Mikey Way: Inside The Return Of Electric Century
Mikey Way is, he says, in “the best place” he’s ever been. Some four years on from the release of his debut album under the Electric Century banner with David Debiak, the bassist has since dipped his toes into the world of comics with last year’s Collapser, toured with Texan stars Waterparks, and, most importantly, become a father of two. He’s spent a great deal of time lately soul-searching, and believes that having children has made him “kinder and gentler”, as well as helping him to think more clearly – something that his creative work away from parenthood has greatly benefitted from.
In fact, were it not for this perfect amalgamation, Mikey might have struggled to make his latest ambitious venture come together: a brand-new Electric Century album and accompanying graphic novel of the same name. Working with David as well as the team at Z2 Comics, the 39-year-old used whatever spare time he had in-between dad duties to form a cohesive, fantastical new world for this music and story to live in – with both arriving later this year.
Catching up with Kerrang! from his home, Mikey is feeling grateful about where he’s at right now, not just with a new project on the way, but because this unplanned time at home amid the coronavirus pandemic has given him the chance to spend even more time with his family (“I’m having a really good time watching these milestones I would have missed – my one-year-old has just started walking!”). Taking a short break from cleaning up after his two “balls of energy”, he lifts the lid on the new Electric Century record, how he came up with the graphic novel, and his plans for the future…
When Electric Century first came about, and For The Night To Control was released with Kerrang! in 2016, was it always the plan to have a second album, or did it feel like a more standalone thing at the time?
“I didn’t know what the project was really gonna be. I didn’t honestly know if there was going to be a second Electric Century album, because the songs had to be there. I’ll make an album when I’m compelled to, and I have a collection of songs for this project where I’m like, ‘Oh, this is an album.’ It felt like, over a period of time, me and Dave started to amass this group of songs from sending iPhone voice memos to each other where it was like, ‘I think we kind of have an album…’ That’s what happened, and we started to build the quantity of stuff that I loved. For me, I have to keep creating something or I take a nose-dive; there has to be something – usually music-related, but I’m writing a bunch of comic books right now which has been a great outlet. I feel like, at the time, it was a great thing for me to fixate on. It was something creative to build, so I started assembling the album with Dave, and it grew into what it is today over a span of, I guess, two years. I think we started writing [this album] in 2017, but maybe some of the songs were around when the first album was being recorded, and we just hadn’t finished them. There’s one in particular that was supposed to be on For The Night To Control that is actually my favourite on this new album; we left it off because it wasn’t quite there yet, and I’m glad we’ve had the time to make it exactly how I wanted it.”
Was there a eureka moment when you suddenly realised you’d amassed enough material for a full album?
“The eureka moment was working on a song called Alive with Ray [Toro, My Chemical Romance guitarist] who also produced the album. The way we recorded it was David sent like a skeleton of a song based on voices memos that he’d record on Pro Tools, and then he’d send the session to Ray, and I remember Ray sending me an idea for Alive – and that’s the song that’s playing in the trailer, the piano one. And that was the moment: I was like, ‘Oh wow!’ I was taken aback by it, because the demo didn’t sound like that. And I feel like that song set the tone for this whole album – to me, it’s definitely the keystone, and the anchor to the whole thing.”
The band account tweeted in March 2019 that the album was “already recorded”. Is that referring to the final thing that we’re all gonna hear, or have you made tweaks since then?
“We’re still making tweaks – we made tweaks last night (laughs). We’re still working but we’re putting the finishing touches on it now. Ray just sent me something that was really exciting.”
What idea came first this time around: the Electric Century comic, or the album?
“It was actually the album. I’m gonna bring you back a little bit: In 2014, as you remember, the press started to begin for For The Night To Control, and then I went to rehab – and you guys came and interviewed me while I was in rehab. And when I got out, I felt very differently about the project, because at that time in my life I was worried about my mental health and my sobriety, and I didn’t want to go on tour. It gave me pause for a minute, and I was like, ‘What is this project now? I love it, but I don’t know what to do right now.’ I had a thought in my head where I thought, ‘Maybe this is a fictional band…’ I was thinking along the lines of Gorillaz or Daft Punk where it’s fictional, and I thought that I could create a world for this band to live in. I kind of put a pin in that thought, and as you know, we released the album through you guys, which was awesome – and it encouraged a lot of people to go and find their CD player (laughs).
