2013 has been the year of the year of the comeback. First, Justin Timberlake returned from a seemingly indefinite hiatus to release a critically divisive album that surpassed nearly every commercial expectation. Then there's Daft Punk, who have eased back into the spotlight by turning the pre-release lifecycle into a hype-stoking art form. And there's Fall Out Boy, a band that last week released its first new album in four years, Save Rock and Roll, which debuted this week at No. 1 on Billboard's album chart. It completed a re-acceptance into the pop elite for a group coming off the least successful album of its career, one that fractured its fanbase and nearly caused the dissolution of the band.
Fall Out Boy once opened an album with a screaming shoutout from Jay-Z. They had the clout to put out a mixtape with a verse from Kanye West. They're now once again in that echelon of pop music (or somewhere close to it), but that only highlights how different they are from Timberlake and Daft Punk. While those comebacks were feverishly anticipated, very few people were checking for Fall Out Boy's reappearance. "'So, are you guys going to tour? Are you going to play a lot of shows?'," singer Patrick Stump tells SPIN over the phone from New York on a Friday earlier this month. "That was the big question. No one asked us if we were going to do a new record, in all the time we were gone, no one asked us that."
They recorded their new album in secret before returning with a video starring — who else? — 2 Chainz. Save Rock and Roll aims for nothing less than pop domination, to nudge Fun. off their perch as America's foremost pop-rock band with a deft experimental touch. So far, so good — but as Stump and lyricist/bassist Pete Wentz tell SPIN in two separate conversations, it was far from an easy, or obvious, road.
In between 2008's Folie à Deux and Save Rock and Roll, you guys went off and made solo records? Did that make it easier or harder to come back to Fall Out Boy?
Patrick Stump: I think the solo things helped the band in a lot of ways. I think the most pronounced thing is that it allowed us to get a lot of these ideas out without having to force them into the band. That was a problem on the last record. I love Folie à Deux, but I think that was definitely an uphill battle — all four of us were trying to make four completely different records. So, actually going out and making four completely different records I think helped us make one together.
Did you guys think you would make another album after Folie à Deux? Did you think you would ever get back on tour after the reactions you got from your fans when you were touring that record?
Pete Wentz: I think we all had different experiences. I feel like me and Patrick are polar opposites in most things in life. The hiatus could have been like Morrissey and Johnny Marr…it had the potential to be a lot bigger and longer than it was. I personally had never pictured life without Fall Out Boy. It was strange for me. I definitely got a little weird. I got sad and wore a bunch of plaid and grew a beard. After working through it, I would tell myself I was just happy to be in southern California, driving to pre-school, getting coffee. For me, coming back was a really big deal. I wasn't sure that I wanted to do it. It really had to be about new music. I had kind of figured myself out without Fall Out Boy, and to do it again would require a lot for me.
Stump: When we left, we always planned on coming back, that was always the plan, and we were just going to take a break. But in the middle of that, sometimes…a lot of the time there ended up being this game of telephone, between press and whatever, where it’s easy to take an interview out of context. The first time it happens, no big deal. The fifth, sixth, tenth time you hear from the other guys in the band that they don't want to do a band anymore, even though those quotes might be coaxed or constructed or teased out of you, it still kind of gets to you. So I found myself in this place, where I was like, "Oh shoot, I don't know if the band is going to happen anymore. I thought we were going to, but now I don't know."
Have you guys thought about why that record didn’t hit as you thought it should've? Or have you thought about why there was push back from the fanbase?
Stump: Up to that point, we had gotten positive reactions and negative reactions, and the negative reactions were mostly people outside our fanbase, or outside the band, it was still this idea of us against the world — "us," including the audience — we were all one group. That was the first time we had ever encountered antagonism from the audience. There were a lot of people who liked that record, but there were a lot of people who were loud about not liking that record. That was kind of an important turning point, because we needed to experience that in order to be a little more fearless. I described it the other day as standing in front of a hockey goal getting pounded with pucks. It really helped us to develop a more singular vision of what we wanted to do. A big difference in producing this record was none of us were scared to deal with each other, none of us were scared to deal with the music, none of us were really scared about what the audience would say, so it allowed us to do what we wanted to do and say what we wanted to say. It feels like a stronger record to me because of that.
Wentz: I think that, again, me and Patrick are really different people. I didn't really notice that stuff on tour. When you make a record that's gonna be polarizing, when you reach outside of what you normally do, of course there's gonna be that reaction. Of course, people are gonna love it and hate it. The thing that should be noted is that it's the first album that Fall Out Boy put out in the iTunes era. They hadn't even worked out what the iTunes store was going to end up looking like. It was just different. It was also just a big cultural shift in music, where you started having YouTube and there are waves of people moving away from albums and moving toward songs. Anytime you put something out during a period like that, you have to expect something. For me, it was cool, it was a different experience. All of the albums were different experiences; I was always in different places in my life.
What has the audience been like at your new shows? Have your fans grown with you?
Wentz: I think it's kind of all over the map. As "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light 'Em Up)" has gotten a little bit bigger, that brings out a wider demographic. We've been a band that's willing to grow with our fans as long as our fans are willing to grow with us. So I think we've held onto a portion of our original fans. When you go off to college and get into "interesting" music, for me it was music that was cooler than I was. Then you get into the real world and you're like, "Why did I ever stop liking these bands that I actually just liked?" I think we fall into that category with punk kids.
