Band reunions may be commonplace in rock these days but few have achieved greater success second time around than Fall Out Boy.
Godfathers of the American punk pop scene who racked up more than five million sales with their first three albums, they appeared to have crashed and burned with their fourth record, Folie a Deux, when fans booed its songs when they played them live.
An inevitable hiatus followed but after four years spent “decompressing” – as bass player, lyricist and one time tabloid regular Pete Wentz put it – they came back in 2013 with a US Number One album, Save Rock and Roll, and followed it last year with another, American Beauty/American Psycho. Both also reached Number Two in the UK.
“It’s interesting because it was pretty unexpected or semi unexpected,” says 37-year-old Wentz, reflecting on the about-turn in Fall Out Boy’s fortunes. “You think that there’s going to be a co-reaction but for the songs to be on the radio again is pretty humbling.
“Also,” he adds, “when we did it the first time we just went from zero to 100 miles an hour and it’s hard for guys from a punk band; I think that we’re very fortunate for it to happen a second time because I think you can have a little more perspective.”
The shift towards a more contemporary sound, complete with programming and samples, on American Beauty/American Psycho was, Wentz admits, recognition that the mainstream musical terrain had changed.
“It actually started for me with Save Rock and Roll,” he says. “I think it would have been naive for us to have come back and not acknowledge that there was a sonic shift and I think it’s even bigger than just in mainstream music. How people record music is different, you can just do it on your laptop now. When we stopped recording the first time [in 2009] that’s not what it was – you needed a giant studio and all of these engineers and whatnot. The playing field kind of got levelled in the way that a kid in his house is able to record music in the same way a guy in a big band would be able to do, which I think is kind of cool.
“Pop music is really interesting to me but I think I was always interested in weird pop music. It was so cool when Green Day brought out Dookie and it was everywhere or Metallica brought out the Black Album and it was omnipresent as well.”
Fall Out Boy’s temporary break-up coincided with a rocky patch for Wentz personally which culminated in divorce from his wife, the singer and actress Ashlee Simpson, and a battle with prescription drugs. Away from the band, he wrote a novel, Gray, but jokes today that he’s “not a good enough writer” to have taken it up as an alternative career. “I like doing it but to me, when I think about other people’s fields of art, I am really respectful of them and when I go into someone else’s field I really like to learn, moreso than just go in and assume that I’ll be just as good at this as I am at that because they’re not all the same, there’s nuances.
“Writing and acting [in the TV series One Tree Hill and Californication] have been good experiences for me. I understand that I’ve been afforded the ability to do some of those things because of my band and I appreciate that’s probably what gets me in the door initially.”
It’s an uptown problem, but it is hard to be in a band with the same bunch of guys for a bunch of years. It’s like being with your siblings on a submarine, you want to murder each other and you love each other and you want to crash the submarine.
Wentz recently said he thought Fall Out Boy’s records could “just get weirder” from now on. It seems that having more Number Ones has emboldened them. “I think the more that you’ve curried favour and goodwill the more you can get weird,” the bassist considers. “You’ve seen that through history, whether you start with The Beatles or you go to Kanye [West], or in the way that George Clooney once said in an interview ‘I do one film for the studio then I do one film for myself; the one for the studio pays for the one I do myself’. I think that we’re able to do interesting things.
“I also think that the way people consume art, especially music, right now has made it that as long as you’re doing something authentic to yourself that you will enjoy your fans will give it a shot. I think that’s what we’ve seen with something like Jack Ü. Three years ago someone like Diplo and Skrillex having someone like Justin Bieber sing on a song people would have scoffed at that; now people give it a shot and if it’s good and interesting people like it.”
Now that Fall Out Boy’s songs have become popular with Hollywood, they may be afforded further artistic licence. Having provided the song Immortals for the Disney film Big Hero 6, they’ve now given the Ghostbusters them tune a makeover with Missy Elliott to accompany the movie’s reboot.
“We all grew up on Ghostbusters, as did many people around the world,” says Wentz. “I think Patrick [Stump, Fall Out Boy’s singer] reached out originally to the director and just said, ‘Hey, we love the movie, is there any way we could be involved?’ and from there it evolved into ‘Let’s re-do the theme and who is somebody who would make sense for the film maybe as a feature?’ Missy was open to it and laid down a big Missy Elliott verse. It was pretty organic.
“The times it’s been more awkward for us has been when it’s a film that we don’t know or aren’t familiar with or ‘Here’s a big cheque’. There’s no big cheque from Ghostbusters, we just like it a lot. Someone’s getting a big cheque; it’s not us. We grew up on it, we like it a lot so we wanted to pay homage to things that influenced Fall Out Boy. There’s certain films and ideas that we all kind of agree on and that’s just one of them.”
Next month Fall Out Boy co-headline the first night of Leeds Festival with Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro. Wentz remembers playing at Leeds and its sister festival Reading in 2013 as “awesome”.
“We started playing festivals in the UK – Reading and Leeds, basically – right after the inception of our band playing overseas and it was interesting because we did not know what UK festival culture was like so we were unprepared,” he says.
“We’d been bottled then we had fun, we got rained on, we experienced it all, we grew up with it, so to be able to come back and play the main stage and play higher in the bill has been really cool for us. It’s an integral part of the history of our band.”
With the band now in a decade and a half old, Wentz quips that rather than being statesmen for punk, “we’re in the awkward teenage years”.
“It’s hard to have that perspective when you’re in the band, when you’re so close to the blastroom,” he says. “To me, we’re still trying to kick in the door, we’re not invited to the party so we’re sneaking in the bathroom window kind of thing.
“I know we’re not like one of the baby bands that’s just starting but at the same time I don’t have Dave Grohl on speed dial or something like that either so we’re somewhere in between.
“I saw Lars Ulrich from Metallica when I was out the other day and I was like ‘Half of it is just surviving’. It’s an uptown problem that it’s hard to be in a band, it’s not a real world problem, but it is hard to be in a band with the same bunch of guys for a bunch of years. It’s like being with your siblings on a submarine, you want to murder each other and you love each other and you want to crash the submarine, that whole thing. Part of it is just surviving. At the same time you’ve got to innovate.
“I read a great Elon Musk quote the other day. He said, ‘If you’re not failing that means you’re not innovating enough’ and I was like ‘yeah, great’. There’s a lot of things that we kick the tyres on and the tyres are pretty flat so it’s good to know that there are other people in that boat as well.”
Fall Out Boy play at Leeds Festival on Friday August 26. www.leedsfestival.com