Fall Out Boy: The Fall Guy
Originally printed in Guitar World, January 2009
He's a metalhead at heart, but Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman finds
his considerable talents pulled in many stylistic directions on the
group's latest bit of musical madness, Folie á Deux.
Joe Trohman is a serious metalhead and damn proud of it. Lover of Metallica? Check. Down with Randy Rhoads? Double check. Worshipper of Slayer? Check and recheck. “I love heavy metal,” he says. “If anybody starts talking metal to me, it could be an all-day discussion.”
So what in the world is this unabashed friend of metal doing in the decidedly un-metal-ish (though insanely successful) band Fall Out Boy? His crushing waves of guitar sounds are routinely dialed down on the band’s records, and he’s barely given a chance to solo—although, when he does, he lets loose with gritty, twisty runs of astonishing vitality. What gives?
“Big Randy Rhoads guitar heroics were never a part of what Fall Out Boy was supposed to be about,” says Trohman, who was born in Hollywood, Florida, but moved to South Russell, Ohio, when he was 12. (It would be in a Chicago Borders bookstore where Trohman met guitarist and singer Patrick Stump, and the seeds of FOB were born.) “Our musical arrangements kind of defy categorization. People used to call us ‘punk’ and ‘emo,’ and lately they’re calling us ‘pop’ and ‘rock,’ which is fine.
“The truth is, we’re a little bit of everything. And I like that. For me to try to dominate our sound with crunching metal guitar would sound kind of ridiculous. Believe me, I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. Over time, I think we’ve found our musical identity, individually and collectively.”
The Fall Out Boy aesthetic is a potpourri that was established with their first release, 2002’s Split EP. Employing ambitious, unconventional arrangements that supported bassist Pete Wentz’s confessional, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, the band seemed hellbent on announcing from the rooftops “we’ve got poetry in us,” and they’ve proven it on a succession of adventurous, multi-Platinum bestsellers.
There are grand intentions and epic impulses everywhere you look on Fall Out Boy’s newest release, Folie à Deux (Island). Open-hearted church hymns (“Lullabye”) segue into pounding, dense rockers (“Disloyal Order of Water Buffalos”) that give way to melodramatic bits of musical theater pastiche (“Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet”) and move smoothly into R&B-flavored pop-rock (“w.a.m.s.”)
“I Don’t Care,” the album’s first single, is a stunning, irresistible bit of Gary Glitter–meets–Norman Greenbaum swagger, and it’s probably the most straightforward number Fall Out Boy have ever attempted, which in itself feels like some sort of new hurdle cleared. Lyrically, it’s been said that Folie à Deux delves deep into red-state/blue-state politics, but a first listen reveals it’s politics
of the heart that concern Wentz most, and no doubt his recent marriage to singer Ashlee Simpson weighed heavily on the paparazzi-hounded bassist while he wrote songs that are animalistic and sexual one minute, vulnerable and heartbreaking the next.
“A lot of times we don’t even ask Pete what his lyrics are about,” Trohman says. “It’s like peeking in somebody’s diary, which is bad enough. But the worst thing you can do is confront the person about what you read. I think Pete does enough just by writing his words. The explanations can come from other people. I’m just glad the words he writes and the music we make aren’t superficial.”
GUITAR WORLD The French term folie à deux means a “madness shared by two.” There are four of you in the band, however...
JOE TROHMAN Yeah, I think it’s just a metaphor, really. It’s a psychiatric term for when crazy people get together and their out-of-control psyches enhance one another, and not always in positive ways. I think it describes the inner-workings of Fall Out Boy. When the four of us get together in a room, things get pretty insane.
GW On your last record, Infinity on High, Babyface produced a couple of cuts, but this time out your longtime producer Neal Avron has helmed the entire record.
TROHMAN That’s right. We’re real happy with what Babyface did for us, and I think it was cool for us, as a rock band, to work with someone known for R&B. But Neal is like our fifth member. He understands us inside and out. We have a shorthand with him, and it makes the whole record-making process very easy.
GW But does he push you? Sometimes you can get too comfortable with a producer and a stasis sets in.
TROHMAN I know what you mean. No, Neal pushes us. He gets in our face and tells us when a song isn’t working or if we’re not coming up with the goods. He has really great ideas and opinions and helps us make sense of what we’re trying to do.
GW Most of your song structures are very dense and chaotic, but the song “I Don’t Care” is a very simple song by Fall Out Boy standards. The riff reminds me a lot of “Spirit in the Sky,” that old Norman Greenbaum chestnut from back in the day.
TROHMAN Yeah, we’ve gotten that from a few people, which is cool. Riffs like that, they’re classics, and I think you can trace them all the way back to John Lee Hooker. It all came from guys like him. Or if you want to go more contemporary, it’s kind of our take on a ZZ Top riff—and they probably pay homage to John Lee Hooker on half of their songs. So there you go. But yeah, it’s a pretty cool riff. You just can’t hear that sound and not get into it.
GW Infinity on High went Platinum, but it didn’t go triple Platinum like From Under the Cork Tree. Did that add any kind of pressure to the sessions for the new album?
TROHMAN Not really. I mean, we always put loads of pressure on ourselves, but we just want to make a great record, that’s all. You can never predict what’s going to sell, and you certainly can’t sit there going, “Okay, with this song we’re going to sell one million, but if we add this song, we’re going to hit three million.” It’s just not possible.
Plus, I think Infinity didn’t sell as well as Cork Tree for the same reason that nobody’s records are selling that well: there’s so much turmoil in the music industry, so much downsizing, and people are finding different ways to get their music more and more all the time. There’s very little we can do about that as a band. All we can do is try to make great music and hope it connects with people.
GW Some of the guys in the band have gone through personal changes recently: Patrick is branching out as a songwriter for other artists, and Pete’s gone Hollywood and married a tabloid celebrity. Does all of this make it hard to be a band? Do you feel less unified these days?
TROHMAN If anything, we’re more together as a band than we ever were. All the stuff that goes on around us—all the unwanted attention that’s been thrust upon us—it makes us stronger when we get into a room and go, “Okay, now we’re going to be Fall Out Boy again.” The tabloid things and internet attention—that kind of stuff would break up other bands, but we’re getting along better than ever. I think we realize at the end of the day that we’re all we have and the only reason why we’re successful is because the four of us came together and decided to make music.
GW Now, it’s no secret that you love heavy metal. Do you ever see a day where you might get your ya-yas out in some sort of heavy metal side project?
TROHMAN I don’t know. It’s possible, maybe sometime in the future. But I would never do anything that conflicts with Fall Out Boy. That’s the funny thing that people don’t understand: yes, I do love heavy metal, but I also love the music we make in Fall Out Boy. And I’ve learned so much from these guys. From Patrick I’ve learned about R&B and soul music and about playing in the pocket. I’ve grown so much as a player by not playing heavy metal, as weird as that sounds. I don’t want to shred at 190 beats per minute all the time. That can get so boring. Holding back and showing people what you have in little flashes is so much more interesting. That’s the great thing about being in a band where everybody is so different: we teach one another, and then we become stronger.