Fall Out Boy is a rock band. Sorta.

The Chicago band’s starting point in 2002 was somewhere between pop-punk and emo. But quickly the band began adding more sounds to the mix: metal, hardcore, hip-hop, straight Top 40 pop. Now, one of the biggest (kinda) rock bands in the world, Fall Out Boy recently began a huge arena tour in support of Mania, an album that doesn’t even drop until 2018.

On the eve of the trek, Fall Out Boy bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz took some time to talk about their evolving sound and having to delay the release of Mania.

The tour starts tomorrow. Are you ready? Have the last few days of rehearsals gone well?

We are deep in it right now. It is going well. It's the biggest production we've ever done but the way Fall Out Boy works it's kind of like a pirate ship. No matter how big we get we still run things in this wild way. So yeah, things are moving forward but, well, maybe we could cut a few corners and move a little bit faster. But that's not the way we do things. (Laughs)

This tour sounds pretty massive. I think pop stars have really up the game on what arena tours can be over the last decade. Has that influenced the kind of production you're putting into your show?

We live in a hip-hop, pop and dance world, and that's cool. We embrace that. I love that music. But it means if you're going to be a rock band and try to be on Top 40 radio and at the same time play arena shows, you're going to need to upgrade your game. When I was little I was really into Metallica and Guns N’ Roses and they were playing these giant shows that were events. That's something I aspire to. So our production is aspirational; it's massive, it's the kind of production I would want to see as a little kid on a rock arena tour. As a rock band you got to take a swing at something big, and this is our attempt at doing that.

For me, it's nice to see a rock band from this century playing shows this size. It gives me hope. Most of the rock bands playing shows this sizes got their start in the ’70s or ’80s. Do feel rock ‘n’ roll is in a tough spot or do you feel it's having a rebirth?

Part of it is that there was a debate, not necessarily a dialog people had aloud, but an internal debate about if artists could move rock ‘n’ roll forward or if it was limited to leather jackets and that pose with your foot up on the the amplifier. People debated if it had to be a cliche, had to be what it’s always been. For me rock ‘n’ roll has always been an idea. Yes, it's guitar, bass, and drums, but it's also a dangerous idea. I never wanted it to become this quaint thing where you take your kid to museum and point to the diorama, and say, “Look, son. This is rock ‘n’ roll.” I want to move the music forward and that's when new sonics, production, methods of delivery, designs of merchandise and everything else comes into play. I think you can make things different and I think you can still be dangerous.

That often means a band has to challenge itself to evolve with every release and tour. That can be rewarding, and it can also be a crazy amount of work.

Yes, but when I listen to a band like the Clash or someone like David Bowie, they had a completely different sound during different eras. As a 38-year-old listening back I really appreciate the artist that has the reggae phase or the dance phase or whatever, because it gives me permission to change my sound for different times in my life.

It sounds like you're hinting at that classic problem: How do you change your art to please yourself while keeping things similar enough that old fans can come along too?

(Laughs.) It's like a war on both fronts that is never completely winnable. But we're not going to cover ourselves, or become a parody of ourselves or use holograms of us on some tour. We are going to change and evolve. We have to.

We have heard three new songs from Mania: “Young and Menace,” “Champion" and "The Last of the Real Ones.” Speaking of change, they all sound really different from each other. Is this what we can expect from the new LP? That it will be all over the place?

“Young and Menace” is like when you need to do that hard reset on your phone. It's a weird song. It's supposed to be weird. It's supposed to be polarizing. “Champion,” to me, could have been on our last album cycle. So those are the two extremes to me and “Last of the Real Ones” is more in the middle. I would say a lot of the new album is more in the middle. At least that's what it sounds like to me.

Obviously you weren't completely happy with Mania because you moved the release date from September to January 2018, what was missing that you needed to add to the record?

Honestly, it was mostly an attitude adjustment. Patrick [Stump, Fall Out Boy singer] and I realized we were making a record for neither of us. He thought I loved the songs and I thought he loved the songs. But when we actually talked about them, we realized neither of us loved them. I think Fall Out Boy is unmoored from who we were 10 years ago. We came from a scene and a place, but we're not tethered to that scene or place anymore. The beauty of that is that we can put out any record right now. But the one record we couldn't put out is a mediocre Fall Out Boy record. There's just no point in that. So we just need to put some more work into the songs.

So on the tour what's the setlist going to look like? Will you be doing all three new ones? Will we get more new tracks?

I think we do the three new ones that are out plus one more new one. But the audience coming through an arena is broad so we need to do music from all the eras.

What happened between American Beauty/American Psycho in 2015 and the upcoming record that made you reevaluate your sound?

The goal of the last record was just so intensely different from this one. The goal of the last record, American Beauty/American Psycho, was to put out a new record while we were still in the album cycle of Save Rock and Roll and create a record at the speed that DJs and rappers can just to see if we could do it. And I think it almost f---ng killed us, but we did do it.

Because of that, sonically they blur together, thematically they blur together a little bit. But 2017 is so different from 2015 in a way that 2015 wasn’t as different as 2013. Where we are as a culture, well, it just feels like there has been a big change. It think it’s important for us to speak to that change. I don’t mean overtly, but I think our music needs to have an empathy and compassion that we didn’t need in 2015. There is so much negativity out there and to give people one little shield from that is important. I think for us there is a danger in sitting still, a danger in loitering. Doing two albums in a row was really hard but I’m glad we did it. But now I think it is time to move the ball forward artistically.

In past, a decade or two ago, it seemed pop artists were always in danger of making a flop while rock bands had solid fan bases. Now that dynamic has seemed to shift a little. Beyonce and Katy Perry albums are going to sell, but a rock band’s run might be done with any new album. And yet you guys keep trending up. Is there a trick to that? Is it just about making great music?

(Laughs) One of the ways that Fall Out Boy has operated is that we’ve always been a sophomore slump band. We’ve always thought, “Well, that last one was good but I don't know about the next one.” Operating like that has been very beneficial for us because it’s been high pressure, do or die. As stressful as it is, we function pretty well like that.

But also Fall Out Boy in 2005 was pretty weird. We would go places and people would think we were freaks, we would go on stage and act like a metal band but we were at a Jingle Ball. In a weird way, we have grown into a world where genre doesn’t matter. Genre has never mattered to our band, we’ve always been super into hip-hop and other sounds, and I think this era is more beneficial for a band like us because from the beginning we’ve wanted to make songs with Jay-Z and experiment with pop production. Now that’s expected of you. We came along a little bit early but we grew into coming along at the right time. (Laughs) If that makes any sense?


The 50 Best Albums of 2015