“That’s Always Wild!” Clash Meets Fall Out Boy

The emo legends have a responsibility to their audience...

The music industry has gradually ushered in a 00s revival. From nostalgia-driven videos, only detectably from this era in the improved camera quality, to the Juicy Couture sweat suits and flip phones punctuating stylist’s Pinterest boards. Artists are increasingly reaching into the past for aesthetic inspiration. Perhaps it’s a symptom of the mundanity of post-covid life: a reckoning with a modern landscape that is increasingly hopeless. Or it could be the accelerated lifespan of musical trends (thanks TikTok) that don’t often allow releases a chance to marinate and infiltrate the culture as they would have in previous years.

It would be easy, therefore, for a band with as much 00s clout as Fall Out Boy to surrender to the wave of nostalgia, reject modernity and retreat to the safe haven of our rose-coloured memories. Instead, the now two-decade-old band have chosen an alternate method to combat life today: pure nihilism – a theme that bookends their eighth studio album ‘So Much (For) Stardust’. On their most pessimistic record yet, they grapple with getting older, growing jaded and desperately trying to forge some authenticity amid a world that is increasingly dull, complicated and hopeless.

“It’s a very angry record,” Patrick Stump tells Clash, despite his own, seemingly impermeable optimism as he sits beside Fall Out Boy’s drummer Andy Hurley in London. They’ve just played two intimate shows in the UK to celebrate the album’s highly-anticipated release – their first release, crucially, since the pandemic. Hence their newfound tendency towards apocalyptic references.

No stranger to long breaks between albums, in 2013, they re-emerged from a four-year hiatus with a laser focus and the ambition to ‘Save Rock And Roll’. This time, the absence was longer, but the gallant return isn’t quite met with the same delusions of grandeur. Instead, they’re disenchanted, offering only their honesty in that fact as an antithesis to a landscape of inauthenticity. That’s then paired with the anxiety of returning to the outside world after years of lockdown. “There were seismic shifts in the culture that everyone experienced together,” Hurley says, detailing the motion sickness that defined the album’s production. “One or two of those years feel like they didn’t actually exist.”

So when the first single ‘Love From The Other Side’ dropped, the signature Fall Out Boy wit had a heavy task of sweetening the saccharine punch of their darkest lyricism yet. The music video was characteristically fun, laden with the usual easter eggs and an overarching sense that they’re not ready to take themselves too seriously just yet. But beneath any tongue-in-cheek aesthetics lies a deep discontentment with modern life. “Pete’s lyrics on this record are, I think, very aware of it in a heavy way. It’s kind of overwhelming to read, really, because it’s a very deeply hurt record,” Stump explains. “Lyrically, you find these feelings of when you’re a teenager. If you’re furious about something, you can go and throw your books across the room. Now, when you’re an adult and you have kids, and you have a mortgage, and you have all these things to worry about, you get just as angry, if not angrier. And then you have nowhere to channel it.”

It’s why the album’s closer and title track feels all the more chilling. They depart on a sour note, with no sense of optimism, except that modern existence is pointless, so you may as well make of it what you can. Stump continues: “There’s something about the lyrics that channel this searing hot rage at that, kind of looking around the world. it’s a very, very upsetting time. It’s a very frustrating time. It’s a very infuriating and scary time. so it’s like all of those feelings, but then you have responsibility on top of that. So you don’t get to bask in it. So, it feels even angrier when I read these lyrics.”

Hanging from this new sense of pessimism is a golden thread, its other end tied to their ​2008 album ‘Folie à Deux’ – a now cult favourite that, at the time, famously plunged them into an almost half-decade hiatus. For a period, it seemed to be the marker of a fragment of their history seemingly mired in pain, following the widespread rejection of the band’s new direction – one that was spearheaded by Stump’s creative vision. 

