Fall Out Boy always knew that if they were going to make an eighth album, it had to be worth it. “We wanted to make an album that felt like it made it worthwhile to go and tour it,” bassist Pete Wentz explains to NME. “A ‘whatever’ album from Fall Out Boy 20 years in is probably not worth making.”
We’re speaking to Wentz, who is sat alongside his bandmates Patrick Stump (vocals/guitar) and Andy Hurley (drums) – the band’s final member, guitarist Joe Trohman, is temporarily “stepping away” from the group to focus on his mental health – in a plush London hotel the day after their intimate show at Heaven, with talk naturally turning to the conception of the band’s new record, ‘So Much (For) Stardust’. “By the pandemic Pete didn’t want to do a record, but right at the end of [previous record] ‘Mania’ I didn’t want to do one,” Stump reflects. “I think because I’d said that, everyone backed off.”
With no expectations and no external pressures, the band were instead free to focus on the music. “That’s what’s inspiring: when the music leads,” says Wentz, and Stump agrees: “There weren’t gears turning, it was just the music. It was just driven by that.” Hurley, smiling, concludes: “I’ve always told these guys, ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And if there wasn’t blood coursing through these songs’ veins, I didn’t want to be part of it.”
‘So Much (For) Stardust’ is a confident return. Having teamed up with producer Neal Avron (who worked on early FOB albums like 2005’s ‘From Under The Cork Tree’) and released it via Fueled By Ramen (who put out the band’s 2003 debut ‘Take This To Your Grave’), you might expect this record to hark back to the band’s early material – but an album steeped in nostalgia this is not. While there are elements of the sound that won the band so many fans so early on, they’re pushed and pulled through bold new sonics and influences. ‘What A Time To Be Alive’, for instance, combines euphoric funk with brutal lyrics (“They say that I should try meditation / But I don’t want to be with my own thoughts“), while ‘Heartbreak Feels So Good’ is a soaring rock anthem which subtly utilises bouncing hip-hop synths.
For the latest instalment of NME’s In Conversation series, Fall Out Boy joined us to go deep on their new record, discuss their upcoming arena shows and reveal their proudest career achievements to date.
NME: It’s been over five years since your last album ‘Mania’, and things have changed a lot since then. When you set out to make this new album, what did you want to achieve?
Pete: “We wanted to make an album that felt like it made it worthwhile to go and tour it. A ‘whatever’ album from Fall Out Boy 20 years in is probably not worth making. There were starts and stops and people were on different pages, [and] it wasn’t until we got on the same page that the songs were really the right songs.”
Patrick: “There’s also a real tangibility to it. In the middle of the pandemic all of a sudden everything was a Zoom meeting, or you had NFTs and all this other stuff, and there was this moment where nothing existed. We wanted to make a record that was very tangible, that was very live in terms of instruments. What you hear on the record, somebody had to perform.”
Let’s dig into some of the songs. ‘I Am My Own Muse’ features Danny Elfman-like orchestral arrangements. Was he an influence there?
Patrick: “He’s been an influence forever. I’m a musician almost exclusively because of 1989’s Batman, because it’s Danny Elfman and Prince. I watched that movie a billion times, and I soaked up that score. That was a huge, huge influence on me, and I feel like everything branches off from that. Now it’s more overt in that it’s orchestra, but it’s always been there.”
‘What A Time To Be Alive’ is so much fun, and sounds like it’ll go off live. Was its live impact a consideration when you were writing it?
Patrick: “That was surprisingly one of the first songs written for the album: it was written before COVID. It’s wild when you read a lot of those lyrics. There’s one section towards the end that was written after COVID, but the rest of the song existed beforehand. Pete had sent these lyrics and it exploded to me, it just spoke to me. Where I read them, I was like: ‘I want to make this into the darkest, bleakest, most miserable song that you would dance to at a wedding’.”
Pete: “It’s a new year’s song for the worst year of all time.”
Patrick: “Because that’s what these years have felt like, and it’s like you still have to go on, you still have to go to the wedding. There’s a tongue-in-cheek element of it that is very much part of the statement to me, of we’re all stuck in this moment and it’s overwhelming. I didn’t necessarily think about playing it live, but I thought about the wink-and-nod element of it, that when people hear it [for the first time] you might not notice how desperately bleak it is.”
You have some arena shows lined up across the UK, Europe and the US. How are you planning to translate the album to that stage?
Pete: “The last tour we did, ‘Hella Mega’, was a really big tour, but we played an hour-long set sandwiched between these huge, legendary bands [Green Day and Weezer]. So this will be our time going out and trying to play the biggest version of these songs. In the past five or six years, we’ve done these giant video shows that are awesome. It feels like we’re one of the bands that is sandwiched in both eras of rock bands from before and modern hip-hop, and our stage show has really lent itself to this. So maybe it’s time for us to do some kind of more art project [stage show] as we’re going out on our own. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s something that’s tangible.”
One of your upcoming support acts are The Academy Is…, who recently reunited. Is William Beckett going to join you for ‘What a Catch, Donnie’?
Pete: “That song is so hard to play! I thought it’d maybe be fun to play ‘Sophomore Slump [or Comeback of the Year]’, which he’s also on.”
Patrick: “Oh yeah, I totally forgot about that!”
Pete: “Maybe we should have road-tested it [during the small UK shows earlier this month]. I thought that could be a fun one.”
Patrick: “We’ll see, though. We try as often as possible not to be too predictable, so I don’t know if ‘What A Catch, Donnie’ is too on the nose.”
Brendon Urie was also on that song. Panic! At The Disco have just finished their final-ever tour – does it feel like the end of an era?
Pete: “I think so. Obviously, Panic! changed so much between members, sonically and what it was; they’ve felt like mini-chapters [that] have opened and closed. But clearly I think that as far as Brendon wanting to live a more private life and be a dad, in that regard a new chapter for him has started, which I can really appreciate being a dad [myself]. Everybody’s journey is unto yourself, so it’s going to be so different. I have a lot of respect for him making that decision.”
And finally, it’s 20 years since Fall Out Boy’s debut ‘Take This To Your Grave’ was released. You’re now eight albums in, you’ve toured the world and headlined festivals like Reading & Leeds. What are you most proud of?
Pete: “I thought about this earlier as we were talking about it, and to me… listen, we were a really weird punk band that came out of hardcore, randomly ended up on TRL and were shot into this vortex of [the mainstream]. I’m just so happy we made it out as the same four guys. I’m most proud we exist 20 years in and we’re talking about music we made this year. That’s pretty cool.”
Andy: “That, or when I caught the touchdown pass from Doug Flutie at the fly football game. That was pretty cool, too.”
Fall Out Boy’s ‘So Much (For) Stardust’ is out now via Fueled By Ramen