Fall Out Boy: “We’ve embraced the two eras of Fall Out Boy”

Fall Out Boy are back! And they’re sounding brilliant.

For the past decade, Fall Out Boy have been one of the few groups repping guitar music on the radio and at the top of festival bills. The band may have had their tongue firmly pressed against their cheek when they called their 2013 comeback record ‘Save Rock And Roll’, but it proved somewhat prophetic.

Speaking the afternoon after their intimate show at London’s Heaven, bassist Pete Wentz explains how there was a “fuck it” attitude to their post-hiatus material. “People were saying we couldn’t do music like that anymore. So, we just wanted to make anthems. We were trying to make [rock music] undeniable.”

And it’s hard to argue with tracks like ‘The Phoenix’, ‘Centuries’ or ‘Champion’. “We did it, and we clawed our way through, and we figured it out. But we got pretty frustrated doing it,” says Pete. By the time it got to ‘MANIA’ as a whole, Fall Out Boy “weren’t comfortable”. 

“We were in a place where we were just really frustrated [with the scene],” says Pete before comparing it to 2008’s ‘Folie à Deux’. “They’re both very artistic albums. They’re both fraught. They both come from a frustrated place. The music is all Patrick, so I can say this; there are brilliant ideas on both those records, but then there are unfinished parts as well. I can see why both of those would be somebody’s favourite record.”

New album ‘So Much (For) Stardust’ feels different, though. Yes, ‘Love From The Other Side’ and ‘Hold Me Like A Grudge’ bang and throughout the album, there are moments of daring brilliance. But there’s also an intricacy that feels distinctly like pre-hiatus Fall Out Boy.

“We’ve solved the contradictions of the two eras,” grins drummer Andy Hurley. “Now, new contradictions will arise.”

Pete goes on to describe their breakout run of albums (‘From Under The Cork Tree’, ‘Infinity On High’ and ‘Folie à Deux’) as one trilogy, while ‘Save Rock And Roll’, ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’ and ‘MANIA’ is their second trilogy.

“That’s terrifying because you’re saying that, and I’m thinking, ‘oh shit, are we starting The Sequel Trilogy with ‘Stardust’,” jokes Patrick Stump, beating Pete to a Star Wars reference. “I hope we stick the landing better.”

“I remember when Patrick first played the demo for ‘Love From The Other Side’, and it felt new and old at the same time,” continues Pete. “It was something we would have wanted to do [back then], but we wouldn’t have really known how to do it.” Not only did Pete instantly know that the track needed to be the lead single for their eighth album, but it was the moment he bought into Patrick’s “back to basics” vision. “I knew we could build a statement around that song.”

He believes the frustration of ‘MANIA’ is one of the reasons it’s taken Fall Out Boy five years to release an album, with the other being the pandemic. “The album really benefited from us taking our time, though,” says Pete. “The tools we use on the record were sharper because of it.”

“’Stardust’ wasn’t frustrated,” he continues. “This record feels way more balanced. When we were in the studio together, ideas were bouncing back and forth. Everything was flowing. And then [returning producer Neal Avron] was there, making sure everyone got their perspective across.”

“There doesn’t need to be as much sauce to cover things up if you just start with better ingredients”

Pete Wentz

Previously, Patrick has described ‘So Much (For) Stardust’ as ‘what if Fall Out Boy made a record after ‘Folie’, instead of going on a five-year hiatus’. The result is a spiritual successor to that controversial record, if not a sonic one. “Last time we worked with Neal, Pete and I were not getting on very well, to be entirely honest,” says Patrick.

“I feel like every record has been more and bigger until we got to ‘MANIA’, which was everything, all at once. With ‘Stardust’, there’s a lot of purposeful space,” adds Pete. “Working with Neal reminded us that there doesn’t need to be as much sauce to cover things up if you just start with better ingredients. There’s actually less on this album, but it feels bigger.”

