LIVIN’ ON THE EDGE
TO CREATE THEIR NEW ALBUM MANIA, FALL OUT BOY TORE UP THE RULEBOOK AND ALMOST COMPLETELY REINVENTED THEMSELVES. ACROSS A STORIED CAREER FILLED WITH BOLD LEAPS OF FAITH, IT MIGHT JUST BE THEIR MOST DARING STEP YET. BUT IS IT ONE TOO MANY?
It’s hard not to wonder what the wide-eyed kids in Arma Angelus might have made of all this.
If, for some reason, that name doesn’t mean anything to you,youtube is your friend.there you’ll find grainy footage of a young Pete Wentz, with fire in his eyes, screaming straightedge songs in what looks like a school gymnasium to a couple of hundred people.at one point or another, for varying stints, all four future members of Fall Out Boy played some part in the Chicago hardcore crew’s story. Mention their name today, though, and it’s clear it’s one Pete hasn’t heard for a while, let alone considered within the context of how his righteous teenage self might react to the music he plays now.
What would he have thought of the new Fall Out Boy album, MANIA?
“It would be beyond his realm of understanding,” the bassist reckons.“he probably wouldn’t believe that any of this was even a possibility. I think he’d
“YOU WANT TO MAKE THINGS THAT ARE AUTHENTIC, NOT TO PURPOSEFULLY ALIENATE PEOPLE…” PETE WENTZ
probably just think it was cool that he’d get to meet Metallica and Jay-z one day.”
It’s kind of a fitting response for a man who has spent the better part of the past 15 years rubbing shoulders with the stars, and even basked in the spotlight of celebrity himself at the height of it all. From anyone else it might come off as name-dropping. But that’s just the bizarre world Pete Wentz inhabits.today, in fact, he talks to us – for the latest of FOB’S many K! cover stories over the years – ahead of sharing a stage in Philadelphia with a cast of characters that includes Kesha, exmembers of One Direction, Halsey and Chainsmokers. This is normality now. No wonder it feels light years from where he started out.
But even MANIA is a world away from anywhere the quartet have dared to go to before. And it might just be the album that prompts many people to wonder: have Fall Out Boy gone too far?
Pete Wentz, Patrick Stump, Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley are prepared for this.they’ve certainly had time to be, anyway. Especially since MANIA was originally supposed to see the light of day this past September, only for a rethink and some extra time spent recording and refining things to mean it’s just now getting its release.
The four songs in the public domain to date are a reasonable indication of just how out there a lot of this material is.there’s the Edm-influenced oddity of the Nikki Sixx and Britney Spears-referencing lead singleyoung And Menace, the spaghetti western stomp of Champion, the swaying dancehall riddims of Hold Me Tight Or Don’t, and the frantic pop grooves of The Last Of The Real Ones. Elsewhere on the record’s remaining six songs, the quartet get into everything from melodramatic balladeering to soulful gospel, and they even try their hand at breezy reggae along the way. Note the absence of much in the way of rock among those ingredients.
“It’s not like a box of cereal where we must include this amount of rock, or that much Top 40 [appeal],” the bassist argues.“i play a lot of our demos in the car and my kids are like, ‘Yo, are you guys hip-hop?’ and I’m like,‘oh… we’re not.’ But I get it.”
Pete maintains that the only barometer for inclusion is quality and the primary goal is an album “without any skippers” on it. But it’s inescapable that the big R doesn’t appear to be of tremendous interest to the four-piece on these songs.yet it might be the group’s most ambitious, if head-scratching, release ever.
“When you move around, adapt and evolve, it’s not going to be for everybody,” Pete reasons simply. He’s not getting off that easy, though. Fall Out Boy are something of an institution in the alternative scene, and this current transformation is a fairly drastic departure from the sound that made them so beloved in the first place.as someone who famously loves to express himself through analogy, we put it to Pete in terms he can probably appreciate: imagine if when Disney bought the rights to Star Wars, it suddenly decided that future entries to the franchise would fundamentally change the tone and fabric of that universe, perhaps insisting on more jokes and fewer lightsaber battles. In some ways that’s what this feels like, and a lot of long-time Fall Out Boy purists are rightly going to be pissed about it.
“Oh totally, I get that,” he says, holding his hands up in acceptance.“i understand the emotional attachment, and it’s tough to be a die-hard fan. If you grow up loving this one thing more than anything else you’ve ever loved and then the artist goes and changes it for the next project, that’s pretty hard. I’ve been on the other side of that with Star Wars, in fact. But when I watch those movies with my kid now, I realise,‘oh, this isn’t being made for me, it’s for this guy!’”
