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Pete Wentz
Pete WentzPhotography Marcus Maschwitz

Pete Wentz on reinvention, neuroses, and success post-emo

The Fall Out Boy bassist and emo icon talks longevity ahead of the release of the band’s seventh studio album M A N I A

Fall Out Boy can never seem to keep everyone happy. When they first rose to fame with 2005’s From Under the Cork Tree, which went double platinum, they almost single-handedly took the previously sidelined genre of emo onto the radio and into the mainstream. Cork Tree was well-received by critics and emo teenagers, but Fall Out Boy’s mainstream appeal, the same thing that made them popular, lost them the respect of adult rock fans and emo purists. It didn’t matter what they thought: Fall Out Boy had the kids on side, and they had the perfect alchemy of timing, work ethic, and well-crafted songs.

What followed Cork Tree was unprecedented for not only an “emo” band, but one whose roots were in hardcore. Fall Out Boy were all over the radio, they had number ones, they were on magazine covers, and despite struggling to gain anyone’s respect as more than a “kid band”,  it was hard for anyone to deny their talent. The band were good, and Patrick Stump’s huge soul voice set them apart from their contemporaries, but the celebrity status of bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz played a huge role in their mainstream visibility. People magazine once said that “no bassist has upstaged a frontman as well as Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy”, and they sadly weren’t wrong. Pete’s good looks and regular appearances at clubs and on the arms of socialites kept Fall Out Boy firmly in gossip tabloids as well as alternative music magazines. They were everywhere.

But after two subsequent albums of varying success (Infinity on High in 2007, which landed at number one, and Folie à Deux, which did not), Fall Out Boy took a hiatus in 2009. Their music had always changed between records; from strictly pop punk between Take This to Your Grave and Cork Tree, to the influence of R&B and soul on Infinity on High to a move away from emo power chords on Folie à Deux. These changes lost and gained them fans, but when they returned from hiatus, the time away, death of the scene, and inspiration from side projects meant that Fall Out Boy came back more different than ever before.

On Save Rock and Roll in 2013, they very deliberately shed their old sound entirely: “We didn't want to come back just to bask in the glory days and, like, and collect a few checks and pretend and do our best 2003 impersonation,” said Stump. And it worked. Save Rock and Roll debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, something unheard of for a comeback record by a band who got popular off the back of a genre that had all but died four years prior. Entertainment Weekly called the number one a “major accomplishment for a band whom many in the industry had dismissed as kings of a genre whose time had passed”.

Fall Out Boy followed Save Rock ‘n’ Roll with an EP (Pax AM Days), another studio album (American Beauty/American Psycho) and have managed to continue dominating not only their core audience of teenagers but the charts and pop radio. It’s not an accident; whether you like them, dropped off circa 2007 or never cared for them in the first place, there is no denying that they are outrageously talented at a) knocking out bangers and b) understanding what people want before they do. The hiatus was good for the band and everyone in it; after the break, Andy Hurley said that Pete was “a million times better”. He’s probably right; Pete has two children, a girlfriend, and is seemingly much happier than he was in 2006. Fall Out Boy have grown up, and where Pete was once front and centre, the band are far more like an actual band than they were ten years ago.

As always, from fans and detractors, those accusations of being ‘sellouts’ and of ‘changing their sound’ follow the band, but they’re laughing. They’re a genre-spanning arena band who managed to outlive and outgrow the limited genre they once dominated. Fall Out Boy, whose roots are in the hardcore scene, have always been the band that they are now; experimental, sometimes divisive, but always committed to creating music that they’re proud of and that they hope their fans will enjoy. It hurts when the band you love doesn’t make their every decision to keep precisely you happy, but Fall Out Boy have been around for a long time. I have loved them for half my life, but if Fall Out Boy had never changed, they would not be here now. They might never have risen to fame in the first place, and they might now be joining the legions of emo bands who refuse to adapt and who instead hammer out the same four songs over and over again, make a few quid off an anniversary tour, and then cry that their fans only want their 00s hits.

But Fall Out Boy are still very much here, and with a brand new album, M A  N   I    A, on the way (that was recently postponed in their relentless quest for perfection), they aren’t going anywhere. We spoke to bassist and accidental poster boy Pete Wentz about the new record, why change is necessary, and why to the disappointment of aging emos everywhere, there’ll never be another Take This to Your Grave.

How’s M A  N   I    A coming along?

Pete Wentz: It’s good! Since we announced that we were going to take some time and push it back, I think that’s really allowed us to make a record that we are passionate about. I think that we always sound pretty sonically different on almost every record, although there are some exceptions. Between Save Rock and Roll and American Beauty/American Psycho there’s less of that gap. I think that delay has allowed us to recalibrate and make something that we want to go around the world for a year and play and perform.

People always say after every single record ‘Fall Out Boy have changed!’ but you never said you were one particular thing anyway. People said you changed from emo, but you always just did your own thing anyway.

Pete Wentz: Yeah! Like, listen, when Jay Z was the president of our record label we wanted to make songs that sounded like Jay Z and they just happened to sound like ‘Arms Race’ or whatever. We’re a band that were always too heavy for most pop music and too pop for a lot of heavy music, so we sit in our own little space in the world. Every record people are like, ‘what happened? You’re so different!’ or whatever and I’m like, ‘oh my god’, I never knew we were going to have to go through that forever.

