Boy Meets World

Emo's latest contender has gone from suburbia to stardom.

Fall Out Boy House of Blues, 308 Euclid Avenue 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 28; $15, 216-241-5555
Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz (far left) was inspired - to become a rocker when Axl Rose stepped off that - bus.
Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz (far left) was inspired to become a rocker when Axl Rose stepped off that bus.
When Pete Wentz answered his cell phone in Los Angeles on a recent afternoon, the Fall Out Boy bassist-lyricist was absolutely giddy. Not from the sunny SoCal weather -- or the fact that his band is in the midst of recording its major-label debut for Island and has already secured a spot on the main stage of the 2005 Vans Warped Tour.

No, he was ecstatic over having purchased a croquet set that Fall Out Boy could take on its winter mini-tour, for playing "snowquet" in front of clubs.

Does that sound like the juvenile antics of yet another middling emo band that's destined for obscurity once its fans get their braces off? Think again. Hailing from the suburbs of Chicago -- where it formed in 2001 -- Fall Out Boy is the rare quartet that transcends its roots in peppy hardcore and pop punk that's fast as Speedy Gonzalez. In particular, the lyrics on its harmony-happy sophomore effort, 2003's Take This to Your Grave, are loaded with startling acrimony ("Let's play this game called 'when you catch fire'/I wouldn't piss to put you out") and clever longing ("My smile's an open wound without you . . . and my hands are tied to pages inked to bring you back").

Wentz himself is refreshingly candid, sprinkling his quips with as many instances of 'dude' and 'like' as the cast of Fast Times at Ridgemont High while randomly touching on any subject that happens to cross his mind. Regarding Morrissey's not playing enough songs from his much-loved Bona Drag album at a recent concert Wentz attended: "I was like bummed out, dude. I am a hairdresser on fire. I needed it." Ruminating on Fall Out Boy's upcoming third album, tentatively due out the first week of May: "That's the week the last Star Wars is coming out, and that's the one where Vader slays all the Jedis, just to let you know. That [week] is going to be pretty much the pinnacle of my life, my young life."

Most important, Wentz pointedly avoids speaking in clichés when talking up his band's forthcoming, yet-to-be-titled disc.

"When a band puts out another record, they always say, 'It's gonna be like the most heavierest thing ever! All the heavy parts are going to be heavier, and the melodic parts will be more melodic. It's going to be so much smarter,'" he says mockingly. "The only thing I can say is, like, we don't want the next batch of 14- and 15-year-olds. We wanna take our fans along with us. We've grown up. Last year we were on the road for, like, 290 days, and that just changes your mind-set and how you view the world. At the same time, what we're doing is writing a record for the people who haven't had a chance to hear Fall Out Boy. So, it'll be our introduction to many people."

The band is already doing an excellent job of worming its way into the public consciousness: Witness the abundance of "Fall Out Boy Is for Lovers" T-shirts at just about any punk show or the fact that they were the first group to have one million plays on the punk-friendly music site Moreover, stories about FOB's dedicated acolytes abound, such as the time several thousand Detroit fans started singing "Grand Theft Autumn (Where Is Your Boy)" en masse, sans music, after security concerns forced the band to stop playing a gig there.

Wentz explains his band's rabid fandom by noting how he obsessed over certain groups as a kid.

"I definitely have bands like that," he says, reminiscing about his favorites. "Like I had that about Morrissey for a long time. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I wanted to know what Morrissey was doing every second of the day, why he felt the way he did. And I wanted to see every picture of him in every single pose. To me, maybe [Fall Out Boy's popularity] is because there's a certain level of honesty to it. We're the same onstage and offstage. We went to these towns and kept going back to 'em.

"We like didn't have a big critical buzz beforehand, and we didn't have a big hype beforehand. How we got passed around was peer-to-peer downloading. That's a big part of it, and we've never at any point attacked that or gone and tried to embrace the mainstream. If anything, the mainstream will bend to us -- or it won't, and we'll just have awesome kids into us forever, I guess."

But much of the band's appeal also lies in its fundamental lack of pretension -- from the members' laid-back, goofy personas down to how Wentz knew that he wanted to be a professional musician in the first place.

"When Axl Rose stepped off the bus in the 'Welcome to the Jungle' video, I was like, 'That's what I want to do,'" he recalls. "I don't really know how to explain it. I played piano growing up -- my parents made me and stuff. But mostly throughout my life, I played soccer, and I played in punk bands on the side. But I remember the moment when I was like, 'Man, I want to be on a stage, and I really want to be a part of something,' was when Axl Rose steps off the bus. That's the coolest moment there is."

The superficial parallels between the GN'R guru fleeing small-town Indiana for debauched excess and Fall Out Boy's escape from suburbia to stardom are remarkable. But the difference is that the starry-eyed Wentz and his bandmates thrive on being on the same level as their fans -- not elevated above them in the celebrity stratosphere.

"There's a lot of people who hype us, and there's a lot of people who hate on us, and both do it for the wrong reasons, kind of, you know?" he muses. "[On the new record] there'll definitely be, like, commentary on those kind of people. It's a very weird, swirling thing to be a part of. You have to grab onto the people that really believe in you and have believed in you from the beginning, and hold onto them. 'Cause those are the people that really matter."

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