A new dawn

My Chem­i­cal Ro­mance emerges from a dark time with Dan­ger Days.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TRENDS - By Geoff Boucher

High in his ridge­line home, sit­ting on a porch that feels like a ledge, ger­ard Way peered through cig­a­rette smoke and the late-af­ter­noon Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia, haze as he searched his me­mory for the moment when his band, My Chem­i­cal Ro­mance, shed its skin.

“i think,” he said with a world-weary chuckle, “the lib­er­at­ing moment is when we de­cided that we were al­lowed to make a dance record.”

These are strange sea­sons for Way and his band, who de­liv­ered their fourth stu­dio al­bum, Dan­ger Days: The True Lives of the Fab­u­lous Killjoys, re­cently and have just an­nounced a world tour that finds them back from the brink of despair and bit­ter breakup.

What was their sal­va­tion? Comic books, old sci-fi films and drum ma­chines, it turns out, as well as the heal­ing ex­er­cise of record­ing an en­tire “safe” rock al­bum, scrap­ping it and start­ing from scratch.

“it’s strange how we got to this place, but i think there was no other way to do it,” said Way, who spent nearly a year with his band mates record­ing a straight­for­ward pro­top­unk al­bum with pro­ducer Bren­dan O’Brien (known for earnest-searcher ses­sions with Pearl Jam and Bruce Spring­steen) only to jet­ti­son it all and start­ing over with Rob Cavallo (best known for his green Day work and as the newly minted chair­man of Warner Bros Records) to cre­ate a wild-eyed con­cept al­bum that feels like Mad Max reimag­ined with gui­tars and the trick­ster wink of OutKast.

Way, an art-school soul with real-world bruises and a croaky New Jersey voice, ac­tu­ally dares to hope that the shout-along cho­ruses and pop-epic as­pi­ra­tions of Dan­ger Days could be genre-sav­ing. “i don’t say it in ar­ro­gance, but it might re­po­si­tion rock, be­cause rock is get­ting slaugh­tered out there ...”

That saviour lan­guage is star­tling for peo­ple close to Way be­cause, over the last few years, his band looked like it was the one that was sink­ing down into the murky depths.

A few days ear­lier, on a slate-grey Satur­day morn­ing in down­town Los An­ge­les, the band mem­bers gath­ered to shoot a mu­sic video for the Dan­ger Days track Sing and, in­stead of gui­tars, they were heft­ing laser guns.

The video is part of the un­fold­ing saga of the Killjoys, the fu­ture-world per­sonas played by the band that are bat­tling against the Drac­u­loids and an in­sid­i­ous cor­po­rate be­he­moth called Bet­ter Liv­ing in­dus­tries.

The weapons, char­ac­ters, lo­gos, back story, ve­hi­cles – all of it sprang from the mind of Way, who at­tended the School of Vis­ual Arts in New York and in­terned at DC Comics’ Ver­tigo im­print be­fore he took a de­tour into rock star­dom. it was dur­ing his time at Ver­tigo that Way met grant Mor­ri­son, now one of the most cel­e­brated comic-book writ­ers in the world and the man who re­cently killed off (tem­po­rar­ily) Bat­man’s al­ter ego, Bruce Wayne.

On this morn­ing, Mor­ri­son has a dif­fer­ent tar­get – he’s play­ing Korse (whom he de­scribes as “a hu­man blood­hound, a hunter who dresses like an un­dead, post-apoc­a­lyp­tic Doc hol­l­i­day”) and is ea­ger for the moment when the script calls for him to put a gun be­neath Way’s chin and pull the trig­ger.

There’s hardly any­thing new about rock bands find­ing a com­mon ground with comics or il­lus­trated im­agery of the fan­tas­tic, whether it was KiSS and Alice Cooper rock­ing out in the pages of vin­tage Mar­vel comics, Spi­der­Man get­ting the cover of Creem in 1973 or Bono and the Edge writ­ing mu­sic for the web­slinger’s Broad­way show.

There are hun­dreds of ex­am­ples of crossovers, but My Chem­i­cal Ro­mance and Dan­ger Days is most likely the very first time that comic books saved the ca­reer of a band. And fit­tingly, it hap­pened just in the nick of time.

My Chem­i­cal Ro­mance front­man Ger­ard Way (sec­ond from left) dares to hope that the shout-along cho­ruses and popepic as­pi­ra­tions of could save the rock genre.

in May 2008, My Chem­i­cal Ro­mance was run­ning on fumes by the time it hit the stage at Madi­son Square gar­den. The core of the band – the lead singer and his brother, bassist Mikey Way, with Ray Toro on lead gui­tar and Frank iero on rhythm gui­tar and backup vo­cals – were road-weary and more than a bit emo­tion­ally bat­tered.

The lead singer was es­pe­cially heart­sick and con­fused af­ter the Daily Mail of London used the band’s some­what omi­nous name (which is a ref­er­ence, by the way, to the work of author irvine Welsh) to shoe­horn the group into con­tro­versy af­ter the hang­ing sui­cide of a 13-year-old Kent girl. One head­line – “Why no child is safe from the sin­is­ter cult of emo” – would have been laugh­able if it wasn’t so ex­ploita­tive and shrill.

