Last December, My Chemical Romance were focused on writing and recording the follow-up to 2006’s The Black Parade, the multi-platinum smash that established them as one of the decade’s biggest new bands. Frontman Gerard Way had completed nearly seven songs, which were inspired by everything from Judas Priest and Def Leppard to the Hives and the Killers.
But then the band – Way, guitarist Ray Toro, guitarist Frank Iero, bassist Mikey Way, and drummer Bob Bryar – decided to start over from scratch. (Drummer Bob Bryar also split amicably from the group around the same time.) “The way we’ve been looking at it is instead of an album getting scrapped, it was just one long writing process,” guitarist Ray Toro tells SPIN.com. “Some songs we just had to get out of our system and some of those songs we kept and reworked.”
My Chem will reveal those years of hard work on their new album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, which hits stores November 22. Like Black Parade, My Chem regrouped with producer Rob Cavallo, although the record finds the band exploring new sonic territory, mixing their contemporary emo-punk sound with older influences like punk and psychedelic rock.
“We put up a lot of rules about the songs we could write and what the sound was supposed to be for this record,” says Toro. “But Rob took all those walls down for us and was like ‘You know what? The sky’s the limit, just write great music and use your creativity.’ He’s a master at doing that.”
As for a unifying theme, Toro says Way’s lyrics focus on ideas of alientation and escape, and feature a group of outsider characters called the Killjoys. “The overall theme in the music is finding a sense of freedom and using creativity and art as the weapon, as opposed to worrying about the end result,” says Toro, adding that the Killjoys are a loose interpretation of the band itself. “Some people are going to think it’s a departure. That’s the fun of being in the band, having the blessing to explore the music and try different things.”
SPIN caught up with Toro to discuss four of the more experimental tracks on the album.
One of the salvaged songs from My Chem’s earlier sessions, “Party Poison” may be the most straight-forward punk tune on Danger Days: buzzsaw guitar riffs, clattering beats, and Way howling over the chorus. There’s even a shout-out to the MC5’s 1969 proto-punk classic “Kick Out the Jams.” (My Chem actually met with MC5 frontman Wayne Kramer to play him new material, although this track was written before that meeting.) “This was the cream of the crop of the stripped-down style we were going for,” Toro says of the earlier sessions. “And just the spirit and energy of the MC5 – that fuels this song.”
Blistering punk-funk that sounds like Franz Ferdinand at their fiercest. Over blippy electronic sequencing and slicing guitars, Way delivers a raucous call-to-arms, shouting phrases like ‘Fame is now injectable!” and “We just get up and go!” The band found unlikely inspiration in the Rolling Stones for this cut. “Mikey, Gerard and I were listening to the Stones and we noticed how their songs are very repetitive but one guitar is playing throughout,” says Toro, referring to the Stones’ “Paint it Black.” “And the way we built a lot of the record was by taking it eight or 16 bars at a time and used melodies that would work over an entire verse. Which is kind of strange.”
On this sweet, mid-tempo tune, Way’s vocals are treated with a liquid vibrato effect similar to John Lennon’s vocals on “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Way sings about falling for a girl’s “lip-gloss smile” over chiming guitars, layered vocals, and spacey effects. “This shows off the more artsy side of the band,” says Toro. “The Beatles are a huge influence and with the backup harmonies and effect on Gerard’s vocals, it’s our best stab at doing a song like [“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”]. It takes a psychedelic journey.” As for the unconventional, forward-slash-heavy punctuation, Toro says it refers to the police force that’s out to get the Killjoys. “In the world of the Killjoys, S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W is almost like a defense force so that’s the reason for the slashes,” he says.
My Chem wrote this hard-charging rocker – with a riff reminiscent of Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” – after turning down offers to contribute a song to the Twilight soundtrack series. “We just kept saying ‘No, no, no,” says Toro. “Gerard wrote those lyrics to the song as if to say, ‘If you want a song for the movie this is what’s it’s going to be.'” The phrase “vampire money” came when we were doing an interview and the guy asked us if we were going to get some of that “vampire money” that everybody wants. So that’s what the song’s about. I think songs for soundtracks can be cool but we don’t really buy into the movie. We don’t personally enjoy it but that’s not to say it’s bad.”