Mere hours before they take to the stage in Dublin’s O2, bassist Mikey Way and guitarist Frank Iero of New Jersey punk-pop icons My Chemical Romance chatted to State about the inspiration behind their fourth studio album, Danger Days: the True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys. Though the gig itself was far from sold out, there were reports of cues stretching around the corner the night before in anticipation…
State: What was your inspiration for the record?
Frank: Well after the last record, we toured two… two and a half years straight, and we decided to take an extended break, just living our lives again. And about eight months into that break…
Mikey: Yeah, that’s when the itch started.
Frank: …we got it together and did a song [a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’] for the Watchmen movie soundtrack and it felt good just to be making noise and playing together again. So we decided to get together again. About two or three months after that we convened out in LA, started picking up guitars and playing, and we wrote about 20 or 30 songs. We started to record them, kind of ran out of time, got the mix in the studio and we were kind of unhappy with how it was finally coming about. So we put it all on hold and went back into another studio, met up with Rob Cavallo who did our last record and wrote four brand new songs and liked them way better than the 20 or 30 that we had written before.
We just kept going, and slowly but surely this concept started coming about, like a setting kind of thing. Picture it: an apocalyptic event occurs and it’s 2019 – what would the band sound like? There would still be music, there would still be shows – if there were kids still alive – but what would that band be like? We started to pick up instruments that we weren’t really familiar with and never really experimented with before – didn’t really know how to play – and what you’re hearing is a band sort of excited and, I think, psyched to be creating.
Mikey: It was definitely a period of exploration and it was exciting for all of us. We were doing things that we never thought we could do. That was very exciting and very fulfilling.
You said you were playing new instruments, what did that involve?
Frank: At that point we had become a four-piece again. We needed a backbone. So we started to create loops and beats within the computer but also with synthesizers, Kaoss pads and drum machines…
Mikey: Theramin… farfisa… a lot of digital elements. There were a lot of digital instruments that we never thought to use or we never thought fit with My Chemical Romance. We kind of started branching out and any kind of concept we had in our head about what could be on a My Chemical Romance album we were just like, “let’s try absolutely everything!”
In terms of the concept, did you write songs to fit that or did the songs just roll out in that way?
Frank: They just started to come out in that format. I think, as we started to write, ‘Na Na Na’ was the first song we wrote second time around and then ‘Vampire Money’ and ‘Planetary (GO!)’ and ‘Sing.’ Once we started to get past ‘Sing’ it was like, “alright, this is what’s coming out. This is the world that we feel it fits into.” All it needed was “I feel like this” and we’d experiment that way or somebody would come up with a riff. I think when you start to go like, “this is the concept , this is what the record’s gonna be” and put it into a box, then you have to fill that box, then it ends up being forced and you never end up really happy with it. When it comes organically, that’s when the magic really happens.
Mikey: The songs kind of shape the universe, you know? It was like these little bangs that were creating little pocket universes that the album was living in.
You all inhabit different characters on the album, or at least that’s the presentation, was that a conscious thing?
Mikey: We kept any character elements strictly to the video. It’s not supposed to be anything more than that.
The concept itself, was it a case of one person coming in and saying, “I have this great idea” or did it just come out?
Frank: The inspiration came from a song we had written called ‘Bulletproof Heart.’ The lyrics from that song started to create… it was basically, if you had to taste-test the world from one song, I guess that was the song to do it from. That was actually written on the first attempt at the record, so we kind of took that song and blew it out of proportion.
Mikey: I think, like, ‘Bulletproof’ and ‘Na Na’ were kind of the points of the nexus of the world. Those were the two that created the vibe, the feeling, the colour, the attitude, the overall sonic arc.
You said you did 20 or so songs in the first tranche and didn’t like them. Did you keep much of that stuff?
Mikey: A couple. A couple we loved so much that we wanted to put them on the album. But the thing is they couldn’t exist as they existed on the previous attempt and we had to very much look at them as if we were writing them again. It was almost like we started from square one with a lot of these songs. We had to almost rewrite some of them.
The idea of the radio broadcast – was that central to how you wrote the songs? Were you writing “radio songs,” the sort of songs that could sound like they were coming out of your radio one after another?
