Interview: Fall Out Boy - Slaves to Rock and Roll
After a turbulent hiatus, Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, Pete Wentz, and Joe Trohman triumphantly return to the top of the charts with a new album, a string of sold-out tours, and revived outlook on life and music.
From 2001 to 2009, Chicago’s pop-punk wunderkind’s in Fall Out Boy—vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stump, bassist Pete Wentz, guitarist Joe Trohman, and drummer Andy Hurley—rode a wave of rock stardom that took them to heights unfathomable by most bands. Four multiplatinum albums rocketed them to the top of the charts and thrust them onto arena stages worldwide. But the fame and accolades were matched by the highly publicized troubles of individual band members—including Wentz’s tabloid-plastered engagement and marriage to the already press-weary Ashlee Simpson. On November 20, 2009, the band announced they were going on indefinite hiatus and that they didn’t know if they’d ever play music together again.
The hiatus proved productive for all four bandmates. Though he endured harsh criticism from fans and the press, Stump embarked on a solo career that pushed his vocal prowess and guitar experimentation to new levels. Wentz developed a clothing line, a film production company, and other ventures while continuing to write music on his own. And Trohman and Hurley collaborated with members of Anthrax, Volbeat, and Every Time I Die in the Damned Things.
Then after months of rumors, in February of this year the Fall Out boys announced they had worked out their differences and were working on a new album titled Save Rock and Roll. Refreshed and reinvented, the album features the band’s trademark vocal hooks, cleverly crafted riffs, pedal-laden ambience, and a tighter rhythm section. Songs like “The Phoenix” and “My Songs Know What You Did in The Dark (Light ’Em Up)” still thrive on the youthful vigor that put the band on the mainstream map, while the album as a whole showcases more maturity and enhanced musicianship. Getting a second chance that’s seldom granted in the music world, the band has again seen its work shoot to the top of charts all around the world, and the subsequent tours are sold out.
While Fall Out Boy’s fans are rejoicing as the foursome emerges from the ashes, no one appears happier about the return than the guys themselves.
Joe Trohman's signature Squier Tele features a '70s-style Strat headstock and a Tele Deluxe-like pickguard loaded with two humbuckers, a single-coil, a 3-way selector, and two sets of volume and tone knobs.
How does it feel to be back together and
on top of the world again?
Patrick Stump: It feels so good to be back doing this with these guys. It’s funny, because I feel like we never understood where we were or how we were doing and then we took a step back and realized that we’re making music for—and affecting a lot of people. I’m very happy to be back doing it.
Joe Trohman: It feels great to be back and to have made the changes we needed to make. We weren’t running very well as a band before the hiatus—communication skills collapsed between us and there were a lot of issues. Going on that break and starting new projects really helped us be more confident, and it helped us gain a lot of mutual respect for each other and our abilities, which became a really integral part of us getting back together. Now we’re in just a better place. Everyone is too old to get angry about stupid things, which is awesome. Everyone just trusts each other.
Pete Wentz: It feels crazy. It’s really rare that you get a second chance to do something—and especially something so fun, fulfilling, and interesting. It’s something that we’re not taking for granted in the least this time around.
What was it like the first time you all
stepped back in a room together and
Trohman: We met up at Patrick’s house in his backyard studio, and I was a little nervous. Then we started playing and, at first, it was like the worst Fall Out Boy cover band imaginable. We hadn’t played together in so long and it was just terrible. It was pretty weird for a minute, but once we shook the dust off it was better than the last time we’d ever played—back when we were a well-oiled machine.
Stump: Yeah, we sucked—we didn’t remember anything. At the second practice, we fell back to just about as good as we were, and then the third practice I feel like we sounded pretty great—even better than we were. It feels like we’ve been able to go back in time to fix our mistakes.
Wentz: The first rehearsal was definitely shaky, but once it started clicking we all knew that we had potential to be better than we’d ever been.
What were the biggest lessons you
learned from the hiatus?
Stump: The biggest thing for me was going out and doing my solo stuff—that made me a lot more confident as a frontman. I’ve always been a reluctant frontman because I’m a shy guy—for years I was just hiding under my hat the whole time—but I went out on my own and had to do it.
Trohman: I went right from FOB to other projects, and it made me learn how to work with other people. Anyone who plays in the same band for a long time should play with other people, because you can learn so many things from different players’ styles, tastes, techniques, and work ethics. I learned how to be a better songwriter and a better musician and how to play better with others—both musically and as a person. I learned how to be a better bandmate, and I looked at a lot of my bad tendencies and neuroses and figured out how to change them for the better. I think it took being in other bands to realize that I really wanted to be in this band more than anything.