“ger­ard was re­ally tak­ing it hard, and we were all ground down from the tour cy­cle,” Toro said. “Be­ing from Jersey, that show should have been a cel­e­bra­tory moment for us, and it wasn’t. We had all these songs from (our biggest com­mer­cial suc­cess) The Black Pa­rade, but the songs had lost their mean­ing for us. When we left the stage i think peo­ple thought it might be our last show, and i think maybe ger­ard made it sound that way too.”

The band went off in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Way im­mersed him­self in comics with the sub­ver­sive su­per­hero se­ries Um­brella Academy, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Brazil­ian artiste gabriel Ba, and quickly proved he wasn’t one of the many hollywood names drop­ping in on the sud­denly fash­ion­able Comic-Con scene. “ger­ard is the real deal,” Mor­ri­son said, “and cer­tainly not a tourist in comics.” The se­ries won an Eis­ner Award, the high­est hon­our in the in­dus­try and a strong in­di­ca­tion of peer ac­cep­tance.

Af­ter months of soul-search­ing, the band gath­ered last year and went in the stu­dio with O’Brien. The plan was to strip away the glam and get back to ba­sics with a pro­top­unk sound that would chan­nel their in­ner iggy. Way said there was a lot of pres­sure to make an al­bum for grown-ups.

Toro said the band was es­sen­tially lost and didn’t jibe well with O’Brien’s fast-paced ap­proach. “The sounds weren’t there, and the pro­duc­tion value wasn’t there, and a lot of that had to do with us be­cause we didn’t go all in on that record, we held back on some level,” he said.

“We had put up a lot of walls. We were very much against do­ing the same thing we did on Black Pa­rade. We ac­tu­ally saw that al­bum as the en­emy.”

With that al­bum be­ing mixed, the old friends from Jersey be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent sounds and in­stru­ments. But, ac­cord­ing to Toro, the im­pe­tus and struc­ture that led to the new sound was all in Way’s iPad – his sketches, lo­gos, char­ac­ters and de­scrip­tions of a world that was some­where be­tween the vis­ual ethos of The Em­pire Strikes Back and the scabby con­sumer-cul­ture com­men­tary of Frank Miller’s Give Me Lib­erty comics.

“That gave us a place to go, a place to fill with new sounds and a whole dif­fer­ent set of rules,” Toro said. “We made mu­sic for that world, and we didn’t feel boxed in by our past or any ex­pec­ta­tions from any­one else.”

iero said the band of­ten felt con­stricted by rock-world scru­tiny and ex­pec­ta­tions, and with the to­tal aban­don of their first Dan­ger Days sin­gle, the brash and blis­ter­ing Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na), they hope to have pushed their amps into the dance floor, just as U2 did af­ter leav­ing the deserts of The Joshua Tree and look­ing for strobe and leather with Ach­tung Baby.

“We’ve al­ways wanted to do it, some­thing you could dance to, and deep down we al­ways thought we could bring some­thing to the ta­ble if we could do it, but the live shows al­ways made us pull back and be ‘a rock band,’” iero said. he added that fans are al­ready em­brac­ing the other-world premises of Way’s cre­ation.

“it’s not a con­cept as much as it is a high con­cept,” iero said.

“We want to present the world and the char­ac­ters in that world, and there are cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. it’s a place you can live. And the idea is that ra­dio broad­casts from that fu­ture are the mu­sic on this al­bum, and the mu­sic videos will tell this story that takes place there.”

The re­sponse is strong ( Spin called Na Na Na an “in-your-face punk an­them with blis­ter­ing gui­tar leads, an epic break­down, and ger­ard Way’s sneer­ing de­liv­ery”), but the band has gone so deep into this new mode that there is con­sid­er­able down­side if it fails to con­nect in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion.

“Any time you cre­ate some­thing that’s re­ally near and dear to your heart and you un­leash it on the world, it’s like open­ing up your chest and stand­ing there,” iero said. “You’re very vul­ner­a­ble. No­body can love it as much as you do, but when the kids take it and run with it, it can be amaz­ing. But you do worry.”

Back at the top of the moun­tain, Way doesn’t seem wor­ried at all. he is puls­ing with ex­cite­ment about the idea of cre­at­ing ac­tion fig­ures and mer­chan­dise based on his Dan­ger Days fu­ture, which he views as a lov­ing spoof of the ge­orge Lu­cas re­tail items that he grew up with, and has found his spirit re­vived by go­ing to the vin­tage, flu­o­res­cent fan­tasies of mid­night movies such as Zar­doz and Bar­barella and cre­at­ing an art project dis­guised as a rock al­bum and tour.

“We have made this record now that no one ex­pected and that we never ex­pected,” Way said. “We could have given the world this rock record, and that would have been per­fectly ac­cept­able, but in­stead we went and made a pop-art record.

“Look, i had all this ar­mour on be­fore and i was sep­a­rated from my­self. Now i’m me. i’ve con­nected all of art; i don’t think of things as be­ing sep­a­rate. Now the only ar­mour i have left is the lack of car­ing about the af­ter­math of ev­ery­thing that we’ve done.

“The re­ac­tion to what we’ve done is some­thing that i don’t worry about. This is purely me right now, and that’s re­ally re­fresh­ing.” — Los An­ge­les Times/ McClatchy-Tribune in­for­ma­tion Ser­vices n DangerDays is re­leased by Warner Mu­sic Malaysia.

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