- Pamela Littky
[jump] “They don’t write the speeches for you,” he says via phone from the backyard of his Los Angeles home. “We wrote the speech ourselves. I personally had a lot of nerve. That was a big moment. Hearing [Green Day’s] Dookie was a big moment for me and that album opened a lot of doors for other bands. It was a band of our generation that made it and not in a suspicious way. Sometimes bands get in and people wonder if they belong in or not. Not them. They were just welcomed. It was great to be a part of that.”
For Fall Out Boy, the appearance at the Rock Hall was yet another important step on a comeback trail that started two years ago. Given the way today’s music fans are more fickle than ever, the band’s rise and fall is a remarkable thing and the band’s return to Blossom this month isn’t something that would have seemed possible five years ago.
Shortly after forming in Chicago in 2001, the emo/alternative rock band experienced a meteoric rise to fame. The band went from playing concert halls like the Agora, where it performed in 2007, to playing outdoor sheds like Blossom, where it played that same year. But then it hit rock bottom after the release of 2008’s Folie a Deux. Fans started booing the group during live performances and the guys decided it was best to take a break.
Some personal stuff went down too. Stump got married and went on a diet, losing some 60 pounds in the process. Wentz went through a divorce. Through it all, members reportedly remained friends.
And then Wentz and Stump began working on songs together. They called up guitarist Joe Trohman and Hurley and decided to get the group back together again. The band went to Venice, Calif. to record a new album, 2013’s Save Rock and Roll, with producer Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Pink). They kept the sessions secretive because they didn’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on themselves. The album veers away from the band’s signature emo sound to embrace pop and power-pop. Elton John makes a guest appearance on the title track, which he recorded from his Atlanta studio. It was a hit and the band was back to playing arenas and the group returned to Cleveland for the first time in more than four years to play Wolstein Center.
During that tour, the band wrote the songs that appear on its new album, American Beauty/American Psycho.
“Usually, we do some writing on the road, but this record was an experiment,” says Wentz. “Can we make a record — write and record — on the road like rappers and DJs do. People think of rock bands as dinosaurs. But we wanted to know if we would be able to do it. In that way, it was successful. We were able to do it but we don’t normally work that quickly.”
Wentz says the lyrics are more personal this time around. He should know — he’s the guy who writes them.
“I feel like I have more to talk about it,” he says. “I have perspective in taking three or fours years off from the band to get time to think about things. The first time, it was all smashed together. It was hard to process anything. It was a high and then a low. It was compartmentalized and it was compressed. Having time to process it all, I feel like there was more I wrote about from inside of me.”
He says the songs are linked by a common theme — namely, that the way we communicate in today’s world has changed. And that change affects the way people share their emotional connections.
“The idea behind the title track is that we’re all much more connected but so much less personally connected,” he says. “ It’s just our take on that. There are beautiful aspects to it and some aspects that are a little bit crazy and there’s some mania involved. That’s what the album as a whole concentrates on.”
The band self-consciously making references to American Beauty and American Psycho, which relate to a film and a Grateful Dead album and a Bret Easton Ellis novel and film, respectively.
“The Dead reference and the reference to American Beauty, the film, and to the book and film American Psycho are significant,” says Wentz. “We’re a band that sometimes our reach is pretty big. You make nods to other artists you want your fans to check out. We’ve always felt that was important.”
The album is also the band’s most diverse. The music runs a wide gamut, from pop to rock to hip-hop. It almost sounds as if each song came from a different album.
“In some ways, each song can sound like it’s from a different record,” says Wentz. “We made it all over the world. We made different songs with different people. We reached out to Sebastian who’s from a punk rock DJ scene in Paris. We wanted to do a modern rock song but like a throwback from the future. He sampled Motley Crue. We thought he’d sample ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ or ‘Shout at the Devil.’ But he sampled the punk rock Motley Crue record. We would have never thought about doing that.”
The song “Centuries” seems like a victory celebration of sorts. The track starts with a sample of the Suzanne Vega tune “Tom’s Diner” before heavy synthesizers kick in and the song blasts off (at times, it literally sounds like a jet airplane revving its engines).
“I thought about the song in the way that legends come from anywhere,” says Wentz. “For every guy like Michael Jordan, who gets denied and then becomes the biggest star in the world. How many people are out there like that? Their parents just shut them down. How many Kanye Wests are we missing out on. That’s what we wanted to write about. It can happen to anybody more than anything. It got played in a couple of stadiums and became a sports anthem but it’s meant to be about how the playing field is pretty level.”
The song “Uma Thurman” sounds completely different. It features a brisk keyboard melody and a surf guitar riff that sounds like something out of a Tarantino flick.
“We had the track first,” explains Wentz. “It had this Munsters sample on it. We played it for a friend. They thought of Quentin Tarantino because it’s like this Dick Dale surf-y guitar thing. I thought of her because she’s so quirky. It’s fun to be able to stretch out a bit and do something a little different.”
For the current Boys of Zummer tour, the group has teamed up with rapper Wiz Khalifa, who co-headlines. Rapper/singer Hoodie Allen is the tour's special guest. It’s an odd pairing but given the sample-heavy sounds on American Beauty/American Psycho, it makes sense.
“Being able to take this album into amphitheaters means it’s going to be the biggest vision of the album we could have, which is exciting because when you’re in the studio making the record, you imagine it being played like that but sometimes you don’t get the chance to do it,” says Wentz. “That we even get to take a swing at it is pretty cool. It’s going to be a fun tour. People might be coming out who aren’t familiar with Fall Out Boy but are Wiz Khalifa fans and vice versa. Maybe we’ll do one of his songs and maybe he’ll come out and do a song with us. We want to mix it up a little bit.”
And what’s been the key to the band’s incredible comeback?
“I think for us, we needed to wait until we were inspired to make new music,” says Wentz. “We didn’t want to just be a legacy band, which is fine but it didn’t feel like it was the right decision. We waited and waited. Me and Patrick got together and more than anything, we want to treat the process like if it was a band we would like to see got back together. If it was the original members of Guns N Roses, how would you as a fan like to see the band get back together. We’ve been lucky to have great fans and be in the right spot at the right time. That has so much to do with it. It’s really humbling to see the serendipity and having good people around you.”
Boys of Zummer Tour - Fall Out Boy + Wiz Khalifa with Hoodie Allen, 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, Blossom Music Center, 1145 West Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, 330-920-8040. Tickets: $20-$69.75, livenation.com.