It’s an intriguing – and potentially revealing – insight into the motivations and intentions underpinning Pete’s own output nowadays.
“I might be filled with nostalgia for the Star Wars experience, but those aren’t movies that are made for me, I don’t think…” So who is a Fall Out Boy album made for in 2018? “That’s a great question,” comes his time-buying response.then a lengthy pause, followed by much humming and hawing, as if he’s publicly considering the conundrum for the first time in a while and being careful about how to frame the reply.
“The age span at our shows is pretty wide now. I see people who were probably there 10 or 15 years ago, but I also see people who’ve only heard [American Beauty/american Psycho single] Uma Thurman on the radio. For some, the album and the body of work is important. But we’re also living in a single and streaming era. So, we’re making a record for people who only like rock’n’roll that sounds like this, and we’re also making songs for people who only listen to radio, where there are no guitars at all. It can be a little schizophrenic, honestly.”
It sounds like tricky terrain to negotiate while simultaneously bearing the weight of legacy, needing to push forward and attempting to keep things as artistically stimulating as possible. No wonder, then, that the results are so diverse and eclectic, and it took the band longer than initially anticipated. But if anyone is under the impression that MANIA is a wilful up-yours to old-school fans who’ve supported them through everything, think again.
“I want to push the ball further down the field,” Pete admits, “but I don’t want to piss people off for the sake of it.we’re not tethered to anything, but, by the same token, you want to make things that are authentic to you and not to purposefully alienate people.”
Authenticity is a theme Pete comes back to time and again. By all means dislike the new Fall Out Boy sound and direction, but don’t discredit the heart and soul that went into the songs that bear the band’s name now.
On the face of it, Patrick Stump seems like an odd person to discuss punk rock with in 2018. Even though he battered the drums at the final Arma Angelus show back in the day, the Fall Out Boy vocalist was always more of a shrinking violet. It says a lot that when the band rose to prominence with Take This To Your Grave in 2003, he was busy obsessing over crooner Burt Bacharach and new wave icon Elvis Costello.
The son of a folk singer, he has always been the introspective yin to Pete Wentz’s bolshie yang, shunning the glitz and glamour of fame in favour of a life of privacy. If the bassist/lyricist represents the brains of the operation, and Joe and Andy provide its beating heart and muscle, then Patrick is undoubtedly the band’s soul. But, by his own admission, how he ended up here remains a mystery.
“I’m such a weird guy,” he says, laughing at himself in typically self-deprecatory fashion.“i don’t know, man; if my band weren’t interesting, I would be a very uninteresting person. I don’t know how any of this happened, honestly. I’ve never really felt like I made sense, certainly not in rock. I didn’t even know I was playing rock until someone said so. Rock’n’roll is very attention-grabbing, self-serious and badass and, like, I’m none of those things!”
Yet it’s punk rock that’s on his mind at the minute – the only strand of rock’s DNA that Patrick admits
to ever feeling something approaching kinship with. He cites The Clash and their endless reinvention as inspiration. He argues that Talking Heads doing “whatever the fuck they wanted” was more punk than anything fast, loud and angry bands ever managed.
“It was the freedom of expression [in punk] that brought me in,” he explains.“sure, I was disenfranchised, I didn’t fit in and I didn’t want the nice car or to retire to the suburbs either, but the thing that really grabbed me about punk rock was the idea that you could be anything.that was my punk rock.”
It’s tempting to draw parallels with that interpretation of one of rock’s most contentious subgenres and the spirit behind the creative reinventions played out across MANIA. Tempting, but a temptation the frontman seems uncomfortable with.
Instead, he downplays it with a shrug and says,“as long as I’m just being myself, I don’t really care what you call it.”
Pete on the other hand? He’s all for it.
“I think this is the most punk rock thing Fall Out Boy can do right now. Me on Whatsapp talking to Burna Boy [who guests on Sunrise Riptide] in Lagos, Nigeria? That’s super-punk rock.and that’s super-important to the culture of Fall Out Boy.the spirit of inclusion is something that we’ve always tried to maintain, and that comes from the world of punk rock; the idea that if you don’t fit in anywhere else, you can fit in here.”
The irony of course being that the more Fall Out Boy expand their sonic palette and the bolder their records become, the less it seems that they fit in, well, anywhere. It’s not lost on them, either.
