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Fall Out Boy on returning to the basics and making the 'saddest New Year's song ever'

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: On Fall Out Boy's 2018 album, "Mania," experimentation was the point.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUNG AND MENACE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) ...Shoes again but somewhere you exist singing, oops, I...

SUMMERS: Vocalist and guitarist Patrick Stump says he was playing around with technology.

PATRICK STUMP: How much you can bend the sounds and distort the sounds and make them into different things - you know, make guitars into synthesizers and make voices into - you know, into guitars or whatever. Just make things weird.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUNG AND MENACE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) Young, young, young and a menace, and a menace, and a menace, young and a menace...

SUMMERS: The band's bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz says the album was sometimes purposely polarizing and that provided some artistic direction for their new album, "So Much (For) Stardust."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE FROM THE OTHER SIDE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) Generation sleep...

PETE WENTZ: When I look at artists whose art I love, like, sometimes after they make something polarizing, maybe the next thing they do is something that's more recognizably that artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE FROM THE OTHER SIDE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) I'm not sure. Nowhere left for us to go but heaven, summer falling through our fingers again, and you were the sunshine of my lifetime. What would you trade the pain for?

SUMMERS: Patrick Stump says getting back to that sound meant a welcome return to the basics in the recording studio.

STUMP: I really missed having to tune a guitar for an inordinate amount of time or having to place microphones.

SUMMERS: Dialing in to that sound also netted the band their first-ever number one on Billboard's Alternative Airplay chart decades into their career with the lead single "Love From The Other Side."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE FROM THE OTHER SIDE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) Sending my love from the other side of the apocalypse, and I just about snapped, don't look back, every lover's got a little dagger in their hand, love from the other...

SUMMERS: I want to ask you about another song on the record, the song "What A Time To Be Alive," because it has this, like, almost disco vibe to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FALL OUT BOY SONG, "WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE")

SUMMERS: But the lyrics, if you listen closely, are a lot gloomier. We're ready to livestream the apocalypse, for example.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) We're out here and we're ready, we're here and we're ready to livestream the apocalypse.

SUMMERS: And later in the song, you say that you've got the quarantine blues. So how much is this song, and really the whole record, a product of that isolation that we all lived through during the pandemic?

WENTZ: It's interesting because - right? - like, the pandemic and quarantining was, like, such a big part of everyone pretty much on the planet's life. But I think we were nervous to be, like, heavily referential of it in the way that, like, you know, it just feels like there is a lot of art, and it really cements it as, like, this happened at this exact moment, like, and doesn't let the art, you know...

STUMP: Yeah, it's the sedimentary rock...

WENTZ: ...So, like...

STUMP: ...In the - you know, where you can see that big line in the stone, you know, on the side of the mountain.

WENTZ: Yeah. So I feel like we - like, "Quarantine Blues" is maybe kind of the only real reference, but, like, I love the idea of the saddest New Year's song ever.

(LAUGHTER)

WENTZ: Like, you're like, that was, like, the worst year of all time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) What a time to be alive, what a time to be alive...

WENTZ: "What A Time To Be Alive" had this just double meaning where I saw that line and it just inspired me. I was like, yeah, I want to make the kind of song that you play at a wedding and don't really pay attention to how absolutely bleak it is. It is just miserable. I wanted, like, the darkest party song.

(SOUNDBITE OF FALL OUT BOY SONG, "SO MUCH FOR STARDUST")

SUMMERS: I know you all are about to be kicking off a major tour. How does it feel to be getting back out there to be performing this music in front of people?

WENTZ: I get pretty stressed about leaving just, like, being with your family and stuff. So I'm excited about it because I think we put that intention into the record that, like, the art has to be worth going out and touring it and taking it around the world. So - and on that level, I'm pretty excited, and I'm pretty excited about the stage show we're going to do.

SUMMERS: What about you, Patrick? How are you feeling about getting back on tour?

STUMP: I'm always anxious. We kind of do go a little bit overboard in the studio sometimes, you know, in terms of the layers of things and the counter melodies and the parts and the harmonies. And it's - like, the record as it's recorded is very much, you know, the hero version of the song, and you should aim for it to sound like that. You have to figure out some way to translate that live and still achieve something that satiates the people that love that record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO MUCH FOR STARDUST")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) So much for stardust, we thought we had it all, thought we had it all, thought we had it all, thought we had it all, thought we had it all. So much...

SUMMERS: There's also this sort of quirky interlude on the album, a song called "The Pink Seashell," which features an Ethan Hawke monologue from "Reality Bites" the movie. What made you want to include that on this album?

WENTZ: I always loved this monologue.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PINK SEASHELL")

ETHAN HAWKE: But then I realized that the shell's empty. There's no point to any of this. It's all just a random lottery of meaningless...

WENTZ: It stands out from "Reality Bites" to me because this feeling creeps up inside me all the time. Like, I always know - I listen to music, and I make art. And I go to therapy, and I hang on - I'm present with my kids and play sports. And it - all that stuff kind of makes it go away, but, like, it creeps up inside - just the idea of, like, maybe there aren't any answers. Like, maybe it's just, like, you're just here 'cause.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PINK SEASHELL")

HAWKE: And I sit back, and I ride my own melt.

SUMMERS: The day that this album was announced, your lead guitarist, Joe Trohman announced that he'd be stepping away from the band for an indefinite period of time for his mental health. And I have to imagine that's been a really big change for you all.

STUMP: Yeah, it's been weird because, you know, you - we miss him tremendously. So that's - it's very strange to go out and promote something that he was, you know, fully a part of without him. So that's a little uncomfortable, to be honest. But I think he had kind of, in a lot of ways, suffered in private. He was anxious that he was letting us down or something. And I was like, dude, like, we've done this together for, you know, 22 years. You know, we're in your corner. And, you know, we've been checking in with him regularly, so he's still very much in all of the conversations. You know, he's on all the emails. He replies to everything. He's, like, part of it, but he doesn't physically get to be there. He's still part of the game with us, you know?

SUMMERS: Yeah. As you mentioned, you all have been doing this together for decades at this point. How are you thinking about this phase of your career and where you want to go and grow next?

WENTZ: I mean, I feel really lucky. Like, none of it was supposed to happen this way, I don't think, you know? Like, from us going on TRL as this, like, kind of terrible, weird punk band, and - you know, like, we got shot into this, like, vortex that I think it's very easy to, like, get chewed up and kind of spit out. And I think that a big thing that I'm proud of is that we just - like, we came out the other side, you know, and we, like, survived it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD ME LIKE A GRUDGE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) And I guess I'm getting older 'cause I'm less pissed when I can't get onto the guest list to the end of the world...

STUMP: Yeah, I do want to say, too, that I'm not particularly interested in just resting creatively and going out and being a business - you know? - like, and going out and just playing all the old hits, you know? You know, we'll do that. But I also really am driven by creating something new. There's nothing more exciting to me than when Pete sends me lyrics. When he - when I open that email, that's how the tour starts. You know what I mean?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD ME LIKE A GRUDGE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) Full-time problem, so hold me like a grudge...

SUMMERS: Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy. Their latest album, "So Much (For) Stardust," is out today. Thank you all so much for talking with us.

WENTZ: Thanks for having us.

STUMP: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD ME LIKE A GRUDGE")

FALL OUT BOY: (Singing) Hold me like a grudge. I guess somehow we made it back... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.