The kids are all right

May 2, 2003


There's a buzz of activity these days surrounding the Chicago punk band Fall Out Boy, and it doesn't stop even when the group is in transit. Bassist Pete Wentz is talking to me on a cell phone from the band's van, which is traveling down the New Jersey Turnpike en route to a skate-punk festival in Asbury Park. Throughout our chat, he's simultaneously being filmed for the quartet's first video. (What's a punk-rock video without some footage of the group in the van?)

The boys (average age: 18) have to stop every 90 minutes to fill the gas tank, because if it drops below half, a faulty filter starts pumping air into the tank. At one point, the troubled vehicle is pulled over by the state police for reasons unknown, though the troopers let the group continue on its way without issuing a ticket.

"It's crazy, man," Wentz says with a laugh. "Weird things always seem to happen to us when we're in Jersey. But we're getting used to all the insanity."

Things have been happening fast and furious for the band since the release of its debut album, "Take This to Your Grave," on the indie label Fueled by Ramen. Island Records loaned the group a substantial sum of money to help with marketing and promotion in return for the right of first refusal on its next record, and the quartet has been building a strong national following via nonstop touring and some assistance from established bands such as Less Than Jake.









*6:30 p.m. Saturday

*Metro, 3730 N. Clark

*Tickets, $8

*(773) 549-0203 or (312) 559-1212



"I have not slept in my bed for more than three days straight since Jan. 1," Wentz says with a laugh. But he's not complaining.

"We want to go out and earn the fans. Often that's meant us playing to, like, two people and sleeping on the floor of our van at night, but I want to do it the right way. I don't want to be some created band. I think music is taking a turn toward real music again--like it did maybe with grunge--and I want to be a part of that movement. I don't want to be one of these pre-made bands."

So far, that hasn't been a problem: The foursome virtually radiates sincerity. That quality--along with their catchy and ultra-energetic tunes and the fact that they defy easy categorization--made me an instant fan when I caught their set by chance during the South by Southwest Music & Media Conference in March.

Fall Out Boy boasts the hooks of a great pop-punk band, but it plays with the intensity of a hardcore group. Meanwhile, the smart, heartfelt lyrics of songs such as "Homesick at Spacecamp" ("Landing on a runway in Chicago/And I'm grounding all of my dreams/Of ever really seeing California/Because I know what's in between/Is something sensual in such non-conventional ways") are clearly influenced by the emo scene.

"Everybody says, 'Oh, I hate to be labeled this or I hate to be labeled that,' " Wentz says. "We just play the music that we play. We always call ourselves 'softcore,' which is a term we made up ourselves. We all come from a hardcore background, but we try to be more accessible to these kids who probably otherwise wouldn't get a chance to hear this music. At the same time, we want to offer, like, the credibility and the honesty and the sincerity that hardcore has to offer--and the edge. Where are you gonna be without the edge?"

Drawn by a mutual love of hardcore punk, Wentz, vocalist Patrick Stumph, drummer Andy Hurley and guitarist Joe Trohman came together in suburban Wilmette (though three of the four musicians now live together in Roscoe Village). Most of the songs originate with lyrical or music ideas from Wentz or Stumph (who boasts a big, bold voice that's nearly operatic in its intensity), and they come together in finished form when the band huddles in its rehearsal space.

"We started just goofing around--we were all friends or whatever--and it was pretty much just a joke," Wentz says. "We only started taking it more seriously as our friends started getting into it and saying, 'You guys are pretty good!'

"We thought nobody would ever have a reaction, so we just started playing everywhere we could and giving our demo to everyone we could ever give it to. Eventually, we started to get a buzz and these labels started calling us back. All these labels that we had sent the demo to started calling us, and they'd be, like, 'Send us a tape,' and I'd be, like, 'You have it just sitting in your office, and you've never listened to it!' "

The band eventually signed to Fueled by Ramen, which is co-owned by Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie Balzano. The influx of cash enabled the group to record with producer Sean O'Keefe at Butch Vig's Smart Studio in Madison, Wis., and the album delivers on the promise of the live set.

"We went up there and the first second we walked in we saw the platinum record on the wall for 'Nevermind' and we were, like, 'What are we doing here?' " Wentz says, still giddy about the experience. "But it was interesting because this was the first time where we actually had the chance to take our time. We had a budget to make errors, to chop parts and to go back and change things when we didn't like it. We had a vision for the record--we really went over it with a fine-tooth comb--and I hope that people can hear that when they listen to it."

Fans seem to be responding, and it's a safe bet that a large number of them will be singing along with every song when the band plays an all-ages record-release show at Metro on Saturday night.

Whatever the future holds, Fall Out Boy intends to take it all in stride.

"At first we were just trying to stick to playing the Fireside Bowl," Wentz says.

"Then our dream was to, like, get to the Metro, and then it was to be on a label. For me, where I hope it would be in six months is I want to be living off of it. I want this to be my job, but at the same time I never want to treat it as a job. The minute it stops being fun is the minute I want to stop doing it."