“It’s weird, because you are always you, but the world keeps changing,” the vocalist considers.“we would be this band and we have been this band no matter what the context. In the pop-punk world, they think we’re too pop.when we go to the pop world, they’re like,‘what are you doing?! Is this Slayer?! This is the heaviest music I’ve ever heard!’ And of course, it’s really not…”
Not for the first time in their career, Fall Out Boy seem caught in an impossible position.they can’t please everyone and whichever way they turn they seem to confuse someone. So, they’re doing the only thing they can to maintain sanity and proceed with confidence: trust in their instincts and do what feels right.
Because at it score, MANIA is outsider art operating within a pop milieu. If you’ve paid close enough attention throughout their career, that’s Fall Out Boy’s entire oeuvre to a tee. Sure, they’ve been emo torch bearers and they’ve been thrown in with the pop-punk crowd before, but there’s always been a little more to them than most. It might be one of the primary reasons they’ve outlived a lot of their peers and continue to thrive. Call this latest reinvention an identity crisis if you must, but look at the bigger picture and judge by the standards Fall Out Boy have set for themselves, and suddenly everything about MANIA makes a strange kind of sense.
“An identity crisis for me would be to still be wearing the studded belts and arm bands from a decade ago,” Patrick says, making a fair point. “At the time of the emo thing, we had no idea how we ended up there.we weren’t trying to or trying not to, we just did our thing.we didn’t even know there was a scene!
“It’s so funny when I look back,” he continues, sounding semi-irked, semi-amused by the idea that they’ve somehow abandoned their roots.“people talk about [From Under The] Cork Tree as this emo record, but there’s really weird, aggressively strange stuff on that album. If you want us to be the band that we were in 2005, this is what that band does.the band that did …Cork Tree is going to do Hold Me Tight Or Don’t, because we were really weird then, too!”
He calls it weirdness; Pete calls it authenticity. Whatever way you slice it, the chief creative duo behind the wheel are adamant that there’s nothing they’re doing now that isn’t true to who they are, who they have been and what it is that makes them a special,
“IT’S TOUGH TO BE A DIE-HARD FAN. I UNDERSTAND THE EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT…” PETE WENTZ
unique force.they insist that if anyone calls bullshit on this record, then they’ve fundamentally misunderstood all that’s come before. It’s merely the latest instalment in the saga of Fall Out Boy’s musical island of misfit noise.
“It’s going to be polarising,” Pete concedes,“but we can do whatever we want as long as it’s authentic to us.when artists release something out of nowhere that chases a trend, if there aren’t clues leading people there it feels like jumping the shark. Fall Out Boy has changed on every record, so we’ve definitely prepared people and created a road-map [leading here].”
That’s why they agonised over the finer details.that’s why this record took longer than it was supposed to. Patrick compares the delay to being in a queue for groceries, suddenly remembering you’ve forgotten essential ingredients and having to give up your spot in line.“we were really close,” he insists.
Pete doesn’t seem so sure, sensing that when they made the call to push things back, what they had at that point – in his mind, at least – “wasn’t really the record we intended to make. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what direction it would take.”
Both agree, though, that as much as it was a bummer to extend the deadline and let fans down, the alternative was releasing something sub-par.after all, at this point no-one in Fall Out Boy really needs to be in Fall Out Boy. But if they’re going to be, with all the sacrifices that come with that, what’s the point in giving it anything less than the best they’ve got? The stakes are too high and much greater than merely the four of them now.
“We could just stay at home on our couches and do whatever,” Pete admits of their privileged position.“but if we’re going to go halfway around the world to play shows and leave our families for months on end, I want us to be excited about playing new music that I believe deserves to be played.”
For all the protests and impassioned de fences of MANIA’ sm any idiosyncrasies, there does seem to be a tacit resignation that it will prove a leap of faith too far for some. It’s an artistic push forward that Fall Out Boy had no choice but to make, however.they’ve trusted in each other and, as always, the quartet remain their own biggest critics.
“When we started, the first thing we connected on was the fact that we didn’t agree on music,” Patrick offers, only halfjokingly.“all four of us come from very different backgrounds. So the music that we make at any particular moment is the only music that all four of us can agree on at that particular moment.there’s no way for us to do that and put out records that sound like the records before and have it not be a lie, or disingenuous. I don’t want to be like that.that’s so unfair to your audience.the way to keep things going is to be honest and make art that you believe in.”
He likens the search for a Fall Out Boy song nowadays to that feeling when a stranger asks for directions and you struggle to explain them, but you know how to reach the destination. It’s the one thing Pete and Patrick seem to be on the same page on – luckily, it’s quite an important thing.
“We have an instinct for it.and, honestly, I think the instinct can sometimes be off and we only realise later,” the bassist confesses.“we pick our battles now, but the way that we argue and disagree pulls everything into the centre. We’ve gotten a lot better at letting the best idea win, but sometimes people try to push it further ahead, and there are even some songs where it’s like,‘this is just way too safe and down the middle.’”
