HEROES: Pete Wentz
Bringing noughties punk edge to the ’20s, Pete Wentz gears up to soundtrack another decade of pop-punk anthems in his latest musical revival
Pete Wentz has come full circle. He has substituted his side-swept emo locks for a bleached man bun. He changed up his bad boy image with being a doting dad. Now after nearly five years out from releasing new music, the bassist and lyrical mastermind is returning with a new perspective for Fall Out Boy’s highly anticipated latest album, So Much (for) Stardust.
“You have to experience new things in order to then go and make more art, so that was very intentional and important,” Wentz explains of his return to the spotlight.
His ascension to punk legend is nearly two decades in the making. The soundtrack to the lives of teens across the early 2000s was written by Fall Out Boy—or more specifically, Wentz. Hailing from the suburban outskirts of Chicago, the musical foursome was formed in 2001 just on the cusp of massive social and technological change. The bass-playing and songwriting prowess of Wentz paired with Patrick Stump’s vocals, Andy Hurley’s drumming, and Joe Trohman on the guitar became a cornerstone to the rapidly expanding pop punk universe of the decade.
Skyrocketing to the world stage in the early millennium, Fall Out Boy augmented the undercurrent of angst and despair collectively experienced in a post-9/11 world. Their music struck a chord with then-teenage millennials riddled with anxiety in a rapidly changing social climate of new buzzwords and talks of conflicts in foreign nations, but offered a different, less-politicized escape within the world of punk—heavy on love lost and heartbreak. The inimitable formula behind billboard charting hits like “Sugar, We’re Going Down” and “Thnks fr th Mmrs” was the result of what Wentz describes as a natural synergy of strong suits between he and collaborator, Stump.
“Some of our best songs came from friction between Patrick and I because he really only cares about the vocal pattern and the melody, and I only really care about the words,” said Wentz. “There is something to those two aspects working against each other and finding the balance.”
And that something climbed them up the charts. As their music garnered traction, Wentz’s name became a repeated headline, transforming into tabloid fodder for his high-profile relationships with rising starlets and his rockstar image.
Radios have since become Bluetooth speakers and gossip columns have become the free-for-all that is social media. But make no mistake, Fall Out Boy’s return is not a blast from the past. Amongst the revival of noughties fashion trends and thrashy punk music, Fall Out Boy’s latest album has all the earmarks of a bestseller record to satisfy the old fans and solidify the band’s legacy for newer generations.
“I’ll be at the airport and people are like, ‘I started playing drums because of [Fall Out Boy drummer] Andy Hurley’ and in my head he’s this goofy kid I met when we were in high school. But to them, he’s a legend. It’s a weird, forced perspective for me.” The record pays homage to all of their musical eras while still lending something new circa 2023. “It’s not going to be exactly what it was because we’ve all changed and had life experiences. The world is a different place,” says Wentz. “There is every era of Fall Out Boy, but it’s not crammed into it—it’s there when it needs to be.”
Read the exclusive conversation below where Wentz details fatherhood, the latest era of FOB and returning to the world stage of a new and improved “gatekeeper-free” music industry.
V MAGAZINE: Congratulations on the new album—that’s super exciting! I understand this is your first album of new music since 2018’s Mania. Returning back to the music scene together, how do you feel as a band you guys are different now, compared to your last release?
PETE WENTZ: I had actually been watching this Metallica documentary, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, and I kind of always thought the band was older than they were but I realized that they were actually like 20 years in and exactly where we were at. During the pandemic, I got really used to just being at my house and hanging with my family. [The band and I] had talked about the idea of if we were to do something again, it would have to be really important, for us to leave. It couldn’t just be a nostalgia show—it had to feel important. That’s the only reason to make new music too, you know?
And we took a long time, honestly. Patrick had first wanted to work with Neil Avron who we’d done From Under the Cork Tree, Infinity on High and Folie à Deux—our earlier records with. I was a little bit apprehensive about it, but when I called Neil, he was like, “No matter what we do, it cannot be a throwback record. It can’t be the old Fall Out Boy.” And we’ve never tried to make an album that kind of mixed it all together—the new and the old. That was the attempt on this record and hopefully we pulled it off on some level.
V: That definitely makes sense in the culmination of this record. I was listening to some of the latest releases like “Heartbreak Feels So Good” and “Love from the Other Side” and it was really a panoramic view of Fall Out Boy discography. You really have the thrashy power chords of your earlier stuff and then the lyrical flow of some of your newer stuff. I know you touched on Metallica being a point of reference but where did you guys find inspiration for this latest record?
PW: The interesting thing is our inspirations are so disparate and cinematic—our mood board would be more visual storytelling and less sonic. For this record, we have this motif of a pink seashell from the film, Reality Bites, in combination with “If you build it, they will come” from the film, Field of Dreams. Those are the two big emotional anchors of the record.
