My Chemical Romance Talk New Album, 'Jersey Shore,' and Coming in Second to Miley Cyrus
In this time of frenetic, synthesized pop, America’s great rock hope has to be My Chemical Romance, whose new album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, was released on Monday, November 22. Formed in 2001, the New Jersey-based four-piece broke big in 2004 with the album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge and its anthemic single "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)," which was delivered by frontman Gerard Way in his trademark, hyperphonic singing style.
The band sold 1.7 million copies of the Reprise release, and followed it up with 2006’s more ambitious, highly conceptual record The Black Parade--another hit to the tune of 1.6 million units. MCR, which is comprised of guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro and bassist Mikey Way (Gerard’s brother), toured the album for over two years, but by the end of that international run, had officially burned out. That partly explains the four-year gap in new music, but there’s more to this story, including marriages, kids, and an entire album that was finished and scrapped.
In recent months, the band has come to terms with expectations placed on themselves both internally and by others, and the result is Danger Days, which came together in six months and represents a triumphant return to form. THR sat down with Gerard Way and Frank Iero at the storied Warner Bros. Records offices in Burbank to talk about their own experiences in the music business, which includes the sting of coming in second to Miley Cyrus—and bond over Jersey Shore. Read on for our Q&A…
THR: Since we’re here at the very vibe-y Warner Bros. headquarters, what was it like to come into this building for the first time?
Frank Iero: The first time we came here was when we were getting signed and it was between DreamWorks and [Warner Bros.]. I remember when they opened that CD shelf and said, "Hey why don't you take some stuff?" I was, like, “Woah!”
Gerard Way: It was super exciting. I remember seeing this chalet and being really blown away. You could tell the building had a lot of good energy and California history, too. But what I remember most is meeting all these amazing people that would go on to shape our career, most we still work with, but others like Jeff Ayerhoff and Phil Costello aren't here anymore.
THR: But Rob Cavallo, who produced your album, is now president of the label…
Iero: I like to think he got the job because of what a great job he did on this record. [Laughs] I've said this to him: not only is it good for this label, but it's good for the music industry that someone so heavily involved in the creative process has a position of power--someone who genuinely cares about music and the music industry and wants to see things go well. Not someone that's just trying to put their hand in the pot real quick and get the fuck out. He cares.
Way: And Tom [Whalley] was amazing. It was a very emotional day when we found out. You get the call and immediately, we missed Tom. He broke us, he signed us, he pushed us to make a good record every time, he gave a shit. I guess it's just a different perspective, like, let’s lead with the art and see what happens. I think anything that's a great experiment in art can't really fail. It's worth trying.
THR: Speaking of art, you’re so hands-on in the imaging of the band and your packaging, what’s your process?
Way: We're all involved together. I do a lot of drawing and I'm lucky to have that kind of skill, but everybody in the band is an artist, so Frank did the cover this time. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to look at in the next few years. I do a lot of research, I try to think about how it relates to music and I just do a ton of drawing. It's much easier to work your ideas out that way.
THR: With this album, did you ever feel pressure to get it out or were you allowed the leeway to just take your time?
Way: Tom [Whalley] was, like, “Get it right.” And that was really refreshing to us because Black Parade was a huge success but there was zero pressure from the label to get us back in the studio.
THR: So with what was scrapped, was it the vibe or the songs?
Way: Both. The energy wasn't there.
Iero: We didn't push ourselves to that next level. I think we purposefully held ourselves back, feeling like maybe in order to advance, we need to regress. There was definitely a sense of fear within the band about taking that next step.
Way: That's exactly it: we were so afraid that maybe the damage that would come our way or of being under the the heat lamp, so to speak. All the misinterpretation and the tabloidism, that it was almost, like, “Let's not make something great because when we do that, it causes trouble. And we're getting older, we don't want anymore fucking trouble, we want to be a band and play shows. I think that's what really informed that first attempt and that's why it wasn't special. Because it was us just trying to float under. Yeah, there were songs that had signature My Chem stuff, but really what we're great at is reinvention.
THR: Did you guys talk this through in a therapy session, a la Metallica Some Kind of Monster?
