When Fall Out Boy announced their reunion earlier this year, they had serious doubts whether anyone would really care. The emo movement is long over, their young fans have grown up and their solo careers were largely dead on arrival. Despite all that, the band is experiencing a rather stunning renaissance. Their single "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark" has been sitting comfortably in the Top 30 of the Hot 100 for more than two months, earning lots of radio airplay and even a nod from Taylor Swift, who tweeted that she'd listened to the song 43 times in a single day. Concert tickets are selling like crazy, and they're even moving back to arenas.
Fall Out Boy's new album, Save Rock and Roll – featuring guest appearances by Elton John, Courtney Love and Big Sean – hit stores on Tuesday and is the second best-selling album in the iTunes music store. "The world moves so fast that we didn't know if people would care," says Pete Wentz. "So to have people care now and show interest . . . that's the great part. It proves to us that this band did mean something."
Four years ago, the band had serious doubts about that. They felt incredibly uncool and unappreciated, not that much different than a hair metal band struggling to survive in the grunge era. It was a little like being Mötley Crüe in 1991. Fall Out Boy's 2008 LP, Folie à Deux, failed to connect, and band relations were at an all-time low when they hit the road to promote it. "It felt like an out-of-body experience," says guitarist Joe Trohman. "Some of us were miserable onstage. Some of us were just drunk. The fans were just trudging through the new songs. They didn't want to hear them."
Folie à Deux was intended to be a commentary about the narcissism of American culture, but frontman Patrick Stump feels it didn't quite work. "I think a lot of that last record cycle was my fault," he says. "I had an actual dream about what the record should sound like. I tried to make that happen, but nobody was with me. I was trying to push my agenda, and that was a weird thing to do."
It was also a very difficult time for Wentz, the bassist and lyricist. "My personal life was whatever at the time," he says. "It was really rough. I grew a heinous beard and got blackout drunk, smashed my face and cut it open . . . I could feel the backlash against the band. I mean, I was in such a haze of selfishness and pills it was hard to believe I could feel anything."
Wentz was married to Ashlee Simpson at the time, and she had just given birth to their son, Bronx Mowgli. Their photos were constantly in the tabloids. "I was high on being Pete Wentz," he says. "Now I understand how I was overshadowing the band, especially Patrick. This kid is a fucking genius. He's probably one of the best melody writers around. In any band that would have been talked about constantly, but I was just overshadowing it. I knew it, but I didn't know how to stop it. It was a snowball that had just gotten so big."
As the tour slogged on, Stump began realizing the band desperately needed a break. "He sat us down and said, 'If we don't take a break we're going to break up,'" recalls drummer Andy Hurley. "He also said, 'We'll hate each other and never want to do this again.' The thing is, I didn't want to stop."
Wentz was also very resistant to the idea of a hiatus, but Stump knew it had to be done. "Seven years is a long time to never have a weekend," he says. "Not everybody agreed with me. But the pace we were on was like a gyroscope. It's the speed that holds it together . . . It's like the whole Yoko Ono myth. She didn't break up the Beatles. They were already fractured by the time she came around."
"I withdrew from things," says Wentz. "The dynamic of the band had changed. Everyone's personalities had changed from when we started the band. Patrick didn't used to be outgoing at all, and then he grew into himself. I don't know that I gave him room to change. I think that having a kid made me understand myself a lot more. Back then, I didn't respect people's time. I would show up to stuff whenever I felt like it. I was a selfish guy that ended up in a position I didn't even understand. Nobody gave me a rule book or anything."
Fall Out Boy played their last show at Madison Square Garden on October 4th, 2009. "I was really sad that night," says Hurley. "I cried a little before we went onstage. I thought to myself, 'Maybe this is it.'" They closed out the show with "Saturday," from their 2003 debut LP Take This to Your Grave. Near the end, Mark Hoppus from Blink-182 shaved Wentz's head. It was a symbolic cleansing of the past, but also the beginning of a very dark chapter for the band.
Coming home from the tour without any Fall Out Boy activity in the foreseeable future was quite sobering. "My calendar was empty," says Hurley. "Touring the way the we did and having a schedule like we did institutionalizes you in a way where you don't know anything else. I think I went through the darkest depression I've ever felt in my life. That winter was horrible."
Wentz had a similar experience. "I called my manager and was like, 'Do people not email as much?'" he says. "I used to wake up and say, 'I can't stand how many emails I'm getting.' Then I didn't get them at all anymore . . . I went through a really, really dark, weak period, and then at the same time I didn't have an outlet to express myself. Patrick was still my best friend. I was in his wedding. At the same time, I felt like he needed to get some of that Pete Wentz stink off of him."
The four members of Fall Out Boy ultimately poured their energies into new musical projects. Andy Hurley and Joe Trohman formed the heavy metal supergroup the Damned Things with members of Anthrax and Every Time I Die. They released a well-received album in 2010, but they never got much traction. Wentz formed the dance music act Black Cards with singer Bebe Rexha. They released an EP and toured a bit, but it too failed to take off in any meaningful way, and Rexha quietly left the group last year.
