Fall Out Boy: “When we get onstage, we as a band are still earning it. That’s exciting!”

As Fall Out Boy prepare for their headlining turn at Download Festival, Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz lift the lid on their past year of mega-shows, why they’ve always managed to avoid falling into a nostalgia trap, and how after Donington they’ll be embracing “the challenge of figuring out what the next thing is…”

Fall Out Boy: “When we get onstage, we as a band are still earning it. That’s exciting!”
Emily Carter
Elliott Ingham

Patrick Stump says there was a “two-to-five-minute moment” on Fall Out Boy’s recent So Much For (2our) Dust that stood out more than most. In fact, he gushes, it was completely “magical”.

It wasn’t while the band were performing at one of many sold-out arenas or stadiums across North America. Nor was it how they meticulously brought to life last March’s phenomenal So Much (For) Stardust album onstage. It was actually, to be totally frank, a somewhat mundane occurrence.

“This is silly, but it’s real,” he begins with a smile, setting the scene for us at Milwaukee’s Fiserve Forum in early April. The singer/guitarist and his bandmates – bassist Pete Wentz, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley – were at soundcheck, casually fine-tuning a song before showtime. It all sounds pretty straightforward, really. But for a group who often didn’t practise together for many years (“We were uncomfortable talking to each other as a band, right? And part of rehearsal is being like, ‘Oh, hey, this is a B-flat here…’”) there was reason to pause and quietly soak it all in.

“Pete and I were trying to figure out who voiced a certain note and a chord between he and I – we couldn’t remember,” Patrick describes. “There was this movement of me saying to the crew, ‘Can somebody play this back in our ears?’ Meanwhile, Joe and his tech are working out a specific lead part, because I played it on the record, but now Joe is playing it live. And I’m like, ‘Wait, should I play this part if you’re playing that part?’ So then my tech’s running around. And the thing that was so amazing to me was it was like ballet: all of a sudden, everybody knew what they were doing. It was this one little moment, of just band and crew communicating…”

Patrick recounts this inconspicuous happening in the same way his golden voice has been lighting up Pete’s lyrics for the past two decades in Fall Out Boy. That is: the joy and emotion with which he tells it gives it extra significance.

He continues, still making sense of why this routine act was such a high point within so many hundreds of hours on tour.

“It was like all of a sudden going from some scrappy punk rock band to being a symphony – everybody knew what they were doing,” Patrick grins. “And it blew me away: the fact that we’re that band now!”

For Pete, these 12 months of live music have also provided some similarly neat realisations about Fall Out Boy. And he’s just as blown away as his bandmate – even if his favourite memories from this chapter of the FOB story aren’t quite as wonderfully specific.

“Personally, I was really, really nervous about the tour – honestly, because it was all going so smooth and everybody seemed to be a part of it!” he admits. “Sometimes it’s easier, to me, when there’s a little polarisation. When it goes so smoothly, it terrifies me! I was like, ‘Do people like it? Are they gonna not like it tomorrow? What will the next thing be?’ That was a little scary for me.

“But there were moments where the thing genuinely felt bigger than just being in the room,” he adds, proudly. “And that’s what it felt like in 2005 [during FOB’s first breakthrough]. Feeling both of those feelings, and thinking back, and trying to remember what it was like and being different, and having lived all this life… it’s been a very cool feeling.”

And it’s getting bigger still. Kerrang! finds Pete and Patrick taking stock today in a rare window between massive gigs; tour may be over, but a first-time headline set at Download Festival awaits.

Despite some very brief downtime, though, it doesn’t go unnoticed that both are still happily working hard and taking care of behind-the-scenes business. And as well as enjoying Fall Out Boy’s current purple patch, Pete reveals that touring So Much (For) Stardust has benefitted them in other ways beyond general career stuff – something that’s evident as he and Patrick effortlessly bounce off each other in conversation, constantly laughing and even feeling comfortable enough to occasionally speak on the other’s behalf.

“I think doing the live show in the way that we have,” the bassist grins at one point in our interview, “has just kind of strengthened us as a band and our friendships, honestly.”

Which is a great thing. Because Fall Out Boy are as beloved as they’ve ever been, and very soon they’ll be crossing the pond to stand in the same spot as some of their heroes. To quote one of the band’s recent songs: what a time to be alive.

Pete still remembers sticking on his old video tape cassettes at home in Chicago and giddily watching footage of Metallica performing thousands of miles away at Donington Park. It’s something that’s so very clearly stuck with him his whole life: sitting there as a kid seeing James Hetfield and co. play one of the most famous stages in rock. And as Fall Out Boy dig out their passports and plane tickets for East Midlands Airport, he considers the metal legends’ unbelievable achievements over the years, and if it’s something that his band could see themselves emulating in their own way one day.

“I think less about their age and, ‘Would you do this when you’re 60?’ and more about when you think about Metallica, it’s like Metallica is the descriptor,” Pete explains of his appreciation for The Four Horsemen. “It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, they sound like Metallica,’ or, ‘Their merch looks like Metallica.’ As a musical artist, I think that’s one of the highest compliments, right? You just are your own descriptor, and that’s one of the ultimate goals.”

