Music: Where the Boys Are

Fall Out Boy learns to cope with the ups and downs of being one of the biggest bands in the U.S.

Pamela Littky

Reading (and dismissing) articles and news reports about himself helped Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz (far left) deal with some personal and emotional issues.

Fall Out Boy lead singer Patrick Stump takes a moment before answering whether or not his band's bass player (and de facto frontman) Pete Wentz has very real plans for world domination.

"We all aspire to things outside our reach," he says, pausing another beat. "But, I think more than anything, that's what drives (Pete)."

It's hard to deny the plan's in motion, what with Wentz's success as a musical entrepreneur over the past few years, taking cues from Def Jam founder Russell Simmons as well as his new big-label capo Jay-Z at Island Records. His own label, DecayDance Records, produced numerous small- and large-scale hits in 2006, including ones by Gym Class Heroes, The Academy Is..., Cobra Starship and, of course, Panic! At the Disco, who actually beat Fall Out Boy to the cover of Rolling Stone.

"Yeah, there's definitely a part of me that's not ashamed to admit I want to be in the biggest band on the planet," Wentz says, chuckling. He's at home in L.A., not long before the start of Fall Out Boy's world tour in support of their latest, Infinity on High. "I want to do everything. You only live once, so there's a part of me that wants to do everything.

I'm a control freak. I always want to fly the plane, I always want to drive the bus — which is ridiculous, because I don't know how to do either."

He's come a long way in a short time, from Chicago wallflower still living at home with his parents to Los Angeleno with an entourage, more friends than he knows what to do with and a maybe-girlfriend named Ashlee Simpson. However, he insists Los Angeles, despite the degree of dysfunction that pervades the town, actually helped yank him out of a depression that was, in its own way, crippling him. He was Pete Wentz, after all, the face of one of the biggest bands in the country. But he couldn't let himself enjoy any of it.

"Now, my friends and I just think it's all kind of funny," Wentz says of LA's celebrity culture. "We don't bother trying to become other people. We laugh at whatever and usually get kicked out of wherever, and usually just find it kind of funny to ourselves. I think that's something that can keep you in check, because it's a kind of dangerous position to be in, that I was in last year. You know, everyone whispering different things into your ear: 'You're the best thing since sliced bread.' You can get caught up and believe the hype, and kind of diverge from the path you intended to be on.

"A year ago, I feel I would never let myself be happy without feeling guilty about it," he continues. "I think I was aware of what was going on in my life, but I wouldn't take the steps to fix it. Now I know (how to) allow myself that breathing room. It's weird and kind of interesting, but, after reading a couple pieces about myself, it was like looking in the mirror for the first time. Who you are versus who everyone else thinks you are is a kind of very interesting clash of perspectives."

The band's latest album, Infinity on High, actually grew out of the emotional turmoil that was getting the best of Wentz, who pens all of Fall Out Boy's songs. Nothing influenced him more, though, than his frustration with the media and the way the collective bastards set their sites on his band and, even more so, him.

"For me, personally, over the last year there were a lot of things I was quoted as saying," he explains. "Either it didn't come out of my mouth right or I was paraphrased or I said things this way when I should've said them this way. This record, on a lot of songs, allowed me to respond to that. With the last album — I think I was self aware, but I think I was incapable or unwilling to change any of those things. This record has that self-awareness.

"I wanted it to be more than about eyeliner or our haircuts," he adds. "I wanted it to be more than that."

Wentz worried that Fall Out Boy's fans would actually get lost in the subject matter that was wholly unrelateable to their lives, but, then again, "we've never been a band that sings about high school locker rooms," he says. But, "at times that can be nerve-wracking because you look out and see a lot of puzzled faces."

Luckily, songs like their lead single "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," with its foot-stomping anthemic chorus and lyrics about poseurs trying to ride Fall Out Boy's coattails, transcend comprehension.

The one-time nervous kid from the Windy City has grown up and learned how to dish it out, all while plotting his eventual overthrow of the musical establishment and, hey, probably the world, too.

"I think, to me, it's that this is a brand," he says of how he sees his collective endeavors — especially DecayDance. "It's a culture. We've taken notes from older Def Jam, back when LL Cool J was there. You bought every record that came out of it. The last record was so hot, so cool, you didn't know what the next record was going to be, but you knew you were going to buy it.

"At the end of the day, Fall Out Boy is the thing that keeps everything afloat and keeps everything moving forward," he continues. "Also, I think when you get to be a band of our size, corporate involvement is just a necessary evil, so I think about it as, 'Why can't you just be that corporation?' Why do you need a middle man?"

He's quick to point out, though, that this probably isn't the purpose any higher powers put him on earth to carry out. That would be soccer, believe it or not.

"This is just something I have a natural inclination for," he says of his music and business adventures. "It's something that interests me, that I really like doing. It drives me, because I think I can be better at it. That's what drives my ambition, that keeps me wanting to do new things."

FALL OUT BOY performs at Riverbend Monday with +44, The Academy Is ... and Paul Wall.

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