It’s this feeling of nihilism which I experience literally every September. I get this zoomed out feeling where all of a sudden I’m like, “oh my God, my parents look like my grandparents.” My kids are now where I was once at. I think that’s a big part of the pink seashell—my dad is like this unknowable pearl inside the oyster or something. You’re trying to figure it out and it’s really that it might be you looking in the mirror and you are the unknown. But then I truly the Field of Dreams thing, like you have to do something crazy, you’ve got to break out of it.
V: Yeah, absolutely. As you have matured and your kids have gotten older, I’m curious how you feel this “fatherhood chapter” of your life has influenced your artistry?
PW: That’s a good question. I think that being a father gave me a system update—it plugged the power in for me. My empathy was updated. I’m a super disorganized type of person, so the aspect of waking up on time and keeping someone else’s schedule—that was really updated for me (laughs). I think if anything, being a father softened every part of me except for making the art. If you talk to Patrick, I’m now more conversational and open to other people’s ideas and probably easier to deal with.
V: It seems like perfect timing to hear another new addition to the Fall Out Boy discography. You, of course, really made a name for yourselves on the world stage in the early 2000s and now in 2022—whether you look to fashion or music at the moment—that era is trending again. I’m curious from your perspective, what is it like playing for a whole new generation of listeners?
PW: It’s interesting because we’re playing for people who just weren’t quite old enough yet our first time around. I just don’t ever want our music to feel like Chuck E. Cheese where you walk in and it’s animated people making the music but it’s not authentic. It’s not going to be exactly what it was because we’ve all changed and had life experiences—not just the band, but everybody. The world is a different place.
When we first started seeing the early 2000s coming back, I didn’t really know what to think but now all of a sudden, I’ll be at the airport and people are like, “I started playing drums because of [Fall Out Boy drummer] Andy Hurley and in my head he’s this kid I met when we were in high school and we were just goofy kids. But to them, he’s a legend. It’s a weird forced perspective for me. Now I’m seeing the end of my nose, you know what I mean? We’re not trying to be a blast from the past. We want these to be great Fall Out Boy shows and a great Fall Out Boy record that’s adjacent to all the things that are trending now but it’s not meant to be a throwback. When people hear the whole record, I think they’ll understand that.
V: It definitely sounds like you guys are leaning on your past experience and your sound in the past, but then also amalgamating it with all your life experiences that you’ve all accumulated over the years. In recent press you’ve been talking a lot about “intention” with this new album and you said that if you were coming back to music, you needed to have a lot of intention behind it. How do you find intention in your artistry to balance having to be away from family while still creating music?
PW: Doing this for almost 20 years, you can kind of go on autopilot and that can be very unfortunate—you shouldn’t make art on autopilot. There was a time, maybe about 2009 or so, when we’d be going to Japan and I would literally sit in my hotel room and wait until the show started and then go back to my hotel room. When we started doing the band again for a second time after we took a break, I said to myself, “You’re not doing that. We’re not going around the world without you realizing that you’re one of the luckiest people on the planet that gets to travel the world with your friends and work the coolest job. You’re gonna go out and you’re gonna experience the culture.” I was talking to myself like I was 13, but this is the truth. That has now been some of the intention I’ve brought to touring and exploring the world. I think that’s the only way to do the life cycle of the art. You have to experience new things in order to then go and make more art, so that was very intentional and important.
Honestly, some of our best songs or songs that I know people have connected with the most came from friction between Patrick and I because he really only cares about the vocal pattern and the melody, and I only really care about the words. There is something to those two aspects working against each other and finding the balance. It creates the best version of Fall Out Boy. Listen, I’ve tried to use the Fall Out Boy song recipe in other settings and it doesn’t really work because there’s not the friction there that I have with Patrick.
V: Looking ahead to the release, what are you most excited for fans—whether they’re longtime listeners or new fans—to hear on this new album?
PW: I think that we’ve created an album that touches on all of the eras of Fall Out Boy, but not in a pandering way. I think we’re in a great era right now in some ways because we’re in a manic-TikTok-zero-gatekeeper era—you can just make art that is really weird and it’s still pop art, but it has a chance because there’s no gatekeeper there to stop it from happening, so if people like it, they latch onto it. There is every era of Fall Out Boy, but it’s not crammed into it—it is there when it needs to be. There’s moments of Infinity On High when there needs to be, there’s moments of Save Rock and Roll when it’s called for. I think that that was a different experience when making this record, and I hope people are able to hear that when they listen to it.
So Much (for) Stardust is now available on all streaming platforms and available for purchase as vinyl and CD!
Catch Fall Out Boy on tour this summer!