Though they’ve only been going half as long, Fall Out Boy are nevertheless on the right path: eight albums and two decades in, and crucially still welcoming new fans while never taking for granted those who have been with them since 2003 debut Take This To Your Grave.

Then there’s their influence on so many other bands – particularly on the Download line-up. From Busted to the likes of NOAHFINNCE and The Hunna, they’ve made a seismic impact on those also playing various strands of rock, emo and pop-punk today.

So… does all this officially make Fall Out Boy elder statesmen now?

“It’s a matter of your perspective,” Pete replies with a big laugh – and an even bigger name-drop. “I play tennis with Dave Grohl, and I’m always looking to him as the elder statesman. But he’ll talk to me about Paul McCartney. I think it’s just a matter of what your perspective is.

“One of the beauties of our band forming in the suburbs of Chicago, and never being one of those bands who were listed on the ‘bands to watch!’ things, we honestly benefitted from that. It allowed us to be who we were, and kind of do weird things, musically. And so people could be like, ‘Well, why is this band playing Download?’ But we’ve always operated from that perspective, and it’s been helpful for our art.”

“There is the elder statesmen thing,” agrees Patrick, “but I think there’s still this neat inability to be settled. I don’t really have anything to prove, but I think on some level when we get onstage, we as a band are still earning it, if that makes sense. And I feel like that’s rad! That’s exciting to me.

“One of the new things that’s really funny is I’ve been bumping into a lot of people who haven’t listened to us in probably, like, 15 years. There’s this whole world of an audience that we’ve been building over that time, but then there’s this other audience that is kinda coming back to us, and they’re like, ‘Wait, this is what you’ve been doing in that time? I had this narrative that you guys were making cheeseball pop!’

“This tour was so interesting for me,” he adds, “and maybe this is the ‘elder statesmen’ thing, but I really figured out that we have those different eras. But whatever it is, I feel like we’re maybe the youngest elder statesmen (laughs).”

About those different eras. Throughout the year, Fall Out Boy have been celebrating their sensationally varied discography with a genius ‘Magic 8-Ball’ segment in every setlist, in which they’ve been dusting off welcome deep-cuts that fans have never heard before – or, indeed, the band have never even performed live. What started off as a bit of a “goofy idea” to surprise the audience with something different every night, admits Pete, has become one of the highlights of their current show. And they’re modest enough to admit that they didn’t really see that coming.

“People were making signs and making costumes, and Patrick would come in with songs to play that kind of blew my mind, you know?” Pete enthuses. “Every once in a while it’s like you’re all surfing the thing at the same time, and that’s what the best times of the 8-Ball felt like. Even when people didn’t get the song they wanted, everybody just felt like we were part of this thing, you know?”

Were you paying attention to the phenomenon of it online, or trying to gauge what rarities fans wanted to hear?

“I personally looked at it in this very pure way, that it is what it is,” Pete explains. “There’s no research into where things might work better somewhere, and some of that was the madness of it: when we did the one in Minneapolis or the one in Madison Square Garden, I was like, ‘I just literally can’t remember all of these’ (laughs) – my brain needed a little bit of a hard restart.

“But it was cool, and in some ways it was a throwback to earlier Fall Out Boy where we had to play certain songs because we didn’t have enough other songs to play! You just played it because you’re like, ‘Well, this isn’t my favourite song on the record, but we only have six songs…’ And I think it was great for the dynamic within the band, as well as the dynamic between the crowd and the band.”

Pete pauses briefly, jokingly realising he’s perhaps lifted the curtain a little too much.

“Could you print this like, ‘They’re not sure if the 8-Ball worked – they’re wrapped in mystery as well!’”

Of equal triumph to Patrick is just how well the material from So Much (For) Stardust has gone down. Mentioning the likes of the title-track, What A Time To Be Alive and I Am My Own Muse, the frontman believes these songs have “taken on a different life” since the release of the record.

“There’s so much to it where I just didn’t expect so many moments,” he says. “I think it’s really easy these days to look at your Spotify plays, and assume that it represents your audience. And it’s really not math, you know? It really is this kind of living thing. And it’s weird: I think it was one of the first times that we ever became one of those bands where I’m like, ‘Ooooh, I want to listen to this live show!’ For a long time, I was always striving to get us to the point where I wanted us to sound as good as the record, and there were a few times on this tour for sure where I think we beat the record! It’s just come into its own, in a way, and especially those songs.”

The album’s strong, forward-thinking sentiment has been faithfully honoured live, too. While Patrick acknowledges that there’s an element of Magic 8-Ball that does inherently partake in nostalgia – something both he and Pete are generally completely allergic to – these shows have been in keeping with their never-look-back ethos.

“It’s so strange because, yes, these are old songs, but some of them we had literally never played,” the singer points out. “There’s a song, Pavlove, that we played, and it was one of these ones where a demo had leaked out somewhere, but we’d never played it – that was me demoing it. So even though it was this old song, the first time the band had ever played it was onstage in front of an audience. So much of it is this new thing, and I think that’s something that we always have to do, for us.

