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A Quietus Interview

Digging Underneath The Mythology: The Danger Days Of My Chemical Romance
Ben Hewitt , November 15th, 2010 07:42

Ben Hewitt talks to My Chemical Romance about their new album Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys as well as a distaste for emo and the importance of myth-making

It's 2019. The city you're living in is completely homogenized. It's a plain of utopian uniformity, a metropolis of very few risks but even fewer rewards. You're safe, but you're bored, too. There's no danger anymore, but there's no daring either. Fear has been eradicated, but so has freedom. And at the head of this tedious existence is Better Living Industries, an oxymoron if there ever was one: a promise of a better life, yet only within strictly-defined parameters. So if you're looking for thrills and chaos and excitement and unpredictability… well, this isn't place for you.

Outside of the city, though, there's something different. It's wild and untamed. A resistance, led by a gang of feckless outlaws known as the 'Fabulous Killjoys': Party Poison, Jet Star, Fun Ghoul and Kobra Kid. Most of their rebellion is contained to subversive radio transmissions - crackling missives which spread messages of hope, defiance, love and - most crucially - having fun with the help of pirate DJ Dr. Death Defying. Hitching your wagon to these guys is probably your best chance of escape.

Today, though, the Killjoys look knackered - and there are only three of them here. Perhaps the fourth one got zapped by some intergalactic highwayman on the way here? Party Poison - aka Gerard Way, lead singer of My Chemical Romance - sits perched on the end of a couch, clad all in black with his natural dark roots splayed with shocks of blood-red hair dye. On the right reclines Kobra Kid, normally known as Mikey Way (bass player and Gerard's younger brother), who is popping a soluble vitamin into his glass of orange squash. And hunched up in the middle is Frank Iero, alter-ego of Fun Ghoul. Mikey's glass fizzes. "That shit is smoking," says Frank. "It's like some kind of potion!" laughs Mikey. "Wow, that's like some shit from The Munsters," concludes Gerard. "The stuff that Grandpa would mix up…"

A week from today, My Chemical Romance will release their fourth album Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys. Like their last album The Black Parade, which was released seemingly an eternity ago (in reality it was only 2006), it's heavily focussed on a fantasy concept. But if The Black Parade saw them labelled as dark, depressing and as the heads of a dangerous cult corrupting fragile young minds, then Danger Days… is a more straightforward exercise in simply having a good time. The conceits of defiance and rebellion take a backseat to the more traditional rock & roll aim of having fun, as evidenced by the title of lead single 'Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)'; there's no grand message to buy into here, and adrenaline is more important than intellectualising. That's not to say there aren't some lofty ideals involved, though.

"A lot of the elements of the setting are completely metaphorical for the real stuff that's going on in this album," explains Gerard, "which is a struggle of art vs. commerce and filth vs. corporate clean up, and freedom being a dangerous chaotic thing that's very hard to achieve, versus a kind of utopian situation where you're very safe and everything's very easy, but it's also very boring."

Mikey chimes in. "We found that not having a concept in the songs kind of liberated things, and the lyrics were so much more direct. There wasn't a metaphor going on; it was more like grabbing the listener by the collar."

Even without the video for 'Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)' - a pop-punk take on Mad Max which sees Gerard and co rocking futuristic garb, holstering space guns and blowing through the desert in souped-up vehicles - you'd find it hard to miss the sci-fi and fantasy setting that runs throughout Danger Days. But it's also hard to accept on face value; there must be some sort of allegory at work here, surely, rather than a group of men simply wanting to play dress up. And with the world a pretty fucked-up place right now…

"Of course," Gerard nods. "Uh-huh. It was our take on it: us directly being slowly and gradually assimilated into that 30-something safe-rock culture."

So now growing old gracefully for My Chemical Romance?

"That's the best way to put it," he agrees. I remember someone saying to me at one point: 'Don't grow up now. You have your whole life to grow up. Don't be that band, you guys aren't that band'."

TS Eliot once said that no art has its meaning alone; that the past will always cloud the present (and the future) when it comes to analysis and interpretation, and that any artist "will be aware also that he must inevitably be judged by the standards of the past". Of course, his words were penned with the conflict between the canon of English literature and its current Modernist practitioners in mind, but it's applicable to My Chemical Romance too. It's impossible not to be distracted by the ghost of The Black Parade when listening to Danger Days, and subsequently, it's equally hard not to see the latter album as a totemic reaction against its predecessor. If The Black Parade was grand in scope, Danger Days is punchier and rougher; if the influences on the former were seemingly Anglophilic, then the new album is rooted in American rock and pop of the 60s, 70s and 80s (according to the band, MC5 and The Stooges were among early influences). Most notably, if The Black Parade was a supposedly morbid take on the journey of a terminally ill patient, then Danger Days is a joyful blast of defiant which strives for immortality - as Way sings on 'Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back': "We can live forever, if you have the time."

"I think that maybe just being more direct was a reaction," says Gerard.

"It's kind of like 'Wop Bop A Loo Bop, A Wop Bam Boo', says Frank, referring to 'Na Na Na…'. "What the fuck does that mean? But it just gets you."

Was having fun the main aim with this record?

Gerard nods. "Fuck shit up and having fun. Have fun… it had to become fun again in order for us to keep going."

Did it stop being fun?

"Yes."

With The Black Parade?

"Yes."

Why?

"Overtouring," answers Frank, instantly. "It was such a heavy time. We were just in this capsule at times… a new city every day. I think there was a hatred for what we had created, because of what it made us have to do and what it put us through." Gerard weighs in: "And how it was misinterpreted. You started to resent the project. You're like 'Fuck, I hate answering questions about this dark shit."

