On an unreasonably chilly Saturday afternoon in May, a line of mostly high-school-aged kids grows in front of the Riviera Theatre. The sold-out show won’t start for hours, but they’ve arrived early hoping to secure a good spot once the doors open. The four kids huddled in a blanket at the front have been waiting since 7 a.m., a full 12 hours before showtime. That kind of dedication has helped make Fall Out Boy one of the music industry’s Next Big Things. In four tour-filled years, the Chicago-based pop-punk quartet has gone from playing sparsely populated local venues to selling 200,000 copies of its 2003 indie record, Take This To Your Grave. The group’s major-label debut, From Under The Cork Tree, was just released via Island/Def Jam. Before Fall Out Boy’s homecoming show, bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz talked to The A.V. Club about the highlights and lowlights of his band’s quick ascent.
The A.V. Club: You were playing to 20 people at the Fireside in 2001. From the outside, it seems like you got big really quickly. Does it feel that way to you?
Pete Wentz: It’s weird, because when you’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t feel as fast, because you’re there for all the bad ones, too. You’re there for all the 10-person, 20-person shows. But all of a sudden, you’re selling out places that you’re like, “Wow, I used to go see bands here that I thought were really big.”
AVC: Have you ever played the Riviera before?
PW: We played it once with Less Than Jake.
AVC: Is that weird?
PW: It’s really weird. I wouldn’t have seen it coming. It was never supposed to really happen.
AVC: What do you mean?
PW: It was just never about that. It was just kind of like this thing we were doing, and nobody was paying attention, and suddenly everybody was paying attention. That’s really how it is. I think if we had been trying to make it happen, it probably wouldn’t have.
AVC: Now you have kids waiting for hours before your show starts.
PW: It doesn’t make any sense. It’s cool, but it’s kind of weird. We get vilified and then idolized, and you know neither one is really true. We’re in the middle. We just happen to be these ordinary people in a really extraordinary position. It’s just weird to watch people trash everything you do for no reason, or worship everything you do for no reason, when you’re like, “Yeah, dude, I’m just this kid from Wilmette.”
AVC: The one-sheet for this record says that you were writing in response to what you perceived as the stagnation of the genre. How did you address that?
PW: I think at some point when writing the lyrics for the record, there was a conscious effort to not write like our last record. Four years from now, no one’s going to care about some dude’s ex-girlfriend and how she treated him. It’s not really a lasting idea, so I think we tried to be a little more introspective, a little bit more encompassing with the lyrics.
AVC: You said a couple of the songs are a reach for you guys. How so?
PW: The problem with a lot of bands when they write a second record, they try to write an “interesting” second record, rather than writing a record to follow up the record. I think it’s good to have reaches on your record—that’s important. On this record, the reaches aren’t really places you would see Fall Out Boy, but I think they’re believable. The problem bands run into is they do things that are not believable.
AVC: A lot of kids seem to believe that Fall Out Boy will somehow “save” pop-punk.
PW: There’s a lot of people who just are able to really regurgitate anything. It’s always like sophomore slump or comeback of the year—it’s always one or the other. People need to compartmentalize things, or else you don’t fit inside their brain at all. People have always said things about us, and we’ve always kind of ignored them, because if you’re going to ignore the bad, you might as well ignore the good. You say a lot of things, and a lot of them are stupid.
AVC: How do you insulate yourself from that? It’s only going to get more intense as you get more popular.
PW: I think one of the easiest ways is when you have one of those off moments, you have to let them take you back to earth. If we went to Warped Tour, we’re famous—but we’re not famous in the real world. I can’t tell you the amount of times we’ve been standing right next to somebody, and they’ll be like, “Man, Fall Out Boy fucking sucks.” They don’t know what I look like. It’s really awkward, but you’ve got to let moments like that drag you back down. When you start believing your own hype, it’s all over.