I mean, I appreciate it because I know what it’s like. I love The Clash and David Bowie, and they always changed so much. That’s cool but if you fall in love with an era and you don’t know if the next one is going to be any good or compelling or meaningless to you, that’s hard. But when I step back and I look back at David Bowie as a whole, I’m like, ‘this guy’s career is amazing and I can like all of these different parts of him that are so different’, you know? And I hope that we could have like, one iota of that. Of that feeling. One tiny piece of that as a band would mean a ton.

“We’re a band that were always too heavy for most pop music and too pop for a lot of heavy music, so we sit in our own little space in the world”

You can’t stay the same. It felt even back then as if you kind of didn’t want to be pushed into that kind of hole or marketed in that way, anyway, right?

Pete Wentz: Right. Yeah! I think that we’ve always kind of been the band that we’ve been. This is all there is, you know? Hopefully that’s enough for somebody. I think that sonically we change but we want to emit a similar feeling for people or have people to feel a similar way. I always want to kind of be – I mean, we can’t play the game for you or live your life for you, but I want to be the orange slices after the game, you know? When kids play soccer or football and they get orange slices and juice boxes after, I want to be that for everybody.

I’m mostly just impressed with how you’ve managed to do that, because there are so many bands from that time who did just keep trying to do the same thing and it doesn’t work.

Pete Wentz: I think there’s room for all of us. Whatever anybody wants to do is totally cool to me. Your life and your band and that kind of thing. But to me, I think that any time you get involved in pop culture or pop art or whatever, the responsibility to the audience is to push people to listen to or see things they wouldn’t otherwise. That’s a thing I’ve always been proudest of, that we always push our sound and sometimes we push it too far and sometimes I understand that because we’re meant to make you feel something, you know? I want kids to know that there are rock bands that can play in arenas and festivals and are also played on pop radio at the same time. Like a contemporary rock band. That’s one of the reasons why we do what we do.

You’ve done a pretty good job of keeping people happy.

Pete Wentz: Oh, thank you. Sometimes it goes the wrong way and we know that. I know we put out ‘My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark’ and that song was polarising and we knew before we put it out that it was going to be polarising. Sometimes when you try things that are different sometimes you’re not going to get it. You’re not going to get everybody every single time.

It’s like what you say about David Bowie. I love David Bowie, I named my dog after him, but there are still albums that I don’t like.

Pete Wentz: I did too! (laughs) I think the amazing thing about that, and it’s the same thing with The Clash to me is that the body of work is so diverse and there’s so much of it that you’re like, ‘I love these ones, I don’t like this one as much’, but you’re able to do that versus if it’s all kind of the same. Imagine if you grow out of it and there’s just nothing else there? It’s a one note kind of thing and that’s the danger of doing that. Of course the danger of changing is that you change and maybe people are going to have a hard time to change with you and maybe you’ll change into something that your fans can’t follow. That’s a dangerous thing too. Our job as humans is to evolve. You’re not supposed to be like your parents, you’re supposed to be better than your parents. We’re not supposed to be like The Clash. That’s a super important mission.

When you went away and came back, it was four years. Music and the world and your scene became very different in that time. It would have been weird if you came back and did the exact same thing all over again.

Pete Wentz: Totally. I can think about it honestly now and it just wouldn’t have worked the way we wanted it to. I think that we all went away and did our own things. Every once in a while when I’m talking to somebody, they’ll say, ‘why don’t you just keep doing Take This to Your Grave?’ and I’m like, it would just be really inauthentic for us to do it. If we tried to do it right now it would come out so weird because we’ve experienced the world and it’s been 13 or 14 years and we’re different. If we tried to do it, it would come out like a parakeet. It would seem like a bad copy.

You’re so much older and you have kids and you’ve been famous, you can’t really pretend to feel that way.

Pete Wentz: It would be really hard. You can’t go back, you know? I’ve watched bands that I loved growing up try to do that and it’s just really hard because you are just a different person. You lived in a van and it was just a different era in your life.

“If we tried to do Take This to Your Grave right now it would come out so weird because we’ve experienced the world and it’s been 13 or 14 years and we’re different”

I feel like as well as your music, the thing that’s helped you guys have that longevity is that you’ve been so good – especially you – with the business side of it. You’ve always had a lot of different things going on, like your clothing and record labels Clandestine and DCD2.

Pete Wentz: Oh, yeah. I appreciate you saying that. I think that I don’t only think in terms of the songs. We try with the music and some things don’t work and some things do and some things don’t work in the way they’re supposed to, but I love hanging out and doing things with other people who are creative and know how their industries work. I love seeing the ways people minds work and taking part in that. Lots of times I do that in a very amateur kind of way because I’m just learning a lot of it, but it’s really fascinating to see other industries and the way people go about their thing, their craft.  

It seems to me that lately you’re a lot happier and chiller than you’ve ever been. Do you think that’s impacted where you’re going with the music?

Pete Wentz: I think so. When I was in my 20s it was really easy for me to tap into really big emotions, but I didn’t really understand the subtlety of neuroses. Because there are little ones and little things that we all kind of have, and I think about that and I think that that influenced a lot of things we wrote on this record. There’s a subtlety there about all the little twitches and flaws that interconnect us as human beings. The same little things and anxieties that I have I’m sure that some kid in Scotland or some kid in Florida has similar things, you know? They interconnect us and that’s what makes us human beings. I’ve chosen to focus on and write about that this time around. Yeah, I think it does influence it. It’s harder to tap into those really big, raw emotions now but those are really easy to tap into when you’re a 22-year-old guy writing.

Fall Out Boy’s new single ‘The Last Of The Real Ones’ is out tomorrow and M A  N   I    A is set to be released on January 19. Lead photo Marcus Maschwitz