Misinterpretation is a constant bugbear for My Chemical Romance, and something Gerard says "used to be" the most frustrating thing for the band ("It can no longer be a factor," he claims today. "The whole point of the album is I've made it so clear that I can't apologise, clarify, dignify. I won't do it.") After all, Danger Days hasn't even been released yet and it's already been speculated that it would be their swansong - a rumour possibly fuelled by reports that finishing the album had been a slog. According to Gerard, it was "the hardest yet", while Frank goes further, adding: "We tried to define the record before we actually wrote it, which was a huge mistake and it kind of set us back in time a little bit. But I wouldn't have done it any other way because whatever we did kind of brought us to this moment." But when we meet, reports of it being their 'last big adventure' are still circulating…

"It's so funny," says Gerard - although he doesn't look particularly amused. "It's so obviously a headline. What I said was, 'This could be our last big adventure'. That could mean so many things. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, this could be our last big adventure so let's go all in. It's so easy to chop that statement in half. Why would this be our last record? To me, it's the first of hopefully another five records.

"It's a shame when somebody wants a reaction or a headline, so they'll chop something up you said. I think it's just misleading and a drag for the fans. I don't want to read that. I also hate hate hate hate reading stories about 'This is the album that broke the band up' or 'This is the one when they were fist fighting each other'. And that's just a shit record, so what are you fighting about?"

While rumours of the band splitting can easily be put to rest, some other tags can't be shifted so easily. Danger Days is possibly one of the boldest and most exuberant sheer rock records of 2010, but that won't be enough, you fear, to stop them from being dismissed as emo by the close-minded. Is that frustrating for the band? Because you could argue that using 'emo' as a catch-all term to describe your previous output is a bit of a misnomer anyway, so is…

"Thank you!" says Mikey excitedly, interjecting halfway through the question. "That's awesome…"

Gerard, meanwhile, pauses at length, before revealing: "I guess what bothered me about it, and made me so mad, was that it was lazy. It was such an easy way to take this band that's really special and unique, and give it a tag. Especially to tag it with shit that I abhor. That would infuriate me. So you're saying that what we do - the work we put into this, the 3am nights, the things we sacrificed - is this the same as this fucking record? This fucking band? You're out of your mind if you think these things are remotely close to each other."

"It made it easy to pick out which people are actually journalists and which people just go straight to your Wikipedia page," says Frank.

Back to Mikey: "Some of them will almost have this weird glow in their eyes when they say the word," he says, before impersonating an eager hack. "'I just said it'… it's like they're laying a mine in front of you."

"I don't think Eddie Vedder ever appreciated the word grunge," ponders Gerard, "but I don't think it bothers him anymore because he's still making music. Now granted they've been a band for 20 something years and we've almost been a band for 10, so I'm starting to understand - maybe - how he feels. Like, 'Oh, that crap is gone'. He's not dealing with people saying 'So, you sound like Candlebox, right?'"

All the band break out into laughter, as Gerard adds in disbelief. "Imagine him thinking about that? Fucking Candlebox."

"But dude," says Frank, "I think if you walked up to a young kid - maybe 16 - nowadays, and said 'What's your favourite grunge band?', he'd look at it you like you were crazy. Because the word has disappeared; it doesn't apply anymore."

Hopefully, people will be able to move beyond that tag (Gerard admits "it's a drag" if they don't), but at the same time, you don't want My Chemical Romance to lose what makes them My Chemical Romance. Mythology is as important a part of a good pop star as virtually anything else - just ask Bowie, or Prince, or Kate Bush. Or even Suede, whose self myth-making made them a lot more exciting popstars than their boorish Britpop rival. Brett Anderson knew that being a popstar was about more than just having killer tunes; you needed a look, an image, a way of life… an ethos that people could buy into. In her excellent review of Suede's greatest hits collection, Jude Rogers discussed how she'd play bingo with well-worn phrases penned by Anderson; today, Way and the band will discuss how certain phrases, images and lyrics of theirs (such as "purifying flames") will pop up repeatedly in their work. And interestingly, when The Quietus recounts our experiences of seeing Suede recently, we're met with unexpected enthusiasm - excited choruses of "No way!" and an earnest Frank telling us: "They were very important for us." Danger Days does a stellar job in expanding upon that mythology, so how important is it to My Chemical Romance?

"Oh, mythology is the most important," confirms Gerard. "Lindsey in our art department has two notes: One of them is 'Creative Mythology', and the other is 'The Aftermath Is Secondary'. And mythology is huge. That's where your power lies."

"There's things from our indie records that keep creeping back," says Mikey. "Themes or certan words. It's all there, you know? It all lines up. We don't wanna reveal them all. But there's things that pop up in every album; it's like The Odyssey or The Iliad."

Listen to 'Sing' by My Chemical Romance by clicking here.

And, possibly, it's what separates My Chemical Romance from most of their contemporaries. The oppressive city of Danger Days may be a man-made creation, but for this band, it's very real - and so is their rebellion. It's a way of making sure they don't become like everyone else. "They [other bands] don't care enough to put anything in to what they're doing," concludes Gerard. "They're more concerned with going home - 'Oh, we have one more leg to this'. We miss everyone back home and we really want to be home, but we put so much more into this.

"The mythology… so much goes into it. It's not arbitrary. An it strives every time to be so great and so different and so daring. That's what's right for us." He finishes his rallying call, grandly, before adding one final caveat: "A lot of other bands don't want to spend time designing fucking clothes…"

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