By Matt Pais
RedEye Sound Board
April 12, 2013
Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump wants to make something clear.
“In no world did my [solo] record not sell and my thing flopped and then I go, ‘OK, well, I’ll go back to Fall Out Boy,’” the 28-year-old frontman says by phone from London. “[Bleep] no. Whether or not people like [the new album], I think it’s audible, you can tell in the music that we do that we are happy to be making this record. And that’s the kind of thing you can’t make out of obligation.”
You can say that again. On “Save Rock and Roll,” out Tuesday, the rejuvenated Chicago band’s first album since 2008’s “Folie A Deux,” Fall Out Boy sounds fearless and inspired, committing to a different, less guitar- and drums-based sound that feels more precise and successful with every listen.
Earlier this year the group announced the end to a hiatus that began in late 2009 and led to Stump releasing the Prince-influenced “Soul Punk,” bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz starting the electronic outfit Black Cards, and guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley participating in hard rock supergroup The Damned Things.
Stump, who says FOB always planned to return but had to find a new approach to their music and each other, in particular received a shocking amount of animosity from FOB fans unhappy with the other parts of his musical identity he explored on solo work.
“It was like standing in front of a hockey goal, just getting pelted in the chest with pucks for hours,” he says. “It toughens you up a little bit. There’s going to be people who don’t like this record, and that’s cool. They exist and I exist, and we exist parallel.”
“I’m happy,” he says with a laugh. “I think that’s a result of that kind of experience, I suppose.”
I was very excited to hear the band was coming back, and it was cool for you to reappear at Subterranean. What was going through your head during that show, and how, if at all, will the May 16 Riviera show feel different?
The crazy thing is that was the very first thing. The first thing back in four years--three years or however long it was. So there was still a certain degree of wonder and weirdness because … there’s totally the entire possibility you get offstage and go, “Nah, we shouldn’t do this.” You have that communication musically, but you never really know where everyone is. You experience a lot of times where you get offstage and you go, “That was a great show” and somebody else is like, “[Bleep] that show!” So that could have been something. I hate to say it, but the whole time I was kind of just savoring it and thinking to myself, “Well, I hope this goes all right.” The Subterranean show being the first show back, there was a little bit of a feeling of it could be a reunion show or something. I know a lot of bands come back every few years, and they play a great reunion show and then they go back to their lives and stuff. That totally could have happened. It wasn’t until maybe a couple shows later that it was like, “No, this is real, we’re totally doing this and it feels great.” That’s something that I look forward to doing at the Riv show because it’ll be us, the band we currently are, actually playing a show.
And not feeling a weight on your shoulders anymore?
Yeah, I guess, yeah. That’s a huge thing. It’s weird because you can really distract yourself, and it’s kind of a shame when you miss out on the things that are happening. [Laughs] I feel like the Chicago show I was so nervous and weirded out that I don’t even remember it really. I’d like to really enjoy one. [Laughs]
You’re already starting to talk about, and anyone who hears the record can tell, how you’ve grown and changed on “Save Rock and Roll.” What do you think the version of yourself that made “Take This to Your Grave” would think of the new one?
There are some moments that 18-year-old Patrick would think was weird. For the most part, I would still think this was something special for us. I think I would still be pretty psyched on it. There are things where it’s like, well, when I was 18 I just hated acoustic guitars and didn’t want anything to do with them ever. There are a couple acoustic guitars on the record, and I would probably hate that. Whatever. In general, as music and just some of the songs and some of the performances and stuff, some of the lyrics—Pete’s lyrics have gotten so strong—I don’t think there’s a time when I wouldn’t have liked this record. There’s not a time I wouldn’t have been proud of it.
You sing, “We’re all fighting growing old” on “Rat A Tat.” What’s something recently that’s made you feel old?
[Laughs] Oh, man, there’s so many things. It was weird because for a while I was younger than a lot of the people that were coming to our shows. Right when we started. Because Joe and I were the youngest in the band. Then this weird moment happened where then everyone was my age, and everyone coming to my shows looked my age and we had exactly the same frames of reference and everything made sense. You get used to talking to people with that in your mind. Now, I’ll talk to our audience assuming that we have all the same frames of reference, and every once in a while there will be something wildly out of place. Somebody was asking about Pokemon the other day. “What’s your favorite Pokemon?” I’m like, “I’m 28; I don’t know. We didn’t have Pokemon when I was a kid.” [Laughs] And they’re like, “No way; you totally had Pokemon.” And I’m like, “Nah, man. I’ll be honest with you; I was really into Power Rangers, but I was too old for that [bleep].” You just find yourself in these really funny frames of reference. There’s also, I have noticed you start to get a little bit paternal in terms of like, you want the best for your audience and things like that. Sometimes there will be a fight at a show, and it’s a totally different reaction than what it used to be. Because it used to be, “Hey, stop fighting with each other.” Now it’s like, “Hey, stop fighting with each other or I’ll turn this car around.” [Laughs]
I’m having a vision of people who think Jaden Smith is the original “Karate Kid.”