“I don’t want this to sound to boomer-y,” begins Patrick, of his vision for ‘So Much (For) Stardust’.

“Great start,” laughs Pete.

“But these damn kids and these damn phones,” jokes Patrick, as Pete checks his. “But seriously, there is a kind of distance to the human experience these days. During the pandemic, there was this forced way of communicating, and I wanted to make a record that was tangible. I wanted to make a record that was touched and was made by hand. The instruments were very much played, and Neal was very serious about getting takes. If I tried to be lazy by suggesting we just tune a line or something, he’d insist we do it properly. I wanted that kind of record, though. It feels like a palate cleanser from this period of impersonal distance.”

As a side effect of wanting to prove that guitar music could still be part of that mainstream conversation, Fall Out Boy’s post-hiatus records have been driven by an ambition to be heard by as many people as possible. With ‘Stardust’ though, “it was more about, let’s craft something that we love, that we think our fans will love. I don’t think this is designed for the wider world,” admits Pete. “We live in a time where going deep with people that care feels so much more important than going wide.”

It’s perhaps why at their recent headline shows, Fall Out Boy have resurrected ‘Folie’ deep cuts like ‘Disloyal Order Of Water Buffaloes’ and ‘Headfirst Slide Into Cooperstown On A Bad Bet’.

“People always say that ‘Folie’ is their favourite record. Okay, let’s prove that. Plus, songs like ‘Headfirst Slide’ and a couple of others we’ve talked about always went off. I feel like we’re gonna work some more of it in at future shows.”

Pete goes on to talk about how people always return to the music that they first discovered for themselves, that made them feel something. “I feel like with ‘Stardust’, we made an album for those fans that have come on the journey with us.” Instead of still acting like teenagers, though, “it’s like, let’s talk about all the stuff we’re going through now.”

“I love the way you explained ‘Stardust’ – half nihilism, half undeniable optimism. I totally feel that really speaks to the times,” adds Andy.

Pete thinks that undeniable optimism comes from making music alongside “hanging out with your friends and doing things that put joy into the world. It’s usually simple shit, but that goes a long way because we live in a world that isn’t supportive of that at all.”

“But I also think it’s okay to live in the nihilism and feel hopeless,” adds Andy. “It’s okay to feel like this world’s fucked, and it’s not going to get better, but you’ve still got to get up and do stuff. You’ve still got to live. You’ve still got to try.”

We’re talking a week before ‘So Much (For) Stardust’ is released. Despite a string of album listening parties and the positive response to the singles, Patrick is nervous, while Andy is just excited. “I think people are going to love it,” he says.

Pete feels really good “right now”, but Patrick is already braced for the string of wild texts he gets from him the night before every album release, asking him if it’s possible for it to not come out. “I always have a massive anxiety attack,” says Pete. “The finality of it is always a lot. It feels like we’re on the precipice of something, I guess.”

‘So Much (For) Stardust’ might be the start of a new trilogy for Fall Out Boy, but the band aren’t planning ahead. Or as Pete puts it, “I don’t know where we are in any of the whatever.”

It does feel like the start of something new, though. “This record is the first time, accidentally or on purpose, where we’ve embraced the two eras of Fall Out Boy and tried to mesh them together,” says Pete.

Neal being involved was super helpful with that marriage of past and paster, but also the way people think about genre has shifted since 2018. “We live in a world that’s gatekeeper-less now. You’re just more free as an artist, which I know definitely helps Patrick. I mean, listen to ‘What A Time To Be Alive’; that song is full-on Patrick Stump. You couldn’t do that during the other two eras because it felt like there were all these things you could and couldn’t do, even if we bent those rules as much as we did.” 

“I’ve always had some confusion and concern about where I fit into things,” admits Patrick. “When we started, I was kind of a jazz kid, but I wasn’t. I was a film score kid, but I wasn’t. I was a hardcore kid, but not really.”

