Interview: Fall Out Boy - 17 years of friendship.
Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump is telling me about his new hobby: "Just for something to do on long flights, I've been studying Chinese and studying Chinese characters, and for some reason, I can't write stuff now in English." He continues, sheepishly, "It's a stupid thing to try - I'm on a plane, I'm going to try doing this for a while, and then I just don't remember how to write my own name." Without even looking up from his own penmanship exercise, his creative partner, bassist Pete Wentz, suggests, "Just tell him how to spell it."
This brotherly bond, which also includes the band's Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley, is the stuff that monomyths are made of - four Chicago boys who answered a call to adventure back in 2001, transformatively touring themselves into household names and claiming four #1 albums in their homeland. Although constantly challenged by the media's perception of them as an 'emo' band, they have ultimately outlived the rest of their musical peers, and survived all manner of misadventures, most notably their 2010 to 2012 hiatus.
So it was this past March that I found myself holed up in Auckland's cozy Tamaki Yacht Club on a blustery day, struggling to keep up with a never-ending stream of Fall Out Boy quips (Wentz drily requests we don't silly string his hair) and pop culture references (everything from the mockumentary 'Best In Show' to Pixar's 'Ratatouille'), that punctuate every beat of their conversations.
As he handwrites a playlist, Wentz asks me, "If it's just going to be 'Gucci Gang' twelve times, do you want me to just write it twelve times?" But before he can even respond to my affirmative, Stump cuts in saying, "Thank you for getting that joke and not just being angry at us!" He chuckles, explaining, "The capacity to just totally roll with that and actually think it's funny, and not be really offended by that, is the most New Zealand thing ever." It’s clear to me that, shared humour aside, there’s a reason why Fall Out Boy are one of very few international acts that have toured New Zealand, six times (and counting). It takes a lot for a band to make it to our shores - mainly money and an audience, but mostly it comes down to the fact that this is a band that really cares. This is a band beloved for surprising fans with snail-mailed gifts (anything from trophies to rare limited-edition EPs), their own charitable Fall Out Boy Fund ("We want to celebrate people that exemplify kindness, bravery, generosity, and every thing else that brings goodness to the forefront"), and a reliable tendency to fly 10,477 km from Los Angeles to New Zealand, on almost every album cycle.
So here's to seventeen years of Fall Out Boy, and their seventeen years of friendship, and seventeen more.
COUP DE MAIN: It's really cool that you guys mailed 200 fans a 'Llamania' EP featuring three unfinished demos from when you pushed your 'M A N I A' album back. Your album had already debuted at #1 in America. A lot of other bands wouldn't bother. Why was it important to you to give back to your fans? And so swiftly, too?
FALL OUT BOY - PATRICK STUMP: Because we pushed it back, and that was disappointing for a lot of people. There were so many people that had pre-ordered, and it kind of felt like so much of the audience was so invested in it, that it would be unfair to not get something for it.
FALL OUT BOY - PETE WENTZ: Our decisions are also not predicated on winning or losing. So we make all these decisions, 'We're going to push our record back, so we're going to give people some of this stuff and try to do all this stuff,' we just made that decision. Like, if our record had come out and been #100, we still would have done it. The decision isn't predicated on how well we do, or whether the songs are on the radio. We just do things, and sometimes people like some of them, and sometimes people don't, but it's like an art-project in real-time.
PATRICK: The other thing as well is, off of that, you can't really plan for whether or not the record is going to be a success. You can only really plan for how you're going to put it out there, so it was always a plan, after we had pushed the album back. Like, 'Now we're going to do this!'
CDM: Why did you decide to throwback specifically to the 'Take This To Your Grave' album cover with the 'Llamania' EP cover?
PETE: I actually thought the 'Folie à Deux' album cover would have been a better visual play, but it seemed like their debut album, so let's not jump in at record number four - let's take it back.
CDM: Plot consistency!
CDM: Are there many other unfinished demos floating around for your other albums?
PATRICK: Not a ton. It's weird, one of the things that we have had a history of doing is, the best ideas from any of the unreleased stuff get used somewhere, so we eventually rework it and find a place for it. I don't want to make it sound like there's a Prince vault out there somewhere.
PETE: It's also like, this is, like, the one thing that I was like 'ehhh' about sending these things out, and it's the one reaction that is a little bit like, whatever. And I get it, because I would have this reaction as a fan of something, but people are like, 'I can't wait for you to do finished versions,' or 'put this on the album' or whatever. That's the whole point. There just won't be finished versions of the songs, because they're just like sketches, and as any artist knows, you do a sketch and you're like, 'Oh, I'm not headed in the right direction.' So you never finish it, but it maintains its-- it's this little sketch.
CDM: It still exists.
PETE: Yeah, it exists. So are there sketches? Probably, but we couldn't put out an album of it.
PATRICK: And the other thing to consider too, is that one artist might have a lot of rejected stuff that they rejected for various reasons, and when you're one artist you're only really dealing with one perspective, right? But when you're four artists, and you're four people that meet up on something, it really comes down to like, at any given point any one of us could be like, 'I just don't like that idea, I just don't like that song.' And then it's dishonest to try and get everybody behind that.