I know, that’s what I’m saying! It’s crazy. It’s crazy because obviously anyone that knows our records knows that pop culture references are always going to be something that happens, and it’s weird when you make a pop culture reference and it goes right over people’s heads. I was talking to some kid the other day about “Dumb and Dumber,” like, “Oh, yeah, it’s a great little movie,” and they’re like, “What? What movie?” [Laughs] I’m like, “Oh, man!”
Pete was talking that at first when you started to get back together for this album you tried to write songs together but they weren’t right. As you came back together, how much friction was there while everyone brought things back that didn’t seem right in the band?
There were definitely moments where it was like, “OK, doing this power chord right now is what old Fall Out Boy would do, and it’s what we would do to keep in touch with old Fall Out Boy, but it’s becoming a put-on where it’s like maybe that’s not the thing that we need to do and maybe we need to think about how would old Fall Out Boy say something.” I think a big effort was like, “Let’s take all the broad stroke affectations out of it and focus more on what are the actual definable exciting things about Fall Out Boy.” That was a big part of it, [and that’s] why the guitars sound so different. That’s the thing a lot of people talk about is how not wall-of-sound, white noise guitar--which I guess is a thing we were known for. Because I think it was almost, it wasn’t something we were—I guess it was something I as a writer did out of fear almost. “I know people will accept it as long I have lots of distorted guitars.” And so I think to a certain extent, I give a lot of credit to [producer] Butch Walker. He would be like, “Hey, why play a power chord here when you can play one note?” That kind of stuff. “Why not go for simplicity?” And the same with my voice. I used to just layer—I’m just scared of my voice. It’s kind of weird. I was talking about this today with somebody. It’s not something I was ever comfortable with. I’m a drummer first and foremost and that was the thing that I loved doing. I started singing and it was kind of this, “OK, I’ll do it if that’s what I have to do in order to get songs written.” Because I like writing songs. I never really saw myself as much of a singer. It’s really hard for me to listen to myself by myself. When you’re recording and stuff, you record a vocal and you go, “That’s cool; let’s do six more layers on it so it doesn’t sound like a human being.” [Laughs]
If it counts for anything, I say you sound better on every album.
Well, thank you very much. But anyway I think that was a huge thing on this record: I just had to learn how to back off. A lot of times it would be four against one where the band and Butch would be like, “No, just let it be where it is, man!”
How challenging was it for you, having shown so much of yourself and doing things you hadn’t before with “Soul Punk,” to determine what made sense for Fall Out Boy? You of course don’t want to go in and seem like you’re convincing the band to do what you did in your solo work.
Right. Um, I didn’t really find that very challenging. If anything, it was kind of a challenge to allow any relation to it. I had such mixed feelings about that record and that experience, about “Soul Punk,” that I think sometimes I would find myself--like I had to be almost pushed a little bit to let myself sound like that at times. I guess I was looking initially at doing this [Fall Out Boy] record as a means of closing that chapter of my life, and it’s like, well that’s not really what it’s about. It should be about just enjoying the thing that you’re doing; it shouldn’t be in reaction to anything else. I guess the best way to say it [is] it was just a challenge to allow myself to be the guy that was in Fall Out Boy and also the guy that had done “Soul Punk.”
You’ve been asked before about why the band has been so divisive. I’ve never understood that. Has time added any understanding about that?
Fall Out Boy is polarizing, and I think there’s a lot of reasons for that, but one of ‘em to me is that there was always this thing that prefaced us before we got in the room about who we were and where we were coming from. There was always somebody’s perspective that showed up before we did. So first it was, OK, it’s Pete Wentz’s pop-punk band because we were all hardcore kids and he was known for hardcore bands, and here comes this pop-punk band. And even though we didn’t really sound anything like New Found Glory or Saves the Day, the fact that they were also guys from hardcore bands doing pop music, pop-rock music, people automatically assumed that we were one of those bands. And I don’t really think we ever really fit in there, but you know, that’s cool. The emo thing started to happen, and I have to say, I’m fine either way with whatever anyone wanted to call us, but we always felt like outsiders in that world because none of those bands wanted to tour with us. [Laughs] So it’s like, “OK, cool.” So that became the thing. Then it was, you know, it’s, “Fall Out Boy, that emo band,” so that was the thing that followed us around or whatever. It took a long time for whatever identity we have, whoever we actually are--I think it’s really taken a long time for anybody to notice any of that.
