When you think of Fall Out Boy, the first name you think of probably isn’t Joe Trohman — and he’s perfectly fine with that. But things weren’t always that way for the heavily tattooed guitarist who co-founded the band with Pete Wentz when he was a teenager and has since spent most of his life in Fall Out Boy as they morphed from a scrappy Chicago punk act to one of the biggest pop-rock bands in the world.
While Trohman’s memoir, None of This Rocks, deals with him coming to terms with his role in Fall Out Boy and their obligatory career highlights, the book isn’t a rock biography as much as it is a psychological study of the guitarist. It’s the story of someone who’s dealt with clinical depression for most of his life and had a complex relationship with his mother, who also struggled with serious mental health issues before passing away from a brain tumor in 2015.
However that’s not to say that None of This Rocks is a downer. It’s quite the opposite, thanks to Trohman’s enduring sense of humor and the current perspective he brings to the book as a father approaching middle age. Whether Trohman is discussing the anti-semitism he dealt with growing up in Suburban Ohio or the substance abuse that he used as a coping mechanism during Fall Out Boy’s rise to fame, the guitarist never takes himself too seriously. His writing is infused with a sense of reflective wisdom that can only be fully realized through life experience and significant amounts of inner work, both of which serve as tent poles to his narrative.
SPIN caught up with Trohman to discuss the process of writing None of This Rocks, his present-day struggles with impostor syndrome, and if the world can expect new music from Fall Out Boy anytime soon.
What was the process like of putting this book together? At the end of it, you talk about how you never wanted to write a book.
Yes, which is true. I’ll give you the real details on it all. I was sitting in an office I was renting in Pasadena at the time — working on something completely separate — and my literary manager called. He was really pushing me to write a book, and I was pushing back because I thought it was such a disgusting idea. [Laughs.] I’m not the biggest fan of myself, and I don’t want to write a “rock n’ roll memoir.” I do really enjoy reading them. I think the wonderful human who edited my book worked on the Slash book as well, and I really liked that book a lot. I’m a fan of these things, but they’re not the kind of things I want to write. I don’t want to write a weird, salacious Fall Out Boy expose. Also I have nothing bad to say about my bandmates, and I want to be in the band still.
When I said, “No, ew, gross,” he responded with a version of “Well, yeah, I guess you can’t do it anyway.” My response to someone telling me I can’t do something is just “Fuck you, I can do it!” So I started trying to see what it would be, and I wrote two chapters that ended up being in the book. One was about my anti-semitic bully, and I realized in writing those kinds of memories that I could talk about facets of my life that had nothing to do with the band, talk about my point of view, maybe hit on something interesting and also be — at least tangentially — funny about it. By the time I had written those two chapters, I gave them to my literary manager and he was like, “These are worth putting together in a pitch.” From there, I felt I had enough validation to go ahead and go for it.
So much of the book is about your relationship with your mom — specifically her mental health struggles and how that affected you. Was it difficult to revisit that time and do it in such a public way, or was that cathartic? Or do you not know yet?
I know only because I’m going through it now in doing the press for it. It was really cathartic at first. I’d been dealing with issues with my mother while she was alive, after her life, in therapy, unraveling, figuring it out, so writing about it was just another way to unpack it and understand it. But then also whether it was [reading] the audiobook or talking about it in interviews — as much as I’m hoping it’ll be some sort of exposure therapy and I’ll feel even better about it afterwards — to a degree it is reliving these traumatic moments of my life. But that’s a bed I made for myself. [Laughs.]
You were able to connect the mental health issues you went through later in life — such as body dysmorphia and depression — to some of these early childhood experiences. How did you come to those conclusions?
Therapy has helped a great deal. There’s the cliched elements of therapy like “Let’s talk about your family history” or “Let’s talk about your parents,” but all of our problems do come from our parents, because where do we come from? How are we molded? Parents. I’ve always been able to connect all of my issues back to my upbringing, and I’ve had all this time to reflect on it.
I live in my head so much unfortunately — sometimes for better, most of the time for worse. But in living in my head all the time and thinking about this stuff, it’s like working on a puzzle you don’t understand yet. The longer you work on it, eventually you go “Oh OK, I understand why I didn’t get this puzzle, and it makes sense now.” That rang true when it came to connecting the dots and my upbringing — especially my relationship to my mom. But therapy definitely got me there. I don’t think it’s very easy to just grow older and figure that stuff out on your own without any guidance.
Despite some serious subject matter, the book is also so funny and completely in your own voice, which can be difficult to translate to the written word.
I’ve always naturally written in my voice, because I think a strike against me is I never finished college. I never got the English Lit degree that I started working towards… barely. [Laughs.] I read a lot and take in other people’s work, but at the end of the day, I only know how to put words down on the page in the way that I speak. I guess it’s a good thing to have a voice rather than a bland, monotonous nothing. But then I attempt to make things funnier in punch-ups. I think I learned that working with comedy writers, especially.
How difficult was it to write about the band while keeping the focus on yourself in that context?
