Patrick Stump opens up about his new solo career, the challenges of finding his own voice, being comfortable as a musician, and the past and future of Fall Out Boy.
So first off, how was Lollapalooza?
Lollapalooza was rad. It was cool to go home. It was kind of intense, just because it was Lollapalooza and then it was a hometown show. There’s a lot of press and things like that, and there’s a lot of people to worry about, but then there’s also your cousin stuff or whatever. It was pretty busy, but it was awesome. It was a really good show.
It must have been nice to finally be able to play that.
Yeah, it was, for sure. The whole time it’s been in Chicago as a fixture I’ve been on tour and I’ve never been able to go myself. This was my first time being there, let alone playing, so I was pretty excited.
It seemed like with this whole solo thing you could have gone in a million different directions. When you first started writing, how difficult was it finding what path you wanted to pursue?
That was the big challenge. That was the hardest thing. When I started, and I think a lot of people that are more acquainted with a lot of my stuff know that I have a pretty broad taste in music, it was really hard to focus on one thing. The thing that I had to come up with is I had to basically craft some sort of style where I get all of that stuff done at once.
Ultimately, I left out some things. I had a lot of material that was a lot more folky and bluesy oriented and stuff. I feel like I can always do that. I can’t always run around onstage, so I thought about frontloading it with that, with the more energetic, synthy stuff, all that stuff that I’ve always wanted to do. I figured I’m not getting any younger, now’s the time to do it. That helped decide it a little bit.
Also, time wise I ended up being lyrically a lot more succinct. I’m not very wordy on this record. The other thing that I ended up being was really positive, and I think that’s partially because of the times we are in. I feel like people are so negative, and anyone that cares is just ironic and sarcastic about it. It’s almost like this defeatism. I wanted to be a little poppy. Why not?
Did you ever toy around with doing another band or did you always just want to do something on your own?
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do another band. I say that because there’s always a surprise exception to the rule, but I can’t imagine wanting to do another band. I can imagine wanting to collaborate with other people and maybe doing a record of something, but I can’t imagine actually taking another band band seriously.
I never really had that itch to put together a new band, I guess. Like I said, there’s totally different situations. I thought it would have been cool to play drums for somebody. If I didn’t get my record released, I was thinking that might be cool to try and audition for somebody and try and play drums.
I remember when you were in Fall Out Boy you would get asked from time to time about eventually doing a solo record and you usually always shot it down. What ended up changing your mind on that?
Partially that the band kind of stopped. It’s really easy to say you’re not going to do a solo record when you have an outlet. When you have no opportunity to play music and you’re a musician, that’s a bummer. I didn’t get into it. I didn’t even intend to get into it. I make music and that’s what I always do, so if I can’t be doing it, that’s the worst thing for me. I think that was part of it, that the band naturally just took a break. I needed to do something. I needed to be on my feet working.
Then the other thing is for a long time solo records seemed like they might be really arrogant, and self-directive and stuff. Now, I look back on Fall Out Boy and I realize that if I had a solo project, I probably could have excised and gotten out a lot of material that I had. I can say this, I think Fall Out Boy fans would have liked the last few Fall Out Boy records better [laughs].
There’s that, too. I think I pushed the band in a lot of directions they might not have really, they were too cool to tell me, but that they might not have really preferred. I still intend for the band to come back. I hope the band comes back, that’s kind of out of my hands at this point, but if it does I think it will be stronger because of it now, instead of before where I didn’t understand and thought it would hurt it.
So during Fall Out Boy were you able to mess around with different stuff on the side in your free time?
Yeah, I’ve always been writing my stuff and it’s manifested itself in weird ways. I think the ¡Viva la Cobra! album, while lyrically it’s not like anything I was writing, is almost like my first solo record. Gabe really let me get involved in the co-writing and stuff, and a lot of my ideas that Fall Out Boy didn’t want to or couldn’t use ended up there. A lot of my production career started out as, hey, this is stuff we can’t use in Fall Out Boy. That really was crying out to be solo material, I guess.
This record you pretty much played everything and produced it on your own. What was it like to go through that, and what was it like to have no one to fall back on as well?
It was fun. I like playing instruments, so that was rad and something I’ve always wanted to do. The tradeoff is it’s not ever a surprise because you know exactly what you’re doing. You know exactly what you want it to sound like and you know exactly your ability, so you can already hear it in your head, and that’s it. That’s exactly what it’s going to be, and it does get a little bit lonely once in a while [laughs].
