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Like most bands placed on the new-millennium wing of emocore — whipping-boy offspring of Rites Of Spring, then Sunny Day Real Estate, then The Get Up Kids — Fall Out Boy were given little recognition until they hit it big. IE featured them when their breakout album, From Under The Cork Tree, was released, but traces of the band from 2003’s Take This To Your Grave looking backwards in this magazine are faint.
“I think there’s something really weird about having an anticipated album,” Stump says, “because when people are even remotely satisfied, they’re relying on their own hype to be what it is. So they’re like, ‘It doesn’t suck?’ I really have no way of handling yet all the sudden critical acclaim we’ve gotten on this record because I was expecting ‘Oh, it’s another Fall Out Boy record. I hate them!’ That was what I was used to because Cork Tree was lauded — not lauded — not lauded, it was absolutely trashed critically. And then we’d go and play shows and kids liked it, and that’s what I was used to. Now we go and play shows and kids like Infinity On High and I go and read how good the album is. It almost makes you wonder if it can be any good — I’m waiting to hear the really negative stuff, but I haven’t yet. I really want to know what’s wrong with the record, and I’m sure there’s plenty.”
Opinions now focus on ultra-extrovert Wentz, whose ubiquity led Chicago Tribune critic Greg Kot to incorrectly assume Stump is “intensely private.” Characterizations are bound to hound any band who have action figures made of themselves, the shallow dangers of which Stump has already begun to arm himself against. Rampant publicity, nay, overexposure could be deadly.
“It is very strange, and you’re right, it does take away from the natural progression of [what would be the band's natural evolution]“, he says. “If anything I’m scared now, because I’m like ‘What do we do next?’ Now we have the number-one record, so we’re apparently popular, and then across the board we got like fours on this record’ — I thought this was the pressure record? If anything I try not to think about the external, superficial stuff, because I’m really really proud of the record and I listen to it and I listen to it and that’s the important thing to me. I think Pete really did a great job lyrically, and I think everyone really shines on it. I don’t worry too much about what anybody else says. I was very braced and expected a critical backlash on how awful we are.”
Which brings us to the album itself. Categorical Fall Out Boy haters will probably find all the things they don’t want to like and correspondingly slam Fall Out Boy. But there are a number of things to admire: First is the album’s second track, “The Take Over, The Break’s Over,” which bounces around before finding a Springsteen-sized chorus. Next, the Babyface tracks are not, given the Pepsi Challenge, the ones you’d expect them to be (“I’ve Got All This Ringing In My Ears And None On My Finger” and “Hum Hallelujah” — which oddly conjures Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — are not them). Fall Out Boy may not have totally grown up, but they certainly aren’t handing someone else the reins.
“I’m one of those guys,” Stump says, “if I was totally free, if I had nothing going on, if I had nothing scheduled, I’d be making music anyway. When we got off the road, actually, I kind of got bullied into it by the label and the rest of the band to take time off. I didn’t want to. I had no interest in it whatsoever. ‘Take time off to do what? Wish I was in the studio? What are you talking about?’ So they forced me into a month and a half of time at home, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I don’t know, I went stir crazy, but it was all right.”
From a cynical perspective, Stump and cohort Wentz are like svengalis, calculating the band’s every move, especially in the studio. Before you can say “Metallica,” however, Stump claims to be more than accommodating once it’s time for the tapes to roll.
“We don’t really jam,” he explains. “We’re not particularly a jamming band. Andy [Hurley, drums] and I can do that, and we do, and Joe [Trohman, guitar] likes to riff a lot and come up with stuff. Joe just loves playing to the point where sometimes you have to tell him to stop. You know, like, ‘It’s not the most appropriate time.’
“Basically what happens is, I’ll come up with the basic stuff. I come up with all the leads, a song, a finished song. I’ll have written drums for it, but first off I don’t even have to explain it to Andy. We have kind of an unspoken, working relationship, where if I have a certain guitar line, he knows what I’m thinking drum-wise. Even down to like really intricate fills, he’ll know what I was thinking. That’s always really easy. I don’t know who writes our drum parts, because between the two of us it just happens. Andy and I can pretty much sit down and write a song. Pete is really, really, really involved in arrangements and that type of stuff, but he’s funny because he’ll spend forever working out what happens before the chorus and transitions and stuff like that — again, I’ll have a basic song structure — but he’s ear-candy guy. But we have this really bizarre, shorthand language where it’ll be like, ‘I want something but I don’t know what.’ He’s got this kind of Berry Gordy, music-less musician where he knows exactly what he wants something to sound like, but he doesn’t know how to get it.”
Justifying his popularity, Wentz gets it right all over Infinity On High, building crescendos and flourishes until certain parts of the album seem bigger than they are. His lyrics give Stump reason to use his standard “whoa-oh-oh” to fill holes, delightfully bending the pop punk paradigm but keeping it recognizable.