“It was unpleasant for me personally, because we went out and played that record. And it wasn’t just that people didn’t like it, you don’t expect everyone to like everything, but there’s a period when you’re starting out as a band, where no one knows you, except the people that like you, right? So if they’re there, they want to hear your songs.” Stump says. “That was the first experience where they would pay for a ticket, watch some of the songs, and then we play some new songs. And they’d be like, yeah, not that one. and that really hurt. it was just very harsh.”

So this re-visiting of Folie was driven more by an emphasis on existing in reality, after experimenting with sampling more in recent records. They reunited with producer Neil Avron for the first time in 15 years and committed to what Stump refers to as a “low tech” approach, at last comfortable to return to recording techniques that invited criticism from sectors of their fandom at the time. “These are all sounds that we had to manipulate in real-time. We had to play, we had to touch strings and touch drums, and that was something we did on Folie a lot that we wanted to get back to,” he explains.

That desire to create in a more analogue way envelopes the entire album rollout, which is steeped in efforts to forge something in the real world. One of the first bands to successfully harness the power of the internet, amassing a large digital audience (“It’s funny thinking about now because our profile was the first MySpace profile with a million friends, and that doesn’t even exist anymore,” laughs self-admitted internet-phobe Stump), Fall Out Boy were at one point synonymous with online fandom. It permeated their music and propped up much of their international success.

Through the band’s lyricist Pete Wentz, the internet is still occasionally woven into the music, yet in a more nihilistic, cautious manner than his early songwriting (2007’s ‘Infinity On High’’s “every dot com’s refreshing for a journal update” traded for the modernised “we’re here and we’re ready to livestream the apocalypse”). But, the overall sense is of a band that established their early success online firmly pledging their allegiance to the physical world. In a reference to Ethan Hawke’s monologue in the 1994 romcom Reality Bites, which itself occupies an entire track on the album, the band began sending pink seashells to fans. In the movie the seashell, a gift from Hawke’s characters’ estranged and dying father, is supposed to contain the answers to life. But, upon his discovery that the shell is empty, he’s led to the conclusion that perhaps life is pointless too. There are no answers, so you may as well scour for joy in the mundane. It encapsulates Wentz’s attitude today and solidifies the overall message of the album.

“Marketing people are always trying to figure it out. They’re always trying to game the system and figure out what’s the formula to get the algorithm to do whatever you want it to, and blah, blah, blah,” Stump says. “And I feel like for us, our audience to a certain extent feels like an extension of us. I think we feel a certain responsibility to them, and a certain camaraderie with them. So, we don’t want to try and do the cheesy thing for the first-week push or something. It’s more about something exciting, something that you would want to see.”

Hence the seashells, which Stump explains were a purposeful, tangible response to NFTs – a money-making scheme many of their peers have succumbed to. “You have these things that don’t even exist anywhere. It’s like some writing on a ledger somewhere. Whereas [seashells], you have to go and find and they physically exist. Somebody brought one to the signing the other day, and it was incredible because I hadn’t seen any of them,” he says. “It’s that kind of thing of just making it an experience that you would enjoy being a part of, too, because I mean, if everything is ‘like and subscribe’, it doesn’t feel like something you’re actually a part of, you know?”

It’s this earnest desire to create on their own terms that allowed Fall Out Boy to infiltrate the pop culture landscape of the 00s. They never shunned pop music like many of their contemporaries in the ’emo’ scene at the time. Instead, they deeply embraced it, becoming MTV mainstays in the earliest days of their career, or offering eyeliner advice on the same pages of glossy teen magazines that adorned pictures of a then-teenage Miley Cyrus. Kim Kardashian starred in their music video, years before her own stardom eclipsed that of the band, and Jay Z opened their third album. Recently, a video of them performing a pop-punk version of ‘Shut Up And Drive’ with Rihanna has recirculated. It’s perhaps this rejection of genre confines and keenness to etch themselves into the pop culture zeitgeist that continues to entice new generations – evident in the endless carousel of teenagers lining the barrier at their shows, year after year.

