My Chemical Romance: The lost 2006 interview

When My Chemical Romance unveiled The Black Parade, Kerrang! had the world exclusive on what would make them the biggest band on Earth. We’ve uncovered a never-before-seen interview with Gerard Way from a time when he was growing into his role as the saviour of the broken, the beaten and the damned…

My Chemical Romance: The lost 2006 interview
Paul Elliott
Paul Harries

One night in 2006, as My Chemical Romance toured Europe in support of The Black Parade, singer Gerard Way was in a buoyant and talkative mood ahead of a show in a small theatre in Milan. Sitting in the band’s dressing room, he spoke at length to former Kerrang! writer Paul Elliott about the creation of their then-new album, the influences that shaped My Chemical Romance, the infamous Reading Festival performance in which the band were bottled by Slayer fans – and with remarkable honesty, he revealed the truth about his battles with drug and alcohol dependency.

This interview has never been published until now…

Let’s start with The Black Parade and what this album represents. Was it always the intention to make such a grand statement?
Gerard Way (vocals): “That was the big goal. Let’s be honest: did the world need just another rock album? It’s almost redundant to even make those anymore. It was like, ‘Are we gonna give them another punk album, another post-hardcore record, just another rock record?’ And the answer was, ‘No – we’re gonna give them the rock record!’”

When you’ve talked about the inspirations for The Black Parade, you’ve mentioned two masterpieces from the 1970s, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars…
“I hadn’t even thought it about it until very recently, but it’s almost as if we’re trying to spearhead some kind of neo-classic rock movement. Bringing the pageantry and the theatre back. Paying tribute to those old songs – not ripping them off, but a total tribute. We wanted to capture that glory, that over-the-top-ness and that essence of classic rock in the ’70s.”

In terms of its lyrical content, The Wall was a heavy album…
“Oh yeah. It’s coming from a place of a guy in a rock band playing giant shows in arenas, and there’s groupies around, sex and drugs. And yet to a 15-year-old kid with his parents on vacation – that being me – I mentally identified with the alienation in that record. You know, I’m not a rock star at that age. How the fuck did I get it? But I did get it.”

The Wall was inspired by an experience that Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters had during a stadium show when a fan got onstage, and Roger spat in his face…
“I won’t lie, a lot of the feelings on The Black Parade come from a similar place to The Wall. There’s a degree of contempt in some of the lyrics on this record, and a degree of resignation. This record is like The Wall in that it’s about alienation – alienation of a band, and then the claiming of one’s destiny. This record is largely about destiny, but when I ask the question, ‘Will you be the saviour of the broken, the beaten and the damned?’, it’s not for me. I’m not some kind of messiah figure, as has been misinterpreted. It’s simply enough to ask the question – of myself, of you, everybody in our audience – ‘What are you gonna be?’ And it’s almost like the record takes you on this journey and tries to teach you stuff, because if you listen to the lyrics in The End, I say, ‘When I grow up I want to be nothing at all.’ This record is very thought out.”

What was the mood within the band as you were making The Black Parade?
“We knew the expectation: ‘Oh, let’s watch these guys fall on their face.’ Or: ‘Let’s watch them make another punk record where they’re pandering for credibility.’ I don’t think anybody expected what they heard in track one – let alone tracks two, three, four or five. We knew we had all this crazy stuff, so making the record, as hard as it was, we thought, ‘This is gonna come out one day pretty soon and the expectations are just gonna be obliterated!’”

Did you feel that making a concept album was a risk?
“It’s a huge risk! But here’s the thing – it depends on your outlook. It depends on having faith in the world. We had faith in ourselves, ultimately, but faith in yourself only goes for far, because then there’s that little trigger in your head going, ‘Oh, they’re not gonna understand.’ But if you remove that doubt, you go, ‘No, they’re gonna get it and they’re gonna fucking love it!’”

And people do get it?
“Absolutely! I had a really amazing conversation with Grant Morrison, a famous comic-book artist from Glasgow. He’s my idol. From age 15 I was reading his comic Doom Patrol, and it was the weirdest superhero comic ever. There was a sense of nihilism to his work that was inspired by stuff like A Clockwork Orange. So he and I had lunch together, and he’d figured out the band better than me. He said things about the band that I didn’t even realise, you know? But he understood the band, and he said about the new album, ‘There’s the right amount of post-apocalyptic Sgt. Pepper’s punk rock bravado, and it’s come at just the right time for the world.’ He’s like, ‘You guys have a voice. And other people are just singing about nonsense.’ He referred to us as a pop band, which I’d never really thought about before. But a pop band is popular, it’s affecting the culture, so I’m happy with that.”

You’ve said that you want The Black Parade to be a timeless album. What exactly do you mean by that?
“I picture the record as an infant, and we gave that kid every advantage we could so he could live a long life. The last one [2004’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge] was a sign of the times, and all of a sudden emo came out of that – and God knows why, but I get it. But with this particular baby – and I always picture a little fucking kid with a mop of black hair – we gave him every advantage. It’s like we played him Mozart when he was in the fucking womb! We sent this kid to the best school and we’re gonna make sure he stays off drugs!”

You just said the dreaded word, ‘emo’, but The Black Parade is very different to what other so-called emo bands have done. What makes My Chemical Romance different?
“The whole idea of the band was to oppose what was happening, in the same way that goth was kind of opposed to punk, or that The Damned was kind of like the answer to the Sex Pistols. As a kid I was very influenced by The Damned and Bauhaus and stuff like that.”

