Interview: Fall Out Boy continues its aural evolution
If you’ve heard Fall Out Boy’s latest single, “Uma Thurman,” it doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio right now. And that was kind of the goal, says bassist Pete Wentz — not to be consciously contrarian, mind you, but to make music unique and distinctive to Fall Out Boy, like the great acts that have come before it.
“I remember being super-impacted by the song ‘Enter Sandman,’ when Metallica put out ‘The Black Album,’ because it was just so pervasive. But at the same time, it was Metallica doing Metallica,” he says, recalling when B96 in Chicago first starting spinning the Bay Area thrashers. “The name ‘Metallica’ became the descriptor for the band. So it was like, ‘Metallica sounds like Metallica.’ And that’s the goal, you know, at the end of the day, to me.
“It’s like the same thing you would say about Jay Z, or you’d say about Beyonce, or you’d say about whoever, Green Day — you’re just like, ‘They sound like’ the name of the band. You know, and I think that’s what we’re going for at the end of the day. But I think it’s a journey. We’re still in that process.”
Indeed. The rest of “American Beauty/American Psycho,” the band’s latest album, attests to this notion, particularly tunes such as “Centuries,” which samples “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega, and the title track, which incorporates a bit of Motley Crue’s “Too Fast for Love.” While the album is distinctively Fall Out Boy, the sound has clearly moved forward a couple of steps.
“In some ways, each of our albums have been a departure from the last one,” Wentz allows. “But I see them more as a progression.
“I think that, more than anything, sometimes when you write something that’s authentic to you, it’s going to sound different than the way the rest of the world expected it to sound,” Wentz notes. “I mean the idea of even sampling ‘Tom’s Diner’ and then trying to create an anthemic idea next to it, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is great, and this is great for us to do, but I don’t know how it will sound to the rest of the world.’”
It sounds like an ongoing evolution of what first began to take shape a few albums ago on “Folie a Deux.” Although the 2008 release wasn’t necessarily a blockbuster, it seemed like an artistic progression.
“I’m proud of ‘Folie a Deux,’” Wentz says. “I like that record a lot, but it feels like it’s really great beginnings of ideas to me and really great starts of thoughts, but they’re not really completely fleshed out. We didn’t know how to sonically get there yet and we just hadn’t — it’s like we wanted to take a leap, but we didn’t really know how to do it yet. And I’m not sure we trusted ourselves or trusted the process enough to let it happen.”
That’s certainly not an issue this time around. The songs on “American Beauty/American Psycho” confidently incorporate the stylistic inclinations of the individual members, while also appealing to the scattered sensibilities of their fans.
“The walls between genres have gone away so much since we started the band,” Wentz says. “You know, like, 10 years ago, 12 years ago, it was so much different. You know, people wanted things that stayed in one lane. But now I think when you listen to stuff like, whether it’s Major Lazer, or stuff that Kanye does, or the stuff that a dude like Brodinski does, I think it’s kind of all over the place.”
“And kids,” he adds, “when I talk to kids who come to our shows and stuff — they listen to songs. So, like, they’ll drop a Gym Class Heroes song and then a Skrillex song. I think that it matters less. For us, it’s great, for a band like us, because I think that we have really disparate influences. Everyone in the band is kind of all over the place, and I think that being able to twist genres a little bit is helpful for the band. I think it’s more natural.”
For fans who’ve been following the act for the past few years, paying attention to Wentz in particular, the advances heard on the latest album seem quite natural for the bassist, who’s a big hip-hop fan. You can bet the idea of integrating sampling into the songwriting came from Wentz, who consistently references rappers in interviews, whether it’s Lil Wayne or Jay Z or Tyga.
Granted, rock dudes have been drawn to rap for decades; this is certainly nothing new. From Limp Bizkit to Linkin Park, the ‘90s were littered with hundreds of hybrid acts. But bolstering its burgeoning sound with hip-hop production cues, Fall Out Boy reflects its influence in a way that’s more subtle, which, in turn, makes the music feel more organic.
“I do think that the most important thing is doing something that’s authentic to you and having that spirit,” he says. “Because at the end of the day, the person who’s going to go out and perform the record, I think that if you’re not doing something authentic to you, then you’re going to have to go out every night and put on a mask and perform something that’s not something that you love.”
There’s no shortage of that here with Wentz. A fan of his Boys of Zummer tourmate Wiz Khalifa long before the Pittsburgh-based rapper was topping the Billboard charts, he’s clearly moved by the music. When Fall Out Boy performed with Fetty Wap at the MTV Movie Awards this spring, it was not at all surprising to see Wentz step forward to perform “Trap Queen” right beside him. But it’s more than just the music; he’s inspired by the culture, which he thinks recalls ‘60s and ‘70s rock culture.
“That’s what hip-hop feels like to me,” he says. “It feels dangerous. It feels free-thinking, intellectual and then, sometimes, not intellectual at all. It feels like it’s the new rock ‘n’ roll. It feels like it’s dangerous; it feels like it’s thoughtful.
“And it’s super-expressive,” he adds. “It can appeal to people on a pop level, but it also has a subculture, and it’s a counterculture. And I think that, to me, that’s exactly what you want out of a movement.”
It’s the expression part that appeals the most to Wentz and Co.
“More so than anything, with this album, especially, we were trying to make an album that is able to exist in a world where DJs and hip-hop artists are able to respond directly to pop culture,” he says. “You know, like something happens, and then they can put a song out tomorrow. I think that we wanted to say that a rock band can do that, as well. I think that was what the experiment was.”
Read more from Dave Herrera at bestoflasvegas.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.