“What did we call them, armchair hardcore kids,” asks Pete.

“I was a mail-order kid. I would buy hardcore records through a catalogue, but I wouldn’t go to shows because I was terrified. I felt like I was always swimming in the middle of lots of different things.”

“It’s okay to feel like this world’s fucked, and it’s not going to get better, but you’ve still got to get up and do stuff”

Andy Hurley

When it came to writing those early Fall Out Boy songs, Patrick would “do impersonations of other pop-punk bands”, but in the margins, there’d be ideas he was too afraid to try out until Pete encouraged him. “The falsetto in ‘Saturday’ was a complete accident,” he admits. “It sorta just happened, and Pete wanted me to do it again, but I was scared because pop-punk bands weren’t supposed to do that. There’s been a lot of that throughout our career,” he admits. The fact those ‘rules’ don’t exist for Fall Out Boy anymore “is the only reason I can be in a band,” admits Patrick. “I don’t know what band I would be in if I weren’t in this band, though. I don’t know what band would let me do what we do.”

‘So Much (For) Stardust’ will undoubtedly be part of the conversation about the emo revival that’s taken hold over the past few years, but as promised, it isn’t a throwback album. “I think the resurgence is great,” says Pete. “All ships rise with the tide, and everyone benefits. Plus, my son’s friends have started listening to guitar bands and now want to play guitar, which is really fucking cool.”

He wants this era of Fall Out Boy to be what Green Day was to that 00s scene. “Instead of releasing ‘American Idiot’, they could have done another record that sounded like ‘Dookie’, and that would have been fine, but instead, they did this thing that was adjacent to us, Paramore, My Chem. It felt like something only they could do. It stepped out from everything else. That’s the aspiration for ‘Stardust’.”

“It’s that thing where, if you don’t push yourself, you aren’t being yourself. If you stay the same, you’re not being honest,” he adds.

‘So Much (For) Stardust’ isn’t just a reaction to the more creatively free world Fall Out Boy now inhabits. “There is just a general sense of dread at the moment, isn’t there?” asks Pete. “One day, I will not exist. I will be dust, and everybody I know will be dust. It’s enough to make you not want to do anything, but when I really think about that, I know you have to actually do everything.” He’s not talking about spending your days doing death-defying stunts, “but you need to do the things that break you out of those nihilistic feelings.”

Taking his own advice, at the very start of lockdown, Pete spoke about creating a record inspired by cult film Reality Bites and the speech Ethan Hawkes’ character gives after finding out his dad had cancer. The crux of it is that maybe life is pointless, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy moments of happiness. “I wrote a record with Ryland Blackinton from Cobra Starship that was like, spoken word poetry over the sort of music you hear on the Headspace app but we never did anything with it,” says Pete, chalking it up to a pandemic hobby. The influence on ‘Reality Bites’ can be felt across ‘So Much (For) Stardust’ with the band even sampling the film on ‘The Pink Seashell’ interlude.

However, getting older hasn’t helped with that feeling of dread. When Pete was a kid, he thought his parents had it all figured out. He distinctly remembers the feeling of hopelessness that came from the news reports about the AIDS crisis, and how his parents talked him through it. “Now I have to talk people through stuff, and I just feel like my parents probably didn’t have it as figured out as I thought they did. I definitely don’t have it figured out.”

“There’s a loneliness to the fact there’s not somebody who can figure everything out for you. There’s a sadness to knowing there’s nobody to wrap a blanket around you and tell you that everything is going to be okay.” It’s made worse by the fact that “for the past couple of years, it feels like the world is bubbling and on edge. It feels like it could all go sideways at any time.”

That’s paralysing,” continues Pete. “But it’s reminded me that you should go out and try new things because life is short. I hope this record can be someone’s companion on that journey.” ■

Taken from the May 2023 edition of Upset. Fall Out Boy’s album ‘So Much (For) Stardust’ is out now.