Joe Trohman announces he’s “officially back” in Fall Out Boy
After briefly stepping away from the band to put his mental health first, guitarist Joe Trohman has returned to Fall Out Boy.
Several years in the making, this week Fall Out Boy will finally release their incredible eighth album So Much (For) Stardust. To celebrate, they reflect on the magic of their creative brotherhood, the band’s stratospheric journey so far, and why Star Wars usually has the answer...
By Pete Wentz’ own admission, Fall Out Boy are a band who don’t make a whole lot of sense. But, somehow, it all just works.
“We’re on TRL but we’re, like, these shitty punk guys,” he begins self-deprecatingly, summing up how their superstar status and hardcore roots have successfully co-existed for the past 20 years. “None of it is exactly right, but it’s exactly who we are (laughs).”
This swift, self-effacing assessment from the bassist and lyricist comes directly after we quiz Pete about some of his superb one-liners on the Chicago heroes’ fabulous (fobulous?!) eighth album, So Much (For) Stardust. Anthemic lead single Love From The Other Side relatably admits how, ‘I’d never go / I just wanna be invited,’ while Fake Out hears vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stump repeat, ‘Make no plans and none can be broken.’
So… have Fall Out Boy just made a record for hermits?
“It’s a planet for hermits!” counters Patrick.
“I feel like every time I’m going somewhere, or my friends invite me somewhere, I have the Star Wars ‘It’s a trap!’ thing,” Pete continues. “I’ll go and then I’m like, ‘Well, I just wanna go home.’ I’m the master of the early exit. And I think that’s what Fall Out Boy is…”
It’s musings such as these that, according to Patrick, “propelled” So Much (For) Stardust to what it is now. Following the daring, experimental pop of 2018’s M A N I A, the frontman – who writes almost all of the music – found himself starting to come up with ideas for album number eight in a relatively low-key capacity soon after its predecessor. But it was Pete’s words that gave him the fuel he really needed.
Holed up in a spacious meeting room at a luxury London hotel during a “whirlwind” promotional trip of shows and signings, Pete, Patrick and drummer Andy Hurley are happily reflecting on a unique musical relationship that has sparked one of the best albums of their career – and by their unbelievably high standards, that’s no mean feat. While guitarist Joe Trohman has taken a public step back this year to focus on his mental health, the trio sat in front of Kerrang! today are full of appreciation for the unexplainable chemistry that has turned them from, um, “shitty punk guys” into one of the scene’s biggest and most important bands. Two decades on from 2003 debut Take This To Your Grave, they’re still doing things in their own charmingly weird way. And, more importantly, it keeps paying off.
“I think there’s something about the way that I write melody to Pete’s lyrics that neither of us know how to quantify,” ponders Patrick. “I write lots of melodies without him, but I couldn’t write those melodies without his lyrics.
“I hate starting sentences like this,” he continues, “but I have ADHD, and one of the things is that I don’t get to control my focus, right? So sometimes it’s very difficult for me to read something; it’s hard for me to read a paragraph from a novel, because I’ll find an image or a word and my brain goes off on this tangent. My eyes are still looking at the page, but I’m somewhere else. But when I read Pete’s words, music just jumps at me. He makes such strange, different choices rhythmically, and with alliteration, and the way his rhyme schemes work. And it just appears to me. For my part of it, that’s an intangible thing.”
In the case of So Much (For) Stardust, it was Pete’s “bleak” lyrics for the deceptively-titled What A Time To Be Alive that essentially kicked off the years-long process this time around.
“It encapsulated to me everything that we were experiencing at the time,” Patrick begins. “And the crazy thing is we wrote it before the pandemic! There’s a couple of lines at the end that were added after the fact, but the rest of it is us sitting there in 2018 going, ‘God, can the world get any worse?’” (Arrested Development Ron Howard voice: ‘It could.’)
There was an “adult anger” within these words, says Patrick, that really resonated.
