Let’s start with the new record – what’s the vibe like in the Fall Out Boy camp based on the reactions to the new song, the buzz around the viral campaign and so forth? Does it feel as big as everyone’s hoping for?
I guess there’s a question these days of “Why put out records anymore?” you know, like, “Why even bother?” I wasn’t really interested–I don’t think any of us were really interested in getting rich and famous–and, by virtue of putting out a new record, we will probably get more rich and famous, you know? [laughs] Which is not something I want really. So like, why really [put out an album], right? It’s because you want to say something. You want to express yourself. You have art that you need to get out. So that was really my only purpose in making a record and I’m totally stoked on it the way it is now, for sure.
How effective do you think the viral campaign for the new record was?
I don’t know, because I think it might’ve gone over enough people’s heads to the point where we’re still calling it a viral marketing campaign. It’s only a marketing campaign because at the end of the day when it’s on Island’s financial reports, it’s going to be labeled that, and ultimately, when it comes out of our checkbook, it’ll say that on it, but it was more kind of trying to say something with the campaign. It’s weird – you get put in this position where you’re putting out a record, so you have to go promote it; basically, you’re selling yourself, and you might as well be selling laundry detergent, so we were kind of poking fun at that with the whole political angle and then we were also drawing a corollary between that and hip hop. When you’re starting out, you walk around and you try to sell people your mixtape on the street, and there’s something preposterous to me about that—we had the #1 last record last time, but now we’re back giving out mixtapes and stuff.
Commentary was the whole reason we did the thing and I really don’t know how successful it was because I was hoping people would notice that more. We wanted to reward people for sticking with us, you know? So we wanted to make it more interesting, more of a challenge, you know? Everybody puts out a record and has an extra song exclusive to this retailer, etc. Every band does something like that. Every band does some tie-in promotion with some company that sells something; we wanted to do something that was entirely independent of that and had something to do with our record, with what it said and what it meant. And also at the end of the day, over the course of this entire thing, we’ve given away an album’s worth of free material.
What do you make of the reaction to the new single so far, based on what you’ve seen online, or people talking to you, etc?
It’s been pretty positive. Honestly, usually I am totally insecure and I have to read all that stuff cause I wanna hear someone say they like it [laughs], but this time I haven’t read anything. I don’t know why, but I haven’t really–I guess I kind of feel like I’m confident in the way it worked out that it’s exactly the thing I wanted, so I kind of don’t mind either way what the reaction is, but it seems to be really positive, people have been reacting to it really well and I think it’s already been one of those things where people have been referencing the song to me. I kind of feel that it’s probably is a little more of a cohesive statement than “Arms Race” was as a first single, as a way to present the album, you know, I think it’s a little more effective than that.
You said you haven’t really been reading the online forums that much, but a lot of the response has been regarding a previous album of yours; how do you respond to people who say they wish Fall Out Boy would just write another Take This To Your Grave?
It’s one of those things where the answer is of course we won’t, because what you want if you’re asking that question is a specific time in your life to come back to you, and that will never happen. You will never be 15 years old again. I could write, verbatim, another Take This To Your Grave, and you won’t feel the same way. It’s not going to mean anything to you because it wouldn’t mean anything to me. And another thing is, we feel like we’re still the same band. As far as how we’re motivated, we’re doing the same thing, we’re doing it the same way as we ever did with Take This To Your Grave.
I think people are always biased to their specific first interpretation of a band, or an experience, or an art, or whatever. I mean, if you look at a band like Lifetime, they have at least 3 completely different albums, right? And for each record, there’s someone that says that’s their best record, you know what I mean? There’s always gonna be a chatter between Jersey’s Best Dancers, Hello Bastards, and Background. There are people who will fight to the death about how much better this one is than that one, and it’s like, “That’s just because that’s the record you first experienced.”
Personally, I don’t want to compare us to Lifetime, because I think they’re an infallible band, but it’s just one of those things where if you’re asking for another Take This To Your Grave, you’ll never get it. I don’t mean that in a malicious way, I just feel like you will never see it if it ever happens. Like, there’s only one band on earth that I’ve ever seen not ever change and maintain a fanbase, and that’s AC/DC. I don’t know how any other band has stayed exactly the same and hasn’t pissed off their fans. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would want that.
I love Take This To Your Grave, and out of respect for it, I’m never going to plagiarize it, you know what I mean? I’m proud of that record, I don’t want to ever bastardize it–it would demean it, too. I mean, ultimately if I were doing that, that would mean I was really just interested in trying to make money and trying to sell people something.
When you write to what people want, that means that your only goal is to try to and–I mean, why do you want to please people so much? Probably to make money off of it or something, there’s some ulterior motive, right? So, I mean, if anything, I have a lot of respect for our audience, and I want to challenge everybody, I want to raise questions, and give different music.
I’m very proud of Take This To Your Grave, and because of that, I won’t do another one. I won’t ever declare something Take This To Your Grave Pt. 2. I don’t even feel like we’re a different band really. We’re the same 4 dudes, we’re in basically the same position, just on a bigger scale, and I think we have the same exact motivations for doing anything as we did on Take This To Your Grave, so I don’t know why we have to be more of a streamlined pop punk band or end up sounding like everybody else. I don’t know why we can’t be who we actually are. Not to say that we didn’t sound like who we actually were on Take This To Your Grave–I’ve been getting the white dude soul thing since that record came out.
I know this might be a dumb question because every band says their new record is their best and most mature but do you feel that way about this new record?
Yeah, the funny thing is, I don’t think if you asked me, especially not where I am now in life, I would’ve said every record is our best record. I didn’t think Cork Tree was our best record. I still don’t think Cork Tree is my favorite record. That record is totally weighed by the singles. Because those really are the most effective songs, which is an irony, because you’d think that on your major label debut the singles would be the tacky songs. I think, if anything, those were more effective to me. Like “Dance Dance” for example, I never envisioned as a single, it was just my favorite song. It was something I really believed in, and that became to date probably our biggest hit. But the rest of the album I think suffered, probably because we were a little rushed, and I don’t know, a bunch of other reasons for it.
