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Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz: 'Rock is a quaint little thing'

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We knew this would happen. A band calls a time out, some members go solo, it doesn't fly, the band regroups. Happens all the time -- the question is: What's changed?

In the case of Fall Out Boy, Chicago's suburban emo heroes, just listening to the new record -- "Save Rock and Roll," the band's fifth album and second to debut at No. 1 -- one is confronted immediately with galloping strings, thundering drums and new overall sonic ambitions. The guitars aren't as brash and in-your-face as the production and vocals. This North Shore-born band -- singer-guitarist Patrick Stump, bassist-lyricist Pete Wentz, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley -- clearly has evolved way beyond this album's endangered namesake.

Let's get right to that audacious title. Seriously?

FALL OUT BOY
• 6:30 p.m. May 16
• Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
• Sold out

"Over the past three years, I've spent a bunch of time driving around with a kid in the car," Wentz said recently from his current California home. "A lot of music sounded the same. Rock has become this quiet and quaint little thing. It's not that capital-R rock and roll needs saving -- the leather jackets and blues chords -- but I think little-r rock and roll does. Someone like Kanye or 2 Chainz seems very rock and roll to me. That's what we hope to inspire: a generation that could take that mantle back -- an attitude of fun, danger."

The first video from "Save Rock and Roll," for the single "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light 'em Up)," features the band -- with rapper 2 Chainz -- pulling a Steve Dahl and torching piles of vinyl records.

"It's an ambitious [album] title, yeah. Rock and roll should be ambitious. People are still putting rules on rock and roll, like 'Skrillex isn't rock and roll. That's just noise.' That's exactly what our parents' parents were saying about Elvis. For me, the exciting things in recent years have been hearing fun. or someone like Gotye on the radio, different things that feel authentic and real and weird."

That last one is Wentz's go-to adjective. It's how he conceptualizes setting himself and his band apart. Fall Out Boy's previous album, 2008's "Folie á Deux," performed comparatively poorly and caused consternation in the fan base. Why? "I think we made a weird record," Wentz explains, with a tint of pride. The new record is "expansive and weird." The band's very rise from suburban schmucks to international icons: "very weird."

"They're all pretty weird," Wentz says of FOB's albums. "'Dance, Dance,' that record -- songs like that weren't on the radio at the time. That's what I mean by weird. In middle school, I heard Green Day's 'Dookie' and thought, 'Wow, that's cool and weird, but it's played on the radio next to things that make sense to other people, but this is the album I relate to that makes me feel OK to be different.' You know, weird. That's the space for Fall Out Boy."

Five years off and a couple of fizzled solo outings -- Wentz put together Black Cards, a reggae-rock-dance mash-up, while Stump released a good album on his own, "Soul Punk" (read that interview) -- didn't dampen fan enthusiasm. "Save Rock and Roll" was recorded last fall in Venice, Calif., entirely in secret. The band's mid-winter reunion announcement was a surprise.

Keeping anything secret in a social media age is an impressive feat. Wentz says the hiatus provided just enough cover.

"We were able to record in secret because, while people were sniffing around for a reunion tour, no one was expecting an album," Wentz says. "No one was checking the studios."

Complicating the clandestine operation: the title song features Elton John. His contribution even includes him singing a line from FOB's "Sugar, We're Going Down."

Turns out, the classic rocker is a fan, which Fall Out Boy discovered when they sought permission to cover his "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)," due later this year on an Elton tribute album.

"We said, 'Well, you know, we've got this song ...,'" Wentz says, "and he was into it. He understood the spirit of the song, and in fact he was the one who said, 'That's got to be the album title.' It felt like some sort of blessing from the pope."

"Save Rock and Roll" also features cameos from British singer Foxes, rapper Big Sean and ye olde Courtney Love (blathering amusingly through "Rat a Tat").

Internally, Wentz says Fall Out Boy is back on an even keel. He ascribes the hiatus to basic exhaustion and touring burnout. Wentz faced personal problems -- his marriage to pop singer Ashlee Simpson ended in 2011, and Wentz recently copped to a prescription drug problem during those intervening years.

He's cagey when describing his footing with Stump and in previous interviews has frequently described their relationship as one of polar opposites.

That, he says, is still their creative dynamic -- and when the colors in the Venn diagram overlap, that's when Fall Out Boy scores a hit.

"Our visceral reactions to everything, complete opposites," Wentz says. "I'm only really a verbiage kind of person, he is only really a melody, top-line type of person. We complement each other, fill in the spaces. Every way we look at something is different. The places where we meet are on movies we like and certain songs, and those are the ones that tend to work. We both liked 'Light 'em Up.' Those are the ones that tend to make sense to other people. Neither one of us really does it well enough on our own. Being able to say that now is a big deal. Together, we make one pretty good rock star."

They take that act back on the road this week, launching a new world tour Tuesday in Milwaukee, then back home in Chicago on Thursday. The toughest part of preparing for this go-round? Trimming the set list.

"It's weird, we went from a young band to being established very quick," Wentz says. "We have a lot of songs to pick from now. We've been trying to pare down the set list for days. We're down to about 28 songs. In the early days, it was, 'Let's play as loud and fast as we can.' That was the vibe. If we could get through five songs and not break all our instruments, it was a good set. We got paid in pizza then. It's weird to think back on it. It's been a long, weird journey."

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on May 14, 2013 12:00 PM.

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