In a music industry where social media-enhanced transparency is the norm, how can an arena-level rock group plot a comeback in complete silence? Wentz spoke to Billboard about Fall Out Boy's much-needed break, the secret reunion and why he'd want to tour with Kid Cudi.
Billboard: Eight days before the release of "Save Rock and Roll," the album was posted in its entirety on the band's website. Why?
Wentz: In reality, about 10 days out, you're going to get a leak anyway – it's really hard to do a worldwide release within two weeks. To me, though, this whole rollout's been about thinking what the antithesis of what the industry standard would be. When we were like, "Let's put everything at once," we got the momentum going, and it's hard to catch back up.
I think that the first part of the art is making the art, but when art really becomes art is when it belongs to somebody else. Those songs don't belong to us anymore. they belong to the people that listen to them.
When you were promoting Fall Out Boy's last album, "Folie a Deux," in 2009, no one in the group looked happy to be onstage together. How were you guys feeling during that last album cycle?
I think we were all burned out. We had been doing seven or eight years straight of promo, record, tour, and not ever taking a break. Communication had broken down. It's at the point, like, when you're playing sports where the mechanics start to go, the basic shit. We weren't talking to each other, we were talking through managers, not speaking up to each other. I mean, I was 21 or 22 when this band started. Patrick and Joe were out of high school -- they never really had been adults without Fall Out Boy. At the time, I think it was really hard. I definitely had a hard time with it when it happened, and I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person, so it felt like it was done to me. I don't know, I guess it was the right time [to take a break].
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When you and the other guys were working on non-Fall Out Boy projects in the interim, were the "Reunite Fall Out Boy!" cries distracting?
It was so strange. It's so weird when you're part of this thing that is successful or that people care about, because you've had all this time to grow when no one was watching. If anyone saw Fall Out Boy's first 400 shows, we were the worst band of all time. It takes you a while to figure out whatever it is, and you don't have that chance afterwards [with another project].
I can't speak for the other guys, but… for me, I didn't want to anything that was cathartic -- I wanted to do something that was escapist. It was more oriented, especially where it ended up, in dance and escaping. When we played EDM shows, it was a lot of fun, and "Pete Wentz" doesn't have a name in EDM at all, so it was cool and different. I think at the same time, my personal life got super fucking toxic, so it was hard – I feel like I spent six months in a weird internal fog. And I appreciate it now, because I had to hold myself accountable as a real human being, rather than as a guy in a band that's just traveling around. I had to process as an adult, and that's not easy to do when you're like Mr. Peter Pan. I feel like I spent a lot more time doing that then working on music.
Did the four of you stay in touch during the break? Did you pay attention to what the other guys were doing musically?
At what point did that turn into considering a reunion?
Me and Patrick, we always write together. I called him up to write and we wrote three or four songs, and it's like, these aren't Fall Out Boy songs. I don't know what they are -- it just wasn't right and didn't feel right. Then Patrick hit me up to write, and I was definitely always open to it, but the songs were really cool and seemed compelling and different and they did feel like Fall Out Boy songs, so we sent them to everybody. And we decided we were going to go and have a meeting, and this was probably a year and a half ahead of us making the announcement. We went to New York and had an all-day meeting, where we laid out what the ideas were and the way things would have to work and the mechanics. Some of it was real simple as far as getting into the studio and working together, but keeping [tour] dates around the world quiet… at some point, Fall Out Boy is a little bit of a big machine, and it takes a little bit to get it going. And to get it going and not have anyone talk about it is pretty crazy.
So why all the secrecy? Not only did you not announce that Fall Out Boy was back together, but you all actively denied the reunion rumors.
Part of it is you want to do it on your own terms. Elvis didn't have anyone come to his house and watch him practice his dance moves in his pajamas – there's obviously a reason for that, because it's part of the art. But on top of that, it wasn't "real" until certain moments. I felt comfortable denying it until the night before we were going to do the reveal. I got asked on a red carpet and I said, "Don't hold your breath." I didn't feel comfortable. I remember when we played the Chicago show, and it was tense in the crowd because people still thought it wasn't real.
I think we created this culture that follows Fall Out Boy closely -- we taught these kids to really scrutinize everything, and "it's a clue to unlock this." It's almost the way you create a super fanatical fan base. We wanted to oppose all those ideas we created. We wanted to do it all at once, so you didn't have to find anything. I mean, there was the giant secret, but once it was out, it was out. I feel like at any point, any of this stuff could have gone sideways. I went out to dinner with 2 Chainz to talk about the video and play him the song, and he Instagrammed a picture saying, "Fall Out Boy featuring 2 Chainz". I was like, "Fuck. That's it." And kids were like, "Nope, too crazy." They denied it themselves. It boggles my mind! In some ways, I can't imagine trying to make an album after making the announcement. The pressure is crazy to me.
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The alternative scene has shifted so much since Fall Out Boy was last together – Mumford & Sons hadn't put out their first album when you went on hiatus, and pop-punk is not nearly as visible. Is that something that's on your mind at all?
Definitely. I drive to pre-school every day, so I listen to either Sirius or the radio. The minute you get a little out-of-touch, you get super out-of-touch and there's obviously stuff that appeals to me and stuff that doesn't. … You don't want to put out Clear Pepsi -- there's a danger in ignoring the temperature of the water. But at the same time, we're not like a fast food restaurant -- I don't want to just make stuff to order. And I think that that's short-selling your band. I think that when you do that, you might have a big moment or a big year, but I just think in the legacy of bands, people don't necessarily remember that. In a way, Gotye and Fun. and the Lumineers and Of Monsters & Men, it seems like real, interesting, authentic music, while being popular and relating to pop culture. And EDM is such an interesting thing -- I love it, and think that it works so differently than my brain works. It's weird though, where before there were all these other bands that were contemporaries of ours, it [now] feels a little lonely out there. Fun. is a little bit from a similar universe, and obviously Green Day was ahead of us and blink-182 was ahead of us, and Paramore is doing their thing. It's nice to still see bands that are out there playing music that we feel like contemporaries of.
Speaking of which, do you know who will be opening for you on your arena tour this fall?
No. It's real hard for us -- one of the hardest things was figuring out where our lane was. I think before it was easy, because it was like, "Oh yeah, all of our friends that we grew up with, let's just go on tour together." And now it's like… I would love to go on tour with Kid Cudi. Maybe it wouldn't have made sense years ago, but I don't know. I don't know if Fall Out Boy and Major Lazer make any sense, but they just seem real fun. But no, we haven't figured it out yet.
Is "Save Rock and Roll" the precursor to more albums?
I think so, yeah. Here's the truth: how do we have it be as big and awesome as it was, and not have it go as bad as it did in the end? How do you do both? It's like, if you can hang out with Batman, who wants to hang out with Bruce Wayne? He's probably not that great of a guy! In order to be in the band that does what Fall Out Boy did last time, how do you not become "those guys" to each other? For me, hopefully I have this humanizing element of having a kid. It's definitely on my mind. But if anything, it's like who gets a chance to do it all over again a second time? I feel just lucky and blessed and happy about that.