I think preconceptions in general, for a band or a movie or anything can be so misleading and can be when people give things more or less credit than they deserve.
Sorry, I rambled myself away from my point—that’s very common for me—the thing I was going to say is that so in that way, it kind of made it so when you wanted an emo band and we weren’t that emo band, it pissed you off. When you didn’t want that emo band and you heard that we were that emo band, it pissed you off. [Laughs] So it was like a catch-22 where we weren’t in the right lane for a lot of people.
You previously said Fall Out Boy records aren’t fun to make. It sounds like the new one is especially personal. Was “Save Rock and Roll” more fun to make, and should people think there was less of that on past albums because of label influence or something like that?
I think the biggest thing is that I just had to learn how to work in a studio. You know there’s that stereotypical motherly character who--say it’s mom. We’ll just call this “mom.” Maybe no one thinks to make dinner, or maybe you ask mom to make dinner. She makes dinner, right, happily. Happy to do it. Then the next night, she goes, “Maybe I’ll try making dinner again; that worked out so well.” The next night, everybody walks up to the table, sits down and goes, “Where’s dinner?” That happens or maybe dad comes in and tries to make dinner and mom goes, “No, no, let me just do that.” And kind of takes over. I feel like I had kind of found myself in a place where I had become probably a little bit controlling but by accident in the studio. So I kind of had turned into this worn-out [person saying], “I slaved over a hot stove for 10 hours!” I turned into that kind of character in the studio on every record and so they weren’t fun to make because I always felt like conversely everyone wanted me to be doing everything but secretly probably no one really did want me to do everything. It was this tough line of, “We want you to do a lot, but you still have to be part of an interplay.” I still have to be part of a conversation. I think that was the big difference with this record was that we were able to lose a lot of that. I think again Butch is a huge credit to that because he is a type-A personality, and you do not mess with him. And anytime I would get kind of whiny or whatever, he’d lay down the law. [Laughs] So you [find yourself] being happy because after the first [session] it was like, “Oh, I get how this is going to work.”
This time it was like you crack the eggs, Pete mixes them …
Exactly. They say dogs in a pack are a lot happier when they have direction. When they know where they are. When they know where they’re supposed to be. And know their roles. It’s no different for bands. If you know that you are expected to do this amount of work and can focus on it, it’s way better than this big question mark of, “Hey, can you do everything maybe?” [Laughs]
I have to ask: I really like your solo stuff and it’s great you all had different avenues to explore, but needless to say there was a lot of not-so-positive commentary coming your way. The Onion recently did a piece about bands whose members went back to the group with their tail between their legs after solo work, and they included you. How much have you thought about, had things gone differently for the solo projects, if things would have been different for Fall Out Boy now?
Look: We were always going to come back, and that was always the plan. We didn’t have a time frame on it. The thing was that we needed to figure ourselves out because we had kind of exhausted our patience with each other and our excitement for the music that we were making, the way that we were doing it. I think we had to figure out a new way to do it. I do not have my tail between my legs right now. I am very happy to be where I am. One thing that disappoints me, the way that people interpret everything, is that in the first place I wasn’t bummed that people didn’t like my solo record. Of course, I did [some different things], people weren’t going to like that. I was happy with that. The thing that I didn’t like was that they wanted something so specific from me that they prevented me from even doing the solo thing. And they wanted so badly to hate things that they said such nasty things. I didn’t care that they were saying it about me. I had never heard people say some of these things to each other. I don’t live in a world—I don’t hang out with a lot of total, total assholes.
Hey, I’m lucky. I’m a happy guy. I guess if I played more X-Box Live maybe I would have heard some nasty stuff like this. But I don’t. And I had never heard anybody say a lot of these kind of things, and I was just shocked that people were that cruel. It was more of a world thing. I wasn’t [saying], “Boo hoo, my record didn’t sell.” It was, “Holy [bleep], I didn’t know the world was so dark!” [Laughs] And that’s really what it is--no, man, sorry, to get back to the record: In no world did my record not sell and my thing flopped and then I go, [mopey voice], “OK, well, I’ll go back to Fall Out Boy.” [Bleep] no. Look, whether or not people like this, I think it’s audible, you can tell in the music that we do that we are happy to be making this record. And that’s the kind of thing you can’t make out of obligation. You can’t make out of pathetic sadness. It was a thing that we had to be really in the right mind frame to do. And I think we had to do the solo things in order to do that. In order to find that kind of excitement again. It’s like John Lennon said, “You have to breathe in to breathe out.” You can’t do this, making music or making any art, continuously. I did learn a lot. I think I learned a ton from the solo thing. And [bleep], I want to do another solo record eventually, too.