But yeah, of course I do think this record is the best record [laughs]–well, no, I don’t think it’s our best record because, again, I think that’s an overly subjective concept, but I think this is the best version of this record that we could possibly be doing right, you know what I mean? I think we really did this one the right way. There’s not a lot of songs on this record that I would skip as a listener myself, but I mean, I’m sure a lot of people will be really annoyed with it or whatever, but, again, it all comes down to personal taste. I mean, I will tell you for this record we weren’t even really going for the aesthetic of just appreciating it; it wasn’t just like, this song has this beat because I wanna hear it. Instead, this song has this beat because it says something with the lyric. I was really trying something.
Again, I respect our audience—I don’t want to challenge people in a punishing way, because I think that’s stupid too when bands do that, where it’s like “Oh we put out our last record and it was whatever, it was kind of a normal thing, and this record we want to put out a free jazz record” which is basically a fuck you to fans. I don’t want to do that. I want to kind of challenge and reward; but again, you don’t always get what you’re shooting for as an artist either, sometimes you totally miss the mark and come up with something else.
What should a Fall Out Boy fan expect to hear when they put the record on? What influences are on the record?
I think it’s probably most influenced by Pete, to me, by Pete’s lyrics. Because I think this is Pete’s best record lyrically, so musically I was just going for whatever would support the lyrics. Whatever would establish meaning with the lyrics. So it’s like, it’s kind of everything, it’s all over the place. Here’s an example. So, “I Don’t Care”—I wrote that song kind of because I thought Pete’s lyrics, which were SO brutal, were a great, vicious satire of pop culture right now, so I wanted music that fit that, right? So you have this blues riff, and the blues is such an honest, organic thing, but it’s totally buried underneath these synthesizers and all this overproduced drum stuff, it sounds like Gary Glitter but like, Gary Glitter meets Big Bill Broonzy, and that was kind of mocking that whole commerciality thing.
And then you have this big chorus that’s really sing-able and everything, but it’s like, “I don’t care what you think / as long as it’s about me,” which is an AWFUL thing to think, it’s an awful thing to want someone to do–so I think in general all the songs kind of have—there’s a reason for every part to expect the lyric. Again, I was just really stoked on Pete’s lyrics this time around, and really wanted to support that.
What are some of your favorite songs on the new record and why?
One of the problems is that, as usual, I don’t really know all the titles yet because Pete’s kind of in charge of that, but there’s this one where the refrain is “Does your husband know / the way the sunshine gleams from your wedding band” and that’s probably one of my favorites. There’s another one we’re calling “Never Believe”–again, that won’t really be the title, it’s just the thing we say the most in the song, and I think again, lyrically, that one’s pretty awesome.
Then there’s a song that, again, tentatively titled “What a Catch,” and that’s probably one of the most effective songs to me; it’s a really interesting thing where Pete was kind of writing in a character, and the weird thing is that it’s like me, it’s as if I wrote the lyrics, but I didn’t. And I’m not being narcissistic, it’s really cool, like it’s impressive to me how well he has me figured out, so it just made me respect him that much more as a writer. It’s weird, it felt like I sat down and wrote a confessional song, but I didn’t. It feels like that to me, but I didn’t. I was writing off of Pete’s lyrics, but it’s as if I was confessing through them. That’s probably my favorite song, but again, I don’t know what the name is yet.
Word on the street is that you guys used a bunch of different instruments on the record. Is that true? If so, how do you plan on pulling that off live?
Well, we did use a bunch of different instruments, but at the core of it, it’s always gonna be drums, bass, and guitar, just the four of us. Ultimately, there’s always that question of when bands grow up and they start expanding, how do they pull off some of that stuff live. I don’t know. I think one thing that we’ve always done is just made “live” versions that strip down a lot of the extra instrumentation. In this case it’s gonna be a song to song decision on what we do: if something was a synth loop in the first place on the record, and wasn’t actually played live even on the record, that will probably just fly in live, because it was flown in on the record and there’s nothing more or less organic about it. But I don’t know, it will probably just be the four of us playing for the most part.
What was the reason behind deciding to release the new album on Election Day? In other recent interviews, you mentioned that some of the lyrics on the record are more political, maybe not necessarily explicitly, but how much did that have anything to do with deciding to release it on November 4th?
I think one of the things, the thing I was touching on before about the kind of commerciality of pop culture right now, it’s always been like that, it’s always moving towards that. Dude, I was watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and I was surprised at how old it is and how much any of a statement that it’s making could be said about right now too, where everything’s a Hallmark holiday and everyone’s just selling something. Ultimately, I think that’s one of the points, is that it’s a bad idea to put out your record on election day, or it should be, because people should be more concerned with voting. They shouldn’t want to go out and get your record. And I think that’s another thing, is that I think we wanted to kind of take a little bit of a stand and say “If we don’t sell a million record, I don’t give a shit”–it’s not about that. In the US on November 4th, everyone who is of age should be voting, that should be your top priority, getting the Fall Out Boy record shouldn’t be.
Do you feel that by having the record come out on Election Day, it might work in a way that people who should be voting would go get a Fall Out Boy record and might not necessarily take part in the political process?
I would certainly hope not but honestly, I don’t think we’re a big enough band to make a dent in the electorate [laughs], I wouldn’t really worry about that, but at the same time I’ve been pretty open in addressing fans and saying that if you have only one thing you can do that day, go vote, obviously, but if you have 2, then yeah go pick up the record please [laughs], but you know what I’m saying? If you only have a little time, go vote. Much more important I think. And again, it’s part of the statement. And I think ultimately if it worked out the wrong way, it would be an even more powerful statement, because it would’ve proven how commercial we are and how commercial America is, how we value just having stuff more than we value experiencing anything, and that’s a huge part of the record. It’s not slagging America, it’s a cultural thing. Everything in our shared culture – Australia, Japan, it’s everywhere. It’s just one of those things, I think we need to be better. It’s almost a patriotic record because I like our country enough that we should be doing better for ourselves than worrying about whether or not we have the latest handbag [laughs].
