Fall Out Boy: “We’re not Burger King”

Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz and Andy Hurley sat down with PERRI CASSIE to discuss coming back to save (little “R”) rock’n’roll.

Fall Out Boy have always divided opinion. Their domination of the mid- to late-’00s “emo” scene made them as popular as it did unpopular, with their catchy songs of hearts, lies and friends winning fans, and their constant change in direction and rise in the charts setting fire to bridges as they filled arenas. The man at the centre of the band’s polarised state is bassist and chief song (and lengthy title) writer Pete Wentz. His straightened jet-black fringe accompanied by the occasional stint of guy-liner made him both a pin-up boy and putdown during the band’s peak. Today, he sits in front of me, hair cut short. The only makeup is the opaque quantity the stylist has thrown on for a photo shoot just five minutes prior.

It’s somewhat indicative of what’s changed for the band in the past few years since a suddenly-induced hiatus in 2009. What was even more unforeseen was their return. Dropping a string of globally-sporadic live dates, a new single and the details of a new album (Save Rock And Roll) in one go – completely out of the blue – caused opinions to flare once again. It was like they’d never left. On the morning of their intimate Melbourne show, Wentz and (ridiculously shy) drummer Andy Hurley sat down with FL to chat about their return to “save rock and roll”.

Hey guys, how’s the whirlwind visit been treating you?

Pete: It’s good! We … had a lot of press, obviously. The show in Sydney was really fun.

You guys have never played such small shows here before, you’ve usually been at quite substantial venues. Was it good to do some more intimate performances?

Pete: Yeah, I feel like a lot of times when you come over here it’s a longer trip, and you want to play for everybody who wants to see you, and we don’t get to come back as often obviously. Both kinds of shows are fun. We haven’t done the smaller ones here before so it was fun to see what an Australian club show was like.

“If someone wants us to come and play someone’s backyard barbecue, just send us an email.”

The return has been polarising for fans to say the least. Have you guys read your Facebook page? Some people are pissed. What does it mean to you when you see people turn on you like that? And what do you say to those that are so demanding in their want for another From Under the Cork Tree or Infinity On High?

Pete: This is what I think – we were always a pretty polarising band. When we put out Take This To Your Grave … people were like, “What is this?” Our management tried to drop us because they were just like, “You guys can’t just stage dive!” So at the time we weren’t doing that because it was cool. I think some of those things and aspects became in vogue, or whatever. It’s kind of funny, it’s a little like the complainers generation. I’m part of it. I’m online and I’m like, “Why won’t Morrissey do this?” and I get it, but at the same time, a lot of these people a year ago were like, “Why won’t you guys come back? blah blah blah.” We’re not Burger King, do you know what I’m saying? It’s not the way you want it, you don’t get to pick the toppings on the burger. We’re a band, we’re not a reality show. We make music, we’re artists at the end of the day, and we hope you like it. But at the same time we hope to challenge you with the stuff that we do. The reason about people not being able to swallow it, I think that’s great. I would hate it so much more if we were here and people were like, “Man, how come you guys never changed?” that would crush my heart and that would make me not want to do the band anymore.

Andy: I think that if you don’t change people complain. The grass is always greener, people are never happy. Also, I feel like every record has been a step forward for us and a little different here and there as we’re growing. Three to four years on – of course it’s going to be different.

Pete: From From Under The Cork Tree to Infinity On High is massive leap. When we put out ‘Arms Race’ our label was like, “You guys are done. The radio is never going to play this.”

Andy: If you’re not willing to take a gamble as an artist, and put all of the chips on the table and try something different, like succeed of fail, then why bother?

You said this album is going to be like a first record, and you kind of appear to be burning away the past and rising with the vinyl fire and phoenix references, respectively. So does that mean the sounds of the past are now completely gone?

Pete: No. I think that Jay-Z probably said it best: “You want my old shit, buy my old records.” They exist. They’re there. I think if we tried to do that now it’d be inauthentic, it’d be dishonest. I can’t write about things that I felt 10 years ago, it just wouldn’t be real. We want to be real.

And how high did you get off a pile of burning vinyl?

Pete: [Laughs] Here’s the real trick with vinyl, it doesn’t really burn it kind of just melts, a lot of that was wood, which was probably better for the environment [laughs].

So from what you explain in the press, the hiatus was an amicable thing? I mean you guys definitely aren’t like The Strokes where you all secretly hate each other. So how often did you discuss Fall Out Boy in the three-year gap when you saw each other? Or was it just sort of a sleeping elephant in the room?

Pete: No, because it wasn’t a dirty little thing. It would come up in ways like, “Holy shit can you believe we played for Obama?!” It was kind of reminiscing, because those things were all compacted and became a blur. Even last night we were talking about bands we played with in the van like Jack’s Mannequin and stuff. Every time we hung out with each other it wasn’t like, “Are we going to do thing again?” “No.” “OK cool”. It was good because it was about just getting back to being friends.

“There’s big, capital ‘R’ rock’n’roll which is like motorcycle jackets and blues riffs. Then there’s little ‘R’ rock’n’roll that’s like Kanye West.”

Walk me through the ending of the “hiatus”. Tell me about how it all came official again.

