Neon colors bounce off the lenses of Fall Out Boy singer-guitarist Patrick Stump’s glasses as he describes the insight that just came to him at this Dave & Buster’s in New York’s Times Square: “The record’s out, and all of a sudden there’s chaos, flashing lights... This is a great [illustration] of what it’s like this week.” Last April, the band’s EDM-tinged “Young and Menace” -- the lead single off its seventh studio album, Mania, released Jan. 19 -- misfired commercially, and the group decided to rewrite much of the LP. “We were rushing it, plain and simple,” says Stump. The night before the album dropped, Fall Out Boy blew off eight months of steam by scarfing down bowling-alley pizza, battling life-size Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots and attempting to blow up the Death Star.
GEEKED OUT ON GAMES
“We know we’re not cool,” admits Stump with a chuckle, reflecting on the Chicago quartet’s decade-long streak of crossover hits in between games of Mario Kart and Skee-Ball at Dave & Buster’s. “I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve lasted so long.”
Bassist Pete Wentz says that he’s Fall Out Boy’s most athletic member "outside of CrossFit, which is [drummer] Andy [Hurley's specialty]." For Stump, it’s a bit more challenging. "I did horrible at Skee-Ball. I did land a 100 on one, so that’s something."
SUGAR, PETE’S GOIN' DOWN
Wentz was all smiles while hyping the band’s freshly announced 2018 world tour, including a hometown gig at Wrigley Field in Chicago. "We’ve never played a stadium on our own before," he says while lying back in a pile of plush prizes. "We'll run the bases for sure."
LIFE IN THE FAST (BOWLING) LANE
"We can be something for a kid that feels like an outsider," says Hurley, a straight-edge vegan, while cueing up at Bowlmor Lanes. “We’re not an outspoken political band, but we try to have a message of being weirdos and that being OK.”
FINDING THAT TEAM SPIRIT
Since returning from hiatus in 2013, the group embraced collaborating with outside songwriters for the first time -- Sia co-wrote Mania's "Champion." Explains guitarist Joe Trohman: "It’s like modern pop music is dictating how records are made."
Below are excerpts from Billboard's conversation with Fall Out Boy:
Mania was originally set to arrive Sept. 19, 2017. What made you decide to push it back to Jan. 19? Patrick Stump: We were rushing it, plain and simple. It wasn't how you’re supposed to make a record. [We were] scrambling to finish writing songs in order to make the release date in time. It was like the release date became more important than the songwriting, and that's dumb. That’s not how you make music. That’s not how you make art.
What did the extra months give you? Pete Wentz: It was probably the best decision we made… Maybe three days after we delayed it, that’s when we wrote “The Last of the Real Ones.” I think that was a turning point for the album. When we wrote “Young and Menace,” it was like, where do we go from here? I don’t think we found a solid place until we wrote “Real Ones.”
What was the sound of the original version of the album? PW: The best way to describe it is... we have casual fans who are like, "I just know the one song," and we also have the more hardcore fans who go deep on the albums. There were songs that were not compelling enough to be playlist songs or singles and there wasn't the depth or quality [for them] to be these album songs. It was just meandering bullshit, kind of. It was just fine, it was okay.
Meandering bullshit! That’s a pretty harsh criticism of your own music. PW: I think that’s what it was! We haven’t really done any anniversary tours. If you don’t wanna do that, you can’t put out stuff you think is just okay.
Was the original more electronic, like “Young and Menace”? PW: Maybe… I think “Young and Menace” was sonically shocking and I don’t think there was anything as shocking, but there was like, more of that style of stuff.
Andy, from your standpoint as a drummer, what was this album like? Especially starting with “Young and Menace” -- was that a big shift for you? Andy Hurley: Surprisingly, “Young and Menace” has a lot of live drums on it, pitch-shifted up and made to sound really weird. I’d say “Young and Menace” has the most drums in the modern era of Fall Out Boy, a lot more filling than any other song. And then “Heaven’s Gate” is pretty much all live drums. “Church” has a lot of drums… I think this record has more real instruments than the last two; it just doesn't sound like it.
What's your favorite track? AH: “Heaven’s Gate” -- it lets Patrick unleash the beast of what he’s good at… which is singing.
Pete, you mentioned not wanting to do anniversary tours, unlike a lot of bands you came up with. How come? PW: For me, we didn't get into it, to be like, "I’m gonna play this record in its entirety." Those are like snapshots to me. There aren't too many records I wanna see a band play all the way through 10 years later, especially if they play the songs I like off the records anyway... I know these bands that do it and it’s totally fine, it’s not condescension... It’s just not our thing.
What’s it like being a rock band that’s still connecting with the pop kids and Top 40? There aren’t too many that are still landing there. Joe Trohman: All of our records through [2008’s] Folie à Deux, we did with one producer and we wrote the songs ourselves. We came back, started doing some co-writes, working with different producers, mixing it up a little more in that regard, more like the way modern pop music dictates the way records be made. I think that was good for the band. Some people disagree, but I think if we’d stayed stagnant, I’m not sure anyone would have really given a damn. That being said, I think this record has comparatively less than that, compared to the previous two.
PS: I feel like we’re put in a position a lot where we have to defend pop music all the time. Because the assumption is if you have guitarists, that you hate pop music. And I think it’s silly. Rock music is pop music; it’s just another part of it. So like it’s weird having to be like, “No, it’s all art.” And reminding people the Beatles used to be just like a boy band -- there’s no such thing as permanently cool. I think that's the other thing: We know we’re not cool. I think one of the reasons we’ve lasted so long is 'cause… look at me, I know I’m not cool! I think that probably helps.
Do you think coming to that realization is a good thing for long-term? PS: Oh, it’s a very important thing in human life to be like, "Oh, I’m not cool, I will never be cool." I would say it’s being a dad, but it’s not even that.
What about your high school experience... what were the "cool kids" like? PS: The weird thing about my school was that we didn't really have a defined cool kid group. We had a bunch of little different groups of people. I was in this bunch of people that hung out under the trophy cases: punk rockers, artists and eccentrics. I spent so much of my time focusing on bands and music outside of school that if I were to go to a high school reunion, I’m not sure I’d remember very many people. I mean, Fall Out Boy started my junior year of high school. And right before that I was doing other bands so, you know… I didn't really pay much attention in school.
It’s fun talking about high school. It’s good to look back. PS: I didn't pay attention in high school. It’s weird, because I remember more of my teachers than I do the other kids. The English department at my high school was just incredible. All of those teachers, I learned so much from. And then the music department in my school. I wasn't in orchestra, but the orchestra director and the choir director would let me sneak in during my lunch hour and play the upright basses or play piano, and that was where I learned a lot of what I do now. Editing Pete’s lyrics, that’s kinda my gig, you know? Most of what I learned about lyricism I know from English class, and most of what I know about instruments, I know from skipping lunch.
On Mania, what was it like adapting Pete’s lyrics to your music? PS: It’s really very comfortable at this point. We know generally what we’re gonna fight over and what’s gonna land comfortably -- you know, what lyrics I can change, what lyrics I can’t. It’s kinda unspoken at this point. It’s almost like twin speak. The hardest thing, if anything, is when he writes something genius and doesn't like it. That happens all the time. Where you’re like, "That’s the best lyric!" and he’s like, "I don’t know about this one line. I don’t know." You have to kind of defend it to him: "What are you talking about, man? That’s a great lyric!"
What’s your favorite lyric of his on the new record? PS: "Tell me I’m the only one, even if it’s not true," [from "The Last of the Real Ones"]. I like that one a lot.