What do you say to people who say Fall Out Boy sold out?
I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what “selling out” means and I would really need a solid definition of that. Sometimes people associate getting big with selling out, which is funny because that’s not something you necessarily have choice in. That’s not a matter that is entirely up to you and at the same time, who hasn’t sold out? If you’ve heard of a specific artist, they’re big enough–they got to you. Where do you draw the line between what’s big and what’s too big? The Arcade Fire is huge, but they’re not sell outs, right? They have the #1 record in America but they’re not sell outs. I’m not singling them out because either way I don’t mind. I don’t mind if someone thinks I’m a sell out. I go to bed happy knowing I do what I do and I’m not doing anything for reasons of money, and if I were trying to pick up chicks, I’m doing a horrible job. And if I wanted to drive awesome cars, I’m doing a really bad job there too.
I said this before and I think people took it the wrong way, but it’s really true: if you’re trying to get a lot of money and attention and cars and just stuff like that, being in a band is a really bad way to do it, because it takes a lot of work, it’s constant work, it’s very grueling, and you don’t really have time to spend money. So that would probably not even make my top 10 list of ways to make a lot of money, because records aren’t selling anymore. The richest musician in America still doesn’t even come close to a mid-level athlete.
What’s one thing you think people most misunderstand or misinterpret about you and/or the band?
I think they really don’t understand Pete. I’ve heard a lot of really awful, negative things said about Pete, and it’s like, “Dude, you don’t even have a clue how honest and real that guy is” for the amount of crap that people talk about him. Pete said it, and it’s true, they make you into a wrestling character. And it’s also like reality TV editing. It’s really easy to cut somebody in rolling their eyes when that might not have even happened next to the thing that it’s being shown next to. Honestly, I don’t know, that’s one thing that bothers me a lot.
And then I’ll hear things from people where it’s like, “Oh your band’s great but I hate your bass player” and I’m like, then you just said you hate our band cause I don’t fucking care. He’s my best friend. Obviously he’s still in the band for a reason, it’s not like I’m waiting for someone to go “Oh yeah, you know, Pete sucks” and I’ll go like “Yes! Thank you, now he’s totally fired!” No, he’s my best friend and he’s absolutely important. He’s invaluable. I wouldn’t be here without him. I’ll hear things like, “Your voice is great but Pete’s really lame” and it’s like, well, Pete’s the only guy who got me to sing. I wasn’t a singer until Pete saw it in me. So I don’t particularly see value in me being a singer but he does and he’s always my cheerleader, trying to keep me going. So I am the musician I am pretty much because of Pete. And I’m not even saying I’m that great a musician. I’m saying if there’s anyone that thinks I am, all the thanks goes to Pete. So that’s one thing that bothers me a lot and I don’t think people really understand fully.
And I also think, of course, it’s really easy to hate on someone when they’re in a tabloid all the time, but then at the same time, you have no idea how easy it is to get in a tabloid. Like, I found myself in them every so often—I never leave the house! I’m a total hermit. And not to mention a picture of me is probably about 20 cents, but it’s happened, and it blows my mind. You really don’t have to work that hard, you just have to go to certain places at certain times and after you do that once you’re tainted forever and they’ll always take pictures of you.
Let’s talk about the songwriting process a little bit–I’d say it’s safe to say most people are aware that Pete takes care of the majority of the lyrics and that you do a good amount of writing once you receive the lyrics–but we had a couple readers who wanted to know what Andy and Joe’s roles are in terms of songwriting.
So basically Andy and I are both drummers, so we don’t really have to talk much about drums; it’s kind of hard to explain what Andy does. He is the fastest record in the entire band, he recorded all his parts in 5 days, which on a major label is pretty quick, that’s nothing–he’s incredible, he kind of just “speed interprets.” He kinda grew up on really complicated metal, so his brain wraps around everything really quickly, so he does everything at light-speed. Everything he adds to a song, he’ll add to it pretty much in real time, so it’s almost kind of jazz in that way. It’s weird, because after we decide on a take or whatever, he will play it that way forever; every time we play it live he will play it the exact same way as he played it on the record, which is just incredible to me, how he nails it. But up until that point, if we do like 5 takes of a song, he’ll be bending it and shifting it rhythmically throughout the entire process.
And then Joe on this record, Joe was awesome. He really shines on this record I think. You’ll hear a lot of “Joe”-isms throughout the record. And the basic way we work is that I’ll demo up a song the way I’d do it if I were solo Patrick or whatever, and obviously Andy changes everything, when Pete lays down his bass line he adds a lot or takes out when I was being too flourishy, he’ll find what the bass part needs to be. And then Joe kind of looks at the entire song and just starts layering. And he adds a ton of guitar stuff. A lot of it you wouldn’t even notice necessarily, but you’ll know when it’s not there, you know? And I think this record he did that on pretty much every song, there’s a lot of Joe.
It’s definitely Fall Out Boy. That’s another misconception I think, is that there’s two of us, Pete and I doing everything, it’s really not. It’s something way better than I could come up with on my own.
Do you have any say when it comes to lyrical content of Fall Out Boy songs, or have you ever had any misunderstandings with Pete when it comes to what you’re singing, how does it work?
It’s been a learning process, and obviously over the course of the past couple records, we’ve really nailed it now. He basically is like a poet, that’s the best way I can describe it, he just writes, and from there I take his words, and I end up having a lot of control over what happens in what order that way, so I’m kind of like his editor, but then he always lets me know when I screw with the meaning of something. If sometimes melodically or rhythmically something makes more sense in reverse and if it matters, then he says it. Sometimes I’ve been in the position where I accidentally made them better, and he’ll be like “Wow! Thanks for doing that!” I didn’t really know it, I just kind of misinterpreted it. And then sometimes I’ve made it really bad and we’ve had to go back to the drawing board.
It’s a really interesting partnership because it’s really easy. There’s not a lot of argument–well, that’s not true at all, but there’s not a lot of argument in the process of writing a song. After a song’s written, the finishing touches are the really biggest talking points/arguing points.
