When writing the lyrics for “From Under the Cork Tree,” Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, far right, shifted his focus from a romance gone horribly wrong to a more introspective vew of the world.
After writing an album’s worth of lyrics about a girl who shattered his heart, Pete Wentz realized that the world is a bigger place than a cold-hearted woman and he needed to pen tunes that reflected that – a world where tsunamis could devastate parts of Asia, a war in Iraq could affect people on a global scale and the Molly Ringwald vs. Samantha Fox debate could rage on in the mind of a 25-year-old songwriter.
The lyricist and bass player for Chicago rock band Fall Out Boy, Wentz wanted the group’s new album, “From Under the Cork Tree” (Island Records), which hits stores May 3, to be one where a listener wouldn’t skip over any tracks but also could fit anyone’s mood or maybe even change it.
At the very least, he wanted to stop writing songs about that hated ex-girlfriend.
“The first record [2003’s ‘Take This to Your Grave’] was definitely just reactionary – it was like, ‘This person did this to me, I’m wishing them into this situation.’ And then on our acoustic EP, I felt like I hadn’t gotten the closure that I wanted, and so those were probably the meanest words I ever wrote. And on this record, I went into it with the intention of being more introspective,” says Wentz, who appears with his band (including singer Patrick Stump, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andrew Hurley) on Friday night at the 9:30 Club.
The ex only appears in one of the songs on “From Under the Cork Tree”: A verse in the pop-punk gem “Sugar, We’re Going Down” goes, “I’m just a notch in your bed post, but you’re just a line in a song.”
That might as well be a love letter compared to “My Heart Is the Worst Kind of Weapon,” which appeared on the 2004 EP “My Heart Will Always Be the B-Side to My Tongue.”
Some choice examples of heartbroken venom:
- “I’m the kind of kid that can’t let anything go/But you wouldn’t know a good thing if it came up and slit your throat”
- “Your remorse hasn’t fallen on deaf ears/Rather ones that just don’t care”
- “I could dissect you and gut you on this stage/Not as eloquent as I may have imagined but it will get the job done.”
Naturally, his bandmates worried about his state of mind after hearing these choice curses.
“I was becoming like howl-at-the-moon crazy, I think,” Wentz says, chuckling. “And they let me have free reign as far as that goes because I’m probably the black sheep. I care the most about the words, and I’m the only one in the band who doesn’t have a girlfriend. They kind of let me go wild, but everybody was like, ‘Are you sure about this?’ There were feelings at the time and I think it was important to express [them]. I guess I’ve gotten past it. We don’t play the song live. It’s pretty mean-spirited.”
We are the world
It was during preproduction on “From Under the Cork Tree” in California that Wentz started looking past the ex and saw that the world, as he puts it, was “bigger than us. If you’re not feeling a little bit depressed, then you’re probably not paying attention to what’s going on in the world.”
He also found that his lyrics were simply becoming too harsh for his comfort.
“It was at the point where some of the stuff was stuff that I wouldn’t be able to say out loud to somebody,” Wentz explains. “And at the same time, I think that probably the girl that a lot of that was about achieved some bit of celebrity within Chicago where she had the infamy of being the girl from these songs and kinda uses that.
“More than anything, I took a step back and realized that if you’re going to tear somebody else apart, then you’ve got to be willing to tear yourself apart just as much…. And at the same time if you keep finding yourself in the same situation over and over again, then maybe you should probably look inside your self and wonder it that’s possibly part of the reason you end up there.”
There is some romantic angst involved with Fall Out Boy, but there’s a whole lot more mischief and youthful revelry. Just look at some of the song titles on “From Under the Cork Tree”: “Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends,” “I Slept with Someone in Fall Out Boy and All I Got Was This Stupid Song Written About Me” and “Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued.”
The last song was originally entitled “My Name Is David Ruffin and These Are the Temptations,” inspired by the infamous incident where David Ruffin quit the Temptations and two nights later at a Temps show, his manager paid the light guy to take the spotlight off the group mid-song and put it on to Ruffin, who took the mike, sang the rest of the tune and then proclaimed, “My name is David Ruffin and these are the Temptations.”
Ruffin got word of the Fall Out Boy song title and was not pleased. “My lawyer told us that David Ruffin would be taking legal action,” Wentz says.
“We’ve had a lot of lawsuits against us at all given times. We have this great legal team – my dad is a lawyer and we have a lawyer in New York as well – but we tend to go off the cuff a little bit and do our own thing, and that definitely results in people taking legal action against us a lot. This the first time for a song title, though.”
The album title is inspired by Wentz’s favorite children’s book, Munro Leaf’s “The Story of Ferdinand,” starring a giant bull that frequently parks himself under a cork tree. Wentz has always been into literature, even when he was a kid, he says – the young Wentz loved Richard Scarry books as well as “Curious George” and “Babar,” while as an adult he finds lyrical inspiration in the works author J.T. Leroy, poet Sharon Olds and American literary eccentric Charles Bukowski.
He loves the ’80s
Wentz also mined the pop culture of his youth growing up in the 1980s as well. “Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner” is a reference to “Dirty Dancing,” and “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More ‘Touch Me’ ” is a nod to both Molly Ringwald and Samantha Fox.
“The ’80s was one of the coolest periods in American history, because it went from the ’70s to the gaudiness of the ’80s, where there was this hyper-conservative adult population and this hyper-reactionary youth population. If you can namecheck Samantha Fox and Patrick Swayze on the same record, it’s pretty hilarious,” says Wentz, who grew up in Wilmette, Ill., a town near where parts of such seminal ’80s movies as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club” were filmed.
The soundtracks to those films were Wentz’s initial introduction to pop music. “All of us spent years trying to deny it and cover it up with Minor Threat and Slayer or whatever, but I think that coming back to it and seeing it for what it is is awesome,” he says.
Although Ruffin nixed the reference to him, Wentz can’t wait for another celebrity to give “From Under the Cork Tree” a listen – and then give him a call.
“I’m really hoping Molly Ringwald hears about ‘Sixteen Candles’ and decides that she’s going to marry me,” Wentz gushes. “But I won’t be holding my breath on that one.”
He’d prefer the demure Ringwald instead of former sex goddess Fox, though? Wentz laughs.
“I think at this point probably,” he says. “I’d probably rather have a night with Samantha Fox, but I’d definitely rather marry Molly Ringwald.”
Fall Out Boy also will perform at Vans Warped Tour 2005, featuring My Chemical Romance, The Offspring, Dropkick Murphys, Atreyu, MxPx, Avenged Sevenfold and Thrice.
For more information on Fall Out Boy, visit the band’s Web site at www.falloutboyrock.com.