“It’s a kind of anger that you don’t get when you’re 16,” he explains, “because when you’re 16 you go into your room and you kick the wall and you throw your books across the room or whatever. But now you’re angry, and there’s nothing but responsibility in every direction, so you have to just internalise it and bury it somewhere, you know? With What A Time To Be Alive, I was like, ‘There’s something that makes me feel like I wanna see where he goes with this – I wanna see what Pete has to say.’”
Crucially, there was another factor that also nudged Patrick into ‘new album mode’. He had a curious suspicion that they needed to work once again with Neal Avron – producer of beloved FOB albums From Under The Cork Tree and Infinity On High, as well as 2008’s under-appreciated-at-the-time Folie à Deux. To be clear: this was absolutely not a cynical bid to recapture anything from their past, and cash in on emo and pop-punk nostalgia. Instead, the frontman genuinely believed that their growth in the years since recording Folie... – both “as musicians and people” – could collectively take them somewhere new and exciting.
“We wanted take the lessons that we’ve learned and the powers we’ve gained,” nods Andy. “And go back with a truly singular focus and dedication.”
Patrick compares what he was after creatively to the sessions for David Bowie’s experimental 1977 record Low, for which the pop icon headed to Berlin without any songs, and went from there.
There was one major difference, though…
“I think he did a lot of drugs!” says Patrick. “And I wanted to go – not to Berlin and not with drugs (laughs) – back to Neal Avron’s studio and just see what we did. I didn’t consciously think about an era, or a sound, or anything. It was just that I wanted to see what that sounded like.
“And somehow that’s what came out.”
It is an absolutely indisputable fact that Patrick Stump has one of the best voices in rock. Amazingly, though, he’d always rather his vocals didn’t take the limelight on any Fall Out Boy song. The perfect example of this on So Much (For) Stardust is epic ballad Heaven, Iowa – which spectacularly utilises his power, building up via gorgeous atmospherics to “where it’s just me in this cavern of guitar effects and synthesisers”.
Initially, the frontman admits that he really didn’t like how the track was taking shape, as he felt like his voice was too exposed.
“Pete had this set of lyrics that had a storytelling element, and I don’t know why, but it just warranted that kind of space,” Patrick explains. “I’m very afraid of space as a performer, and I really don’t like singing by myself; I really don’t like feeling naked. I don’t want it to be me singing with an acoustic guitar or something.”
This is where the rest of the band stepped in.
“I played it for everybody, because I’ve learned that you don’t know what works about yourself,” he chuckles, “but I hated it. But everybody was like, ‘No! This is the song.’ And it wasn’t until the very end of production, when there was one day where we laid one keyboard patch onto it, and somehow that clicked the whole thing. But it was a lot of effort – the song took maybe three minutes to write, but six or seven months to record.”
So, uh, are you happy with it now?!
“Oh yeah, I am!” he grins. “But it was a journey of getting there. I have this thing, it’s like hearing your voice on an answering machine or something. Who likes that?! There’s something really revealing about just my voice by itself.”
This is a sweet and sincere modesty that runs through all four members of the band. At one point in our interview Patrick scandalously refers to himself “just some random guy”, while elsewhere Pete shrugs that he’s “not the most technically proficient”. “Without Fall Out Boy,” the bassist says, “sometimes I feel like I’m just a guy standing in front of a canvas who’s like, ‘I’ve got a painting but I can’t paint it at all!’”
Pete does concede that he plays an important role when it comes to their recording process, though. He reckons he nails the bigger-picture stuff, and can always hone in on what needs to be done to ensure that everything has that authentic Fall Out Boy feel.
“Sometimes I’ll add stuff – people are like, ‘Oh shit, we thought we were already done with this…’ but I’m like, ‘I know this is the thing,’” he explains. “Clarity in that area is something that I know I’m pretty okay at.”
“Pete has this incredible ability to always spot the thing, you know?” Patrick adds. “Joe will do something in passing on his guitar, and Pete will be like, ‘Do that again.’ And that makes it. And I feel like that’s what’s so magic about it: we really need all four of us.”