There are so many bands whose longevity seems to come from doing the same thing over and over again. Do you think most people prefer that because it’s safe? I appreciate that you guys do what you want to do and challenge fans to grow with you, but I wonder how many people actually want to do that with the bands that they love.
[Laugh] I don’t know. I think you’re very right. I think there are a lot of people who want a band to be a brand name, and they expect the same thing out of a band that they expect out of a fast food chain. Which is, “I don’t really want anything too good or too exciting or too new or too different. I just want the thing that I came here for.” And I get that, but it blurs the line between product and artist because it’s almost like in that scenario the record that you make is a hamburger. And you can still buy that record that you like. That same record, it’s still in print. It still exists. And we’re still going to play some of those songs live. So by virtue of us going out and playing new songs and recording new songs it doesn’t mean it invalidates or makes not exist. It’s almost a silly mentality because it’s like saying, “I want to go to Burger King but I’m pissed off that a Mexican restaurant opened up down the street. I’m just pissed that it’s there.” It’s not the same product. It’s not the same thing. I think that’s kind of the ongoing challenge. Man, one thing I will say for the solo thing is that I didn’t know that people were so mean about anything and whatever, but it was like standing in front of a hockey goal, just getting pelted in the chest with pucks for hours. It toughens you up a little bit. I think I just don’t care anymore about those kind of things. There’s going to be people who don’t like this record, and that’s cool. They exist and I exist and we exist parallel. I’m happy. [Laughs] I think that’s a result of that kind of experience I suppose.
I was thinking about that notion of people resenting the new. I just interviewed Jane Levy about the new “Evil Dead,” and she was saying she’s never been offended by a remake because if you want to watch the old one, great. The fact that a new one exists doesn’t mean the old one doesn’t.
And that’s one of the things. It’s hard for me to relate to that purist attitude because I don’t have that about anything. Like Elvis Costello [is] one of my biggest influences, right. I love Elvis Costello as an artist, and I love his art. I don’t love everything that he does. I don’t love every single record that comes out. He has all kind of different records. I love “My Aim is True” and I love “This Year’s Model” as much as the next guy. Totally love those records. I really really love his record with Burt Bacharach. That was a [bleepin’] powerhouse record. That was a great record. I wasn’t as engaged by “North.” I know a lot of people really love “North.” That wasn’t my record. That doesn’t mean that I was pissed off at him when he put out that record. [Laughs] That doesn’t mean that I was like, [stuffy voice] “Well, that’s it. He doesn’t know how to write songs anymore.” It was, “Oh, you know what, this particular piece of art isn’t for me, and I’ll wait for the next one.” And the next one came out and I loved it! It’s hard for me to relate to that kind of, [shouts], “No! You are going to do the same thing over and over and over again!” kind of mentality. It just doesn’t really work for me.
So if there are songs on “Save Rock and Roll” that people don’t love, they shouldn’t send you hate mail and take it personally.
Well, hey, they can send all the hate mail they want. But they should not be taking it personally. There are way bigger things to worry about it in the world. And it’s definitely not personal. Unless you want it to be and that’s part of the art for you, ‘cause then in that case, yes, totally! [Laughs] Somebody tweeted me the other day again about this misconception that I was just butt-hurt that people didn’t like my record. I had been talking to somebody on Twitter. They said, “I don’t like the new single. Why did you do this?” or whatever. Their writing was very reasonable. It was a totally constructive, reasonable criticism. We talked; we had a conversation. It was great. Somebody else reading that conversation said to me, “Well, wait a second. I thought you don’t like when people tell you they don’t like your music.” I’m like, “No! There’s a huge difference between, ‘Hey, you know what, that new single isn’t for me,’ and [shouts], ‘You [bleeping] sellout, you should go kill yourself and your whole family should die and get AIDS, you idiot!’” Like, that kind of stuff, that’s just way different. A different breed of discussion and not entirely constructive. If you’re looking to say that kind of stuff, hey, good on you. I hope you have an excellent Tumblr.
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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