CDM: On your current tour in Australia, before playing 'Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea', you, Pete, have been inspirationally telling fans that, "I think it's important for you to stay in this place in your head where you feel dangerous, like you have these divergent ideas." How does one go from having an idea sprout in their head, to enacting real change in the world? Or is just having ideas in your mind enough?
PETE: No, I think the part of the thing that is really important is to execute. Which is really hard to do when you have big dreams - it's really hard to execute 'em. So execute them in small ways. And it doesn't always have to be, like, a grand scheme of changing the world, I think that just by doing things for yourself, or to change yourself, you are enabling a change in the world. And so I think that's important. It doesn't have to be seismic, it can be little things. And it can be weird ideas - like making a meme, or drawing, or writing, or making a movie, or whatever it is, I think it's all pretty interesting.
CDM: You co-wrote 'Church' with Judy Garland's great-great-niece, Audra Mae. How did that collaboration come about?
PETE: We happened to have a really cool friend of ours who was a solo artist, but he was also in Avril Lavigne's band, this kid Evan Taubenfeld - he's our age, so he's not a kid, whatever.
PATRICK: <mockingly> 'This little kid!'
PETE: We'll be like, 'Burna Boy, we've got to track him down.' And he somehow gets in touch with somebody in Lagos and tracks him down. So we heard this really cool idea that [Audra] had, and we were like, 'We've got to track her down. We've got to track the song down.' So it was done through that. Again, all of this stuff nowadays, or a lot of this stuff, is done via e-mail to make it faster, so we weren't ever actually in a room together, but it will go back and forth really fast. Burna Boy was done on WhatsApp, not even e-mail, so that was pretty wild.
CDM: I saw that on his Twitter he just has his WhatsApp number in his bio?!
PETE: I think it's just the way it happens in Nigeria, which is cool.
CDM: Whose idea was it to have Butch Walker call out "Mr. Stump?" in 'Church' after the lines, "And if death is the last appointment / Then we're all just sitting in the waiting room"?
PATRICK: That was Butch Walker's! I didn't even know that was in there.
CDM: I saw the video of you discovering it.
PARICK: That was very real. I knew he had done something in there, but I couldn't really tell what it was until I had the multi-tracks.
PETE: Butch is a genius and he's really good at everything he does, but he does this last little bit of like spicing of a dish, where it's like the gunshot or whatever - he just adds these little things!
PATRICK: You know in 'Ratatouille' where he puts his hand down and then throws it on the sauce right as it's getting out?
PETE: That's the vibe for sure.
PATRICK: You've finished a song and it's going to master, and it comes back and you're like, <shouts> 'What's that?! It's pretty good! It's pretty good Butch, but you shouldn't have been that risky!!'
MY FAVOURITE SONG ON 'M A N I A' IS...
CDM: Having released the 'CitizensFOB Mixtape: Welcome To The New Administration' back in 2008, is it weird to look back on a song like 'ALPHAdog and OMEGAlomaniac' in light of the current political climate in the USA?
PETE: Everything about the current political climate is, like, so wild. It's just like a TV show or something. It's just unreal. Like the thing that happened yesterday with Sam [Nunberg, a former Trump aide who gave a series of deranged interviews in March], was like a guy drunk on TV. That didn't make any sense. But no, I think that that was so much more specific to even before that. That was the [George W.] Bush era. Unpacking stuff five or ten years later is always a little weird, because you couldn't have foreseen-- it's not like a prophecy or something.
CDM: But you're prophetic, like The Simpsons!
PATRICK: Oh god!
PETE: I cannot speak for The Simpsons, but any predictions that come out from us are entirely accidental! <chuckles>
PATRICK: I don't want that responsibility at all. From now on, I'm only singing about neat stuff. Great things!
PATRICK: The world is going to get some great pizza. That's my prediction!
CDM: Pete, you say in 'Hold Me Tight Or Don't', "And when your stitch comes loose / I wanna sleep on every piece of fuzz / And stuffing that comes out of you," which reminds me of the bridge in 'The (After) Life Of The Party' from 'Infinity On High' ("I'm a stitch away from making it / And a scar away from falling apart"), as well as lines in 'Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am' and 'Hum Hallelujah' from that album too. What is it about that kind of lyrical metaphor that you like writing into lyrics so much?
PETE: Specifically with 'Hold Me Tight', I thought about how kids love their stuffed animals. Like my nine-year-old has one that he's had for nine years that we've had to FedEx everywhere. It's a little bunny and we've had all kinds of nightmare scenarios. Like, it got left in a parking lot at a museum and then we went back, and there were times where it was true panic when we didn't have this thing--
PATRICK: It's the scene from 'Best In Show' with the Busy Bee! <yells> "We have to find the Busy Bee!"