You mentioned in a recent Rolling Stone interview that making the record was painful and that you even threw something across the room over a major to minor chord progression. What else do you guys fight about in the studio?
Generally keeping with the tone. It’s really hard to try and make art with somebody else. You’re already fighting yourself enough, you’re already second-guessing yourself enough, so it’s really hard to allow yourself to fight with somebody else, to allow someone else’s face to have an opinion.
I think even making any art is kind of narcissistic, because on a certain level, you think your idea is better than somebody else’s, you know what I mean? That’s why you make art ultimately, is because you think you can do it. So you’re always gonna come into a little friction when you have more than 1 person involved, so I think the fights we have relate directly to what we’re trying to say. I think that was the thing–Pete and I were really cohesively trying to say something together with the record, but after you know that, it’s like, “Well, this is a better way to say it” – “No, this is a better way to say it,” and those things come up. I think it’s one of those things too where if you’re not fighting about something then you don’t give a shit. I think the record’s better for it.
We fought a lot on Take This To Your Grave. We fought like crazy on Take This To Your Grave. The band almost broke up a good 4 or 5 times on that record.
How heated do the arguments get?
We’ve gotten into shouting matches before, for sure. One thing that Pete and I won’t tolerate in each other–this is something that we have argued about a lot and gotten really angry with each other about–is that self doubt, is that kind of, “You don’t understand what you’ve made here, this is really great” and I’ll find Pete sometimes saying “Ahh these lyrics suck” and it pisses me off because it’s so good and he’s just missing it.
We got in a fight about “I Don’t Care” because the day I wrote it, I didn’t feel it, I wasn’t there. And he was like “You don’t understand how good this is, you don’t understand,” and then a day later, I was like, “I’m really glad I wrote that song, cause now it’s one of my favorites,” but he had to talk me into it and take me off the bridge, and that’s kind of the thing with the band.
It’s weird, I know a lot of bands that aren’t friends, and that really bothers me. I can’t imagine not being friends with my band, I don’t know how I would be able to operate without being friends. Good friends should have good arguments, and we do. And the beauty of it is there’s no point where after the end of the argument where someone’s going, “Well fuck you man, I quit.” We always end up compromising and it always ends up working out.
How do you know when you’re done writing a song?
I don’t know how to explain it, but sometimes things are just done. I remember when I was a little kid in art class, I remember my art teacher saying you can spend 30 years on one painting and it doesn’t mean it’s going to be good, and I think sometimes, for better or worse, art just happens. Sometimes a song just is, it exists, and that’s the best version of a song. I’ve found myself on occasion writing a song and not even necessarily liking it, but knowing the way that it needs to be completed has to be this way, even though I’m not necessarily gonna like it. It might lead me further down a road that I’m not enjoying, but “it really needs that saxophone solo” [laughs].
A lot of readers were wondering what happened with “I Liked You A Lot Better Before You Became a Fucking MySpace Whore” and “We Don’t Take Hits, We Write Em”.
So those two songs were never really finished, I think that’s one of the problems with them, and that ultimately came down to–we had a lot of songs that kind of sounded the same on that record, that had a very similar tempo and tone, and it would’ve been kind of monotonous, it kind of would’ve been the same thing over and over again.
And ultimately, I don’t want to throw him under the bus, but I don’t think Neal [Avron, producer] liked those songs very much, so that’s what happened with them. Neal is brilliant, and I don’t think he ever gets any credit–it’s a hard relationship to explain, cause he’s definitely not one of those “does everything for you” kind of guys, we do a lot of work, but he does a ton of work too. The record’s done but he’s still working on it, you know? But at any rate, my philosophy is I hold his opinion very high, nearly as high as I hold Pete’s or Joe’s or Andy’s, and if he doesn’t like something–basically if anyone doesn’t like something, it doesn’t make the record.
I like a lot of things about those songs, but I definitely think they’re better for the wonder. I think the fact that they weren’t recorded makes people want them more. I think if they were on the record, there’s no way of knowing if anyone would like them or not. And they were never finished, they never really got there.
There’s a song on this record called “America’s Sweet Hearts” (tentatively titled) and that song is really fucking old. It pre-dates Infinity I think, but it took so long to get it into the right shape, and then it was done. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. And there’s no guarantee that those songs won’t ever see light of day.
”MySpace Whore” was such a funny thing too, because it got all the press on the record, everyone was talking about the song just because it was a clever title, but no one had really heard it.
You mentioned that you really like working with Neal Avron–is he your dream producer or is there anyone else out there you’d like to work with?
Neal Avron. It’s one of those things. It goes back to that old question “Who would be your ultimate tour?” and you want to say Prince, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and David Bowie, or whatever, but realistically, you don’t want to be there, you don’t want to see your heroes working, you don’t want to ever be disappointed, it would just kind of suck. And the other thing in the tour question—even though that’s not the question you asked—you really want to tour with your friends. I would rather tour with my best friends who I might not even like anywhere near as much as I like Elvis Costello, but I’m gonna have a blast with them.
So that’s the thing, we’re gonna work with Neal until Neal gets sick of us. He’s a great producer, man. I think more bands need to try and go to him. I think a lot of people just don’t ask. And I think you’d be super surprised at how good he is – that’s an open invitation: bands, go seek out Neal Avron.
Do you ever wish you could go back to the old days with the van-trailer setup or do you like things the way they are?
There was something really fun about the van-trailer days, but at the same time, there was a lot of really lame shit because we would go play shows and other bands would treat us like garbage. That was one of things, back in the day when we started out, bands were so mean to us. I’m not gonna name names, but we had bands steal from us, steal money, steal shirts, steal whatever, say really mean things about us, and it’s like—that’s one thing I don’t miss. But there’s never gonna be anything as cool as when you’re 18, you’re pretty much destitute, you’re so broke but somehow you and your best friends are packed in a tiny van, you’re touring, you’re playing a pizza place to no one except to the guy who makes the pizza. We did this show in Nebraska with Spitalfield, and we played to Spitalfield. Spitalfield played to us. The sound guy left. I don’t even think we got paid that night. The headlining band didn’t show up. It was pretty bad, but it was kind of the most fun thing ever. What is there to possibly lose at that point? So yeah, of course I miss it a little bit.