Patrick Stump put resources into his 2011 solo debut Soul Punk. It earned positive reviews, but many Fall Out Boy fans weren't willing to follow him in a new direction. He went on a club tour, and even opened dates for former FOB proteges Panic! At the Disco. Nothing seemed to work.
"People were calling me a sell-out while I was doing my solo thing," Stump says. "And I was losing lots of money. I was like, 'If I were selling out, I hope I could do a little better job at it.' There are totally valid criticisms to say, like, 'I don't like the record,' or, 'I don't like the direction you've taken. I miss your band.' Those are totally valid things to say. Things that aren't valid to say are, 'You're doing this for the money,' or, 'You think you're Michael Jackson.'"
As his solo tour went on, Stump's mood continued to darken. "I was doing this as a labor of love, and I've never gotten so much shit in my life," he says. "It's weird. I don't think I was bullied until I was 27. It just blew my mind how cruel people can be. They would pay go to the shows just to heckle me. They'd even yell out, 'I liked you better fat!' I was like, 'That has nothing to do with anything. That was for health reasons, jerk.'"
During a particularly dark moment in February of 2012, Stump poured his heart out in a long blog entry called "We Liked You Better Fat: Confessions of a Pariah." "Touring on Folie was like being the last act at the vaudeville show," he wrote. "We were rotten vegetable targets in Clandestine hoods." He went on to reveal that he blew his nest egg on his solo tour. "I still have access to enough money to live on in order to avoid bankruptcy for at least a few years as long as I stick to my budget . . . I guess I'm just angry when I'm a 27-year-old has-been . . . It's as though I've received some big cosmic sign that says I should disappear."
It was a shocking display of honesty and raw emotion. It's no longer on Stump's site, and he winces slightly when it's brought up. "I think it's safe to say that pull quotes aren't my strong suit," he says. "I'm not very succinct . . . Also, I was not broke. I just meant I'm going to have to work again in my life. It's not like we were 1980s-cocaine-superstar rich. People were like, 'Boo-hoo, he can go cry in his pile of money. He can go dive into Uncle Scrooge's money bin.' Well, I don't have that."
Right around the time Stump posted the letter, Wentz reached out to him. "I was like, 'Let's write some songs or something,'" he says. "I was in a dark place and I needed a creative outlet. Patrick is such a nice guy that he wrote the songs with me, but I don't think his heart was in them. They were kind of 'meh.' I'd equate it to some lost weekend thing that only one fan on the planet would care about. It was kind of a wash."
Undeterred, they tried again not long afterwards. Eventually they came up with the song "Where Did the Party Go."
"Pete got really excited, and that got me excited," says Stump. "It gave us a ton of momentum. Then we decided it was time to call everybody else."
The group reunited at a secret meeting at their manager's house in New York. "We had to hammer out the idea that if we were going to do this, it had to be about the future of Fall Out Boy," says Wentz. "We weren't just going to be a legacy band."
Save Rock and Roll was recorded in Venice, California with producer Butch Walker. Keeping it secret was tough, especially for a group so visible on social media. "I definitely stayed away from Twitter," says Hurley. "I didn't want to be geotagged or anything." Everyone lived in constant fear of the news getting out. "When Patrick was smoking a cigarette I'd walk, like, two miles away," says Trohman. "It was easy to keep it under wraps since we weren't in L.A. proper. I would drive a rental car to pick Patrick up, but Pete never drove, so no one knew he was going anywhere."
Finding a new sound wasn't as difficult as they feared. "I hear a lot of bands complain as they get older, 'Oh, the new generation doesn't get us,'" says Stump. "It's like, 'Well, you have to stay relevant by making music that's relevant to people.' What's fascinating to me is that you can't contrive that. You can't just make the same record that you made forever ago and expect that be something that will resonate with people. But you also can't go for radio and that kind of thing. You have to find this zen place when you find something that sounds like you, but also new."
It's a difficult mix to find. "We wanted something that was really raw," says Wentz. "But we still needed something where people felt the same feelings they had when they first listened to Fall Out Boy, but the music couldn't sound like the same music we'd done before. We've never been a band that plays it safe. We could have probably written 'Sugar, We're Going Down' five times, but we never did."
Not telling a soul about the reunion until everything was in place was extremely important for the band. "Ultimately, we're fans of Fall Out Boy," says Wentz. "From a fan's perspective, we thought about how we'd want it to happen. Bam, it's on the Internet. You get the song, you get the album, you get the show. The delay would have driven me crazy."
On the morning of February 4th, they announced everything: the single, the album and the tour. They played a show that night at a tiny club in Chicago. The next night, they hit the basement Studio at Webster Hall in New York. Fans lined up in the freezing cold about 10 hours before showtime, many clutching handmade signs. It felt like a time warp back to 2006, and when the group took the stage and launched into "Thriller," the squeals were deafening.
Fall Out Boy have nearly 60 dates on the books right now, and in the fall they are headlining arenas in the States. The band claim they had little idea people would care this much.
"We never really cared about that, though," says Stump. "It's always been the four of us against the world. When we left, it felt like the world kind of won. It was disheartening, but the irony is I was just reading a review of a recent show. Someone said, 'Wow, that was really great, but they should really play more songs from Folie à Deux.'"
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for iHeartRadio