Frank: I think the idea of having a narrator to bring you through the world… the idea is to have a pirate radio station emerging from this apocalyptic world. But definitely, I think, at least some of them are crafted pop songs. That’s what we do – take the formula for a pop song and kind of twist it and make something ugly beautiful.
Mikey: The DJ was kind of a nod to some of our favourite films – there’s a radio DJ who comes in and guides the viewer/listener in a few different things: The Warriors and Vantage Point and Reservoir Dogs did that really well. It’s kind of like a tiny bit of the inspiration for that was from that.
Was there a musical influence on the actual format, the concept? The one I was thinking of was Deltron 3030.
Mikey: I love that album! Actually, come to think of it, that’s very similar to where Del the Funky Homosapien jumps in and out like a radio DJ, and Damon Albarn’s on that. Yeah I never even thought of that… yeah, that’s a great album.
There’s more of a power pop vibe than on the last album, sort of a bit more carefree, less serious topics…
Mikey: We’re at a more positive point in our lives. We’re more happy people, have amazing, supportive family and friends around us and we just have no reason to be sad anymore. We’re just very much into having an amazing time. That kind of carries through in the songs.
So there’s no going back to the…
Mikey: Yeah, we’re not really sad anymore! But we do like sad things… that doesn’t mean we won’t ever write sad music. That not to say we’ll never write some sad songs, because we love that stuff.
Frank: It’s one of those things where I think, the last record, was about life and death. It’s like life: you can’t have the good times without the bad times, the happy without the sad. So when you’re writing a concept record about life and death, you have to have that. When you’re writing about a gang of laser-gun totin’ crazy kids in a post-apocalyptic world, there’s not that sad element. The next record, you know, could be about orphans.
Hopefully it won’t be so long between releases this time.
Mikey: Yeah, that’s the thing, if it were up to us we’d be in the studio right now recording. The flip side of it all is that it’s really gratifying to go out and play songs for people, which is why we’re out. They’re both amazing for their own reasons: touring is amazing and recording is amazing. They’re amazing for their own reasons. We wish we could do both. We wish we could clone ourselves, send a set of ourselves home to record and the other set of us to tour! That would be the ultimate goal – I’m sure we’ll work out some day.
No plans to go on another two-year tour…
Frank: Nah, I fucking hope not.
Frank: I think we’ll have to be more smart about it.
Mikey: Yeah we’ll be wiser when it comes to that. We won’t drive ourselves to the point of exhaustion and mental anguish. We’ll do everything smarter this time.
I haven’t really asked about musical influences. There are some hip-hop… well not necessarily hip-hop, but Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rage Against the Machine kind of vibes…
Mikey: Well we’re huge fans of bands like Rage Against the Machine, and we’re huge fans of hip-hop too, and we kind of never try to paint ourselves into a corner. You know, if it sounds great it should be on the album.
I heard a sort of Slash, Van Halen kind of hair rock…
Mikey: See, that’s the thing! What you just said, those past three things, it’s all over the place – it’s everywhere. There’s no, like, narrow view to this album, no “this is what it sounds like.” There’s elements of so many different bits and pieces of our influences and we were somehow able to cram it all into this one universe, which is what we set out to do.
Frank: Just get inspired by everything…
I was going to say that… the last album was, I don’t want to say conventional, but more what you’d expect from a big rock concept record, the big ‘70s rock sound. This time you seem to be all over the place.
Frank: I think when you’re younger – we were only a band for, like, six years? We were still a young band and you can wear your influences on your sleeve a little bit more. When you’ve been together a bit more, you begin to get inspired by each other and those influences get a little bit more varied and your own musical prowess comes to the forefront.
Last question: ‘Vampire Money’ is a rip on Twilight, right?
Mikey: Sort of! It’s a rip on anyone repeatedly telling you to do what you don’t want to do. It just so happens that that can be the context that people pull out of it. It’s not necessarily a dig at Twilight, it’s just a dig at a nagging. It’s a dig at someone nagging at you.
I listened to it once – I had to go to the record label to hear the album – and it stuck out completely from the rest of the album and it sounded kinda bitchy, but in a good way.
Mikey: Exactly! We wanted to make one of those classic Chuck Berry rock n’ roll jams.
Frank: Little Richard.
Mikey: Little Richard, yeah. When we were writing the song, that’s very much what we were feeling at the time.
Photo by Ian Keegan.
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