“We did that, and I still didn’t have a desire to tour on it, but at some point I just thought, ‘Hey, I feel like it’s time to move on.’ I’m really bad with dates right now, but I think in late 2018 Z2 reached out to me, and an old friend of mine was working with them, and he’s been working on graphic novels for musical acts, and coupling the two together – which I think is a great idea. Even since the ’70s, having music and comics together is something that people have dipped their toe in for quite some time. And something that one of the gentlemen said on the phone was, ‘Hey, what I see for this band is kinda like the Gorillaz…’ and I had another eureka moment where I was like, ‘That’s what I thought about!’ I wanted to do something different with it because it’s not your traditional, ‘Here’s an album and here’s your tour…’ thing. It wasn’t that. But I wanted it to be something fun, and I wanted to make it entertaining. So when he said that on the phone, immediately I was like, ‘Dude, I can’t believe you said that, because I actually had that thought in 2014!’
“We were all on the same page, and he told me to come up with the story of it. But I was like, ‘That’s weird, because the album is already done,’ because usually people would do it in reverse; the graphic novel would come first, and then you’d write the album around it. So that put me in a really interesting position where it was like, ‘Man, I get to create a world around these songs.’ So I listened to them over and over again, and thought about it for a long time. And what sticks out to me about Dave is that you can hear the New Jersey in him (laughs) – he’s got that voice, and his subject matter can feel very Springsteen at times to me. I grew up in New Jersey as well, and it evokes memories for me. I immediately thought about Atlantic City, which is a place that was very important to my childhood – me and my family spent a lot of time there, and we’d go there over the summer. I had that vision in my head of that boardwalk – though at the time, I hadn’t been there in decades – and there were these beautiful neon structures everywhere. It made me think about nostalgia, and how we think back over these memories fondly, but maybe if we were there it wouldn’t be as great as we remember. And then I thought, ‘What if there’s a way that you could actually go back to those memories?’ And that’s where the genesis of the story came from.”
Was it a challenge at all to merge the album with the graphic novel? It sounds like it came quite naturally…
“It came naturally, but I don’t know how (laughs). I don’t know how I came up with it so quick – it just came to me. It was a big challenge, though, because it’s like, ‘Create a world for this band to live in.’ I knew it had to be in New Jersey, but I think maybe I’ve always wanted to tell a story about Atlantic Story – deep in the recesses of my brain, there’s a want for some kind of fantasy story that takes place there! I think that’s why maybe it jumped out at me so fast.”
What genres are you dipping into on the album? For The Night To Control had a real ’80s vibe to it, but is there anything else that influenced you musically on this one?
“I feel like there are similarities between the two album; what I always lean towards with this project is ’80s music, because I’m fascinated by it. I love ’80s new wave and British rock… that whole era of music just had this hopefulness, and this cool longing that these people were singing about. It was a cool era, and there was still some innocence left – and I feel like that may have been the last era that had this innocence to music. So the way I explore it with Electric Century is, ‘How would you be in one of those bands, but through a modern lens?’ It’s kind of ’80s new wave through a modern lens. I don’t want it to be pure nostalgia; I want it to be palatable for a modern audience, and that’s the wheelhouse Electric Century lives in.”
As a musician, how much have you changed between albums? Since the debut album you’ve worked with Waterparks, and you even toured the UK with them and Good Charlotte. Have experiences like that had an impact?
“It really has. Getting to tour with Waterparks was an interesting adventure, because I had never done anything like that where there was no responsibility. It was purely playing with my friends, and I didn’t have to do press or anything like that. And I really got a chance to explore the cities we were in, which usually didn’t happen when I toured with My Chemical Romance because we were so busy all the time. So that was a cool and interesting take on touring for me, and those guys are great – I love Waterparks so much. They’re good dudes, and they have a great work ethic and a vision, and you can tell that they really give a shit about everything in those songs. It was just cool to play music with some like-minded people. And one of my favourite places in the world is the UK, so I got to do that tour with them which was really special. It was definitely a different experience because of the busy-ness of My Chemical Romance; touring with Waterparks was a more laid-back adventure.”
What are your plans for Electric Century beyond the comic and album? Do you hope to play live once shows are back on?
“I’ve always had it in my head! And it almost happened a couple of times: we almost had Electric Century shows. At some stage I’m sure it’ll happen – I’d love to do it – but now’s also a good time for interesting ways to play, because we can’t do traditional shows right now. Maybe this will lend itself to this project really well, because me and Dave are on two different coasts. There’s something that maybe we can do there, because it’s now widely accepted, and that gives us a better chance of there being an Electric Century show!”
Electric Century will be releasing new music soon.
Watch the trailer for Mikey Way’s new Electric Century album and accompanying graphic novel.
Watch twenty one pilots’ incredibly old-school lyric video for Level Of Concern.