As a band, they’ve often conjured an illusion of existing on the fringes of pop culture. Not edgy enough to be deemed counter culture, but not fashionable enough to be ‘cool’. This in itself is their USP, appealing to a youth audience slightly jaded by the mainstream, but still deeply in awe of it. In the years since their last album, a slew of Gen-Z artists have emerged in their path, re-imagining 00s pop punk in a more genre-fluid way – something that, looking back, Fall Out Boy were always advocating for.

“That’s always wild”, Stump says, humble despite the tidal wave of young artists keen to credit him as an inspiration. “I don’t really personally try to put too much stock in it in terms of like, ‘Oh, that was me.’ It’s more like you’re part of a continuum. everybody is. There were bands that came before us, and there are bands that come after us and it’ll go on, hopefully, forever. What was that Downton Abbey line about? He’s like, ‘I don’t own the Abbey, I’m watching over it, or something. I feel like that’s what it’s like. for a minute, somebody handed us the ball and we had to guard it. but then it goes on to somebody else, and somebody else is creating stuff that inspires another generation and so on.”

Hurley nods. “It’s cool to see how music morphs and changes and is reinterpreted. And yeah, if we had some small hand in that, that’s really special and an honour to be a part of the continuum of music.” And, as they creep closer to the milestone 20th anniversary of their debut studio album ‘Take This To Your Grave’, their role in that continuum is increasingly evident. But, as always, the emphasis is on the future – despite how uncertain it may be. “I am not a big nostalgia guy,” Stump affirms, determined to never depend on their legacy more than their current output.

“I imagine we’d have to do something. I don’t know what that would look like though,” he continues. “I would always want to balance it. Because I always feel like there’s a grift, you know? if you’re like, ‘the 20th-anniversary tour, come out see!” It’s like no, we always play those songs, we’ve never stopped playing those songs. It always bothered me as a fan when bands would do the anniversary tour. Because to me, it felt like it kind of cheapened that record.”

The solution? Sporadically weaving the oldest deep cuts from their archives into their setlist. Earlier this year, they played ‘Calm Before The Storm’, a track from their debut album, for the first time since 2007. They’re hoping this casual approach to their legacy will elicit a more authentic response from fans, as Hurley explains: “To me, that’s always been a more exciting thing to watch. To see bands I love and hear them pull up some deeper cuts that you normally don’t hear in celebration of a record [reaching] a certain milestone.”

This authenticity, which exists as the hardened pillar of ‘So Much For Stardust’, is perhaps the foundation of their ability to resonate with generation after generation of teenagers, maintaining their grip on a demographic who long ago abandoned many of their peers. They’re still at one with the fans lining the pavements outside their concert, scouring each frame of their music videos for easter eggs, or, for this record, bringing pink seashells to signings. Though the album seems coated in pessimism, they’re never jaded enough to abandon the pure love of creating music – and a universe around it – for their ever-expanding community of fans.

It’s affirmed by an anecdote from Stump, that he recalls as passionately and as vividly as if it occurred only yesterday. “I saw Weezer when I was 16 and out of nowhere they played my absolute favourite b-side ‘You Gave Your Love To Me Softly’. It was such an obscure song, and for them to play it, you’re like, ‘ahh!’, you know? But if that was the headline, like, ‘buy a ticket for that’ I wouldn’t have had that experience,” he says, revealing a remainder of that 16-year-old Weezer fan, concealed behind the accomplished musician he is now: selling out stadiums and composing for Disney. 

“That’s the thing I love. I love when you go to a show and you don’t know they’re gonna play [the old songs]. I mean, that’s the thing, right?” Stump says. And, for a moment, it’s clear that beneath the nihilism, the lost hope and the dread of an impending collapse of society, the spirit of Fall Out Boy remains intact. And maybe that’s all the hope we need, as he sighs, then concludes simply: “Isn’t that the joy?”

‘So Much (For) Stardust’ is out now.

Words: Laura Molloy

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