An Interview with Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz about the making of American Beauty/American Psycho
Returning from a hiatus is a tricky thing for any band. Breaks are usually enforced, either by one member’s desire to go solo, general fatigue or the simple fact that the band aren’t getting on anymore. The idea is to come back refreshed and stronger, but in reality artists normally end up losing momentum and become distant from what you so great in the first place.
But, seemingly, a break is exactly what Fall Out Boy needed when they took three years off between 2010 and 2013. Burnt out, depressed and thoroughly sick of the sight of each other after a relentless 10 years on the road, the band pursued other projects before reuniting in 2013, thoroughly refreshed.
Consisting of frontman Patrick Stump, bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley, Fall Out Boy had spent the previous 10 years morphing from a scrappy hardcore band to a bouncy pop-punk outfit and then into arena conquering pop rockers.
Born into scenes that likes bands to stick to what they’re good at, Fall Out Boy have defied convention, possibly to their cost. They’ve experimented with collaborators, making records with everyone from 2Chainz to Elvis Costello and followed up their glossy pop comeback album Save Rock And Roll with a raw, thundering EP recorded in a few hours with Ryan Adams. Some of their older fans have turned their backs on them at various different turns, but others have grown with the band, fascinated by their every turn.
And there’s a lot to be fascinated by. Fall Out Boy do things a little differently to most, bassist Pete Wentz, one of the most gifted and poetic lyricists of modern times, emails frontman Patrick Stump reams and reams of lyrics, all strewn with pop culture references from Closer to Casablanca, and he turns them into neat, dynamic pop songs.
Stump is the pop genius, one of the best melody writers going, but it’s Wentz where the fascination mostly lies, his lyrics are a perfect mixture of bravado and vulnerability, always deeply personal, always intriguing, ever changing, encompassing the funny mixture of genres and styles that meet up to make Fall Out Boy.
Even in their side projects, you can see the different angles that mesh together to form Fall Out Boy, Wentz went away and formed this strange vaudeville pop group called The Black Cards, Stump poured his love of classic motown and pop into a solo album called Soul Punk, while Hurley and Trohman joined up with metal types from Anthrax and Every Time I Die to form The Damned Things. Coming back together, you can see the hard edges, the experimental tendencies and the huge pop choruses that run through every track on the band’s new album American Beauty/American Psycho.
It’s a jarring and challenging records, there are heartfelt sing-a-longs, driving rock songs and swaggering hip-hop influenced pop all mixed in. There are plenty of guitars, but also plenty of samples and chopped up beats. It’s an acerbic, angular record, asking more of the listener than the band ever have before.
We sat down to chat to Pete Wentz about the making of American Beauty/American Psycho, why you have to disappoint your fans sometimes and why rock bands need to be more reactive…
This is your sixth record now, do you still get nervous before you put them out?
“I don’t think you ever get past that point. My anxiety these days is a little bit different, I know you don’t get to decide the reception, you can write a record, put everything into it, but you can’t know if people will like it or if it will matter to them. You just don’t want to let people down.”
How long did the album take to record? Because you toured very extensively in 2014?
“This one we were working on right up until the deadline. We submitted our artwork minutes before the print deadline. We were edging it.”
How long did it take you to record? Did you get it done quite quickly?
“It was a bit more piecemeal. We worked on some tracks with this guy Sebastian (Electro producer sebastiAn) over in France, we recorded ‘Immortals’ over at Disney, lots of places. Me and Patrick started working on it on Monumentour (The co-headline tour Fall Out Boy did with Paramore across last summer), but, outside of ‘Novocaine’, it was all done in a really condensed three month period. We recorded parts of that song on the last album, but they’ve been completely chopped up and re-done.”
How did you find making a record like that? Did you prefer it to going to a studio for a block of time and getting it all done at once?
“They both have positives and negatives. I like the idea of going somewhere for a while and being able to create a physical body of art, it brings to life a place, like we did with Pax-Am Days (the EP the band recorded with Ryan Adams in his studio in Los Angeles) and with Take This To Your Grave and From Under The Cork Tree.”
“During our time off I remember reading about all these rappers and DJs and how they could be reactive because they could record on planes, or in their hotel room, and when we came back I thought it was important for us to be reactive, especially if we’re talking about pop culture. Rock bands go away for two years and hang out, but the world moves so much faster now. If we wanted to be talking about things that were of the moment, we had to work like this.”
