Stevie Chick meets Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy are the pin-ups of choice for an over-medicated, emo generation. But as election day approaches in the US, the band tell Stevie Chick why it's time to put away the pills, turn off Fox News - and imagine the possibility of a president with tattoos

'I could never pursue a career in politics," croaks a figure sprawled across a sofa in the corner of a darkened room, skater's sock-cap pulled down over his sunglasses. "I've been involved in far too many scandals."

"My mom says you have too many tattoos," laughs the fresh-faced, baseball-capped boy beside him.

"Yeah, too many scandals and too many tattoos," grins the skater. "Isn't that an irony, though, now that so many of our generation have tattoos? A tattooed person will end up in office one day, mark my words. Not necessarily at a presidential level, but there will be people with tattoos in the administration."

It seems Pete Wentz - the bass player, songwriter and public face of Fall Out Boy - has a dream. This morning, however, he also has a head cold, jetlag and a hangover. It is midday, and Wentz appears near-comatose, resembling the fictional rock star Hotblack Desiato from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, who spent a year being dead for tax reasons.

The night before, Fall Out Boy arrived in Barcelona to celebrate the opening of their latest Angels & Kings nightclub, a party that stretched on into the early hours of this morning. But discussion of the group's new album, Folie à Deux, which the band planned to release on the day of the American presidential election, has shaken him from his daze.

"Releasing the album on the same day as the election was an entirely conscious decision," explains Patrick Stump, the one in the baseball cap, who plays guitar and sings. "Like, I went to sleep last night with BBC News 24 on, and there was a guy from India explaining that the outcome of the American election would have an effect on the whole world. If that's the case, then I don't know why we're taking it so lightly. This might be the most important election my generation get to vote in, and there's a lot of responsibility upon the American people, to really pay attention this time. But people are behaving like it was a sporting event, waving flags and yelling, 'Go team!'"

Accordingly, Folie à Deux contains no partisan sloganeering, although Stump contends the songs share a common message, focusing on "the effects of individuals' actions upon the larger world, as a result of the poor decisions they make. So maybe they should think about the consequences of their actions."

Certainly, a deviation into the explicitly political territory of Rage Against the Machine would be a jarring change of direction for Fall Out Boy. While their roots lie in Chicago's underground punk scene - Wentz and drummer Andy Hurley played in Racetraitor, a late 90s hardcore troupe who espoused veganism, anti-imperialism and grisly riffage - Fall Out Boy are, inarguably, a pop band, one whose rise was aided by the support of MTV's mainstream pop show Total Request Live, which helped them find an audience that is largely teenaged and largely female.

Wentz's disaffected, sometimes solipsistic lyrics - along with his olive-skinned good looks - have made Fall Out Boy poster boys for the emo generation of teens, their hormonal and existential angst finding a reflection in Fall Out Boy's tantrum-tossed anthems. He's become the erudite voice of a particular stratum of youth: the suburban kids who, like Wentz, have been diagnosed with emotional problems, and have struggled with both prescribed medication and illicit chemicals.

"I think that medication has helped me at times in my life," explained Wentz when I interviewed him last year, after a show in Las Vegas. "I've needed to be on medication, it's saved my life. But it's definitely an over-medicated generation. Rather than having any kinds of conversations with anyone to solve our problems, we go and see what pill we can take to make it all go away."

Wentz is bipolar, and in 2005 he attempted to kill himself with an overdose, an event that inspired the song 7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen) on Fall Out Boy's breakthrough album From Under the Cork Tree. He subsequently filmed public service announcements for American television, highlighting the issue of youth depression. But the confessional, emotional tenor of his lyrics is tempered by his witty wordplay; the best Fall Out Boy songs make for classic neurotic American teen pop culture, like the John Hughes movies Wentz worships.

"I feel like the last person who should be giving advice to anyone about anything," Wentz says of the fans who deluge Fall Out Boy's website with desperate pleas for help. "I think part of it is we're living in the age of the internet: if it had been around back in the days of the Smiths and the Cure, I'm sure people would be writing to their website, asking, 'Oh Morrissey, I'm so depressed. too, what should I do?'" He laughs at the idea.

Wentz's fame isn't limited to his fans, though. He became a tabloid figure in 2006, when an ex-girlfriend leaked naked photos Wentz had taken of himself on to the internet. Latterly, he has become a staple in America because of his marriage to the actress and pop singer Ashlee Simpson.

The couple, who are expecting their first child before the year is out, are now regulars on Perez Hilton's gossip blog, and Wentz featured in a Vanity Fair piece in summer 2007 about the boyfriends of the young Hollywood women who are the centre of LA's gossip culture. "Everyone writes stories about Ashlee and I going out to nightclubs or whatever," he said, in Vegas, "but nobody writes about how much fun we had just riding mountain bikes and hanging out in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. There was no one there to recognise us. It was fun, being 'normal' like everyone else. It's like a weird fantasy to have.

"I feel good now," Wentz continues, "like I wish I could take deaging juice and go back to when I was 16 or something, and relive it all again knowing what I know now. The things that were difficult in my life have remained or become more difficult; it's like the song, Mo Money Mo Problems. But I'm 29 now, I have a wife, and a baby on the way. I see the world in an entirely different way."

In downtime from Fall Out Boy, Wentz runs his own record label (Decaydence), clothing company (Clandestine Industries) and film production company (Bartskull), while also pursuing careers as an author, model, actor and host of his own show on MTV. The Barcelona branch of Angels & Kings is Fall Out Boy's third; they opened their first in New York.

