work, but there's more of an intense payoff, if I get it right [Laughs].
"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Fame" has a tangible story behind it.
When the album finally arrives, I think it's going to be cool because there's an entire narrative throughout. Hopefully, people will pick up on that and get it. I don't know if people still listen to whole albums anymore, but it's definitely more of a body of work than just one song at a time.
Was there a particular reason you released "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Fame" as the first download?
We debated lots of different things. I just want to put more and more music out there, in general. To me, the album is so vast. It goes from one really musically dark perspective to a way more pop perspective. "Dr Jekyll and Mr. Fame" felt like it fit in the middle between the two. Everyone agreed not to put out the extremities first. Obviously, the first thing you put out is what people think of your band as. There will be songs on the record that are so far to the right or to the left of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Fame." The song picks up where I was thinking about life when Fall Out Boy put out Infinity On High, but I don't think I really explained the story the way I should've. I also don't think it probably made sense to a lot of people, but it was cool to revisit the idea. That's one of the other reasons I wanted to get it out there.
You've always had a sharp, smart take on Hollywood and fame. That's definitely prevalent in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Fame."
As far as talking about fame, I feel like there was always this condemnation in the lyrics that made it seem like, "Oh, famous guy complaining about fame!" I never really feel like I talked about the allure of it and the reason that people become famous. There's also the dance you do around wanting make your art but needing a certain amount of attention on your art. I've been able to watch it in my own life and see different people at different levels of it. I've never written a story where the character buys into it, and I wanted that to happen. I think that's what "Dr. Jekyll" does more than anything, especially in the chorus. At the end of the day, I understand why people will buy into fame, and it makes sense. It's not complaining or saying anyone is an idiot; this is just another narrative that exists.
Do you tend to read a lot when you're writing? What encourages that visual sensibility and deeper context?
I read a lot when I was younger. My parents always really encouraged that. I got back into reading originally through Chuck Palahniuk, into Charles Bukowski, into Ernest Hemmingway and into other authors. Now, I read stuff other people recommend. At the moment, I'm reading this book called At Home: A Short History of a Private Life by Bill Bryson. It's very interesting. This guy has written a story about the house he lives in, but it concerns how you can find the most interesting details in the most mundane subjects. It covers the entrapments and scenarios people don't even realize that they go through every day in life. Someone like Charles Dickens could describe a desk for an entire chapter and enthrall people doing that. That's a really hard thing to do. There are writers who are able to do it though.
If the Black Cards album were a movie or a combination of movies, what would it be?
I think probably Dark City. It's a very futuristic notion and idea of pop culture. However, at the same time, there's a noir to it, where people are living in the past but in the present. I think that's interesting. I wish more people had seen that movie in general. That's what I would compare it most to, especially image-wise. There's a layer behind a layer, and the memories are always moving. It's insane! The little kids are scary, and I think Mr. Hand is one of the creepiest ever [Laughs].
Was the chemistry instant between you and Bebe?
It's interesting because we have very different references. I think the combinations of the two ideas we have ends up being pretty cool. There's the idea of writing with a girl who's from Staten Island and takes the bus into the city. Then there's the idea that I grew up in any John Hughes movie ever. We're meshing those two worlds, and that brings about what the culture of Black Cards is.
Have you heard Black Cards yet? What do you think?
Catch Black Cards on tour!
10/14 Webster Underground Hartford, CT 7pm
10/15 Club Hell Providence, RI 7pm
10/16 The Loft Poughkeepsie, NY 7pm