“That’s the answer!” agrees Andy. “The way all four of us bounce off each other is really the secret.”
These moments often cropped up during the making of So Much (For) Stardust, thanks to Neal’s meticulousness as a producer. It’s an attention to detail that Fall Out Boy are just as switched on to, and Neal’s process helped them strike a balance.
“It’s kind of incredible the way he organises things,” Patrick says of Neal. “I remember early on when we were doing Infinity On High, I came into the rehearsal studio one day and he looks at me and goes, ‘Based on what you’re trying to do, I think you’re going to need another three months.’ And this was early on (laughs). He was immediately budgeting time in terms of the things I was trying to do, and he’s very, very good at that – he didn’t really waste a millisecond. You have conversation during lunch or whatever, but you work with him – which I love.”
“At this point he really knows us, and he knows what we’re capable of,” Andy adds. “And if he takes any time to pull more out of you, it’s because he’s waiting for that thing. Once he gets it, he knows.”
“And sometimes he’ll call it, too,” Patrick says. “I had one session where my voice was just tired, and it wasn’t doing what it normally does. I was trying to push through and he’s like, ‘No, we’ll call it for the day.’ Everything matters, and he’s not gonna waste time on a bad session.”
They loved making it, too. Pete says Love From The Other Side in particular was a studio highlight (“It feels like Infinity On High but in a way that we couldn’t have ever made it then, you know?”), as was What A Time To Be Alive.
“I think as far as bombastics, that song is just full Patrick Stump,” Pete grins of the latter. “Everything about it is just him.”
Patrick himself partly puts performances like that down to his trade away from Fall Out Boy: scoring. He’s previously called that an “isolating” job, meaning that when he got to work with Pete, Andy, Joe and Neal, the results were explosive.
“When you are scoring you don’t see anybody, so then you bump into your friends and all of a sudden you’re talking really fast, you know?” he laughs. “Because it’s like, ‘I haven’t spoken to anybody!’ and it just erupts out of you. When I’m pulled out of the scoring studio, it’s like pointing a fire hose at somebody.”
Naturally, Patrick’s wide range of musical influences also hugely shaped So Much (For) Stardust – like his love for Motown on the playful So Good Right Now.
“You know, I just go and follow things,” he explains, “and I’d written this Motown-y song – it was much more overt when I’d written it, and Neal was like, ‘That’s a bit too pastiche, that’s a bit too like you’re impersonating somebody. There’s a good song in here, but let’s strip away those things.’ It was interesting, this song. I think we spent a lot of time on the drums, getting them to fill in that space. Neal was like, ‘What if we take this song and strip it down to very, very few constituent parts, but we have those parts fill in a ton of space?’”
Opening with the lyric, ‘I got this doom and gloom in my mind,’ it’s also a great example of something FOB have always done so brilliantly: the dichotomy of the happy-sounding sad song.
“That’s something that I like, and I miss,” agrees Patrick. “Our first record I think had some very happy-sounding miserable songs.”
“And all of our songs that have connected with people, I think they have the initial idea but then the secondary idea which makes the initial idea a little sadder,” considers Pete, pointing to 2007 vowel-avoiding classic Thnks Fr Th Mmrs. “Like: ‘Thanks for the memories… Even though they weren’t so great.’”
Other lyrics have already been connecting, too – even from songs that haven’t yet been released. Take upcoming single Hold Me Like A Grudge, which has been teased online and include the very Wentzian lyric, ‘Part-time soulmate / Full-time problem’.
Pete, how do you come up with something like that?
“I mean… it’s just so autobiographical,” he says as all three of them start laughing.
“I really like juxtapositions and contradictory things; I think it’s so human,” Pete continues. “Anytime you meet somebody, there’s at least two sides to them, and there’s flaws, and sometimes those flaws are what you like about them, and you chase them because of the flaws. It’s one of the things that I love about humans, and I love that about books and movies: just seeing multiple sides, because it’s how we all are.”