The biggest crime Fall Out Boy could commit right now, then, would be to aim for convention, to appease fans and to do something they think they should, rather than something they collectively want to.there are limits, though.to address the question that hangs over this whole endeavour, there is a line that the quartet know not to cross.“the limits really assert themselves,” promises Patrick.“we push them and they snap back to let us know something’s not right.”
“There’s never a point where me or Patrick could rap or go hip-hop or something,” Pete nods, reassuringly.
The bottom line is Fall Out Boy don’t want to be just like any other band.they don’t want to settle for the nostalgia circuit and diminishing returns.and if that’s not cool with some of their fans, then that’s just the way it’s going to be.
“I was reading an interview with [Dutch filmmaker] Paul Verhoeven,” the singer finishes, pondering the risks involved in creating something that truly matters.“he said, ‘I should never have made [2000’s Kevin Bacon-starring] Hollow Man, because I see now that it’s a movie anyone could have made. It’s not a movie that only I could have made.’ And I think that’s important to Fall Out Boy, too. That’s the line that’s too far. I don’t think we could ever release something that just isn’t us.”
In a world filled with artists happy to churn out their Hollow Man, perhaps we should be grateful that Fall Out Boy are still around, striving for a Robocop.
“AN IDENTITY CRISIS FOR ME WOULD BE TO STILL WEAR STUDDED BELTS AND ARM BANDS…” PATRICK STUMP
After more than eight years as a band and several hundred shows on stages ranging from the smallest of clubs to the biggest of festivals, you might expect Of Mice & Men to be able to take everything in their stride. “The Of Mice & Men mentality is that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” says drummer and founding member David ‘Tino’ Arteaga, referencing the John Steinbeck novel and Robert Burns poem from which they took their name. “what has allowed our band to continue this long has been the ability to roll with the punches, to assess the situations and make the best decisions possible at the right moment.”
Rewind to April 21, 2017, however, and you’d have seen a band with quite a store of nerves.the inaugural Las Rageous festival was kicking off in the streets of downtown Lasvegas, headlined by Avenged Sevenfold and Godsmack with supporting roles for the likes of Killswitch Engage, anthrax and Mastodon. It saw the first Of Mice & Men performance since frontman Austin Carlile announced his departure from the band a few months before.
Of Mice & Men had decided to condense their format from a quintet to a four-piece, rather than look for a replacement, with bassist and co-vocalist Aaron Pauley instead stepping up to take on the role of the full-spectrum frontman.
The show – captured on the Unbreakable documentary released later that year – was a jump into the deep end, but it was also a triumph.
“All that fear or anxiety that might have been there just washed away after that first show,” says Tino. “We could all look at each other backstage and know that we’re locked in and that we can continue this thing with our audience. It was our big debut and we felt the vibe again that we hadn’t felt in so long. For us, that was the little spark that ignited this train. We now need to play for more people, do more touring.we need to not stop, to throw more coal into the engine and keep this freight train running.”
There’s a song on new album Defy called Back To Me, which Aaron had previously told K! was about “reigniting passions within yourself”. Couple that with Tino’s comment about not having felt that vibe for so long and the mixed reactions to patchy previous album Cold World and you might
just leap to the conclusion that Of Mice & Men had been lacking a certain spark prior to Austin’s departure.
Suggest that might be the case, however, and the unfailingly amiable duo of Aaron and Tino get as close to spluttering indignation as they ever do. “It’s the exact opposite,” insists Aaron. “What I’m talking about on that song is using your passion to light a way back to yourself when you feel lost or you feel you’re losing your identity through change.to us, music has always been that guiding light, so that’s never lapsed. If anything that was what we used to get through the change.”
“That’s what has driven this band from day one,” Tino continues. “We’ve always had the fire, and everyone who has ever contributed to the band has had that passion. In a lot of ways we needed to put that into a song, about how important it is to be able to find inspiration within yourself and to reignite what makes you you. It absolutely wasn’t lacking, but it was something we wanted to draw attention to.”
So the fact that Cold World did receive such a mixed reaction wasn’t on your mind when approaching the new one?
“Every album is its own snapshot in time. Not every album is for everybody, but every album we create is very honest for us, so there’s nothing that really feels out of place,” Aaron sighs.
They might not feel like they had any lost spark to recapture, but the best-laid plans do indeed go awry and, from the outside at least, it looked like the band might have been in serious trouble when Austin discussed his eventual intention to step away from music, primarily due to his long-running battle with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue, with Kerrang! in the summer of 2016.
