Slip out of the DeLorean and into the colourful year that was 2006, back when Angels & Airwaves first hit the erm, airwaves and Escape The Fate made their debut with a freshly guylinered Ronnie Radke behind the mic.
10 years on from its release, and mere weeks ahead of their highly anticipated Australian return as part of Download Festival, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and dug deep into the vault to bring you My Chemical Romance’s first ever BLUNT cover story.
Having helped launch the screamo revolution currently gripping the globe, MCR singer Gerard Way remains the same “normal guy” he always was. So what was Bert McCracken’s problem? Original Words by Dan Stapleton.
Gerard Way is finishing out the year on a high note. Speaking to BLUNT on a warm mid-December afternoon, the My Chemical Romance frontman is full of stories about his band’s incredible rise to fame, enthused and energetic despite a year of constant international touring. Later in the day, Way and co. will take to the stage at the Sydney Cricket Ground, warming up 65,000 Green Day fans on that band’s American Idiot Tour. Tomorrow, they will play a sold out sideshow at the UNSW Roundhouse. Not bad for the group’s first visit to our shores. There’s much to discuss (and, after the interview, a soundcheck to be conducted), but first, Way wants to clear something up.
“The thing about Bert is that he likes to joke,” he says. “He’s a joker. He makes up a lot of stuff. I read that thing. It’s not true, so…”
“That thing” Way refers to is an article posted on MTV.com which quoted The Used’s Bert McCracken as saying he was no longer on speaking terms with the MCR frontman. “We used to be very close, but no more,” McCracken was reported to have said. “We had a falling out.” Since the article appeared in November, the rumour mill has run rife, helped along by McCracken himself, who confirmed the content of the article to journalists when in Australia for the Taste of Chaos Tour. Still, Way insists the singers, who recently collaborated on a cover of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”, are still close.
“I feel like anybody who would engineer a feud is money-driven,” Way says, taking aim at mainstream media and record labels. “All it takes [between bands] is to pick up a phone and settle something. You don’t need somebody to find out on a website that they’re not your friend, you know what I mean? That’s just clearly a press situation, to draw attention. There’s nothing wrong with me and him. As far as real beefs, there was never anything real about it.”
“The way we look is an extension of what we do and the songs that we play. The guys, after living it for so long, everybody just ends up having all-black clothes.”
Whatever the truth, the rumours are now a permanent fixture in Way’s life. He has had to adjust to other bands and the media talking shit about him pretty quickly – it’s barely a year since the release of My Chemical Romance’s sophomore effort, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. That album, which has since gone platinum in the States, has seen MCR propelled into the charts, onto MTV and into the gossip columns. Almost overnight the New Jersey five-piece have assumed the mantle of kings of the screamo revolution.
It wasn’t quite that easy, of course. Growing up, rock’n’roll superstardom didn’t seem cut out for this group of self-confessed nerds. Loose-knit friends through high school, the geeks bonded over music. Says Way, “We’d go see the New York hardcore shows and there was this place called the Pipeline in our town where we’d go and see all the Fat Wreck Chords bands that came through and all the Lookout! bands that came through.” Way tried to start punk bands in high school, but in the end he “just played guitar and sang a lot.”
My Chemical Romance formed several years after its members graduated. The band scored a deal with local indie Eyeball Records, recording their debut album, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, in two weeks with Thursday frontman and band hero Geoff Rickley. Comparisons between the two groups’ styles were inevitable, but My Chemical Romance quickly found their buzz exceeding that of their idols’, as they picked up high profile tour supports and, soon, their own headline shows. Way is proud of his band’s formative years, and is quick to distinguish “early” screamo bands like MCR, Thursday and Finch from newer imitations.