PETE: Basically, yeah! And there's this kid's book called 'Knuffle Bunny' where [the protagonist] loses his stuffed animal, and my nine-year-old won't let us read it to the three-year-old because he's like, 'It's the saddest story of all time.' So I just thought about that, and the way of attachment, and I remember with "stitch away", to me, it's just the idea of becoming unravelled. I think about it in a claymation and Michel Gondry kind of way - human beings, you can unravel them, and it can be a good thing, or a terrible thing.
MY FAVOURITE FALL OUT BOY LYRICS OF ALL TIME ARE...
CDM: You guys have been friends now for seventeen years. How have you found juggling your friendship and the band?
PATRICK: They really go hand-in-hand. I was thinking about this the other day, I'm kind of one of those guys that-- I don't really hang out, you know? Pete kind of teases me because I don't really get together and do lunch, or anything like that. I get together and work on ideas.
PETE: But he still gets invited everywhere.
PATRICK: I do! You always invite me, but I don't always show up. <laughs> Because I really like creating and being creative and that's just how I hang out. And I think, Pete, you had that kind of realisation. I didn't even really know that. After the hiatus, or during the hiatus, you called me up one day and you go, 'Oh! We don't hang out, because when you hang out you want to write. And so why don't we write something? So we can hang out.' And that was kinda it! <chuckles>
CDM: Patrick you haven't produced a full album for anyone else since Cobra Starship's 2007 album, '¡Viva La Cobra!'. Do you prefer to just work on individual songs? Or are you just waiting for the right project?
PATRICK: I don't really think I'm a producer, in terms of what that means now and making 'big' songs. I really loved helping artists find their best song, but I think that industry has changed a lot now, where it's a lot about-- I hate that I sound so old saying this, <puts on The Godfather voice> 'Yeah yeah, it's not like it used to be,' but it kinda isn't. It changed a lot. Now, if you're even going to bother to get a producer, you're looking for a producer to write a hit song with you. I'm just like, 'I just want to help you have fun.' I'm not really interested in--
CDM: The songwriting camps that songwriters go to, they seem so stressful.
PATRICK: They're not for me. There's lots of people who really enjoy them--
PETE: And some banging songs come out of them.
PATRICK: Yes, exactly.
PETE: I've been in a couple, and been in some I really enjoyed.
PATRICK: They can be really exciting, so I'm not going to belittle it, but it's just not for me, and I'm just not that guy. I think the older I get, the more I'm like, 'It's just not me.'
MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT ANDY IS...
MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT JOE IS...
MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT PATRICK IS...
MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT PETE IS...
CDM: Pete, what's it been like working on the new era of DCD2 Records with Spencer?
PETE: Spencer is pretty great! I think that in the last couple of years, he's really just been figuring himself out, like in the best possible way - he's been pretty public about what his journey's been like. I hadn't seen him in a little bit, I met back up with him and he had all these great ideas, and I've always wanted somebody to be a counterpart. I'm not good with details. I'm not really great on emails. I might even be decent in our band on emails, but in the true business sense I'm not great on emails. And Spencer, has really great--
PATRICK: <chuckles> We set a pretty low bar as a band for emails!
PETE: Yeah! He's just really, really, really, really good at what he does. So it's been fun.
CDM: How involved are you with the day-to-day running of the label?
PETE: Me and him will talk maybe every one or two days, or once every three days, and he'll fill me in. He'll download me on the details of, like, the kids in L.I.F.T needed to get visas, and he's really good at being like, 'I've been on the emails with the lawyer getting it done.' And lots of times he'll send me an email that's like, 'Alright, you need to post this at noon!' He's really, really good about that. But there aren't any decisions that are made without us talking about it, or talking it through.
CDM: A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with you, Pete, on the phone about how "having kids brought out these pure feelings in me that I didn't know if I had before," and how that change has made you feel more satisfied with your life's achievements, and specifically, can be heard in the change of life outlook from lyrics in 'She's My Winona', to 'Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea'. Patrick, has becoming a father also affected how you feel about life?
PATRICK: Totally. There's a kind of cynicism you end up with at some point in your teens and it just gets worse and worse in your thirties, where you decide what cool is and then you start living your life by what cool is, and then you start judging people by what you think cool is and what they think cool is, and it becomes this whole thing. And it just resonates in your whole life. And then you have kids, and they don't care about cool! They don't have any pretext for anything, so when they enjoy something, they just enjoy it, and it's just earnest and sweet and wonderful. And it gives you a lot of hope, really, because kids are capable of just seeing the awesomeness in everything. There's this idea in Eastern philosophy of being child-like, in Buddhism and Taoism they teach you to be child-like, and in the West we see this idea of child-like as a negative thing. Like, 'Ugh! You're such a baby! You're such a child!' But it's like, yeah man, children are awesome! They just enjoy things! And I think that really, really, really changes everything. I know it's like the cheesiest cliché to say having kids changes you, but it does on that level, I think.
Fall Out Boy's latest album 'M A N I A' is out now - click here to purchase.
Watch the 'Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)' music video below...
P.S. Order a physical version of this photoshoot/interview with a CDM x Fall Out Boy zine - click here to purchase.