- Pete Wentz (left) has dancing bears on the other shoulder.
There is no better way to dismiss a rock band than by labeling it "emo." This has worked for the past six or seven years, with few exceptions. But when those few exceptions do occur, music dorks scramble to come up with new ways to acknowledge these groups as "real bands" instead of, you know, silly emo wannabes for teenagers who spend too much time lurking in Hot Topic. This spring, with its album Infinity on High, Fall Out Boy has become "the emo band it's cool to like."
That's probably why bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz says, "I wanted [the album] to be more than about eyeliner or our haircuts." After all, following up a major label debut like 2005's From Under the Cork Tree -- which made him and Fall Out Boy MTV darlings -- comes with plenty of risks. Especially for Wentz, the band's sole lyricist, who was largely responsible for establishing the tone for what would come next.
"I didn't want to rewrite the last album, especially lyric-wise," he explains. "For me personally, over the last year, there were a lot of things I was quoted as saying. Either it didn't come out of my mouth right or I was paraphrased or I said things this way when I should've said them this way. This record, on a lot of songs, allowed me to respond to that."
Singer Patrick Stump -- who tends to shun the spotlight Wentz embraces -- admits that attacking critics and copycats was a bit of chest-beating on the band's part. He also admits to enjoying that. Yet, he was more focused on cheating the sophomore album curse when his band hit the studio. "Your second album really defines a career," he says, referring to Infinity on High as the band's second proper album. "You can either try to recapture the success of the first one, using formulas and contrivances -- when on the first one, you probably didn't do much contriving at all -- or you can realize you can be on the cover of Rolling Stone one minute and totally fall off the face of the planet the next."
By creating an album that the band believed in -- despite concerns that fans wouldn't be able to relate to the subject matter -- Fall Out Boy scored a commercial hit and, astonishingly enough, a critical one too. "I was, more than anything, surprised," says Stump with a chuckle. "I had less than no expectations of ever getting a good critical review."
The subjects Wentz and Stump were concerned that fans would reject actually have them cheering, especially for the anthemic "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" -- just one of several songs on Infinity that take shots at naysayers and poseurs. The tune is one of the millennium's best reasons to sing along in arenas.
Fall Out Boy's self-awareness is what elevates Infinity on High to "emo it's cool to like," even though the release is a lot more musically ambitious than most rock albums. You could even say FOB has grown up -- or at least Wentz has, thereby dragging Stump, drummer Andy Hurley, and guitarist Joe Trohman along with him.
"There are the obvious changes everyone would expect, but there are little changes too," says Wentz, speaking about the effect fame has had on him. "A year ago, I feel I would never let myself be happy without feeling guilty about it. I think I was aware of what was going on in my life, but I wasn't willing to take the steps to fix it. Now, I know to allow myself that breathing room."
Wentz attributes much of this perspective, oddly enough, to the press. "It's weird and kind of interesting, but after reading a couple pieces about myself, it was like looking in the mirror for the first time," he says. "I was like, 'You know what? Maybe you should actually make yourself feel better, rather than continue in misery.'"
Most would assume Wentz dreamed of becoming a rock star. But they'd be wrong, at least when it comes to the bigger picture. He wants more than that. Pete Wentz -- despite the fact that he thinks his real purpose, if he has one, is to play soccer (no joke) -- wants to rule the world. Selling out arenas, the Rolling Stone cover: It's all just a means to an end.
Step 1: Become the face of one of the biggest bands in the world. Check.
Step 2: Create a record label, Decaydance, that churns out more mega-selling bands, like Panic! at the Disco ("A freak-of-nature story," says Wentz). Check.
Step 3: Well, Step 3 involves taking over the world, and that requires time.
"I think, to me, it's that this is a brand," Wentz says of his entrepreneurial adventures. "It's a culture. We've taken notes from, like, older Def Jam, back when LL Cool J was there. You bought every record that came out of it. The last record was so hot, so cool, you didn't know what the next record was going to be -- but you knew you were going to buy it.
"But not even that -- you make all these decisions knowing that they affect everything else," he says. "At the end of the day, Fall Out Boy is the thing that keeps everything afloat and keeps everything moving forward. Also, I think when you get to be a band of our size, corporate involvement is just a necessary evil, so I think about it as 'Why can't you just be that corporation? Why do you need a middleman?'"
Wentz laughs when his plot to conquer the planet through music is revealed. "Yeah, there's definitely a part of me that's not ashamed to admit I want to be in the biggest band on the planet," he says.
Stump acknowledges his bandmate's plans for world domination. "We all aspire to things outside our reach," he says, "But I think, more than anything, that's what drives [Pete]."