To say Fall Out Boy came from humble beginnings might be a stretch, but they did start out in a van, just like every other crappy hardcore band. Fast forward ten or so years and the little mall punks from Wilmette, Illinois are all grown up. They’re still on the road playing shows, but instead of an old piece-of-shit van travelling from all ages community hall show to the next, this particular crappy hardcore band has upgraded to a bus and the music they’re making definitely doesn’t sound like hardcore — this is pure unadulterated pop rock, made for the radio and packed with plenty of unnervingly catchy choruses to keep the girls in the front row singing along.
Last month the band released a record called Save Rock And Roll, marking the end of a three-year hiatus. Did rock and roll really need saving? Would this album really save it if it did? Definitely not. But it’s actually not that bad either.
There may not be any remnants of punk rock or hardcore left in their sound at all but who gives a shit? Fall Out Boy went from basement shows to stadium shows in less than a decade and they’ve got both Elton John and Courtney Love singing on their new record. What have you done lately?
This “evolution” of sound is what might put Fall Out Boy in to the guilty pleasure category for most. Or maybe you don’t like them at all, in which case you’re probably not reading this article. But regardless of what you want to label them as, Fall Out Boy have proven they’ve got some staying power in a day and age where music is so disposable, which is more than a lot of their emo predecessors can claim.
Last month I called up lead singer Patrick Stump while he was in Pittsburgh at 1:30 in the afternoon. We only had 15 minutes to talk but he seemed like a pretty chill dude, considering he had just woken up. Apparently he went to bed at 5 a.m. because those bunks in the fancy tour busses are basically vacuous caves with no windows so you never know what time it is. That’s cool man, I understand.
The first and obvious question you’re going to ask a Fall Out Boy is whether or not he really thinks he’s going to Save Rock and Roll or if they were just playin’. Believe it or not, I don’t think they were joking. Stump tried to equate it to an “Eminem rap battle thing,” giving away your opponent’s best insult before they can get to it. I didn’t really know what to say to that so I just shut up and listened.
“But then at the same time, I think there’s a certain element of honesty to it,” Stump continues. “Rock and roll, on American radio anyway, is in a very strange place. There are some great bands but there is a fairly dominant idea of this post-indie folk thing that is very central to all rock radio or else it’s just older rock. There’s not a lot of newer bands playing music with guitars. Granted we are a pop rock band but it’s kind of funny because rock is distilled so succinctly.”
I don’t really know if he even knew what that meant exactly but he went on to try and compare radio rock to Regan-era politics in the US but I wasn’t getting the connection so I changed the subject and asked him about 2 Chainz and Big Sean, two of my favourite rappers, who were featured on a couple of the new FOB tracks.
“Something I watch a lot of rock bands do is they listen to so many different kinds of music and in a lot of ways they are more influenced by hip-hop, jazz, country or whatever the dirty little secret is. But they’re in a band that is from a particular scene so they have to keep that going and can’t let anyone know that they’d rather be listening to Outkast or whatever it is, but I think that’s really sad man. You’re lying to yourself really,” Stump says. “That’s kind of why we were like ‘Fuck it. Of course we want Big Sean on our record. Of course we want to work with 2 Chainz and Elton John.”
2 Chainz’ verse on “My Songs Know What you Did In The Dark (remix)” and Big Sean’s appearance on “The Mighty Fall” are proof as to why pop, rock and rap are three genres that should probably not exist in the same breath. Don’t get me started on Elton John. Still, Save Rock And Roll does have many saving graces with Stump’s signature croon over some very catchy hooks that are extra heavy on the production this time around.
At SXSW this year Fall Out Boy was playing across the street from the BeatRoute showcase on Friday night at this relatively small club called Vice. Of course I had to go so I snuck away and ended up greasing the bouncer (something I’ve always wanted to do!) to skip the line. Managed to weasel my way right up to the front once I was in and I got there just in time to hear lady-killer Pete Wentz giving a speech about how they were gone but now they’re back and they didn’t want their fans to think they’d forgotten where they came from. I honestly think that’s an admirable stance for any band blessed with longevity to take so I asked Stump to expand on this and his response is the reason why I still love Fall Out Boy (other than for their catchy pop hits, obviously).
“A lot of bands go away and come back and you basically pick up where you left off. But that’s not really what happens. Where we left off is we were on the radio and we were playing arenas, a quote unquote big band. But the thing is we started in basements and community centres and things like that. For us to assume that we’re going straight back in to playing arenas, not only is presumptuous of our audience but it’s also kind of disingenuous,” Stump says. “I’ve seen some videos of old Clash shows or even Bruce Springsteen shows in arenas and you really can bring a basement to an arena. You can be punk rock in an arena. You just have to know what it was in the basement first.”
Fall Out Boy play at the Commodore Ballroom on June 20.
By Glenn AldersonBC, British Columbia