Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz is far more recognizable than the average rock band bassist.
With jet-black asymmetrical bangs, slightly smeared eyeliner and a toothy grin, Wentz certainly makes for a memorable image, but it’s his public antics that have created such an unforgettable impression.
“I honestly don’t care what the perception is of me to the world,” says the 27-year-old, while sipping on a Starbucks’ vanilla latte on a rainy day in New York City. “It’s a weird thing to have come to, but after you’ve gone through the ringer so many times you don’t care. But I do care how people think of my band so that becomes problematic.”
Since emerging from suburban Chicago, Fall Out Boy has sold an impressive 3 million copies of their major-label debut, 2005’s “From Under the Cork Tree,” received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist and secured their place as rock stars: their latest album, “Infinity On High,” debuted at No. 1 on the album charts this month.
The four-piece band’s singer/guitarist Patrick Stump is a seemingly reserved guy often credited as the band’s musical mastermind – the Edge to Wentz’s Bono. But their celebrity bassist has resumed duties usually reserved for frontmen. He’s been linked to Hollywood starlets like Lindsay Lohan and Ashlee Simpson, and even underwent a media maelstrom after naked photos he took of himself with his Sidekick were leaked on the Internet.
“The first 48 hours I just like quit my band and wouldn’t talk to anybody,” says Wentz of Sidekickgate. “It’s like a footnote now, like how Michael Jackson set his hair on fire in a Pepsi commercial.”
And though he’s been accused of releasing the photos himself, Wentz shrugs it off, understanding why people might pin such an allegation on him.
“It’s this bizarre thing where you can kind of control your own destiny,” he says of the Internet age. “People are able to kind of guide their own press and create this wave behind it.”
Stump says the attention on Wentz made the band more focused as a unit.
“It basically forced us to make an album quickly because I wanted to make sure people remembered that we’re a band and not a sideshow,” says Stump. “People always want to see Pete in this ‘I’m-a-crazy-rock-star’ light and it’s a shame because they lose so much about him in the fine print. And more than anything, they lose so much about the music. It’s horribly frustrating.”
“People only want to hear about drama and bad stuff,” adds guitarist Joe Trohman. “No one wants to know that things are good.”
And things are good for Fall Out Boy. Their new album’s instant success came as a happy surprise to the band.
“It was strange,” says Stump. “It’s still one of those things where you’re waiting to find out you’re on ‘Punk’d.'”
The album reunites the group with “Cork Tree” producer Neal Avron and, in an unexpected move for a young rock band, pop and R&B producer-extraordinaire Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds on two tracks.
It also finds the band taking more chances, including a Coldplay-inspired “piano song,” a nod to Jeff Buckley (and ultimately Leonard Cohen) with a chorus of “Hallelujah” within a song, a guest rap by their boss, Def Jam President Jay-Z on the opener, and whispers of bad reviews they’ve received on another track.
“It’s easy to hide behind conventions you’ve used before, a certain chord progression or melody that you know is going to be safe,” says Stump. He says he pushed himself not to fear the musically unknown when writing “Infinity On High” because of the media misconception of his band.
“You don’t get that much time in the public eye, and if that’s what people expect … all these sensationalized ideas about us … if that’s who you think we are, I’m going to make the best record I can possibly make to dispel that idea because I don’t think that’s who we are.”
The result has been a critically acclaimed album, and a hit single, “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race,” that both mainstream and indie radio stations are supporting.
“Fall Out Boy has done everything right on their climb to the top of the next wave of commercially successful punk bands,” says Joe Escalante, morning show host of Indie 103.1 FM in Los Angeles. “They earned a following by performing well, not by hustling kids with hype. And they paid their punk rock dues.”
Fall Out Boy makes no bones about their joy of creating anthems for the masses, they maintain that commercial success is not their end goal.
“We’re not denying that we want to be the biggest band and want to sell records, but we’re not about moving units,” says Trohman.
These guys have other interests. Wentz, for one, has self-published a book, “The Boy With the Thorn In His Side” (named after the song by his beloved Smiths), created an affordably priced clothing line, Clandestine Industries, that has partnered with DKNY for a line out this Spring, and even helped catapult the career of FOB’s kid-brother equivalent Panic! At the Disco by signing them to his Decaydance label. He also recently bought a home in Los Angeles and acquired a roommate: his English bulldog Hemingway.
“Everything about my life was pretty narcissistic,” he admits. “And now with him, there’s this kind of love that you can’t get from anything else.”