We talked to Pete Wentz about his old vegan-straightedge black-nationalist power-violence/hardcore band Racetraitor, growing up, and why Fall Out Boy is an important punk band, no matter what you think.
Here is a list of things about Pete Wentz that you did not know: he owns a Roc-A-Fella chain personally given to him by Jay-Z (in women’s sizing, he explained, or else it would have looked weird), listens to Future, played bass in a prominent vegan-straightedge black-nationalist power-violence/hardcore band called Racetraitor (“Yeahhhh, we were political,” Wentz says when I bring them up. “Really political.”), and Colin Powell is his great uncle. In other words, the dude from Fall Out Boy is cool as fuck and has always been cool as fuck—you just haven’t noticed because you haven’t been paying attention.
At 33, Fall Out Boy’s bassist, lyricist, chief mouthpiece, and ideological leader fully understands his role in popular culture. He’s the guy crazy and audacious enough to actually make rock 'n' roll music that’s big and daring enough to fill out a stadium, and he’s stubborn enough to do it on his terms. Wentz makes a case for Fall Out Boy as an important entity in punk, acting as a mainstream entry point from which to get into the more underground shit. And for every thousand people who might listen to Fall Out Boy and not dig deeper into punk, I guarantee you that there’s always one who finds the same bands Pete Wentz grew up loving and has their entire life changed. That’s who Pete Wentz does it for. Even if they immediately disavow having ever listened to Fall Out Boy in the process. He also understands that not too many people are going to get that: to a lot of people he’s just that histrionic douche-nozzle wearing guyliner and your girlfriend’s hoodie, loudly complaining about how much fame sucks. But Pete Wentz is not that dude anymore. He’s got a four-year-old kid. The mansion is no longer palatial. He doesn’t straighten his hair or wear makeup, and his jeans no longer hug his balls. In short, Pete Wentz is finally an adult.
Fall Out Boy’s new album Save Rock and Roll is unlike anything the band has ever done. Where their first two albums were indebted to groups like Saves the Day and Green Day, and their second two albums, while pretty brilliant, seemed to be working triple-time to prove to someone, anyone, that Fall Out Boy was an Important Rock Band, Save Rock and Roll is the sound of a band who finally doesn’t give a shit about what you think, and it’s awesome. Wentz and I had a nearly hour-long phone conversation in which we discussed his growing into himself, how crazy it is to be famous, and exactly how one goes from being the dude in a vegan-straightedge black-nationalist power-violence/hardcore band to being the leader of the biggest band in America.
Noisey: I have a theory—that if Fall Out Boy had come up two years later in New York, you would have been a “Pitchfork band” as opposed to an “emo band,” but because you came up in Chicago and were marketed a certain way…
Pete Wentz: I think that we’re the kind of band who’s not too worried about what makes them their band. Being serious and that kind of thing, you kind of lose the idea of why you even started doing it. I think one of the things people can relate to is we’re just these dudes from the Midwest, but, like, for some reason we got to be on TRL. We weren’t a put-together band. It was a very authentic thing. I totally get what you’re saying. There are definitely a couple Yeah Yeah Yeahs songs where I’m like, “This is something Fall Out Boy would have done in that kind of environment.”
How was navigating the world of celebrity?
It was crazy. There were a lot of times when I didn’t even really understand what was going on. People were reacting to things that were going on in my life, and I didn’t even know what was happening. I didn’t really understand what the backlash was from. I get it. You don’t get to really explain yourself. I felt like an outsider still, but I wasn’t perceived that way. I was seen as part of the status quo, but in my head I felt different. I think the actual perspective was a little in between. There was a moment where I felt like I was caught up, where I was like, “Cool, this guy’s taking a jet somewhere, so I guess I’ll take his jet with him.” It was just a stupid thing that would be hard for any 20-year-old dude to say no to. I think that the good thing about it is a lot of that paved the way for who I am now. I would sweat all of the small stuff when I was in my 20s. I had anxiety about everything. Everything bothered me. I was just like, “Oh man, people are gonna hate me because of this.” I was way too concerned about that stuff.
Do you think the band suffered because of all the public scrutiny on you?
Probably. I always said and thought it did, but at the same time I think we probably persevered because of it. I think that forced us to be a better band. We weren’t being reviewed based on our music, so it forced us to make music that was really important to us and not just skate by on it. It also makes your skin a little bit thicker. People’s opinions about my outfit or whatever don’t matter. That’s a lot easier to say at 33 than 23.
Is there a challenge from having come from an extremely principled scene and becoming a member of the biggest rock band in America? How do you reconcile those two worlds?
We had a bit more ambition. I think that it’s cool for dudes to just hang out in the corners of festivals and play the rock music they want to play and dismiss the world at large. That’s a cool thing, and I like and adore a lot of those bands. But for me, it’s ultimately a lot harder for us to do it in a public pop place. I don’t think that the music is comparable, but try looking at backpack rappers versus Kanye West. It’s important for Kanye West to exist, because he’s a gateway for people to find other music from. For me, without Dookie by Green Day, I don’t think I’d be down this path, listening to the Descendents, the Misfits, Screeching Weasel, Judge, and that kind of stuff. It was definitely a harsh change, and one that while it happened gradually, it felt like the switch went on in the way the world perceived us overnight. It was this kind of like, “Oh shit, we’re on TRL and in Rolling Stone.” And then people were, like, mad about it. That was hard, and there’s no good manual for it. In some ways, that movie Almost Famous is pretty real.
Was there anyone in the Chicago scene who was like, “Oh shit, that’s the Racetraitor dude on MTV?”