All three bars share a décor - black painted walls hung with framed mugshots of Jimi Hendrix, Steve McQueen and Frank Sinatra - though the Barcelona venue, located on the sixth floor terrace of the newly opened ME Hotel, with its own outdoor heated swimming pool, is the most impressive. "We saw this location and thought it was cool," Wentz says, of the offer to open in Barcelona. "To be this close to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia couldn't ever be a bad thing. We've realised we have an 'aesthetic', that we are a brand," he adds. "When you're a brand, you have to be careful who you partner with."

Memories of Wentz's darker, more hedonistic days still offer raw material for Folie à Deux, most explicitly on 27, with its references to "Doing lines of dust off last night's stage/ Just to feel like you." Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain all died when they were 27, and Wentz says he spent much of that year "toxic, just completely over-medicated. I was stoked to make it past 27," he grins. "Everyone was really worried. My management company were panicked, because I was I was out of the office, and 'pharmaceutically engaged'."

"There was a countdown clock and everything," laughs Stump. "I remember, our manager called me up on Pete's 28th birthday and screamed, 'We made it!'"

As our interview draws to a close, Stump returns to the topic of the album's election day release. "The point is," he concludes, "when Folie à Deux's released, we won't be partying at some record company album launch, we'll be out there voting. And I hope a lot of other people are, too."

Several days later, however, Fall Out Boy announce via their website that Folie à Deux won't see the shelves until early December, a decision they made themselves. "This is not the election to be 'cute'," they explain, adding: "We feel that many of the interviews for the record have skewed us into a partisan band. We never intended to shove our ideas down people's throats."

The decision seems less motivated by a desire to protect their "brand" from the sort of fan backlash the Dixie Chicks suffered after speaking out against George Bush in 2003 than by an earnest desire to not cloud the election season with what could be viewed as a promotional gimmick. They also realise that, in such a climate, even the most earnest attempt by a celebrity to enter the partisan fray could clumsy backfire on his chosen candidate.

There can be no doubt on who that is for Fall Out Boy. In Barcelona, Stump said, "All four of us fall more on the liberal side of things," while the video for their new single I Don't Care closes with a villainous character pulling back a mask to reveal he's really Sarah Palin. And earlier in the summer, they played at the Democratic convention in Denver, though Stump didn't get to meet Obama.

"I wish," he chuckles. "But that's not important. I don't want it to taint the message of the record, which is that we're not considering the issues, or our actions, hard enough."

Stump says he has friends and relatives who are Republicans, and he respects their views, and believes that "everyone, regardless of their party affiliation, should at least consider voting for the other side, to truly get to understand their policies and positions." He can't resist adding, however, that "people should be willing to understand that the vice president could possibly become president, and to think about the implications of that.

"People need to research the policies of the candidates closely - and that includes Obama - and not be distracted by the media misrepresentations. Like Fox News: their bias is so blatant, it's offensive. They don't report news. If there was a school shooting, they'd be finding ways to blame it on the Democrats. I think it would be a shame if somebody voted for Obama because so many celebrities support him. I think it would be tragic if someone voted for McCain because Fox News doesn't know shit.

"It's really easy to offend people in America right now. You have to tread lightly. My stepdad is very right wing - at the dinner table we'll have pretty frank political conversations, but I'm not going to have that same conversation at a restaurant in public, where the guy behind me might be totally offended."

"But that's where you're supposed to have those conversations," protests Wentz. "And loudly. Although I try not to provoke people anymore, because I don't think the judge will let me off with any more community service."

He laughs, but then turns serious, perhaps dreaming again of America's first tattooed president. "I want to work on humanitarian causes in some capacity, and that'll involve working with both parties, I expect. So I'm trying not to upset anyone."

• The single I Don't Care is out now on Mercury. Folie à Deux is released on December 15


Stevie Chick

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

The Chemical Brothers: Further | CD review
The dance veterans' new album sounds reassuringly familiar, like one of their pulverising live sets, says Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

10, Jun, 2010 @10:45 PM

CD: The Chemical Brothers, Brotherhood

Star Guitar is quite overwhelming, designed to flush the heart and mind

John Burgess

28, Aug, 2008 @11:07 PM

Article image
CD: The Chemical Brothers, We Are the Night


John Burgess

29, Jun, 2007 @10:56 PM

Article image
CD: Infinity on High, Fall Out Boy


Caroline Sullivan

09, Feb, 2007 @12:02 AM

Article image
Sorry, Perez – you just don't get it
Perez Hilton's failure to turn his celebrity into a musical cash cow proved one thing: if you want to mix pop and branding, you've got to know your fans. Joe Muggs reports

Joe Muggs

08, Oct, 2009 @9:05 PM

CD: Fall Out Boy, Folie a Deux

Its guest list (Elvis Costello, Debbie Harry et al) trumps fellow emo-peddlers My Chemical Romance and Panic at the Disco

Caroline Sullivan

05, Dec, 2008 @12:13 AM

Pop review: The Chemical Brothers, Olympia, London

Olympia, London
Chemical epiphany still thrills second time around, says Dorian Lynskey

Dorian Lynskey

01, Sep, 2008 @11:01 PM

The Chemical Brothers | Pop review
Roundhouse, London
The new material felt like a warm-up for the real show – an enjoyable clatter through the band's biggest hits, writes Alex Macpherson

Alex Macpherson

21, May, 2010 @9:00 PM

Article image
The Chemical Brothers, Academy, Glasgow

Academy, Glasgow

James Smart

14, Mar, 2005 @1:12 PM

The Chemical Brothers, Roundhouse, London

Roundhouse, London

Ian Gittins

02, Jun, 2007 @10:49 PM