By Mark Guarino
With a handful of the world’s biggest bands in town this weekend — Nine Inch Nails, U2, Coldplay —the outlook is not good for any local band trying to fill a room tonight or Saturday.
So you can say it’s more of an achievement that Chicago’s Fall Out Boy is not just headlining the Riviera this weekend, the show is sold out. The show is the culmination of steps the band started making over three years ago when living with their parents on the North Shore and playing Knights of Columbus halls throughout the Northwest suburbs.
Mom and dad remain their landlords, but there’s a good reason they’re not getting their own places. Over the last two years they played over 500 shows and this year they will tour continuously through year’s end, on some weeks playing two shows a day. “We’re all sick right now, at the same time this is always what we wanted to do,” said bassist and principal songwriter Pete Wentz, 25. “Once you get there, how are you going to complain?”
The push to fill every pocket of the country (and every media outlet too) is the result of getting signed to Island, the label that released their major label debut, “From Under the Cork Tree” this week. The pop-punk album demonstrates they are a terrific hardcore band that knows how to write catchy pop hooks. Plus, there’s the band’s tongue-in-cheek humor, resulting in song titles like “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 song, it turns out, was originally titled “My Name is David Ruffin and these are the Temptations”).
“We were sick of seeing the typical one-word song titles (pulled) from the chorus,” Wentz explained.
The band was conceived when they were college students and suffered suburban ennui on the North Shore (Wentz is from Wilmette, guitarist Joe Trohman from Winnetka and vocalist Patrick Stump is from Glenview. Drummer Andy Hurley is the outsider from Milwaukee.) Wentz said an epiphany came while watching the autobiographical Guns ‘N’ Roses video “Welcome to the Jungle.” Seeing Axl Rose step off the Greyhound bus that took him from Indiana to L.A. made Wentz — then a political science major at DePaul — think, “I want to do that.”
The band eventually came together and started promoting their own shows. “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,” he said. “We were hungry.”
A demo made its way to the punk indie Fueled By Ramen, co-owned by Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie Balzano. In 2003, the label released their debut, “Take This to Your Grave.” It went on to sell 200,000 copies, a number impressive even for a major label.
The internet became key. Uploading their songs to sites like mp3.com and purevolume.com directly linked them to kids specifically interested in championing untested bands. They saw the results as soon as they started touring. “We’d go to Louisiana and … the kids would know the words,” Wentz said.
The online phenomenon also attracted A&R reps requesting demos. Island ended up giving the band an advance they didn’t have to recoup simply for the chance to be the first bidder when it came time for them to release a second album. Now signed, the band remains wise about their money. They refused to accept a tour bus (more money they’d have to recoup) and instead tour using their own van.
“Some bands grow faster than labels and at some point we outgrew Fueled By Ramen,” Wentz said. “But a problem for a lot of bands is they get into a lot of trouble spending a lot of money and not selling enough records. Whereas anything we can do on our own, we will.”
Wentz is the lyricist, plus he recently published a graphic novel with illustrations provided by Chicago tattoo artist Joe Tesauro. He admits that becoming a fixture on Chicago’s high profile punk-pop scene — which includes the Plain White T’s, Lucky Boys Confusion and Mest — has made a bizarre impact on life back home.
“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, he said. “The same people who were calling us (expletives) and throwing footballs at our heads.”