How did you find this stuff?
“I didn’t have an older brother; I was the older brother, so I turned Mikey [Way, bass] on to this stuff. But I had a really cool friend in elementary school who was showing me things like Sonic Youth, and that’s crazy for elementary school, if you’re 14 and you’re listening to Daydream Nation. So I was really lucky. He’s the guy that gave me showed me Walk Among Us by the Misfits. So with My Chemical Romance, we were always an answer or a response to what was happening. And it wasn’t necessarily the black clothes and the darkness that inspired me about goth, it was the fact that it was a response. You know, The Damned made good fucking pop songs, but they were so art rock and so brash about how they looked and what they did. To me that was more punk than the Sex Pistols.”

Is this band also a reaction to the era of nu-metal and the jock culture that came with it?
“Oh yeah. All that bullshit, like these guys copping a feel when a girl is crowdsurfing – we’re such an opposition to that.”

And yet one of the pioneering figures in nu-metal, Jonathan Davis of Korn, is in many ways the anti-jock…
“Yeah. Jonathan is someone I paid very close attention to, because he’s somebody who’s had to channel some really heavy shit to do what he does. I have a lot of respect for him to be able to dig up this stuff from his childhood and then turn it off. That’s what I had to learn to do during Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, and that’s why I’m still happy to this day.”

Your band has incredibly passionate fans. When you meet them, do they open up to you about their lives?
“I’ll be straight up: we hear a lot of really hard stuff from fans. And you get better at dealing with it as a person, because we do interact with people and we’ll never shut that off. They’re like, ‘This is what happened to me and this is how you guys helped me through it.’”

And yet, at the opposite end of the scale, at Reading Festival you had bottles thrown at you by Slayer fans. Did that make you feel that you must be doing something right?
“(Laughs) Absolutely! And it’s funny because I’m a huge Slayer fan. People get very narrow with certain bands – you know, when a band becomes their life.”

How did you deal with that hostility at Reading?
“Amazingly, I think. We came out to this flak – we called it flak, and it was, literally – and it got me so inspired. I said, ‘Alright, everybody do it!’ So obviously then it looks like the entire Reading audience hated us, when in fact it was just a few idiots. The funny thing is, I even saw kids holding MCR signs and throwing shit at us! But at the end you could see everybody clapping. So from the jaws of defeat it was a huge victory. It had the opposite effect for the people who tried to stop us.”

You never thought of walking off?
“No. Not this band. This isn’t a bullshit band that gets bottled off. We’ve played with some really hard bands before, we’ve had to deal with that, and the nervousness before we go on, even if I’ve had that, I try not to show it. So at Reading I was standing up there going, ‘Man, this is fucking rock’n’roll! This is what it’s about. This is a fight!’ It is kind of weird to be faced with such adversity simply for being different. But like I said, it was just a few idiots who got bummed when they couldn’t understand why other people in the audience were looking up to this band. We’re not singing about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, and they get pissed off because it’s dangerous, it threatens their way of life.”

The Black Parade is a huge hit that has created a real buzz about the band, even hysteria. How are you coping?
“It’s fun! I got to tell you, we made a record like this to create hysteria, to create a big splash. So when I see the craziness and I see the chaos, I love it. And to go back to Reading, it was a prime example. [After that show], I met so many people that said that was one of the most inspiring shows they ever saw, that they’d never seen a band get that kind of shit and not walk off, but instead say, ‘Fuck you!’ And at the same time, if there wasn’t the chaos, the whirlwind around the band, I’d be worried, because to me that’s rock’n’roll – chaos, adversity, shit-talkers galore, I love it. When I see bands that I’ve never even heard of talking shit about us to get press, I love it.”

On a personal level, you appear to be a changed man. A year ago it seemed as if you were out of control, drinking too much, doing too many drugs. What is the truth in that?
“Well, the band didn’t even know how bad I got, because I’m really good at hiding it.”

Had the other guys known the truth, do you think that they would they have intervened and had a serious talk with you about what was happening?
“Yes, they would, for sure, had they found out how depressed and suicidal I was. I think they got a little bit of an indication the last time I got drunk, really. I was puking backstage after the second Summer Sonic gig in Japan. They said, ‘There’s something wrong with you, man.’”

It was rumoured that you were mixing cocaine and Xanax. It sounds like a bad combination...
“Yeah. It was drink, then coke, then Xanax. One to get you in the mood, one to get you off your head, and then one to get you back down.”

What set you on that path?
“I thought that self-destruction was very romantic. I thought that was what gave you an edge, when in fact all it was doing was holding you back.”

And now?
“I think drugs and alcohol are something that keep artists down, keeps them depressed or suicidal, and ultimately leads to their demise. And nobody can tell me that an artist that has consistently stayed self-destructive has created genius work until the end.”

Many legendary rock stars have died young...
“It’s scary. And I never wanted to be one of those casualties. That’s such a cliché, and that goes against everything I represent. So if anything, my sense of individuality and the band’s sense of identity is what kept me alive.”

How do you see the future for My Chemical Romance?
“We have to escape from the straitjacket that is The Black Parade – and that’s how we felt making it. We knew we were painting ourselves right into a corner. When that record was over, I said, ‘I don’t know how we did it, I wouldn’t be able to ever do it again, and I don’t know how we’re gonna do the next one.’ But that’s why the record’s great. I think it’s going to be even harder to top something so grandiose, because now we can’t do that again, so what do you do? What I feel is it will be something more direct, something about people, something about our lives…”

And as you look to the future, do you wonder how long this band can last?
“I think we’ve got a lot of records ahead of us, but when it stops being special, when it permanently stops being special, when you become a corporation where all you care about is the money, that’s when it’s time to stop.”

My Chemical Romance are on tour in the UK. This article was originally published in the May issue of Kerrang! – out now.

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