We get it every once in a while, I think. Andy, our drummer, stays tight with all of those hardcore kids. He played drums in Earth Crisis last year, which is kind of crazy, because that was the band we’d mosh around our living room to. Our first show back was in Chicago and it was a lot of dudes with beards stage diving and stuff. I know that we were a guilty pleasure for a lot of hardcore kids. Every once in a while people are like, “Bring back Racetraitor! Bring back Arma Angelus!” And I’m just like, “Ehhh, I don’t think you guys would be into those bands…” Maybe you would be because Patrick would be in them now, but whatever. It’s all accidental. I’ve been in like 50 or 60 bands in my life. None of them ever really went there in this capacity.
What is it about Fall Out Boy that took off?
I don’t know. There’s something a little bit different, like the sum is greater than its parts with Fall Out Boy. We’ve all done other stuff, and it just… A lot of people tell me my side projects are a lot smaller, and I say, “No no no. It’s the reverse. Fall Out Boy is a lot bigger.” It’s just this wild, strange lottery ticket. And I think that anybody who’s in the position where you’re getting paid to play rock music and go around the world with your friends and hang out, and acts like it’s not fun is lying to you. Anyone who acts somber about that is lying to you. I think those people go back to their hotel rooms and laugh about how they’re pulling one over on everybody. Because it’s really the best job in the world.
Did you realize it was the best job in the world during the Folie à Deux tour?
Nah, I don’t think so at all. I think going from where everything’s working to where nothing’s working is a really harsh reality. It makes you appreciate it, though. It makes you appreciate what you were doing and why you were doing it.
Is there an age when you’re going to sit your son down and hand him a copy of From Under the Cork Tree?
My son listens to Save Rock and Roll; that’s the one he likes. I think as much as people think I’m that guy, I don’t listen to any Fall Out Boy. I can’t stand listening to it. I obsess over it while we work on it, but the minute it comes out, it’s like when you hear your voice on an answering machine and are like, “Whoa, that’s what I sound like? That is crazy bad.” That’s what it’s like to hear Fall Out Boy to me, which is probably good or else I’d be a super narcissistic person.
What do you listen to these days?
I like A$AP’s new album a lot, I like Future’s new album, I like TNGHT. I do like a lot of pop music and rock music. I like the 1975 a lot. I think they have the potential to be colossal. We were shooting a video the other night, and there were all these 13-year-old skater kids down there. I think it’s interesting to, like, actually talk to young people, and they just like songs. They were talking about Skrillex and then go into Gym Class Heroes. It was really not about the artist. You can feel that in music and how festivals are being booked in all of that. Genre is less defining now.
I saw online that you were related to Colin Powell. Is that true?
Yeah, he’s my great uncle. I met him around Desert Storm, and at the age, I was at there was a bunch of great propaganda done for it, where there were, like, trading cards and T-shirts and shit, and you were convinced that was cool. I remember asking him, “Oh man! Are you going to be using bazookas?” I can’t even imagine, like, wow. What a goofy thing to ask. I think in some way, I'm related to Malcolm Gladwell as well. I’m not sure it’s as direct, but my mom told me that the other day. I was reading a Gladwell book, and my mom was like, “Oh yeah, you’re related to him.”
Do you ever read your own Wikipedia page?
I have before, but not in a long time. It was locked for a little bit because people kept changing it to say, “Pete Wentz died this weekend.” I’d be like, “Oh, that’s weird. That didn’t happen!” I’m not looking at it right now, but there are things about it that are a little bit off.
Do you think celebrities change their own Wikipedia pages?
I’m sure they have to. I’ll go on and see if I can do it today.
Did 2 Chainz sort of leak that you guys were recording again on Instagram?
He definitely did. He posted something that said, “Fall Out Boy featuring 2 Chainz,” and I was like, “Well, guess it’s out.” But people were just like, “No, that’s too crazy.” 2 Chainz is real cool.
Do you talk to people from the old Chicago scene still?
Definitely. I talk to Jim Grimes. I talk to my friend Mani from Racetraitor. A lot of people grew up, I guess. The Lost Boys grew up.
Is punk something you grow out of?
I think that in order to have a kid and have another layer of your life, you don’t have to not be punk any more—I run into Toby from H20, and he’s super cool and still super punk—I just think that you have to be open to the idea that you can have some responsibility. Having responsibilities doesn’t make you not punk. There’s something that’s a little sad about having your glory days so far behind you and constantly reminiscing instead of looking forward. But I’ll still stage dive. I’m 33. I’m old.
Say Greg Ginn calls you up and asked you to be the bassist in Black Flag. How do you respond?
I think I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t want to infringe on that legacy. Too many people have too many tattoos. It should be Black Flag playing Black Flag.
What if it were 1980 and you were 18?
That would be my dream job. That would be my second wish from the genie, after I wished for infinite wishes.
If that would have been your dream job, where does “Being Pete Wentz” fit in?
If you’d asked me the same question ten years ago, I would say I’m really troubled and really bothered by it, and it was a hard thing to deal with. But I have a great life. I live in Southern California and get to play music, I have a great kid. I think it’s good, man. I think I’ve accepted who I am and where I fall in the world now. “Being Pete Wentz” isn’t a guilty pleasure to me, anymore. I understand a lot more of what the backlash was, and I get where a lot of the hate came from. I think I’ve outgrown that person. I don’t need to put eyeliner on to go to, like, Ralphs. Some of that probably comes with age, and some of it comes with being authentic to who I am.
OK, last question. Has anyone ever told you that the riff from “Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” kinda sounds like the one from “Higher” by Creed?
[Laughs] Is that the one where he does the Jesus pose in the video? Does it? I don’t know. I’ll listen to it today. If it sounds like that, I’ll put it on my Wikipedia page.
Drew Millard is the world’s biggest Fall Out Boy fan besides his friend Kevin. He’s on Twitter - @drewmillard