Speaking of movies…
Pete Wentz is onstage at London nightclub HEAVEN. Four songs into Fall Out Boy’s intimate show in the capital following an even smaller gig the night before in Manchester, the band are playing So Much (For) Stardust interlude The Pink Seashell feat. Ethan Hawke over the PA. The bassist is taking a breather, quietly listening to the clip of the acting legend delivering his monologue from 1994 film Reality Bites, about how life is simply a “random lottery of meaningless tragedy in a series of near escapes”. Pete’s crouched down, absorbing it all. It’s a hugely important scene to him personally, as well as being vital to the album and its concept as a whole. Unsurprisingly, it felt pretty momentous being able to finally play it for fans.
“It’s conceptually been baking for so long, and it’s great to give people the chance to try it,” Pete nods the following day. “It also went so sideways the night before in Manchester that I was just pretty ready for it to go sideways again!”
As is the band’s – and especially Pete’s – way, this is a painstakingly thought-out chapter of their career that they’ve been hinting at for several years already. In fact, 2019 song Bob Dylan’s accompanying video teased a character called Star Dust, while they also referenced it during their massive Hella Mega Tour with Green Day and Weezer.
“It’s something we’ve talked about for a really long time,” Pete says of the name So Much (For) Stardust. “And especially after Patrick had the title-track. At the time when I first heard it I didn’t know it was gonna be the last song, but now it doesn’t feel like it could be anything else.”
Given just how much has gone into it all, then, what were Fall Out Boy’s emotions when they finally hit ‘send’ on the album?
“‘Unsend it, we need to change a couple more bits!’” Pete laughs. “That’s literally what my personality is like.”
“He will fight up until the absolute last millisecond of a thing being released – just changing bits and pieces, going, ‘It’s gotta do something here, there’s gotta be a different lyric here…’” Patrick adds fondly.
“Yeah… it’s not super healthy!” Pete admits.
“But it’s a big part of how we work, and I appreciate it,” Patrick stresses. “At this point I plan for it, and I’m used to it. And it’s actually helped me because that’s how it is in scoring – there’s 10 different producers and a director and whatever, and they’re like, ‘Hey, can you change this?’ And I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve been in a band with Pete for 20 years, I can do anything! I’ll take any note you got!’”
More seriously, Patrick shares that he’s “very nervous” about people hearing the record – he always is, but these emotions right now are next-level.
“It’s just so special,” he smiles of the album. “It was such a cathartic and personal experience, and it’s kind of vulnerable, in a lot of ways, which I don’t tend to do; I don’t like to put too much of myself in work, because every time I’ve done that it’s been kind of a bummer (laughs). To do that again is kind of anxiety-inducing, but I just had to follow it. I like the record too much.”
With that in mind, we’ve one final question to finish up. And just as Pete had a Star Wars reference for us at the beginning of the interview, allow us to go back to a galaxy far, far away…
So, Fall Out Boy, how would you succinctly sum up your So Much (For) Stardust era?
“This is the way,” responds Andy, quoting the catchphrase from spin-off show The Mandalorian.
“Wait,” Pete interjects, gesturing to Andy. “I need you to say that right after the thing I say!”
Pete turns back to Kerrang!, ready to give his answer and await Andy’s punchline.
“I think that so often we’re comparing this album to Infinity On High, or we’re comparing those two eras,” he says. “I personally think that Take This To Your Grave and [2003 EP] Evening Out With Your Girlfriend are separate, and then the first three records after that are a trilogy, and then there’s another trilogy after that. It’s two trilogies. And this is the start of a new thing, I hope. Now you say it…”
“This is the way,” repeats Andy, right on cue.
“This is the way,” concludes Pete.
So Much (For) Stardust is due out on March 24 via Fueled By Ramen. Fall Out Boy will tour the UK later this year with PVRIS and nothing,nowhere.
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