It wasn’t hard because I was writing about it from my point of view, and I think unless you have massive gripes with your band members… I mean, yeah, we’ve had gripes, but they’re as serious as a gripe with a sibling that at the end of the day you love. They’re not real. That’s our relationship for better or worse. It’s like a sibling relationship. We’re friends also, but you know the history of the band, we’ve been doing it for 20-something years. I was a child when the thing started, so they’re mostly big brothers and one that’s a fraternal twin. It wasn’t super hard also because I have such a complex personal relationship with the band. There really isn’t an embattlement within my own head, especially now that I can reflect from an older age. I used to blame things on other people, and then as I got older, I realized that they were all my problems. It was all of my projections, especially in learning more about my mental illness.
I have so many voices in my head screaming and saying “This is wrong! That is wrong!” but it’s just my head. I was not on medication and not in therapy during some of these darker moments in my younger years, and that’s when those voices were the loudest and most in control and conspiring against me — making me believe that this guy was doing something against me, when really it was all horseshit. I lay that out in the book a great deal. I have a lot of regret, if anything, about the way I had acted earlier on [in Fall Out Boy], just being an emotional black cloud. I feel I have a lot to atone for. I don’t have a need to throw my bandmates under the bus. The book is understandably sold as “by a guy from Fall Out Boy” because Fall Out Boy is a lot bigger than myself, but it’s not a Fall Out Boy book.
Another theme is your own struggle with impostor syndrome when it comes to the band or thinking your ideas are good. You’re not saying “Look at all these gold records. I’m an incredible guitar player.”
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to not be an impostor. In fact, right now, you’re talking to me in a moment where my imposter syndrome and my anxieties have gotten far worse than they’ve been in a long time. I think some of that is in conjunction with doing the press and getting ready to release this book. Some of it is just circumstantial. Some of it is because I’ve been changing medications just to figure some stuff out. It’s a combo platter of things. But I was having a conversation with a director friend of mine yesterday — somebody I’m very close with — and he’s a big reason that I stepped outside of music to do other things in other avenues of my life. I was expressing all of my impostor syndromes and anxieties, and not only was he telling me that it was all in my head, but he was talking to me about some big actresses he’s been working with. I won’t say their names, but they’re the real deal, and they all feel the same way. They all go “Why am I here? I shouldn’t be here. I don’t deserve to be here.”
I think unless you are a true narcissist, a true egomaniac — and I do even believe that, deep down, even a true narcissist or egomaniac has a deep self hatred, they just bury it very, very, very far down and mask it heavily with hardcore egotism — but if you’re not that, then yeah, you’re probably playing a little bit of “keeping up with the Joneses.” You’re looking at what other people are doing and going “They’re better than me” or “They’re more accomplished than me,” and you can’t see the forest for the trees because you’re so deep in it. I only see myself as a person. I don’t see myself as somebody on a pedestal or somebody in this big band.
I see myself as some very fallible human being that lucked into everything that he has. I know I’ve worked hard, but I also see so much of it as luck, because there are so many other talented people out there who will never get the chance to see their work or their talent see the light of day. Why am I here? Why are they not here? There are people that are for sure better than me in my mind that aren’t here. [Laughs.] These are probably negative thoughts to have, but at the same time, I do like to believe — even though I argue with my therapist about this — that it keeps me grounded to never feel high and mighty about myself.
Outside of the work you’ve done personally, it’s really clear how much work you’ve done when it comes to getting more secure with your role in the band. Do you feel like that’s true?
Overall, absolutely. I’ve gotten better at being in the band and understanding how to contribute and what to contribute. I think in any creative collaboration, it’s good to understand where your lane is and try your best not to step on other people’s toes and hope they do the same for you. I think we’ve all gotten better at understanding that, and I think I’ve just gotten more pragmatic regarding expectations. I’ve also been able to reflect upon contributions and things I’ve done for the band that I’ve literally almost erased from my mind. I’ve had multiple conversations with Patrick [Stump, Fall Out Boy’s vocalist/guitarist] where he’s reminded me of things I’ve done and why I should feel more connected. He’ll remind me of something I’ve done and go “Does that help?” I go “It doesn’t help,” and he goes “I don’t think anything ever will.”
At the end of None of This Rocks, you allude to a more guitar-focused Fall Out Boy album. Can you say anything else about that?
We’re always working on music, and I never know if it’s going to be a record or not — and 99% of the time it’s not a record, which is why I felt comfortable writing about it. I was like “This will probably go nowhere,” and thus far there isn’t anything. But then snap your fingers and it could be something tomorrow — but it probably won’t be. There’s nothing going on at the moment. Everybody is pretty busy. Not that Fall Out Boy isn’t a focus at all, and we aren’t going to do more of it. We’re about to play Rock In Rio in Brazil. I don’t think we’d be doing that if we were like “Nah, I think we’re just gonna break up.” We’re also not at Aerosmith level where we’ve put out like 30 records and it’s like “Eh, we can do Rock In Rio and it doesn’t fucking matter if you put out another record.”
I think we’d like to put out more music in theory, but I don’t know. I’m not the band leader, so I don’t have the leadership directive. [Laughs.] But as far as I know being a member of the band, we’re working on that stuff. It felt real. But that’s my problem also. Every time I work on a creative project, I’m like “This feels real. This feels real.” I have to remind myself that it’s not real until it exists in the world.