For the past fifteen years, FALL OUT BOY has been producing emotionally charged, metaphor riddled songs that reverberate through both Pete Wentz poster-plastered bedrooms and grown-up homes alike. FOB released their sixth studio album, 'American Beauty/American Psycho', this past month and came in at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. While this album's immense commercial success is heartening to hardcore FOB fans, it's the evolving shifts in narrative and the thoughtful lyricism that keeps fans filling out venues and expressing their intense love via Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and more.
Fall Out Boy are set to take the stage at WESTFEST 2015 next week (you can enter to win tickets here), and meanwhile the guys are busy hanging with friends and performing at Soundwave in Australia. FOB bassist and lyricist PETE WENTZ took some time away from the festival scene to chat with us about the newest album, art direction, and bubble baths...
"This album is more like a modern romance. It’s like the inside of someone’s head. The same person who is saying they think they fell in love again is the same person who is saying, ‘Maybe this is too much cough syrup.' They’re all in the same person’s head, and maybe the beauty and the madness is all in one person..."
COUP DE MAIN: Congrats on the release of ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’! I really, really love it. How does it feel to have a sixth album out? It’s quite a feat!
PETE WENTZ: It’s insane! If you told me fifteen years ago that we would be still doing this now, and we would have a sixth album, that would be insane. I would never have thought that that was even a possible reality.
CDM: Aside from Australia's slow internet speed, how are you finding Soundwave Festival currently?
PW: It’s cool! It’s really hot here right now. It’s cool to be here when there’s so much else going on. So many other artists are here right now - Drake’s here, and all the bands that are on Soundwave, and all of our buddies like the Madden brothers are here. It makes you less homesick.
CDM: Is there anyone you’re particularly excited to see, or anyone who would make you less homesick?
PW: We’re fans of Drake, so it would be cool to see that. I hang with Joel and Benji a lot at home, so it’ll be cool to hang out with them. That’s like hanging out with my friends from back home, basically.
CDM: The ‘Irresistible’ video came out recently, and you guys are playing a really fierce game of basketball. How did you come up with the concept for that video?
PW: <laughs> Well, we had finished the 'The Youngblood Chronicles', which was this dark, serious thing, and also the 'Centuries' video, which was another serious one. We’re not a band that takes ourselves super seriously - we take the music seriously, but you’ve gotta be able to goof around. We wanted to do a fun video with this concept of the worst basketball team of all time. Then there are all the goofy internet memes, like the Lebron James memes, that we wanted to throw in there. I just think that if you end up pigeon-holing yourself, saying you only do things a certain way, it's not good. We’re a band whose things are all over the place, and we wanted to pay homage to that.
CDM: Speaking of memes and the internet, FOB fans are really active on social media, and social media became a huge thing halfway through your career as a band. Is it important to you to stay engaged with fans through those mediums?
PW: I think that it’s important to do it when it’s fun and it’s something we want to do. When you get into the habit of doing things just because you feel like you have to, it becomes not only anticlimactic, but people can also see through it. There are days when I’m like, 'Yeah, I don’t feel like looking at Instagram'. But then there are times when I’m like, 'Oh this is hilarious! A video of a cat laughing!' We got to see the world before it as a band, and now past it. It’s cool to see both.
CDM: One of the lyrics in 'Centuries' I loved the most is: 'mummified my teenage dreams/no it's nothing wrong with me/the kids are all wrong.' So many of your fans have seen FOB as a big part of their teenage experience and a channel for their angst. Why were you writing specifically about 'teenage dreams' and growing up?
PW: To me, one of the most important things is that high school - when it’s really tough being that age - that it ends. But as much as it does, it also doesn’t. The real world isn’t always that fun. It’s hard having responsibilities, whether it’s paying rent or taking care of a dog or taking care of your parents. Whatever it is, it just doesn’t end sometimes. It can feel overwhelming and underwhelming all at the same time. There’s also moments in my life that I wish I could relive and do differently, and moments that I wish I could relive just because they were so amazing. I think a lot of people feel like that. My Dad always gave me the advice not to forget to appreciate things and remember them because life’s too short.
CDM: Now a lot of you guys have kids, and you’re writing these lyrics on the road as Dads, but a lot of what you write is still about adolescence - like high school, as you said. Has being a parent changed the way you go about writing? Do you think of them as advice for your fans in any way?
PW: I’ve never been a person who’s smart enough or sage enough to be giving people advice. I’m a human being, going through life and figuring it out too. I just share my experience with it. If you can relate to it, that’s cool - but it was never meant to be advice. I think that’s too heavy of a burden, and I don’t feel like I’m in a place where I’m that person - that my perspective is the one that people can take on. But it’s funny, because being a Dad changes the way I look at the world in general. I think I look at the world in a rosier way as a Dad. I want them to have a happy life and a great life. I think I’m more responsible maybe - I don’t know.
CDM: 'American Beauty/American Psycho' is one of the most commercially successful albums your band has put out. Did you see that coming? Did you guys try to anticipate trends in the industry as you were putting this album together?
PW: As savvy as anyone can be, a lot of this is done by the seat of our pants. When we put ‘Centuries’ out, it felt like there was this stand-up quality to it that could work, and then we decided to put out ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’ next because it would be an artistic choice that is interesting to make. Whatever we do, we have no idea what people are going to latch onto or what they’re not going to latch onto. We feel lucky that we’re still able to be doing this thing on any level, fifteen years later.