Wentz: During our time off, I was making a lot of music on my computer—it was more of an electronic kind of sound. I didn’t play as much bass as I wanted to in the break, so I knew I had to get back into my playing before we even began to approach a comeback. I didn’t want to show up on day one and not know what I was doing, so I really stated working on my technique, playing with a metronome and taking steps to make myself a better player.
Patrick Stump belts it out while holding down the rhythm at a recent Fall Out Boy gig in Seattle.
What was the writing process like for
Save Rock and Roll?
Trohman: On prior albums I would write very little—I felt very unintentionally discarded. Pete and Patrick would write so much that, by the time we’d be ready to record, I wouldn’t have much of a voice on the record. That’s what caused the greatest frustration for me. This time around, I was a big part of the process. I live in New York and they live in L.A., so we wrote ideas and sent them back and forth. We took each other’s tracks and worked on them and kept growing them. That’s just how we do it now.
Stump: It was a very collaborative record. I felt for a long time that I was overpowering in the studio for our previous records. I still like to be the central hub for the songs, but more than any other record this was all of us working together. I would wait for everyone’s ideas and then put them together, and I would only write in the studio when parts needed it. At this point, it’s hard for me to recall who wrote what—but that’s how a band should be right?
Wentz: It felt good to approach songwriting in a new way, and we all really stepped it up so that the burden wasn’t always on Patrick or anyone specific to come up with something. Joe wrote more on this album than he had on any records prior. Also, working with producer Butch Walker taught us that less is more and that when you give frequencies space, they sound bigger. It was a big change to go down that road.
It sounds like you approached your instruments
much differently on this album.
Stump: For a long time I had taken a lot of the melodic leads in the songs—the kind you would hum. That was my thing. If I wrote the melody of a song it would already be done, and that wouldn’t leave a lot of room for Joe to play around with. So this time around it was important that Joe had a strong voice, because he’s such a great player. Joe has some really great guitar moments on this record, and I focused on a lot of atmospheric stuff. I was cramming guitar everywhere on our last record because I had been really into polyrhythm and syncopated riffs—to the point where I was quintuple tracking all of my guitar parts. This was a lot simpler playing for me.
Trohman: I think what I was most concerned with was slowing down and feeling, versus speeding up and fitting in as many notes as possible. I was trying to do things that made the guitar sound like it was singing rather than just quickly repeating the same thing. I was trying to take things out of tune and discorded and make them sound musical. You can learn all the scales and modes that are out there and learn to play as fast as possible, and that’s impressive as hell, but if it doesn’t have some emotion and feel behind it, it’s not impactful. I got back to playing the blues and I relearned old Hendrix stuff and went back to my roots. I played a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally play in Fall Out Boy.
Wentz: More than ever, I really just focus on the rhythm and figuring out what the song needs from the bass. I don’t need to play flashy lines or stand out as much, because so much is already going on in the music. I’m writing parts that are in the pocket with Andy’s drums and create a strong foundation for the other guys. I think locking up with him and strumming with the kick drum has enhanced my playing and made me a better player. Live, Andy plays a lot of fills that he doesn’t play on the album, but he always gets back to the one and nails it. Andy is definitely the glue of the band—he just doesn’t mess up.
Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz says it was important for his signature bass to be part of the Squier series because he wanted it to be affordable to young players.
Joe and Patrick, in the past you guys traded
off playing lead and rhythm guitar on different
songs. That seems to have changed.
Trohman: We’ve kind of reevaluated our process. We looked at how it sounds at the front of house when we switch back and forth from lead to rhythm and figured out that, sonically, it can make it hard to come through at some points. So now I’ve taken over all of the lead stuff, unless there’s something that’s difficult for him to sing and play. I enjoy playing rhythm and just grind out on it and headbang to it a bit, but I’ve kind of evolved to playing the lead riffs. I enjoy serving the song what it deserves.
Stump: I still play some leads, but what we landed on was that Joe has a style that can accomplish more or less any of those great lead-guitar lines. In the song “I Slept with Someone in Fall Out Boy and All I Got Was This Stupid Song Written About Me” [from 2005’s From Under the Cork Tree], there is a little arpeggiated tapping part that I would do while I was singing, and every night I was just making things so difficult for myself by playing that. It was like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach. So now Joe plays that stuff and it makes the whole band tighter because I can lock in rhythmically with Andy and Pete.
At this point, how would you guys say
you’ve evolved the most as musicians?
