By Mark Guarino
Before the eyeliner. Before the nude Internet photos. Before Ashlee Simpson.
Before the celebrity monster called Pete Wentz was Pete Wentz the bass player in Fall Out Boy. Wentz has come to represent the band’s fame through his stature as tabloid fodder and ventures that hold him in the spotlight, from the nightclub he co-owns in New York City to his clothing line to his film production studio.
That was all in the wings in 2005 when Fall Out Boy made “From Under the Cork Tree” (Island), their major label debut. A New Trier graduate and a DePaul University student, he aimed for a life as a writer before music called. Back then we talked at length about the what it took for the band to get to that point and the long road ahead. Here is a brief excerpt from that conversation.
Q: Now that you’ve gotten attention outside Chicago, what have you noticed
You have to work twice as hard when you’re in the Midwest. In L.A., there are A&R guys who go to shows, but in the middle of the country, you have to be doing something really well. We were hungry to get out and see the world. On top of that, it creates this sound that’s a little bit more original. We weren’t able to play in Chicago a lot before playing Metro. We played in Knights of Columbus halls in the suburbs for most of the time.
Q: How would you describe being in a rock band on the natty North Shore.
A: It’s like Orange Country without the palm trees. It’s a little more conservative. I remember seeing Axl (Rose) get off that L.A. bus in “Welcome to the Jungle” and thinking man, I want to do that. You’re so bored. I remember being bored out of my skull all the time. I was in basement bands doing crazy stuff, but at the same time, we’re from John Hughes territory. Knowing they filmed “The Breakfast Club” ten minutes away from where I lived was, like, awesome.
Q: How did the Internet help before you were signed to Island?
A: It played a really important part. People heard about us through word of mouth. We’d go to Louisiana and … the kids would know the words. Because we never were a critically favored band, it was always the kids who reached out for us. And they did so through the Internet.
Q: There’s a sense of ownership when you find a band outside regular channels.
A: Kids want to find bands to put in their back pocket and to be on the street team for a band. MTV knew about cool bands 20 years ago, now they’re into Audioslave and other bands that sounded like bands 20 years ago. They’re not looking for new bands or the next new sound … No one really supports kids that age finding music for them so they have to find music themselves.
Q: What was the game plan to getting a record deal.
A: We did it ourselves. I think at that point we had enough leverage that the indies were interested enough. Pretty much what (Fueled By Ramen) said was, “here’s some money to use for marketing.” They were really hands off. We built what we built by ourselves. We sold 200,000 albums, more than what most majors can sell. The band grew faster than the label. At some point we outgrew Fueled By Ramen … Island’s got a very cool outlook on us: if it ain’t broke why fix it? We don’t take tour support. We’re on a bus we pay for ourselves. A problem for a lot of bands is they get into a lot of trouble spending a lot of money but not selling enough records. Whereas anything we can do on our own, we do it.
Q: How often has the band been touring up to now?
A: In the past two years we played 500 shows. We played around 265 shows a year. This year more. At this point we’ll be on the road the same amount days but play two shows a day — TV shows, in-stores. Last week we played 10 or 11 shows. We’re all sick right now but at the same time this is always what we wanted to do. Once you get there how are you going to complain?
Q: You’re known as the guy who writes the endlessly worded song titles.
A: I think we were sick of seeing typical one word song titles. Titles that take one word from the chorus. That’s one thing our band’s been about, one thing about the package that keeps the music interesting for us, inside jokes.
Q: Does “Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued” have any truth to it?
A: It used to be called “My Name is David Ruffin and These Are the Temptations.” It was a play on what a megalomaniac that guy became. He was going to sue us so we decided to immortalize our lawyer in the song instead. It’s the state of the union about Fall Our Boy: all of the sudden people care you’re famous but you’re not quite there.
Q: I imagine it’s been strange to come home from tour and hang out with friends who knew you before you were an Internet celebrity.
A: All of the sudden you’re going to these parties and some of your friends think you sold them out, some of your friends stick with you and at the same time there are people coming out of the woodwork. The same people who were calling us (expletives) and throwing footballs at our heads.