Pete: Well, we began a couple of times. Me and [singer] Patrick [Stump] tried to write a couple of songs over the break, but they weren’t right … I don’t know, they didn’t feel like Fall Out Boy songs. Then we tried again. Immediately [after] hearing the stuff he’d written, I was like, “Wow. This stuff is really compelling and interesting.” And I talked to Andy a little bit and I know Patrick reached out and talked to Joe [Trohman, guitarist]. Then we had a big meeting in New York, that lasted like six hours and we were just talking about if we do this again what are the terms are going to be, because Fall Out Boy is like a big machine once it starts going. To heat it up and get it going we had to make sure everyone was on-board with everything like, “Hey, we’re going to Australia”, and stuff like that. It’s a big thing and to do it in secret was … a lot [laughs].

Andy: [It was] a lot of work but I really feel like it helped, because we got to do it on our terms. We did a few songs and made sure that it was the right thing before we even knew for sure, “OK, we are going to do this.”

Pete: You are getting the record Fall Out Boy wanted to make. We wrote and recorded most of the record before we told our label. This is the record that we wanted to make.

Andy: And I feel like when you don’t get that from a band … they’re just doing it to appease a fanbase or a label, or whatever.

The interview is briefly halted as label rep walks by. Wentz points to a small takeaway coffee cup in his hand. “Can I get another one of these? It was like … mini. I’m from California I need it to be like half my height.”

It takes some gumption to title an album Save Rock and Roll, but like Elton John said to you, “It’s going to piss a lot of people that you should piss off.” Has it gotten the desired effect?

Pete: You know for me, I’d probably take it differently. I’d written the lyrics in the title track and so to me it means something different and real, there was a part of it where I was like, “Yeah, this is kind of funny and tongue-in-cheek and I know it’s going to piss people off”, but I don’t know a lot of guys in rock bands. A lot of my friends are either rappers or losers so they were all like, “Oh this seems cool.” [Laughs]

To me, I remember distinct moments like going and seeing our friend Sonny [Skrillex] playing, and hearing people be like, “That’s just noise, that stuff sucks”, and I’d be like, “Whoa, but the kids are going out for this, the kids are there”, and that felt like a generational thing: “It’s too loud, it’s just noise.” Somebody said that about The Beatles and AC/DC. I think to me it was more of this idea that rock’n’roll is an attitude, it’s a counter-culture, and when we lose sight of that it’s unfortunate because we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for certain rock’n’roll bands, and certain rock’n’roll moments. For me it was [Green Day’s] Dookie. That was a really important record for me to understand that you can do this thing the way you want to do it. We each have those. If anything I hope that’s what this record is for a lot of people. You can put it on and you feel like this is something you could do, and that you could relate to, and it’s OK to be a little different and strange.

So do you really believe rock’n’roll might need some saving in 2013? And are Fall Out Boy the band to do it?

Pete: I don’t understand why more people aren’t saying it. I think that’s part of the reason why we haven’t had quite the backlash, is that a lot of people think that something needs to change. For me there’s two sides of it: There’s big, capital “R” rock’n’roll which is like motorcycle jackets and blues riffs. Then there’s little “R” rock’n’roll that’s like Kanye West. It’s these other things that people have a hard time with, and it’s murky and it’s polarising, and I like that. I think our song ‘The Phoenix’ feels very little “R” rock’n’roll to me with the video. I think people don’t know how to react to it, and I like that, I like making artistic statements. So I think little “R” rock’n’roll needs saving.

OK, so let’s talk properly about Save Rock and Roll on a musical level – What does it actually sound like? Are the two singles a good indication?

Pete: I think when we were writing the album and we came up with ‘My Songs Know What You Did in The Dark’ we realised that we wanted to create a body of work around it, so I think that sits in the middle of the album. Sonically and lyrically I think ‘The Phoenix; is towards the more aggressive end of the album. We’re a band that creates a body of work every time. I appreciate that this is a singles generation, and we buy singles, but the album’s important to us. There’s no filler, it’s 11 songs and they’re all songs that we thought were important.

Andy: I think there are waypoints, there’s a spectrum of sound on the record, and like you said, ‘The Phoenix’ is towards the more aggressive end and then there’s songs that maybe aren’t as aggressive, different tempos, it’s hard to say. I feel like this is the ultimate version of us, this album. Like he said, there’s a lot of songs that a lot of us had as favourites that didn’t make it because we wanted to make sure that every song needed to be there. Some of the songs we loved the most didn’t deserve to be there.

So you’ve pulled some big guns for this one, tell me about the involvements of Courtney Love and Elton John. And tell me how you got each of them on board for Save Rock and Roll?

Pete: So Courtney is an important voice, an important voice in rock’n’roll, both literally – her voice and the way she thinks – and the things she does. We had talked about having an important female voice on the album, and she was someone we reached out to. She thought it was cool and she wrote some rad lyrics, and I can’t wait for people to hear it. I know that’s polarising for people and it’s super relatable for me as one of those people who … either enamours people or pisses them off. Elton John was just crazy. I think we said we were going to do a cover of his, and then our friend Victoria Asher’s dad Peter Asher was like, “Oh he’s a fan so maybe he’ll do something with you guys”, and then like next thing know Patrick and him are recording the thing.

When can we expect you back, there has been some talk of Soundwave next year. Have you got any concrete plans?

Pete: We don’t, this thing has been a bit of a whirlwind. I thought we were going home after this and pushing the album earlier. There’s no concrete plans, we’d love to come over and play a festival, but we’ve had no concrete offers or invitations. But if someone wants us to come and play someone’s backyard barbecue, just send us an email.

Save Rock And Roll is out April 12 through Universal.

Related: In Defence of Fall Out Boy