Fall Out Boy
Q Magazine, Jan 2006
Fall Out Boy are US punk’s new superstars. After one suicide attempt and an unfortunate penis incident.
Exactly three decades since punk progenitors the Sex Pistols caused a stir by saying ‘fuck’ on national TV, a band hailed in the US as the saviour of punk is considering doing a similar thing. Fall Out Boy are holed up in their dressing room in the bowels of Disney World in Florida, waiting to play for a crowd of high school graduates. It’s just gone midnight. They’ll be on in an hour. And they still haven’t come to terms with Disney’s strict no-swearing rule.
“There’s no fucking way, dude!” yells the bass player, Pete Wentz, skittering around the room munching Doritos. Wentz is the one who does all the “hallo Cleveland!” stuff, chatting to the audience between songs.
“But they’ll seriously pull the plug,” says their tour manager, Dan. “And you guys haven’t been paid yet.”
“Fuck that, I’m throwing some F-bombs, dude. I’m totally going to blow $150,000 in like 10 seconds. It’s going to be awesome!”
Dan looks at the girl from Disney standing at the door and shrugs. She bites her lip and checks her watch. “Oh please don’t say that,” she pleads, quietly.
The “happiest place on earth” might seem an unlikely venue for a band best known for songs about revenge, depression and loneliness – a band whose leader, Wentz, attempted suicide last year. But in other ways, Disney is oddly appropriate. It reflects Fall Out Boy’s enormous mainstream success with a double platinum 3rd album in “From Under TheCork Tree” and almost a million friends on MySpace. They’re so big, they’ve spawned a whole wave of pop punk emo acts in their wake, mostly on their own label Decaydence – bands like Panic! At the Disco, The Hush Sound and The Academy Is… They also have a fashion line, Clandestine Industries, and a fledgling film production company Bartskull Films. Fall Out Boy is the first rock band to empire-build, rap mogul style. And Jay Z himself is a fan. When he saw them play at Irving Plaza last year, he said “everyone knew the words… It was like a cult following. I thought ‘these guys are stars. This is genuine.’”
Disney also suits the band’s essential wholesomeness, tattoos and swear words notwithstanding. They don’t drink or take drugs (except guitarist Joe Trohman and then only rarely). The only item on their rider that they absolutely insist on is a fruity brand of cereal called Fruit Loops. And Pete Wentz, the oldest at 26, still lives with his mum. “I have to tidy my room, I can’t play music late at night, there’s no bringing girls home for sleepovers – they treat me like I’m 14,” he says. “Dude, we’re not rock stars, we’re just guys in a band. When we’re on the tour bus, we play board games like Scattergories.”
Yesterday, for example, was the lead singer Patrick Stump’s birthday – he turned 22. There was no party, as such, but the band did arrange for a local stripper to give him a lapdance in the dressing room. Stump, however, spent the entire dance sending his band members a lengthy text: “I know it’s a present and everything, but I feel really uncomfortable and it’d be great if if you could make her stop…” Once she left, Stump cheered up considerably and took the band out for ice cream.
“She did that booty shake dance, you know, really fast,” he told me the next morning, making an ‘icky’ face and shuddering. “I’ve never even seen a stripper before.”
As the lead singer, songwriter, composer and arranger, the slightly podgy Stump, with his mutton-chop sideburns would normally be the band’s frontman. But it’s a quirk of Fall Out Boy that the leader is Pete Wentz, the bass player of the band and the good looking one. But it’s not a cynical move – Wentz is also the band’s lyricist, visionary and business brain. And he’s a good talker. While the rest of the band are nerdy and introverted, Wentz has the manic energy of a precocious teen on a sugar rush. Get him going, and he can talk for days.
“I’m a control freak,” he says. “Typical Type A. That’s why I don’t drink, and that’s why I have a problem flying because I want to be the guy flying the plane.”
Wentz is an intriguing combination of charisma and crippling insecurity. Though relentlessly creative – he is the impetus behind the record label and the fashion line – he is also desperately vulnerable, and he wears his emotional fragility on his sleeve. “I’m so hypersensitive,” he says, “that if you said something negative – just a throwaway comment, it could be nothing – I’d turn it over and over in my head all day and tonight I’d play a bad show.
Wentz tells me about his psychological disorders, his high anxiety and manic mood fluctuations. He happily rattles off the anti-anxiety pills he’s on (benzodiazepine), the pills he’s tried (Xanax and Zoloft), and the pills he hasn’t (lithium). Hypnotherapy didn’t work apparently, though talk therapy seems to be helping, but he still finds it terribly difficult to forge close relationships, especially with girls, who have “cheated on me in about 70% of my relationships so far.”