“Nostalgia is nice, and I don’t want to speak for everybody, but I can’t do it,” he adds. “I can’t just live like, ‘Oh, hey, remember that?’ If we ever get to the point where it’s – for lack of a better word – the ‘Greatest Hits Tour’, that just isn’t that appealing to me. And I feel like in that regard, the album and the tour, they always have to say something new, and always have to be doing something new.”

Everything about So Much (For) Stardust has emphatically held up that end of the bargain. It’s an album they whole-heartedly love and believe in, for one, but it’s also proof that you can be elder statesmen – sorry, Patrick, the youngest elder statesmen – and continue to push your own boundaries.

“I do feel like, especially when you’re doing it this long, there’s a feeling that I think some artists get into where it’s like, ‘Why even bother with a new record when people just want to hear the old stuff?’” Patrick says. “Artistically that sounds like a death sentence. I really wanted to make a record that validated its own existence – that’s like, ‘This record exists, and it’s not a promotional tool for a tour.’ It’s an album, and respects itself as its own piece of art. And so then going out and playing these songs in that context… it’s crazy because I was talking to my dad, or somebody in my family, and I’m like, ‘We played, like, half the record every night!’ For a new record, 20 years in, that’s kinda nuts. We’ve played festivals with bands before where they have one big hit, and they open with it and close with it (laughs). It’s rare that you play the new record so deep. So it was really rewarding. And the audience was with it – that was the coolest thing.”

“If someone listens to So Much (For) Stardust and are like, ‘This reminds me of what I loved about Fall Out Boy,’ then I think that’s great,” adds Pete. “But also, that’s not the album we made. But whatever you use it for is great. It’s one of the, dare I say, luxuries of doing this for 20 years, where people have different entry points.”

As a man whose list of pop culture references in conversation are longer than Fall Out Boy’s famously wordy early song titles, Pete picks out a certain British secret agent to summarise the status of their peerless back-catalogue.

“When you’ve been making this same kind of art project for 20 years, there’s a little bit of a feeling that you’re not the new thing,” he says. “But the thing that comes with that is that we had a lot of years where we kept churning and putting out art, and so I think we’ve kind of earned this regard, and time has granted us that we’ve changed on every album. To me, now, Fall Out Boy albums are like, ‘Debate who your favourite James Bond is!’”

So where does this all leave Fall Out Boy today? Following a brief China tour – during which the photos that accompany this feature were taken – they’ve just four confirmed shows left this year, including Download. Does this mean they’re essentially capping off So Much (For) Stardust soon, and Donington might be the last chance for UK fans to catch them during this era?

“I think so,” nods Pete, casually. “And I don’t say that in a ‘we’ll never play the UK again’ way, because I’m sure we will. I do think that of the ones that are on the books, this is probably the last one that’s on the books. But if there’s another show, then hit us up and we’ll come play (laughs). There’s no doom and gloom on it – it’s not like you’ll never see Fall Out Boy again. But yeah, I think this might be the closing of the chapter of that.”

“By the way,” chimes in Patrick, “we always have to be careful about that, because every time we set it down for two seconds, it’s like, ‘Wait, is this a hiatus?’ It’s like, ‘No, no, no!’ It’s just the touring cycle is probably over for this record, after this. And then it’s the challenge of figuring out what the next thing is.”

In the immediate future, that “next thing” is following up sets by BABYMETAL, Enter Shikari and The Offspring on Download’s Apex Stage. And while Pete teases a “different incarnation” of the So Much (For) Stardust show come Saturday night, he still buzzes about things like the philosophy of the Magic-8 Ball, and how Fall Out Boy can connect with their fans in a real way.

“I think that we live in a time of complete inauthenticity, right?” he asks rhetorically. “And we all participate in it to some degree. You see people’s Instagram, and they’re on vacation or whatever and you’ve got all this FOMO, but it’s like, ‘Is it really like that?’ It’s all programmed. Everything is at the behest of the algorithm. And I think that the great thing about live music right now, and what’s so exciting about playing it and going to see it, is that it’s the opposite of that. It’s swimming upstream, and it actually really works and connects with people because it’s the opposite of that. It’s like, ‘Oh, I can play this song that I don’t think any of you guys have heard, but I really want to play it, and it’s meaningful to me and it’s meaningful to us, and the energy exchange in this room right now.’ It connects on a level, because it’s kind of the opposite of the era we’re in.”

To that point, future music will also very likely share those ideals. And while Fall Out Boy have no idea yet what it sounds like, they do know that when it’s time, it’ll unfold naturally and with absolute authenticity.

“You should make art when you feel driven to making art,” Pete concludes. “I think the last thing you should do is when it’s like, ‘We feel like we should.’ Our band in particular does not work well under that. When we’ve done things right, and when it’s been successful artistically, it’s because we’ve followed the process. The times it hasn’t worked is because we’ve kind of tried to jam things before.

“To me,” he grins, “when we feel the next thing, whatever the itch is, then we get to scratching!”

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