When and how did the new record start to come together?
Wentz: There was definitely a time period when I reached out to Patrick and was like, "I wrote some songs, but they don't necessarily sound like Fall Out Boy." I don't know if we were totally locked into the idea that it was gonna be Fall Out Boy — we didn't know what it was gonna be. They were cool and interesting and different, but really, if you are a super cult fan of Fall Out Boy, maybe they're for you, but beyond that I'm not sure what they are. They definitely aren't compelling enough to make a band for.
Stump: So, it's weird because Pete and I always write together, that’s kind of the way we hang out; it’s one of the things we like to do. We don’t really get together and have drinks, we don’t really go see movies. We write, that’s what we do. And even in the break we were writing together and a lot of the time it was just kind of for fun, whatever. There was a period now, in retrospect, I could say probably started a year and a half ago, where we started to notice that we were liking the music, that it was really starting to feel like something. And we didn’t have any idea of it being Fall Out Boy, we were just liking it.
Maybe a year ago, realistically, we started to go, "This is the band." From there, it was collecting the songs and then I would say six months ago we started, "Hey, let's make this record, we're actually ready to make a record" kind of thing. There were a lot of phone calls, too. For all four of us, each of us had a different phone call that we needed to have. I called Joe, Andy called me, Andy actually came out to my house and talked to me for a while, all those things were real important for the record happening.
The album sounds like the most pop record you guys have ever made.
Wentz: Fall Out Boy never pretended that we were anything but pop-rock. In order to get from Take This to Your Grave to here, we needed ten years of distance. People misunderstand and think of Save Rock and Roll too much in a literal way. When I heard Dookie by Green Day for the first time, it unlocked something in me, like, it's totally okay that I'm a little bit weird becuase these guys are a little bit weird. It made me want to pick up an instrument and do that. If I didn't hear Dookie and I don't hear Screeching Weasel or I don't hear the Descendents, I don't think I'm in a band. If anything, we hope that this album is that. When we were writing the record we didn't have a whole lot of expectations because we were doing it on our own. We weren't writing solely with the intention of getting played on the radio. I think there should be people who are not afraid to be real and be authentic. That was the intent with it. Pop's never been a weird thing. It's something that's interesting, and I hope it can be kind of a gateway drug for fans.
Stump: There’s a certain fear of simplicity. I think that’s the thing when you’re younger as an artist you get this idea in your head that complexity equals quality. The more notes you’re playing, the better. We certainly didn’t aim for pop music on this record, but there’s no secret that pop music is based around the simplicity of form and less is more, you know? One of the big things for me is that we had a big talk at the beginning of coming back like, “What are the things that people really resonate with? What are the things that we really resonate with? That really drive us as a band.” And one of the big things was Pete’s lyrics and I think, sometimes, when you have lyrics that are thought-provoking, it can be kind of dangerous to push the music too far because it can kind of distract from those. So we wanted to make something to let the lyrics breathe a little more.
It's also a very optimistic record.
Wentz: For me [on Folie à Deux], I didn't want a lot of the attention that I was getting that was more tabloid-y. It was like trying to figure out how to get out of that black hole, and it was really hard to figure out. There was a part of it where it's like, if this is a swan song, I really want to engage the idea that this could be it. I think we were really burned out. If anything, I think Folie à Deux probably needed, like, a red string, tying all the way through it. I'm just not sure that any of us were in the place to do that.
Stump: There was something really important about redefining ourselves in terms of where we were, and we are more optimistic. I think when you're 17 and you're angry, you're angry about very short-term things. And there’s nothing wrong about writing that record. It’s a very real record to write, it’s the realest record I could write when I was 17. The problem is, when you’re 28, it’s not the same thing; it can be a put-on. And I think we’ve gotten to see so much and do so much, we were so grateful to be in the same room making music again, and so grateful to be working with people that really wanted to work with us and so many people that respected us, I think that kind of reads. You know, I can hear it on the record. There are points when I’m in the vocal booth smiling and you can just hear it and that was a really cool thing. We’ve never made a record like that.
On the song "Save Rock and Roll," you guys duet with Elton John. What was his role with that song?
Stump: There was a really great thing about it where he understood the song and the album so much more than we could have imagined. It wasn’t just the idea of, he liked our band; he got every facet of it. He liked that line ["blood brothers in desperation"] and it really stuck with him, and the next line he also sings is “an oath of silence for the voice of a generation” and the fact that he was the voice of a generation lends a certain credibility to it and I think he was aware of that, too, that it was something very special for him to sing. I don’t know, he understood the record in a way that he almost pushed us harder to embrace the "save rock and roll" thing. He said to me, “This has to be the title of the album” — I mean, we already had the title — but he was so reaffirming of it that it was like we were on the right path.
Wentz: I think it's really important that Elton John got on that song. Having Elton John sing that line, which is kind of like a mission statement… is like having two bookends on what rock and roll could be. How he sings it, the tone and everything is different. This is the song to really explain it all at the end of the day. This is the one that will sum up Save Rock and Roll. It's definitely about us being re-energized.
There's also something devilish about having Elton sing a line from one of your own songs ("Sugar, We're Going Down") on a song called "Save Rock and Roll"
Stump: That was definitely… we had a laugh about that, because it was fun.