As you were working on it, did you get input from various people at different times?
Not really. I had my engineer, Manny, and the guy that owned the studio we were at, this guy Bill, who’s also a very good producer in his own right. I hired them sort of as co-producers. That’s what we called it on paper because we couldn’t think of a better name for it, but really what they were there to do was to tell me when I was full of shit.
When I would be working a part to death, when I would be rewriting something that didn’t need to be rewritten, they were always there to be my second and third opinions to remind me like, “No, this is good. You’re already there. This song is already there.” They helped me exercise restraint a lot.
I understand you tried to play as much of the stuff live as you could rather than just rely on programming. What was that like?
That was fun. I prefer playing instruments. The tradeoff is with every layer of synthesizers that I sequence or something, if I wanted to have the same part in 20 sounds, I can do that in a couple mouse clicks. When I play it, I’ve got to go in and manually play it exactly the same 20 times. That’s a tradeoff. You can sort of do that with some synthesizers too, but I don’t know how to program synthesizers.
That’s one thing about me – I somehow let my DIY ethic extend to not wanting to learn how to do anything or not wanting to be shown how to do anything. There’s a lot of shit that I don’t know that I totally should know [laughs].
In Fall Out Boy, you seemed to be able to avoid a lot of the spotlight that a lead singer usually has, and I think I only saw you talk onstage one time. Now all the attention is on you because this is your thing. What is it like to have that experience now?
It’s weird sometimes. There are definitely weird examples of it. I’m not used to being the center of attention. I think you can diffuse it really easily by making the music the center of attention. I’ll take pictures and I’ll sign autographs and I’ll talk to people, but when I do I make sure to let everybody know it’s cool to talk to me about music and other music, not just mine.
That was one of the things. I was talking to this with management before we started this. I don’t want a web show, like webisodes or whatever. I don’t really want a million followers on Twitter. I don’t really want all of these superficially, success-leaning things unless all of it is related to music. That’s the first and most important thing to me. That’s why I’m here. I’m not hoping to parlay this into a reality show. I really just want to make music. This is the be all, end all for me. That has to be the foot that leads.
I’ve been in the position where people ask me about my weight. People ask me about Pete. Are we still friends? People ask me about, again, all these superficial things. Whatever. At the end of the day, I still talk more about music, so I am comfortable. I’m really comfortable being Patrick Stump, the musician. I’m not really comfortable being Patrick Stump, on your poster or on your wall. You get it sometimes, whatever, and I’m never going to get used to that. I don’t know how to really respond to that. I can’t imagine me being a poster child for anything.
With this whole musical venture do you feel like more so that you have something to prove or nothing to lose?
The latter, and it’s really interesting you use that wording because I’ve heard it a few times this week. I think it’s fascinating. Just putting it in perspective, I know to Fall Out Boy fans Fall Out Boy is the biggest thing, and obviously in my life it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. It’s one of the most vital things to me, but in pop culture we’re a flash in the pan. We’re like Sugar Ray or something, you know what I mean, as far as the rest of the world is concerned.
We also got to be pariahs. It became very, very cool to not like Fall Out Boy. I think a lot of people assumed we were sheltered from that and didn’t hear it, but, man, I heard all of it. No matter where you are, no matter how much money you have, it never feels good to hear how much you suck. And we were also losing a lot of money at the same time, too [laughs].
Career-wise, it really was nothing to lose. There’s nothing worse that anyone could say about me as a performer. I’ve heard everything. There’s nothing worse anyone could assume about my motivations. I think it made the record a little bit more pop to me because I love pop music. I’m not scared of saying it anymore because I’ve already been called a sell out. I’ve already been called the worst things in the world. I don’t have guilty pleasures because I’m comfortable with who I am and I’m comfortable with where I am. I think that all informed the record in a lot of ways.
I love that phrase. It really is nothing to lose, and conversely everything to gain. If 10 people come to my show, yeah, I don’t sell out the show, but I don’t care. I don’t have any expectations. My label doesn’t have any crazy expectations about what I’m supposed to do. I just get to play an awesome show for 10 kids, and that’s the reward. That’s the best thing ever.
