Getting Over Emo

Fall Out Boy transcends a taboo tag

There is no better way to dismissively sum up a rock band than by labeling it "emo." This has almost universally worked for the past six or seven years, with few exceptions. But when those few exceptions do occur, music aficionados and pop culture, in general, have to scramble to come up with new ways to acknowledge such bands as "real bands" instead of, you know, silly emo bands for teenagers who spend far too much time lurking in Hot Topic. This spring, Fall Out Boy has become "that emo band that's cool to like" with its album Infinity on High.

That is probably why Fall Out Boy's bassist and de facto face man Pete Wentz says, "I wanted [the album] to be more than about eyeliner or our haircuts." After all, following up a debut like From Under the Cork Tree — which propelled him and Fall Out Boy into the musical stratosphere and made them MTV darlings — comes with plenty of risks. Especially for someone like Wentz, who, as the band's sole lyricist, was largely responsible for establishing the tone of what would come next.

"I didn't want to rewrite the last album, especially lyric-wise," he explains. "For me, personally, over the last year there were a lot of things I was quoted as saying. 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."

Fall Out Boy: "That emo band that's cool to like."
Fall Out Boy: "That emo band that's cool to like."

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Singer Patrick Stump — who tends to shun the spotlight Wentz embraces — admits it was a bit of chest-beating on Fall Out Boy's part, attacking critics and copycats. He admits to enjoying that, but he was more focused on cheating the sophomore album curse when his band hit the studio. "Your second album really defines a career," he says. "You can either try to recapture the success of the first one using formulas and contrivances when, on the first one, you probably didn't do much contriving at all . . . or you can realize you can be on the cover of Rolling Stone one minute and totally fall off the face of the planet the next. In 20 years, there's a good chance the only person who's going to be listening to your album is you."

But by creating an album the band believed in despite concerns that fans wouldn't be able to relate to the subject matter, Fall Out Boy scored a commercial hit and, astonishingly enough, a critical one too. "I was, more than anything, surprised," Stump says, chuckling. "I had less than no expectations of ever getting a good critical review."

The subjects that Wentz and Stump were concerned fans would reject actually have them cheering, especially for the anthemic "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" — just one of several songs on Infinity that takes shots at naysayers and poseurs. The tune's one of the millennium's best reasons to sing along in arenas.

Fall Out Boy's self-awareness is what elevates Infinity on High to "emo that's cool to like," even though it's a lot more musically ambitious than most "rock albums." You could even say Fall Out Boy has grown up, or at least Wentz has, thereby dragging Stump, drummer Andy Hurley, and guitarist Joe Trohman along with him.

"There are the obvious changes everyone would expect, but there are little changes too," Wentz says, speaking about the effects Fall Out Boy's ascendance to arena-god status has had on him. "A year ago, I feel I would never let myself be happy without feeling guilty about it. I think I was aware of what was going on in my life, but I wasn't willing to take the steps to fix it. Now, I know to allow myself that breathing room."

Wentz attributes much of this perspective, oddly enough, to the press. "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," he says. "I was like, 'You know what, maybe you should actually make yourself feel better rather than continue in misery.' Who you are versus who everyone else thinks you are is a kind of very interesting clash of perspectives."

Most would assume Wentz dreamed of becoming a rock star. But most would be wrong, at least when it comes to the bigger picture. He wants more than that. Pete Wentz — despite the fact that he thinks his real purpose, if he has one, is to play soccer (no joke) — wants to rule the world. Selling out arenas, the Rolling Stone cover — it's all just a means to an end.

Step 1: Become the face of one of the biggest bands in the world. Check.

Step 2: Create a record label, DecayDance, that churns out more mega-selling bands like Panic! At the Disco ("A freak-of-nature story," Wentz says). Check.

Step 3: Well, Step 3 involves taking over the world and that requires time.

"I think, to me, it's that this is a brand," Wentz says of his entrepreneurial adventures. "It's a culture. We've taken notes from like, 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.

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