However, I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty awesome to know that I can go into a studio and know that everything is paid for, I know what equipment we’re using and I know everything’s gonna sound good. And I know when I get up on stage that I’ll like my tone–our crew is still a lot of the same people from those old tours, so we kind of bring it with us I think.
How do you feel you’ve progressed as a singer and what more would you like to accomplish/explore in that regard in the future?
I don’t know. I didn’t really plan on being a singer, it wasn’t something I really sought out. It just kind of—they wanted me to sing. I was talking to Babyface about this—Babyface is amazing by the way, when we worked with Babyface I would sing and I would do my harmonies and he’d be like “Do it like this” and it’d be incredible, and it was like, “I don’t think I can do it like that” (laughs)—but I was talking to Babyface and he was asking “How’d you get into singing?” and I was like “Uh, we needed a singer, no one else could sing.” I always wanted to be just a guitar player and have someone else sing, and I still tease Pete about it, but I mean, at this point I think that’s kind of weird, I’m kind of stuck with it [laughs].
I’ve noticed that you’ve been able to incorporate more ornamentation with your voice as of late. Is that something you’ve always been able to do and just kept it secret or have you grown into it? Have you taken any lessons?
It’s weird, I went to one lesson after Cork Tree came out and I didn’t like it at all, I didn’t learn anything and I never went back, and after that, I just tried, you know what I mean? There was a weird moment where—I was still a drummer, I always saw myself as a drummer—and we got nominated for a Grammy, that was really crazy, and I was sitting there and Stevie Wonder was on stage and I remember thinking “Wow, I really need to take this more seriously!” (laughs).
I’m not a drummer anymore, on my gravestone, if there is one, if anyone writes anything about me besides hopefully being a dad, it would be that I sang in my band when I was in my 20s. So I was like, “Yeah, I should probably focus on this a little more,” so I just practiced a lot. And the other thing too is that there’s something really personal about your voice, where if people talk shit on your guitar, “Ugh, he played out of tune,” etc., you can, in your head, blame it on something else, but when you fuck up with your singing, that’s part of you. That’s you. And so it really hurts. So I guess I’m an insecure enough dude that I just went back and really studied and tried to sing better.
What did you do to practice?
I listened to records, just everything. I think that’s one of the problems, when I was growing up I remember people used to ask, “What kind of music do you listen to?” and you had an answer. That’s so weird, I can’t even relate to that anymore. I don’t know, I listen to music. So I think one of the key things was trying to spot the dynamics and things like that in soul music, in the old crooner stuff, really trying to get under Nat King Cole and understand how that worked, how he was doing what he was doing with his voice. Ultimately, he was an amazing singer and there’s no way anyone’s gonna sound like that, but I tried learning some of his techniques that he added on top of the fact that he was already a great singer. It’s weird, because I’m not really sure I like my voice. I’m not sure that if I were buying records that I’d pick up my record based on my voice if it wasn’t me. I work really hard at being able to do things with it.
It’s weird, Pete and I have talked about it before. Pete, when he was a kid, he was a soccer prodigy, he was pretty much built for soccer, I think he had some crazy scholarship for it too. He doesn’t talk about it much, he was totally built for it, and he chose to be a musician. It’s hard to say, because Pete just tries to make me feel good about myself, but he always tells me how good I am as a singer, and I personally don’t think I’m that good or whatever. He was like, “Yeah, I was built for soccer and I didn’t do that, and it’s crazy to think you weren’t a singer and you’re probably built for it but you didn’t even know. If you didn’t do this band, you’d never be a singer, and that’d be a tragedy,” because he thinks I’m great; his support has meant the world.
I don’t know if you remember this “drama” but there was a posting on the Fall Out Boy web site that you’d never used autotune on your vocals on a record and people on certain online forums (I won’t name names) got twisted out of shape over that- do you want to just address that whole situation?
Oh yeah. Here’s the deal. Autotune is on everybody’s computer, everyone has it. There’s some rudimentary form of Autotune on GarageBand when you buy your Apple or whatever. I don’t currently use Autotune when I’m working with Neal because we have it down to a science; I know what mic I’m using, I have control of my mix, and we just get takes and we record it. I don’t use Autotune now.
On Take This To Your Grave, I used a little Autotune because we had 9 days to record the album and my throat got shot. So I remember on “Pros and Cons of Breathing” especially my voice was toast and we couldn’t get the song done unless we used Autotune. Those are the type of situations where I used it.
And I haven’t used it in 2 records, though Babyface uses Autotune as an effect. I actually think it’s harder to sing through Autotune because it doesn’t really allow for blues notes, so it’s weird. It’s really strange and weird to me. But here’s the thing, for audiophiles, when we were recording with Babyface, I sang through a Sony C800 mic and they don’t have any low end, and one of the things is that–I don’t have perfect pitch, I hear relative pitch–and so if you don’t have low end in your voice, you’re not necessarily going to know in reference what the pitch is. I record on a 67 or 269, Neumann mics, and those have a lot more low end and I can hear my pitch reference a lot more. So basically when I’m comfortable, I don’t use Autotune; when I’m in a new situation I might use Autotune. The other thing too is that in a lot of those situations, like the Babyface thing, we were arranging and recording a song in a day. It’s all well and good when you have time to sing all that live, but when you have a day to write and record a song and think it’s gonna be awesome, you might want to use Autotune.
Do you or any of the other members ever feel a sense of jealousy towards Pete?
No, we’re pretty defensive when it comes to the way he’s been portrayed. Pete’s my best friend, I was the best man at his wedding, I love that man to death. I’d take a bullet for him. But, I hate the way that the Pete Wentz that actually exists never gets covered, it never gets spoken of. There’s so many accusations that are so ridiculous about the guy that are taken as the gospel—people just assume that he posted pictures of his penis on the internet. That is the stupidest fucking thing thing I’ve ever heard. Why on earth would you ever do that? His parents were gonna see that, come on. Have some common sense. He is actually a human being. Would you want your penis all over the internet? Probably not. He probably doesn’t either.