I want to talk about lyrics here for a minute, and this was the first time you were able to do that on your own. What was that like for you to go through and was there anything about it that you didn’t necessarily expect?
Well, first off, to answer the first part of the question, it was really strange because I’ve been writing lyrics for forever, ever since I was a little kid, but this is the first time people are really hearing my lyrics and knowing that they’re my lyrics. I did write some in Fall Out Boy early on, but it really gets talked up more than it was. I wasn’t really sitting down and thinking about them. A lot of times I was just faking them because I wasn’t very confident. I was very scared about what other people would say, about what the band would say.
So there was the temptation, this being my first record, to try and aim for the jugular and try and impress people. Be like, “Hey, I can write crazy shit. I can write whatever.” Pull out all the stops and pull out all my post-beat poetry, Tom Waits stuff. I started working that way, but quickly realized how self-indulgent it was and how it wasn’t really working for the songs. Again, I’m not playing that game anymore. I’m not worried about any cred. I’m worried about what I think, I’m not worried about what other people think. I want to go to sleep at night and know I made the right decision, not that everybody likes me.
That changed the lyrics for me a lot, for a lot of reasons. First off, I had been saying for a long time that the only reason to do a solo record is to do something you can’t do in Fall Out Boy. All those things I just talked about, the Tom Waits influence, the beat poetry influence, the love of alliteration and long words, those are all hallmarks of Pete’s writing. That’s all shit I’ve been doing for years, and a lot of my stuff started to sound like him. There’s really no reason to write that record because that’s just a Fall Out Boy record, and probably a lesser one anyway because there’s not that interplay between Pete and I.
So I had to come up with a new voice that was totally separate. That was the big challenge, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I ended up being so economical with words. I do use these really small words because I feel like that’s the counter balance to the traditional Fall Out Boy, long song title, all the things that we’re known for. I thought it would be cool to try something really simple and small, and try and put a lot of meaning into very little space. Then what was the second part? Was there something I learned about writing?
Was there anything you didn’t expect?
I didn’t expect people to resonate with them so much. I’ve seen tattoos already and stuff, and that’s crazy to me. That’s a new feeling. I didn’t expect there to be anything new that I hadn’t encountered. I had assumed that as a musician I’ve heard and felt every kind of complement and insult that you could possibly have. When someone says, “Great show,” I knew how that would always feel. There is something different to someone saying they like your writing than there is to someone saying they like your music. I didn’t really expect that.
At the beginning, you mentioned writing from a positive perspective. Are there any other themes you felt you gravitated towards as you were writing?
Well, first off, I think I reacted that way because of really negative things. I was in a really bad place. Well, not a bad place. I actually handled things really well, but I had the catharsis of writing a record to fall back on. I had a lot of personal things happen. I had a few people die that year, and one in particular. He and I disagreed very strongly on certain things politically, and it was really interesting dissecting the loss of somebody, compounding the love you have for them and also the confusion over your disagreements and stuff. I think the record ended up being pretty political, which is natural to me because that was one of the things that attracted me to punk rock in the first place.
In the first pass of the record, because I scrapped a whole version of the album before the version that is now going to be out, the original version was pretty heavily political. I thought that was where I was going to go, basically Refused or something like that. What I ended up with was dissecting the whole idea of the political is personal.
I guess one of the big things of the record is balance. A common theme is the idea that any extreme is bad in any direction. I come from really extreme left wing politics. I’ve had some friends that come from really extreme right wing, and I really didn’t realize how much is reactionary and how much a lot of times that’s not good. It’s not just politics, it’s everything.
This isn’t in the lyrics, I’m just giving this as an example, but I lost a lot of weight. You can’t starve yourself. That’s the other extreme. You have to eat, you just have to eat less. As a musician, be musical. Try things, but don’t be self-indulgent. You have to be an entertainer as well. You have to entertain your audience, or at least consider your audience. So I guess the whole record is a bit about extremes.
I talk a little bit about some things that bother me in pop culture right now, like how cool we are. There’s a lot of cheating songs right now, so I wrote a cheating song about how shitty it is. There’s a lot of drinking songs right now, so I wrote a drinking song about how shitty it is. Again, kind of reacting from negativity, but I find all of it is towards some sort of positive end. I am an optimistic person. I think we’re doing to do better.