How did it work with producers? There are a few listed…
“We’ve done different track with different producers for different producers. We did ‘Centuries’ with this guy J.R Rotem, who’s just the best at that kind of track. We worked with Sebastian because he just came up with these bizarre ideas. We do need someone overall who can help though, so we did lots with Jake Sinclair and Butch Walker, Jake also helped with overall production, just tying it all together and to try and not sound too jarring. It is a jarring record though, it’s meant to be.”
What kind of record is this lyrically? Do you write in the same way as you ever did?
“I think I give Patrick more now. We’ve learned what each other wants, so I don’t try to jam stuff that I know he won’t like. I junk lines I really love all the time because I know he won’t want to use them, so he ends up taking more from me. It’s complicated.”
How do you write? Do you have to sit down and write? Or are you constantly writing?
“Sometimes I write in interviews, or when I’m driving. I try to remember key words, and then I take voice notes. Sometimes it’s on planes or in hotel rooms, but if I sat down to write it never happens, that and when I’m with my kids, can’t do it then. It’s weird, it somehow used to be more effort and yet more effortless. Sometimes I have so much, but not this time, this time I said to Patrick ‘Patrick, use it all, there is no more’.”
Where does it come from? A lot of your earlier records are quite angry, are the moods more varied?
“I think I’ve grown on each album and I think our audience has too, as they’ve got older. If I wrote Take This To Your Grave now it would be really disingenuous and it would be really hard for our audience to relate to. Save Rock And Roll was a perspective, it was me saying ‘Look, the pirate ship has left the port, hurrah!’ and on this one I wanted a different perspective. I went through a lot in the three years (when the band were on hiatus) and I feel like I have enough distance that I can write about it honestly, so that’s what I’ve attempted to do.”
One thing you’ve always been great at is pop culture references, your lyrics are always peppered with snatches from books and movies, is that still a part of how you write?
“Totally, it’s there in the title, it’s a movie and a Grateful Dead song, or two movies, and then there’s ‘Uma Thurman’, which is obviously Pulp Fiction. Actually there’s this moment in ‘Jet-Pack Blues’ where it goes “She’s in a long black coat tonight and waiting for me in the downpour outside”, that’s actually a reference to Pacific Rim. It’s just what I picture.”
When did you settle on the title of the album?
“It was almost named a couple of different things. It was a bit of a struggle, this record is a lot more about modern romance than the last one, but the singles are called ‘Centuries’ and ‘Immortals’. I think we started talking about thresholds, the idea that everyone has a dark side and a light side within them and what makes that change in our culture. The movies are good references and good book-ends, we try and point fans to things we like. Also it rolls off the tongue quite nicely.”
What are your plans for taking the record out live? Will it be another two years of touring in big places?
“For sure. We’ve designed our songs to be played in arenas, we like the idea of kids having a contemporary rock band to go see in those places, not just DJs and rappers. It also means we can put a show on the way we want, I remember going to see bands in arenas growing up and literally having my mind blown.”
“One thing we do now though is that because a bunch of us have families, if we’re away, it has to be for a valuable reason. At this point I have a six-year old who knows how long two weeks away is, we need to appreciate that now.”
" We try to make people happy, but we’re not Burger King..."
How hard will it be to pick your setlist now? Will you be able to play most of the new album?
“I feel like it does become harder to put the setlist together. We try to make people happy, but we’re not Burger King, we have to move forward, we don’t make burgers to make people happy, we’re in a band. We need to have a good mix, if we come back to places often, like the UK, we can switch up the setlist. It becomes harder, you realise you disappoint people no matter. I remember going to see bands and either be pissed that they’d not played enough new songs, or just played new songs, hard as it is to be in a band, it’s harder to be a fan.”
Would you ever contemplate playing the new album or any of your albums start to finish?
“It’s not a thing we want to do. It’s too much nostalgia. If we could turn it into a project, like we did seven nights and every night was a different record, I’d be into that. What we did try to do once is when we put out the cover of Save Rock And Roll it originally had the kid with an AC/DC shirt, we couldn’t do that, so I said let’s make up a band for the t-shirt and then make that band, then we’d make a record for that band, it could be a punk band, or a metal band, and then we’d open for ourselves as that band, but everyone else just thought I was talking too much…”