This is another little interesting factoid about Pete: he quit the band. I had to talk him back into the band after those pictures got out. It nearly broke the band up he was so devastated. He had to claw his way back up from massive depression to even make fun of it.
Anyway, no, we are not jealous of him. If anything, I would want people to know the real Pete Wentz. I get the impression that people don’t really want to know him, because he’s not the bad guy on the reality show. He’s the most loyal guy I know, to a fault actually. He’s one of those guys who will never stand against his friends. Here’s an analogy. If he’s gonna make some money off shoveling coal, he’s gonna bring his friend on with him, and his friend is gonna shovel coal. If the friend’s not good at shoveling coal, Pete will shovel more coal to make sure that guy gets his share, even if the guy is doing terrible work. The guy could sit down, relax, and open up a book, and Pete’s still gonna be shoveling coal for that guy. He is the most loyal guy I know. He reminds me a lot of the portrayal of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys just in the way that in Jersey Boys, and I don’t know if this is the true story, one of the other singers in the Four Seasons racks up this huge gambling debt and Frankie Valli is like, “We’ll pay for it, we will never ask for it back, we’ll just pay for it, he’s just gotta not do it again,” and that’s the kind of guy Pete is. I will never be jealous of him.
Do you ever feel underappreciated?
No, I feel overappreciated, if anything. I think Joe’s underappreciated, I think Andy’s underappreciated, I think Pete’s underappreciated, I don’t think people know how good he is. I think Neal [Avron]’s underappreciated, but if anything, I feel overappreciated. I think Patrick Stump gets enough attention.
Do you ever feel that Pete’s other business ventures (Decaydance, Clandestine, etc) take away from Fall Out Boy’s music?
I think people can misinterpret it very easily. Pete Wentz is not a very good entrepreneur, he’s a good friend. He believed in Gym Class Heroes, The Academy Is, and Panic At the Disco when a lot of other labels wouldn’t, and they were our friends.
Maybe sometimes it gets in the way of the record, of the music – not with making it, but with people’s perceptions sometimes, it can be kind of daunting. But at the same time, I applaud him for doing it. I think the way he does it is totally awesome. Really, his whole MO is: when we were getting signed, we got dicked around by labels, so he decided to start a label that doesn’t fuck bands over. When everybody had a clothing company, he was like, “Well, I want to make a clothing company that makes something I actually wanna see.” I think people think he makes a lot more money than he does, and I think that’s one of the misconceptions, is that he does things for money. If he did things for money, I would hope he’d make more [laughs].
Do you know what’s going to happen now that Ashlee is expecting – how does that affect your upcoming touring plans?
I think we’re going to be touring a little more lightly than would be planned otherwise, but I don’t know that it’s going to be noticeable necessarily. I think the way that we structured it I don’t think there are going to be huge gaps, it’s going to be more scheduled around accommodating Pete if he needs to go home for anything. This is the first time anyone has had anything really important, has had a really good excuse to drop out of things for a minute [laughs], and we’re not ever gonna play without him, so we scheduled things so that if he’s needed somewhere, we’re not too far away, and if we are too far, he can fly home at a moment’s notice. It hasn’t been too detrimental; it doesn’t really feel too different. If anything, it just feels more organized.
How much has touring non-stop taken a toll on the band?
It can be a pain in the ass. There’s a lot of things about touring that can cause for ups and downs. International touring is always rough and it’s always a challenge for a band because it costs so much to go to another country. We paid for those international tours. We totally paid for it out of pocket and we’re in debt to those tours. One of the problems is that sometimes you want to put on a show, you want to put on something cool, you’re playing a certain size venue, you want to have a certain caliber of a show, and you just can’t afford it. It’s not even possible. That’s one thing that gets really grueling – I hate disappointing people, and I don’t want to feel like I’m disappointing people, so we have to work that much harder to not disappoint people on the international tours, because everything is coming out of our pocket.
And the schedule can be really hard. Sometimes you can be in a place where you don’t speak the language and you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know how to get around, etc.
We’ve been touring pretty much nonstop up until Infinity, and that was pretty rough. After a while it got really rough. That last tour that we did, the one with Gym Class and Plain White Ts and Cute Is What We Aim For, I think we all looked at each other at the end of that one and were like, “Dude, let’s fucking go home.” It was a great tour – technically on paper that was the best tour we’ve ever done, but it was just the end of it. We were so tired.
We’re older, and I think that’s one of the things. Joe has gotten to be such a good dude. It’s cool watching your friend grow. Pete’s gonna be a father. Joe has a house. That’s insane to me. It’s cool watching where everybody’s going. Touring hasn’t been a big negative for us, if anything, it’s been really awesome to watch us grow. We’re definitely brothers, it’s definitely a very familial thing. God forbid, if anything ever happens and we break up, I think we’ll still be really tight. We’ll break up for other reasons, but I don’t think we’ll ever not hang out.
After a tour what do you do to unwind/decompress? What do you like to do when you’re at home?
I collect movies, I still buy records constantly. I collect musical instruments and most of my time I spend making music, it’s pretty much what I do 90% of the time I’m home. Aside from just normal stuff, I walk the dog, I hang out with my girlfriend, get dinner. Pretty mellow stuff. Right now I’m in Hollywood—I don’t like Hollywood, it’s not really my style. But I’ve found my own little niche here where it’s not bad. It’s one of those things where I’ve been on an extended work trip here for 2 years [laughs]. I still technically live in Chicago and I’m dying to get back. That’s one of the big things for me, I go back to Chicago when I want to hang out. I’m weirdly very proud of my city, and I hope, God willing, I die there. That’s kind of one of my big things.
How many b-sides does Fall Out Boy have? Do you ever plan on releasing them if you do have any?