I think this record also gives you a chance to show off more vocally and play around with some different stuff you haven’t done to the full extent in the past. What were your goals with that and how do you feel that you’ve grown as a vocalist since the early days in Fall Out Boy?
The biggest change for me when I really look at everything, and there’s some technique things I’ve gotten better at or whatever, but the biggest change for all of it is confidence. I just stopped being scared of my voice and stopped being scared of myself. When I was in punk bands, when I was in hardcore bands and stuff, I would try and sing backups. I remember I was in this Hot Water Music kind of band, Small Brown Bike kind of band, and everyone had these really gravelly voices. I would try and sing backups and they were like, “Your voice is so pretty.” It was an insult. It wasn’t cool to sing pretty and sing kind of soul, so I was really scared of it and I hid from it for a long time.
Especially on Evening Out with Your Girlfriend and stuff like that, I was a way better singer than that then. I didn’t know that. I thought I was terrible singer singing pretty. I really struggled for a long time trying to find my voice when it was there the whole time. I was scared of what people would think. I guess that’s another big thing with this whole record cycle, is just embracing yourself and not really worrying. That’s the realest, most punk rock thing you can do, is just be yourself. When I look back, I think that’s the biggest thing.
There are some moments on the early Fall Out Boy records where I wince because I know I could have sung it better and I didn’t. The silly thing is the band was really supportive, I just was scared to even do it in front of them. I really give a lot of credit to Pete, especially. He was very encouraging of me really letting it out. He’s the one who suggested I should sing. Actually, Joe did too, now that I think about it, so credit where credits due.
I think the biggest growth and change, again, is I’m not scared of my voice anymore. I’m not in love with it, either. You hear yourself and it’s kind of like seeing yearbook photos where you’re like, “Oh, what was I thinking that day?” I am much more comfortable with myself than I used to be.
It’s been very interesting seeing the three different projects that have spawned off of Fall Out Boy, with your stuff, Damned Things and Black Cards. Did you always feel like that kind of diversity was possible within the band?
Yeah, I always thought that was one of the things that made us strong. I think it’s one of the things that people liked when we were at an even stasis, and it’s one of the things people disliked when any one side was winning. When Folie à Deux was more R&B, I think it pissed a lot of people off.
If/when Fall Out Boy comes back, I think it’ll be a much stronger Fall Out Boy band. Whatever type of music we made, and we’ve been a band long enough to be called a few names. We’ve been a pop-punk band. We’ve been a post hardcore band. We’ve been an emo band. Whatever kind of band we are, I think we’ll be better now than we used to be because we won’t be trying to force our things into it.
I think, too, one of the things I love about doing it right now is when I look at Damned Things, when I look at Black Cards, I feel like those are totally viable, legitimate bands. It’s not some shitty side project full of songs your main band didn’t want. It is its own thing. I think that means it needed to happen.
Much of the time when an artist does a solo career after they were in a band as big as something like Fall Out Boy was, they’re not always able to escape that shadow. Is that something that worries you, or is that something more that you embrace or ignore? How do you approach that?
I think one of the problems is a lot of people do try and escape the shadow. I’m not trying to pretend that I wasn’t in Fall Out Boy. I’m not trying to pretend that I’m not still the guy from Fall Out Boy. At the same time, I’m not going to pretend to be 17 forever. I had to grow up and be my own person and do my own thing. The more you think about it, the more contrived it becomes.
That’s something I never want. I never want to be some fake. I never want to be lying to people. I never want to be lying to myself. You can lie to other people, but people can spot a fake. If you’re lying to yourself and trying to convince yourself you’re something you’re not, then give up.
That was one of the challenges, explaining to people what the record was. I’m sure my label would be a lot happier with me if I had made the record fit more easily in one genre. It makes a way more marketable record if I did a rock record, or I did an acoustic-folk kind of thing, or I did an R&B record, or if I did an Adele, throwback soul thing. I didn’t do any of that. I did my thing, which definitely pays homage to other people.
I hear Prince. I hear Bowie. I hear Michael Jackson. I hear a lot of things in there, but I’m not trying to put them in there. That’s really the way to establish that you care about your solo project and that it matters is to not try and distance yourself from your thing. To that end, I didn’t really worry if something sounded too Fall Out Boy, because I’m the guy from Fall Out Boy. I’m not trying to not be that.
Originally appeared on Absolute Punk