Trohman: I’m at a point where I’m so hungry to learn new stuff. I can play so much where I don’t have to think about it at all, so I’ve been looking for things to challenge me. I want to find some new tricks and weird techniques that I can apply to my playing. I definitely don’t think I’m anywhere close to being done learning, and I think that if you do hit a point where you stop learning then you should just stop playing music in general. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to learn theory, chords, picking patterns, and rudiments, and then just don’t think about it when you’re playing.
Stump: Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I think I’ve evolved into becoming a pretty rad little rhythm player. I never sat at home and shredded and ran scales for hours—I’ve always been a songwriter, but mainly by necessity. I developed all of my personal playing hallmarks in that span, and I think it’s a good thing to teach yourself—because you’ll develop your own style. A lot of my origins come from my love of funk. Over the years, I think I’ve become pretty well rounded.
Wentz: I’ve grown to accept the rule that I’m playing bass—and that it’s not just a guitar with four strings. I’m part of the rhythm section and, more than ever, I’m focusing on that and how to make myself better in that role. The average person doesn’t always hear the bass. You subconsciously hear it, but if it wasn’t there you’d know it wasn’t there. The bass can be a lot of ear candy in a great way.
Each of you has a line of signature guitars—that must be pretty cool.
Wentz: It’s crazy for me to be able to go in and design it from scratch—it’s really one of the greatest honors a musician can experience. When I first started playing and would go into Guitar Centers, I wanted the freshest basses and guitars they had, but as a kid they’re just too expensive to walk in and buy. I couldn’t pay $800 for a bass I was just going to play in my garage and learn other people’s music on. It’s important to me that it’s part of the Squier series—because those are the basses that kids are going to be able to buy. Kids come up to me and tell me they’re playing my bass, and I remember being on the other end of that. And to be able to share that with guys like Sting and [Green Day bassist] Mike Dirnt is amazing—though I’m probably the lowest guy on the totem pole.
Trohman: It’s beyond words how exciting it is—I would have never dreamed of it as a kid. To be honest, I still can’t believe it now. The people at Fender are so amazing to work with, and it’s such a trip to have other players play on guitars that I helped design.
What were the first guitars you
Trohman: Mine was a Harmony Barclay Bobkat guitar with a matching amp. I got them both for, like, $50 and just played away on it any chance I could get.
Stump: It was a black Epiphone that my stepbrother lent me, and it was in really bad shape. I still have it. The first guitar I ever bought, though, was a silver Gibson SG.
Wentz: My first bass was a cheap knockoff that said “Naugahyde” on the headstock. I had never heard of it before—but I really don’t think anyone has [laughs].
Who are your biggest musical
Trohman: Jimi Hendrix, [Depeche Mode’s] Martin Gore, Jimmy Page, Freddie King, Reverend Gary Davis, the old Delta blues guys, Johnny Winter, Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Greg Ginn, Eric Clapton, and Billy Gibbons.
Stump: One of the first people who got me okay with not being a shredder is Elvis Costello. He always said he was more attracted to chord changes than the big moments of shredding. Prince is a huge influence for me—he’s a shredder, but he’s also a metronome. [Pantera’s] Dimebag Darrell, also—because he was all about feel, and that’s rare in metal.
Wentz: [Guns N’ Roses’] Duff McKagan is probably my biggest. When you listen to him you might think that he’s doing what you’d expect from the bass, but then he puts in a run or a fill that just blows my mind. Mike Dirnt is also huge for me. When you’re playing in a three-piece, the pressure is so big for bass. You have to be the backbone and then some.
So what’s next for Fall Out Boy?
Wentz: We’re so excited about the reception that we’ve gotten with this album that we definitely want to move forward and make another record and keep touring. But at the same time, the space we gave ourselves to make this album made us better as a band and better as songwriters. So we have this tour and festivals overseas, and then a tour with Panic! at the Disco. All that time should give us some space to write some new music. We’re definitely always forging ahead—we’re just happy to be back.
Patrick Stump, Joe Trohman,
Pete Wentz, and Andy Hurley
pay tribute to Spinal Tap—
complete with malfunctioning
chrysalis pods and a guest
appearance from bassist
“Derek Smalls” (Harry
Shearer)—in this memorable
appearance on Conan.
In this 2008 clip from the Live
in Phoenix DVD, the Fall Out
boys perform “Sugar, We’re
Going Down” to a packed
Stump, Wentz, and Trohman
grab some flattops and prove
they can cut it live without all
the fireworks and blaring amps.