“We all ate shit, living in vans,” he says. “We all slept on floors, caught pneumonias… the bands that were touring in Europe with no money, they had to borrow money, putting people into debt. We were sick the whole time, and it was just, ‘Make it to another show, make it to another show’, because the show’s the most important thing in the world to you, not getting big.” The success of the band’s debut led to a deal with Reprise (Way says they jumped to a major “so we’d get distribution, so we’d be able to reach a lot of people. That was the sole reason. We were so tired of people not being able to find our record anywhere”). Although they fit neatly into the by-now huge screamo genre, MCR’s more gothic take on the style – complete with black makeup and almost-Goth clothes – soon marked them out as MN favourites.
“I think ‘the look’ is something people discover about the band afterwards,” claims Way of My Chemical Romance’s morbid attire. “I think the band has an extremely strong identity on its own. And we’re like artists, too. We’re not just wanting to rock the fuck out and have a great time and hang out with chicks. The way we look is an extension of what we do and the songs that we play. I always kinda looked like this. After living it for so long, everybody just ends up having all-black clothes. It just ended up that way. We deal with extremely dark subject matter every day. There’s nothing wrong with looking like an extension of the music.”
Today Way is not made up. He wears a simple black shirt and black pants, smiles a lot, and leans forward conspiratorially. He has echoes of Billy Corgan (before the hair loss) – articulate, assured, but clearly a guy who’s had his fair share of alone time. Does Way think he’s changed since he became famous?
“I’m a completely normal guy,” he insists. “The only thing that’s changed about me is that people recognise me and people treat me like I’m not normal. My life’s not normal, but I am, y’know. I’m the same guy. When you get into this, you can make a decision to go one of two ways – you can go out there and be a clown or an arsehole or an idiot or a junkie, or you could go out there and be yourself and stay yourself and make something worthwhile for people to enjoy.”
One person Way thinks of as being normal, despite his huge success, is Billie Joe Armstrong. Throughout our interview he refers to the Green Day singer with the awe of a true fanboy. “Growing up, he was one of my heroes,” says Way. “He was in a band and on MTV when I was still in high school. The first time going out on tour with them, I was very worried about being star-struck, but they made us feel like equals and very much at home.
“The thing about Bert is that he likes to joke. He makes up a lot of stuff. There’s nothing wrong with me and him. As far as real beefs, there was never anything real about it.”
“I was the kid in high school that listened to Green Day before they were on MTV,” he adds. “I was that kid. I had Kerplunk and their EPs and I was this Green Day fan, and then they got big. But I always still supported them, even though they got big. Just because people who play football started to like Green Day doesn’t really change what that band meant to me. I’ve always been a non-elitist like that. I’ve never bought into the whole, just because a lot of people like something, it makes it less valid.”
Accusations of sell-out have followed MCR since they signed to Reprise, and Green Day have been dealing with them since Dookie, but Way is adamant that tonight’s mammoth gig, with some tickets priced at over $100, is still a punk show at heart. “Green Day give people that normally don’t have that kind of an outlet a way to feel either accepted or to express themselves,” he claims, “and to me that was always punk. It’s about self-expression. It’s weird being on tour with them in these giant arenas and have it still feel like a punk show.”
These are the final 2005 dates for My Chemical Romance – after tours of the US, Canada and Europe this year, they’re due for a break. But, keen to capitalise on their success this year, the band are heading back into the studio as soon as possible. “We have not yet picked a producer,” says Way, “but these are our last dates. We go home, we’re gonna take about three weeks off, if that. Then get into pre-production in New York, and write the rest of our songs – we have about 12 already. We’re gonna just keep writing until we don’t have any more time, and then we’ll record until it’s done.”
Expect 2006 to be another huge year for these screamo stalwarts – apart from the forthcoming full-length, the band are also dropping a DVD/CD combo featuring live footage and rarities. My Chemical Romance have had quite the journey already, but if 2005 was anything to go by, it’s by no means over yet.
Download Festival Australia 2020
Tickets available now
Friday, 20th March
Melbourne Showgrounds, Melbourne
Saturday, 21st March
Parramatta Park, Sydney
Featured in BLUNT #46 – January 2006.