Six months later, he was announcing his departure, and the band’s future appeared bleak.
“Of course it was painful for us when Austin said he couldn’t carry on,” Aaron says.“we’d watched him suffer for the better part of a year and a half. It was bittersweet in the sense that all of us were relieved that he was going to be focusing on his health, but at the same time it was kind of unimaginable at first to think about doing it with anybody else, or even without him.”
So did you think at any point that everything you’d all built together could be about to end? “No,” he says, simply. “Of course it was a shock,”tino reasons.“but I don’t know that there was any true fear for us. It was more a case of,‘okay, let’s work through this, let’s figure out what the next step is.’”
“We don’t have a playbook for life.we go through our lives and people get to watch us through a microscope.as people we don’t always have the answers or the right way forward, but as Of Mice & Men, any time there’s been a challenge put in front of us, we’ve managed to dig deep to move forward.”
When pushed the singer does concede that, at the very start of the process, there were conversations about whether the four remaining members would continue under the Of Mice & Men mantle or some other guise.they’d been through so much, however, and were such a tight-knit group that to not remain together at all was unimaginable. Until this tour cycle, in fact,aaron,tino and lead guitarist Phil Manansala were not just bandmates, but neighbours, with rhythm guitarist Alan Ashby living “up the road”.
It didn’t take long for the four of them to decide that the best way forward was to preserve and expand on the Of Mice & Men legacy – for themselves, for the fans and for their former frontman.as soon as they started working on new music they knew it would be as Of Mice & Men, and Aaron’s new role also seemed the natural next step.
“It was brought up in the very initial stages when Austin told us he was leaving,” says Tino when asked if they’d considered looking for a replacement.
“He actually brought up a couple of people that he thought might work, but I don’t think the four of us ever discussed that, because we knew it wasn’t going to feel right. I think it was important for us to move forward with the four remaining members of the band.”
The first fruits of the band’s new incarnation emerged almost as soon as they returned to the live circuit, with the singles Unbreakable and Back To Me coming in quick succession. Musically, both were designed for maximum live impact, and that sense of pure unfettered energy was carried through to the rest of the album.
Defy is certainly not one-dimensional. there are plenty of different flavours to be sampled, but it has a heaviness and sense of momentum that was largely missing last time out.
“We spent the summer touring with frickin’ Ozzy Osbourne and Gojira and Prophets Of Rage.we were seeing so much heavy music, we were reinvigorated,” nodstino.“we just tried to amplify everything. If it’s heavy, it better be brutally heavy. If it’s gonna be fast, it needs to be even faster. If it’s going to be emotional, it needs to dig deep and tell a frickin’ story.”
In terms of those stories, the fact that the first single was called Unbreakable, while the album itself is called Defy, suggests it has an underlying theme.
“I think some of the songs definitely resound with that theme, but other songs are very honest about not feeling unbreakable,” says main lyricist Aaron.“there are songs on both sides of the spectrum, about dealing with loss and dealing with change. So, while the overall theme of the album is in regard to change, not every song is necessarily a ‘rise up’ or ‘rise above’ song. It’s about acknowledging the pain or acknowledging what you’re going through.”
And he’s right: there are songs on the album that pull the listener through the emotional wringer. Given the situation they went through to get here, you can forgive the odd ‘rise above’ chest-beater anyway, but there are also songs like the suitably tumultuous Warzone, which was written in the wake of a 3am panic attack, or the ‘everybody hurts’ sentiment of On The Inside.the album closes on a haunting note with the atmospheric If We Were Ghosts, a song of loss that was at least partly inspired by the death of Chester Bennington, whom Aaron describes as a good friend.
In short, Defy is a rip-snorting mix of what Aaron calls “festival bangers”, but which never sacrifices that sense of progression.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve reinvented ourselves,” the singer says.“we just take note of the world we’re in, take note of what we’re going through and then we write about it. Every album for us is like a yearbook, and every yearbook tells a different story, because you’re always in a different place in your life.you can have growth without a complete reinvention.”
That’s what Defy represents, and it’s an album and an opportunity that’s got its creators fired-up.
“We’re in the wake of our most important record to date,” proclaims Aaron.
“2018’s going to be a huge year for us, and we’re excited for the new album to start things with a bang. There’s going to be lift-off and the ship will have sailed.”
We’ll let that splendidly mixed metaphor ride, because Of Mice & Men have battled through difficult times to produce an explosive comeback of an album. Just be on that ship when it lifts off.
“YOU CAN HAVE GROWTH WITHOUT REINVENTION…” AARON PAULEY