My Chemical Romance interview and talk 'Danger Days'
The Black Parade nearly killed them with its success. But My Chemical Romance found changing directions almost as fatal when it came to making their latest, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.
"Sometimes you have to let go of something in order to hold on to it,” says Ray Toro, My Chemical Romance’s lead guitarist. “I’ve heard that expression before, but I never thought I’d have to apply its meaning to our band. Of course, I didn’t think that things would get as rough as they did for us recently.”
For Toro, fellow guitarist Frank Iero and the rest of the New Jersey–based group, which also includes lead singer Gerard Way and his bassist brother Mikey (drummer Bob Bryar left the outfit in early 2010), the road to multi-Platinum success has been relatively smooth since My Chemical Romance formed in 2001. Rising from the East Coast underground goth-emo/punk-pop scene, MCR moved from the indie Eyeball Records to major-label Reprise just two years after they first jammed together. Their 2004 major-label release, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, a Cuisinart of emo, alt-rock and punk with a metallic guitar bite, hit the mark. Videos for songs such as “Helena” and “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and “The Ghost of You” received as much exposure on MTV as the network would provide for just about any rock act.
But it was their next release, 2006’s The Black Parade—helmed by Rob Cavallo, Green Day’s longtime knob turner, and now chairman of the WBR Label Group—that made MCR arena fillers. While the record might have been bombastic and bleak, it was the right album for the right time. “Downtrodden times, actually,” Iero says. “Which might bewhy people responded, because they were feeling depressed.” Befitting any good concept package, the band donned monochromatic uniforms, and frontman Way played the part of the album’s protagonist, the whacked-out “Patient.”
Once again, My Chemical Romance scored a hit, but the success became too much for them. “We were spent, burnt, totally out of it,” Toro says. “Being this costume band in black night after night, country after country, it was a grind. We started to see The Black Parade as the enemy, one we wanted to kill on our next record.”
Enlisting superstar producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Bruce Springsteen) seemed like the sure-shot move to take things to the next level. O’Brien is known for his no-nonsense approach, which was just what the band wanted. Gerard set down a strict mandate, to which the band readily agreed, that the new album would involve neither concepts nor costumes. “It was time for us to stop being so elaborate and just make music,” Iero says. “We had everything plotted out, everything was in order. Things were going to be great.”
Only they weren’t. The band slogged its way through recording sessions through much of 2009, making slow and steady progress, but nothing seemed to light anybody’s fire. “We hit a wall,” Toro says. “We were trying way too hard to be perfect and be this other ‘thing.’ Not that you shouldn’t try to grow and develop, but we were just killing ourselves with trying. It wasn’t fun.”
Listening back to what they’d recorded with O’Brien, MCR made the painful (and expensive) decision to bag the sessions and go back to the drawing board with Cavallo. “It was a hard decision to scrap the record we made with Brendan, but in the end, it was the right decision,” Toro says. Once ensconced with Cavallo last spring, the band tore through the new album, which now sported a title: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Full of whim and vigor, Toro and Iero apply guitar sounds both au currant and vaguely nostalgic to insanely catchy, fast-paced tracks such as “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na),” “Bulletproof Heart,” “The Only Hope for Me Is You” and “Planetary (GO!).” While there is a subtle storyline linking the songs (something about a post-apocalyptic California in the year 2019), the music is neither depressing nor weighted down by overt narrative. This is an album built for speed.
As for the band members, who grumbled their way through the last months of the Black Parade tour, they’re ready to get their act together and take it on the road once more. “Only this time we’re going to try to work a lot smarter,” Iero says. “Everybody has families now, so we’re not going to grind ourselves down. We need to have lives just like anybody else. That said, we’re feeling recharged and ready to play again.”