“There’s a lot of trial and error,” Stump says about how four hardcore dudes execute lush pop albums. “Joe fills in a lot of space — places I didn’t realize I had left spaces between bass and mid, he’ll find little pockets. I know he really likes playing metal, but in the studio he prefers almost like a Johnny Marr kind of guy: real subtle stuff in the background. It always spices things up. It’s weird because Pete and I kind of are svengalis, but we have dual roles where we’re the two guys who come up with a lot of stuff, but we’re also members of a four-piece band that is definitely a band.”
Stump’s most charming attribute — at least in the hour IE has spent on the phone with him — is his appreciation of music history. He seems to know that what has happened to Fall Out Boy could have happened to another band given different circumstances, and he’s hardly reticent to admit their fallibility. He doesn’t think their demise is imminent, but nevertheless plans on protracting that battle. Fall Out Boy are sidestepping landmines.
“I’m very relieved,” he says of finishing the album. “I kind of see albums as snapshots. I could spend years making one record, and that was kind of a thing that Pete and I have been like that before. By about this time — especially after having finished some previous things — I kind of have arrived at the conclusion that when deadline happens, wherever you are should be the end. Because sometimes things are finished and you’re just going to beat it to death for no reason. Pete was having trouble with that lyrically, because we had a lot more time than we’ve ever had to make a record, basically, and that gave us the first opportunity to draft and re-draft lyrics. Usually it was just our first impulse because that’s all we had time for. Because of that, the temptation was really strong for him to go off and kind of make this record into Chinese Democracy or something. But nonetheless, I kind of pushed him to live with some of the stuff he came up with. It’s very tempting to draft and re-draft, and work on stuff for 10 years for no good reason, when you had something perfectly good a year ago.”
Stump kept from obsessing by training himself to be a producer on the job, a practice that has lent itself to projects by Gym Class Heroes and The Higher. “I think you do solo records when you’re kind of feeling spiteful. Solo records are kind of like cheating or having a mistress or whatever, you only start doing that when it gets frigid at home. I think with every record that we put out, I’ve gotten to do a lot more awesome stuff. I think with this record there’s a lot of shit I got to go nuts with on it. At the same time, the Gym Class Heroes record is doing well, and that type of stuff. I’ve been talking to The Roots a little bit lately, but I don’t think I’m doing anything serious. Just talking music.”
But sometimes you have to wonder if he’s draining himself.
“Over the course of the past year we wrote an album’s worth and then some, a good 40 songs, for this record,” he says. “And we call up the label and we’re like, ‘We’re ready. We want to record.’ And they’re like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to put out another single off of Cork Tree? Are you sure?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, no, we’re good.’ ‘O.K. Why don’t you play us some demos? We’ll talk.’ They were definitely not excited about the prospect of putting us back in the studio. So we played ‘em the stuff and they liked it and they gave us the green light. From there, we had all this material and we get in with Neil and we planned on having it out by November of last year. So we got together maybe September or something like that. Neil sat me down and was like, ‘I know this is good, these are really good songs, but it’s pretty much as good as Cork Tree. I know that we have all this time and we could probably do better. Don’t worry about the deadline, why don’t you try and do other stuff?’”
Despite success’ glory, people tend to forget it’s a climb, an uphill struggle that can be even more exhausting if you don’t come out of it feeling respected — just popular.
“I think [since] Take This To Your Grave, over the course of that, we were always underdogs,” he notes. “No one wanted to write about us, we didn’t do any interviews back then. We were selling out Metro-size venues for awhile, actually for a good two years of touring, and then Cork Tree took off and suddenly everyone’s like ‘Whoa! They came out of nowhere!’ It was funny because everyone was acting like our first tour was a headlining tour for Cork Tree, and we’re like, ‘No, we’ve been touring for three years and playing in basements, setting up our equipment, all that.’ It’s really hard to pin down now, because apparently we have the number one record — of which I’m still waiting for the ‘Punk’d,’ I’m still waiting for Ashton [Kutcher] to pop up and be like ‘Gotcha!’ — it’s hard to look back now and really say what it was, but for real, I was talking about this with some of my friends, when we started out, we were really just a hardcore band side project. We were hardcore kids, straight-up. We played hardcore shows, and that’s all we were and just had a lot of fun doing it. We liked Green Day and Lifetime and Gorilla Biscuits and Dillinger Four and that’s what we were into.”
Stump almost sounds as if he really would have rather called IE than Island do it for him — working with Jay-Z hasn’t overwhelmed his Midwest sensibility.
“I drove by White Castle last night on my way back from Metro with my girlfriend, and I was gonna jokingly suggest that we go in there.”
He should have. A candlelit table and a tray of sliders were waiting.
– Steve Forstneger
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