CDM: You're returning to New Zealand next week to play Westfest in Auckland. Do you have any favourite New Zealand memories?
PW: I’ve had a blast every time we’ve gone to New Zealand. We don’t get to spend as much time there as we would like, because usually we’re only doing a few shows. I just remember that there have definitely been times when we’ve all been hanging out in the same hotel at the end of the tour, and I remember there was someone breathing fire and a kid who was backflipping over it. It's definitely a memory that will be etched in my brain forever.
CDM: You’re heavily involved in FOB’s artistic direction. What was the inspiration for the art direction on this album? The cover-art is a kid whose face is half painted with an American flag - were you trying to make any type of political statement with the cover? I know you’ve said in the past that you guys are not a political band. What were you trying to accomplish with it?
PW: I care about tangible things, so it occurred to me that when you open this CD or you open the vinyl, it will be a piece of art as well. The cover is supposed to be really interactive, and the threshold through which you can see the beauty and the madness. The image of the kid on the cover wasn’t supposed to be an inherently political statement. It was supposed to be an ode to Americana - all this amazingness. But it was also supposed to be anywhere, and about anyone anywhere. This kid wasn’t even the one we originally scouted, but when we saw him and put the make-up on him, it looked instantly iconic to me. He, in that moment, just became the cover. I remember just knowing that this kid was going to be the cover - it was just something about his face. It’s supposed to represent the threshold of what the album leads to. I don’t think we’re a political band, like Rage Against The Machine. I think there’s a need for those bands, but we’re more about the personal as a band. Everything personal is political - it’s all wrapped up in the same thing. You’re trying to be a good person and feel good and put good things into the universe. That’s going to affect the way you look at politics and how our world is shaped. The two are so intertwined.
CDM: The title of the album, and some of the songs ('Uma Thurman', 'The Kids Aren't Alright') reference movie titles and pop culture in an ironic or funny way. How much does film and pop-culture inform your songwriting?
PW: That’s a good question. I think that when the four of us get together, the things we can really agree on are certain movies, or moments in movies. That’s how you end up spending a lot of time on the bus, and it definitely informs the songwriting. Sometimes we reference stuff that we as a band want people to check out, and sometimes the cinematic or visual representation is so much bigger than the song. You can’t cover a film like ‘American Beauty’ or ‘American Psycho’ in a song - the themes are too big. The isolation, or the way they used colours - that type of stuff is impossible to explain, and hopefully people will check it out.
CDM: Were you always interested in art direction or cinema as a kid?
PW: Yeah, I loved the visuals and the aesthetic qualities attached to movies. As a kid, when I saw a movie like ‘Blade Runner’, it was the creation of an entire world. I remember being in movie theaters and just being lost for two hours and being completely in that world. I think there are also bands that did that. Michael Jackson did that with videos, and Guns N’ Roses did that with the ‘Use It Or Lose It’ video, where you’re lost in it for a minute. I think a guy like Kanye West does it. It’s something that we aspire to. I don’t know that it’s always successful, but it’s something that I want us to do.
CDM: If you could describe the feeling you want people to come away with after listening to this album and looking at all of the visual art, and the type of world you want people to get lost in, how would you describe it?
PW: We wrote this album on tour, traveling the world. This album is definitely a travel record. People have told me that they listen to it while they’re driving, and that totally makes sense. That’s how this thing was written and how it was meant to be unpacked. ‘Save Rock And Roll’ was meant to rally the troops - that was the thematic quality of it. It was like, ‘We’re gonna change this thing!’ and that’s why there are flags and stuff. It was a reclaiming and a comeback. This album is more like a modern romance. It’s like the inside of someone’s head. The same person who is saying they think they fell in love again is the same person who is saying, ‘Maybe this is too much cough syrup’. They’re all in the same person’s head, and maybe the beauty and the madness is all in one person. You’re trying to bounce back and forth between the two of those things. I think as a culture we focus so much on making sure people are happy. I agree - as a Dad, I want my kids to be happy - but you have to be okay with letting people feel the full gambit of emotions. It’s okay to be down sometimes. As a culture we are so focused on people always being happy all of the time you don’t let people experience life, and I think it’s important to let people go on those emotional journeys. One day you’re gonna wake up and realize you just blew past things because you had this happy hat on the whole time. That’s basically the record in a nutshell.
CDM: Lastly, you once tweeted that if you ever hit 3 million followers you would live-stream a bubble-bath and answer questions. You have since hit 3 million followers, so do you intend on keeping that promise? If so, what scent of bubble-bath do you think you will use?
PW: I do intend on keeping the promise! Of course, whenever I realized that I was out of the country and had terrible wi-fi so I just tweeted a picture of it. But I do intend on keeping the promise! As far as the scent of the bubble-bath, I feel like the only stuff I have in my house are little kid bubble-baths, which is always unscented so they don’t burn little kids’ eyes. What’s a relaxing smell?
CDM: Maybe lavender?
PW: Yeah, like lavender! I was going to say violet but that’s a color. That sounds relaxing, and I need to relax a little bit. But yeah, it will happen - I promise!
FALL OUT BOY will play Westfest 2015 on Tuesday, March 3rd. Click HERE for the festival's timetable.