This kind of openness has won him a fanatically devoted fanbase. He spends hours each night on the band’s website posting updates to his painfully personal journal. Entries like “sometimes i spill all the pills out on the tiled floor and sit there” and “far from the person i am supposed to be, there is a boy who just doesn’t fit in”. He also responds to fans’ messages about their own breakups and fears. To an alienated and often medicated generation raised in suburbia, Wentz has become an icon.
His mental state was never more transparent than in February last year, when he had a breakdown. “I was lying under a blanket on the floor,” he says. “I was scared to leave the house, scared to fall asleep. I just wanted my brain to shut off.” So one day, while the rest of the band were in the UK waiting for Wentz to join them on tour, he scoffed a handful of Ativan (anti-anxiety pills) in a department store car park in Chicago. Had he not been on the phone to his manager at the time, he might have died.
“I don’t want Fall Out Boy to be the band where the dude tried to commit suicide,” says Wentz looking pained. “Honestly, when I look back on that time, I can’t empathise at all – I just see it as weakness. Pathetic.”
There was no childhood trauma at the root of it all. Like the rest of the band, he had a stable, if mundane upbringing in the affluent suburbs of Chicago – “an Edward Scissorhands neighbourhood.” The son of a law professor and school admissions dean, he was a soccer scholar who plunged into the local hardcore scene as a teenager, making a name for himself in bands like Birthright, Extinction and Racetraitor. But by 2000, he had grown disillusioned with hardcore, as had Joe, who introduced him to Patrick, a young singer he met in a bookshop. They wooed Andy, the best drummer they all knew and together they formed Fall Out Boy, named after the sidekick to Bart Simpson’s favourite superhero, Radioactive Man.
It took the first two albums to realize that Pete was much the better lyricist than Patrick, and then came their third, From Under The Cork Tree with the single “Sugar You’re Going Down Swinging”, by far their biggest hit to date. Immediately Fall Out Boy were hailed as punk rock’s newest heroes, and Wentz as the Morrissey of his day. It’s an association he enjoys immensely. He once wrote a short book titled The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. And last year some embarrassing pictures appeared on the internet of a wan-looking Wentz holding his penis with the Morrissey single “Every Day Is Like Sunday” in the background.
For someone who is “obsessed with how people perceive me”, he appears to be ‘handling’ the penis pictures quite well. When I ask him about it, he just grins and takes off his jacket. Underneath, his shirt says: “My P33N is more famou5 than m3”. “Dude, you should ask Morrissey what he thinks of those pictures,” he says. “I’m sure he’ll say something awesome.” (Morrissey declined to comment).
It’s the day before the Disney gig and about 15 nervous fans are sitting patiently in a tube lit room waiting for Pete and Patrick to launch into an unplugged version of Sugar, We’re Going Down. They’re all listeners of a local radio station in Tampa where Fall Out Boy tour has stopped off to do some promotion. Not the whole crew, mind, only Pete and Patrick from the band, their security thug Charlie, Pete’s stunning new girlfriend, Robyn, the current Miss Oklahoma, whom he hooked up with on tour there about three weeks ago. There’s also a character called Dirty, aka John “The Dirt” Miller, who serves as the band’s mascot of sorts. All he does is get drunk, hang out and have Charlie throw him through tables as a Jackass-style warm up act. Dirty has Peter Wentz tattooed on his feet and PW branded on his ass with a coathanger. “Pete did it himself,” says Dirty, proudly. “It sizzled.”
As Patrick tunes up his guitar, a boy walks up and asks them to sign a couple of T-shirts before they start. “Sure no problem,” says Pete, scribbling the autographs and posing for a snap. Then the kid makes straight for the door, before the song starts. “is that it – you’re going already?” asks Pete. “You’re going to miss the song.”
“I know,” says the kid awkwardly. “But I’ve got to get back to school.” It’s a typical Fall Out Boy moment. Punk rock has changed a good deal since the 70s. It’s better behaved now, more sensible and sober, less inclined to skip class. The band themselves are a well-read bunch – Wentz is a big fan of Hemingway and Bukowski. They make fine role models for their fans (mostly girls) who adore them (mostly Pete) – parents have nothing to fear. Come showtime at Disney World a day later, Wentz had a choice – either refuse to allow a corporation to dictate what he can or can’t say on stage, or mind his language and get paid.
He did the sensible thing. After all, he’s got a business to run.