Iero: We had a heavy room on the last album...
Way: That’s where any time there was some shit that had to get drudged up or talked about or something dark, personal, tense or angry came up, you’d go into this heavy room and it sucked. We knew we didn't want that, so we didn't have that this time. We're able to be so honest with each other that you didn't need to go somewhere special to talk about it. If something was bugging you, you talk about it. But that's the cool thing: we don't bug each other. We just have deep discussions about art and music like friends. And we disagree about stuff but the disagreements are so healthy and intelligently thought out. We're very respectful of each other's opinions, especially about music.
THR: Your album came out the same day as Kanye West’s latest, which may not bode well for a No. 1 spot on Billboard album charts. Does that kind of thing matter to you guys?
Way: I think it's almost in the cards for us to be number 2. We've never been number 1. We got our ass kicked by Miley Cyrus last time, back when nobody knew who she was.
THR: Was that a disappointment?
Way: It was at the time because I felt like we’d worked towards it and it felt like it was in the cards. We expected it--like, who can beat us? A lip syncing child, that’s who.
THR: And now?
Way: Who cares? Somebody once brought up Glee--like, would that bum me out? I say why get bummed about that? It's like the radio. I don’t watch the show, but I know it would be funny.
THR: You guys grew up in New Jersey at a time when record stores existed and were thriving, are you sad for the kids today, your fans, who won’t have that experience?
Way: Without sounding like some kind of old fogey, it's 100 percent sad. A record store is like a place of discovery. It was like being in the library alone on a Saturday and finding all the shit you're not supposed to be reading. That's what was awesome about it. The most subversive ideas ever you'll find in a record store.
"It felt like it was in the cards. We expected it--like, who can beat us? A lip syncing child, that’s who." — Gerard Way on losing the top spot on the Billboard 200 to Miley Cyrus
Iero: It was such an adventure going into stores like Let it Rock and Two Tone Records in Montclair, and Pier Platters in Hoboken. You felt like it was a place you shouldn't be in, like looking at your dad's Playboys.
THR: Speaking of the Garden State, can we discuss Jersey Shore?
Way: I got into it this season. I found them very endearing and charming with their camaraderie, then I realized all they do is fight each other--not even other people anymore, I guess because they're all famous now and might get sued. Towards the end, the show started to get foul. The Situation got real weird with these sad, really gross characteristics, so I fell out almost as easily as I fell in. But If you go the Jersey shore, it really is like that. You'll get your fucking nose broken. I knew guys just like that. My wife loves the show so I’d watch it with her, but there were some nights when I was, like, OK, I’m gonna go hang out on Ebay.
THR: You’ll be out on the road promoting then touring this album, how do you avoid the burn-out you had last time?
Way: Talking about it a lot with our manager. I remember a couple of weeks ago, we asked him, " You manage Coldplay, they have families now and so do we. What is the limit you can go when you notice people start to crack. That's where we don't want to go." He said it’s right around week four. I know if I did four weeks on and one off, I think I'd be straight knowing I'm not going to miss how big my daughter gets. We need to stay linked to a life.
THR: What have you learned about the music industry?
Iero: That at times, it has nothing to do with music. It's a lot about favor swapping-- who is getting something from somebody at that time.
Way: One thing I feel like I learned is that if you chase the art, you really can't fail because you'll always be able to look at yourself in the mirror. And that's not about making angry decisions, either, where it's like, “Oh I'm going to see how punk we can be,” it's about always doing the right thing for you, your fans and your art. There are lots of people who will put the indie on a pedestal. I’ve talked openly about Victory Records and how they screwed all my friends. They cornered them into these deals that were pretty much impossible to get out of without millions of dollars--an indie label! So I think there's this punk rock propaganda machine that exists to service things like that--like a kind of punk greed. Nobody ever gets to talks about punk rock greed and it's huge. There are guys that have way bigger houses than people who work here all. They brought them ripping off basement bands. The sharks sometimes look like people you grew up with.
Iero: But it’s good to know that not everyone is a shark. There are people that have been there from the get-go that still have our backs.
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