We have a lot of stuff. I couldn’t even put an estimate on how much music has been written for Fall Out Boy that hasn’t been released. I really don’t know if we have any plans to release them or not. Pete and I haven’t really talked about it. We’re always finding stuff too. The other day I was talking to Andy and he had on his iPod a bunch of demos we’d done years ago, probably before Take This To Your Grave. I’d forgotten about all that stuff. I don’t even know. There are probably hundreds of songs that exist. Will they ever get released? I don’t know. The other thing is, I probably don’t even want them to be released, some of them are pretty bad [laughs].
Have you ever considered a solo project for music that might not fit into the vision for Fall Out Boy?
Before Fall Out Boy I wanted to do a solo record and write songs. But again, I didn’t really want to be the singer. I’ve been asked that and my feeling is that there’s only two reasons to do a solo project – either you are totally full of yourself and you want to be the star, or you have a bunch of music that you want to get out that your band either won’t let you release or can’t pull off. I don’t feel like I’m in either situation. I feel like I get to express myself in a better way. I mean, at the end of the day, yeah, Paul McCartney’s awesome, but wasn’t he better with the Beatles? Not to say I’m anything close to that. I think really fruitful partnerships—and I consider Pete and I to have a fruitful partnership, I’m happy working with him—I always think fruitful partnerships are going to be better than the partners without each other.
If it ever came up and it ever made sense, I might consider it, but at the moment I’m way too stoked on our Fall Out Boy record to even care about that [laughs].
Any plans to work on any albums on the producer side in the future?
I know Cobra Starship’s talking about going back to the studio, I’m trying to work on some stuff for them but I don’t really know if I’ll have time. Right now is a really bad time for producing because I’m gonna be on the road. But I like producing, it’s a cool job, it just depends on the specific act and the specific thing. I don’t have anything planned right now.
How do you decide what bands you work with?
I found that seeking out bands never works, it always ends up being forced and weird, so usually I wait for stuff. I’m in an awesome position, I just wait for it to come to me and then I get to cherry-pick—and I know that won’t last very long. In the world of production that only lasts for a couple years before people stop caring, once you stop making hits [laughs].
I know this sounds self-serving, but I really like working with bands on Decaydance because there’s a lot more freedom there. I know everybody that works at the label, I don’t have to argue with anybody about why this lyric is cool etc. I had to do that with some other projects that ultimately got aborted; I haven’t really done any records outside Decaydance. I’ve tried a bunch of times and it’s been a bum-out. And also, that’s not to say I wouldn’t love to do records outside Decaydance, that’s just the thing that’s worked out the best for me so far.
Would you ever produce a Fall Out Boy album yourself?
I would think that’d be a very bad idea. I think that’d be really arrogant to do. I don’t see the need for it, I don’t value my opinion that much to want to do that.
How did you first get involved with producing?
Producing is weird because I don’t really think I wanted to do it. I credit our booking agent actually with telling me “You will love producing, you should produce.” And I was like, “I don’t really know about that.” So I went ahead and tried it, I did the Hush Sound record with Sean O’Keefe, who did Take This To Your Grave, and it was really cool. I loved working with Sean, and I loved the Hush Sound, but it was kind of a tough time to make a record. During the weekends I was flying to New York to do Gym Class Heroes. So I was doing two records at once and I think that’s the only reason I’m still producing.
I had 2 completely different experiences. I thought the end result with The Hush Sound is amazing,I love that record, I’m so proud of them – it’s not even really me, I didn’t have much involvement in writing the songs or anything, they really did it. I think Sean did a great job, and Manny the engineer did a great job. And then I would go over to New York and work with Gym Class Heroes, and it was just fun, I just had a blast. It happened so fast. I remember “Clothes Off” basically happened because I was just singing it around in the hallway and Sam [Hollander] goes “Yo, come in and sing that man, that’s so good,” and it was just really organic and really real. I think that’s how I got into producing, I had those two experiences right away.
I’m totally lucky to even get to do it. Sam’s an awesome dude and Sean’s an awesome dude, and it’s really cool that I get to work with these people.
Are you very hands on when it comes to production or do you focus more on the larger vision of the song/album – the vibe/etc?
I think a producer should be like water, and whatever the shape of the glass is, he or she should fill that. If they need you to be the engineer guy–typically I have an engineer–I work at that stuff. If they need you to be a songwriting help guy, I work on that. If they need you to be a vocal melody guy, I work at that, etc. I kind of look at whatever a band needs out of me then I try to give it to them.
On the new Gym Class record, I really thought the band needed to be heard, because I thought there was a lot of really cool stuff going on and I don’t really think people realized how much of that was coming out of the band. That was my job on that record, was to get the band there. And that was really all I wanted to do, I wasn’t looking for hits or anything like that. The Cab, I really wanted people to know how good Alex is as a singer – he is really amazing and that’s one of the things I really wanted to get out there.
What are some of your favorite albums production-wise?
Oh man, that’s like asking what my favorite records are.
Or what are some cool albums you’ve been listening to lately that you dig production-wise?
There’s this new producer Space Cowboy, he’s from Europe, and he does pretty much exclusively dance-y stuff, but he is blowing my mind right now. Everything he does is awesome. It’s like Timbaland meets Jamie Lidell—and Jamie Lidell, his records just blow my mind, everything he does is smoke. As far as modern producers, I really love Pharrell and the Neptunes, I really love Timbaland still, he does awesome stuff, I love Kanye. There’s Tony Visconti who worked on Bowie records, or Nick Lowe who did all those Elvis Costello records, or Elvis Costello who did Squeeze and the Specials, there’s Phil Spector, the list goes on.
A couple of our readers were wondering if you had any vocal tips for up and coming singers.
The human voice is pretty much the wussiest thing in the universe. It’s so fickle, and you have to treat it really well. Basically, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go to clubs and stuff like that. I don’t ever go to bars because if you have to yell to the person next to you, it’s never good for you. I don’t whisper, I don’t eat dairy within a few hours of playing, usually if I have anything dairy it’ll be after a show or in the morning. Basically, the only two things that your voice really wants are relaxation and water, and not cold water, not hot water, just room temperature water. Keep hydrated, and just rest your voice, because that’s the biggest thing. The singer never gets to party [laughs].
I know this was from way earlier, but you said you guys recorded Take This To Your Grave in 9 days?
Yes. “Dead On Arrival,” “Saturday,” and “Homesick at Space Camp,” were recorded as a demo session in two days, almost a year earlier, and “Where Is Your Boy” and “Hey Chris” were recorded in another demo session. Those were demos, that’s the thing, we paid for those. When I say Take This To Your Grave was recorded in 9 days, the rest of the album was recorded — I think it was 7 songs in 9 days. I remember the computer crashed so we lost all the harmonies on “Saturday” so I had to go back and re-sing “Saturday,” we made a couple guitar tweaks and things like that to “Where Is Your Boy” – we recorded something on every song in the span of 9 days.
Can you tell us a little more about the short you directed, when it’s coming out, and what you hope people will take away from it?
The short, oddly enough, kind of says a lot of the same stuff the record says right now. So I was really hoping to get it out around the record, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen yet. We’re still finishing it and getting it edited-you want it to be the right thing.
It was kind of an experiment for me, because I was trying to figure out what I like doing – I knew I wanted to contribute to film in some way, but I didn’t know what I felt the most comfortable doing, what I was the best at, what my place was – but I wrote it, I directed it, I acted in it. Basically, the same thing I was saying about the record – it’s kind of a satire on consumerism and the idea of valuing things over experiences, and conversely, trying to make experiences into things, which is the worst thing ever. So the story is about this artist who only does art for the reward, so he can pick up chicks or whatever, it’s a comedy.
Do you see yourself doing more of this kind of stuff in the future?
I had a blast directing, and I really think that’s the thing I did better. I love acting, it feels really natural, but I don’t like me as an actor. I think my standards for actors are so high that I don’t know that I meet them. I don’t know if I’d do that again. Writing-wise, shoot man, I don’t even write the lyrics for my band, so I don’t know how good of a writer I am [laughs].
It was really fun and I am really proud of it. I don’t know how much more I’ll do of it. Maybe I’ll direct a music video or something like that, maybe not a Fall Out Boy video, but maybe I’ll get into that.
How’d you get involved with Law & Order?
Well, basically I met this girl on the set of the “Dance, Dance” video, she was my love interest in the “Dance, Dance” video, she’s on 30 Rock now, but at the time she was just the girl in the video. So I saw her on Law & Order and I jokingly said to Bob [McLynn, manager], “Hey, if she can be on Law & Order maybe I can get on Law & Order as well,” and it ended up happening. I was a total fan, so I kept it going, I was like, “Let’s do this, I wanna do this.” They flew me out and I got to be an actor for 2 days, so that was cool.
One user asks: “Pete is very vocal on his blogs about artists he loves. Joe has a wicked art collection as well. Besides the giant picture of David Bowie, what’s hanging on your walls at home?”
I have a [Takashi] Murakami, I have just some really cheap posters of [Roy] Lichtenstein and [Andy] Warhol and Kazimir Malevich. I like a lot of art. I think the band is definitely united in that front, in that we really like visual art as well. Thankfully, I’m not ever gonna try and get into it [laughs].
What’ve you been listening to lately?
A lot of Fall Out Boy actually because I’ve had to approve mixes [laughs], no, but, I’ve been kind of going back through a lot of the things I was listening to in high school – a lot of Prince, a lot of David Bowie, a lot of Elvis Costello. Those were my big things, Motown, funk, and jazz, Lil Wayne. Kanye, what the fuck am I talking about. Love “Lockdown,” holy smokes, that’s like my favorite song ever. I’ve been listening to Jamie Lidell and this Nadia Oh record. Awesome.
Who do you think is the best act in pop music right now?
It’d probably be Kanye. I think the way he approaches pop music is so awesome, he’s doing something that is so high art, so relatable immediately. It’s nearly avant-garde, but then at the same time really catchy. He’s also really awesome at collaborating, when he does it, he does it really well.
I can’t really say that from personal experience. I’d love to work with him, I’ve been bugging him about it for years. There’s a certain part of me that doesn’t want to work with him anyways though, because I want to be just as surprised as everybody else with every song, on every record. I want to be like “Oh man, that’s awesome!” I kind of don’t want to peel back the veil. None of my stuff ever ended up getting used but I worked on “Good Life,” before T-Pain did, and T-Pain’s version is better than mine [laughs], but it almost was too close. I almost didn’t want to know.
One reader wrote “I’m currently majoring in music so I thought it was interesting to read that you’re listening to contemporary American composers like Steve Reich. I was just wondering if his minimalist style, or the style of any other contemporary composers, has influenced the way you write/think about/or listen to music.”
Absolutely. I think one of the things if you look at minimalism or expressionism, there’s various movements in modern composition that I think you can see really natural relations in pop music, so I mean I always look to that in pop music. Reich and John Cage were pretty big influences on this record in weird ways in that you wouldn’t necessarily hear any of it – nothing ends up sounding like either of them, but I think just methodology and things like that ended up on the record in various ways.
Do you guys have plans to go back to Antarctica any time soon?
Hopefully. I would love to get back there and I’d love to bring some cameras and show everybody the place is fucking melting.
What’s one question you’ve never been asked in an interview that you wish you’ve been asked and what’s your answer?
You know, I pretty much just got it about Steve Reich, cause that’s pretty cool. Honestly, I’d like to have more questions asked about the rest of the band and the rest of the dudes. One thing that’s really easy in interviewing is to have a story written and be like, “Well these guys suck and this is how I’m gonna say it.” I wish more people knew about the real Pete and those were the questions that got asked.
That about wraps it up. Anything you want to say to the AP.net readers?
First off, thank you man for doing this interview. I knew I took up a lot of time – I figured, I had a free day, and what the fuck else am I gonna do with 2 hours [laughs]. I hope I didn’t make an ass of myself [laughs]. I read AbsolutePunk.net on a semi-daily basis, I still check out what’s going on. I still click links and see new bands off of it, and a lot of times I get my news off of there, so I’m just as much a reader of AbsolutePunk as anyone else. Thank you to anyone who read this interview, it means a lot.