Alt-rock superstars My Chemical Romance released their latest album in November, Conor O’Nolan talks to Mikey Way about their elaborate concept albums and ample side projects
It’s been over four years since My Chemical Romance’s magnum opus, The Black Parade, was released upon the rapturous MCRmy (M-C-army) and the world as a whole to great hype and acclaim. It seemed for a few weeks in late 2006 that the band was at the centre of popular culture. Latest album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, although garnering critical praise has not the same mainstream reach, not that this phases the band and its bassist Mikey Way in any way.
“We try not to think too much about how the album will be perceived, we wanted to make the album we wanted to make, and if people liked it, that was awesome, that seems to be the way it worked out, which is great!”
The band have one of the most dedicated and loyal fanbases in music today and Danger Days, which was released in late November, has already sold over a million copies.
Abandoning the Queen-inspired pomp of The Black Parade, the band embraced a much more varied approach. You wouldn’t know this from listening to punk-fuelled lead single ‘Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)’, or even from hearing the closing track ‘Vampire Money’ (an even dirtier punk song, written as a middle finger inspired by their being asked to contribute to the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack).
Between these two poles, there is a mix of songs in a relatively similar, if uncharacteristic vein; there’s ‘Sing’, a pop-rock ballad of sorts, ‘The Only Hope for Me is You’ (a synth-driven song, which approaches the realms of stadium rock), and ‘Summertime’, which can be regarded as being one of My Chemical Romance’s most uplifting songs yet.
In other ways, Danger Days remains compliant to a trend in the band’s output, in the sense that it is a concept album. Danger Days follows the story of the “Killjoys”, a group of outlaws who are embroiled in an endless and seemingly futile battle with the evil corporation “Better Living Industries” (BL/ind…. get it?). It is different to their previous albums in the sense that the songs make more sense in isolation, and the overarching theme is a lot looser than on their previous records.
Departing with traditional release schedules, the band released three singles and a free download of another song before the album ever hit the shelves. A far cry from the days of The Black Parade, which spawned numerous transatlantic chart hits, including ‘Welcome to The Black Parade’, ‘Famous Last Words’ and ‘Teenagers’. The band was content to sacrifice commercial success in favour of rewarding and reconnecting with their fanbase.
“Ultimately, you want people to listen to it as a whole,” he explains. “But we don’t necessarily get the luxury of that sometimes, so you kind of have to get your music out there in many different ways.”
The band chose to work with super-producer Rob Cavallo, the man behind Paramore’s Brand New Eyes and Green Day’s American Idiot as well as The Black Parade. The recording of The Black Parade was fraught with difficulties, which led to Way leaving the band at one point.
“When we were doing the first attempt at this record, we set up all these boundaries and rules and whatnot, one of the rules we said was: ‘we’re not going to work with the same producer twice’.”
After abandoning the first attempt at an album, the band decided to return to Cavallo in desperation: “When we reconnected with Rob, the planets kind of aligned and we made Danger Days. It was so much fun; it was just a real exciting time for the band.”
The recording was not without its casualties though. The band’s drummer, Bob Bryar, who had been with them since 2004, left the band for undisclosed reasons last February. O-two’s attempt to get Way to elaborate on his departure was quickly shot down: “It’s not something we really talk about, it’s just that there was a situation and it was a better situation if we parted ways,” he says cryptically.
Along with a deluxe special edition of the album, the band released The Mad Gear and Missile Kid EP, which featured songs that didn’t quite fit the style of Danger Days.
“We wrote a lot of songs, and we loved a lot of them, but some of them don’t belong on the record. In the story, we came up with this fake band that the Killjoys would listen to as they’re driving around. It became a way to write different sorts of songs, and it was just fun.”
Eager to get back out on the road, My Chemical Romance are embarking on a worldwide tour that they’re calling The World Contamination Tour. Way expresses particular excitement about returning to Dublin later this month.
“We haven’t been to Dublin in forever,” he says. “It’s hard to get to every spot in the world at once, but we’re finally coming back, so it’s going to be really fun and amazing.” James Dewees (of Coalesce, The Get Up Kids and Reggie & the Full Effect) will tour with them on keyboard duties and Michael Pedicone (previously a member of hardcore band The Bled) will fill in on drums for the tour.
Even with a name as ambitious as The World Contamination Tour, the band are being careful with long stretches on the road due to the many problems they faced in touring and promoting The Black Parade. The band were unprepared for the inbuilt trials and tribulations of such a grand-scale tour and members had to leave the tour on numerous occasions over health concerns and family commitments.
“You just learn that we can’t really tour as much as we used to, not just for sanity reasons, but people have families now and people have other responsibilities. We’re still going to tour, we’re just going to do it in a more tactical way.”
Despite the caution, the tour promises to be as extensive as the previous one. It incorporates 43 dates in what is just the first leg – the last tour lasted six legs over a total of 15 months.
The Black Parade World Tour was also noted for its highly elaborate stage show. When asked about plans for this tour, Way remains tantalisingly vague in his response: “We’re not going to bring any pyrotechnics or anything like that this time, but there’s definitely surprises that we have that we’re formulating right now, but I’ll tell you one thing, there won’t be any fire.”
With each album MCR adds to their catalogue, picking a setlist becomes more of a challenge; lean too heavily on new material and risk alienating older fans, not enough new content and they fail to properly promote the latest album.
“We try to put something from every album on our setlist,” he says. “We were in rehearsal the other day and we were talking about what song off I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love we wanted to incorporate, we’re definitely going to put one on, but it gets difficult.”
The logistics of building a setlist are becoming increasingly complicated, but it’s a rewarding task for the group: “I think that’s cool about your catalogue growing, you get to really make a statement live, you get to really make the setlist you want to make.”
Their last album was later released as a live album entitled The Black Parade Is Dead!, so called because the band were sick of playing the album from start to finish during every show. They felt the need to celebrate the end of the touring cycle.
“I’m not too sure if we’re going to put out a live album for this album,” he says, before adding: “We definitely have stuff planned, there’s stuff coming, we’re going to do something with this whole universe we’ve created.”
MCR are famously unafraid to explore their creative options outside the confines of the band; vocalist Gerard Way has a comic book project, The Umbrella Academy, which has lasted two series so far and has been optioned for a film adaption by Universal. And their lead guitarist, Frank Iero, is a member of hardcore punk outfit Leathermouth.
When asked if he has anything in the works, Way responds: “I don’t really have any music stuff, like a side band, but I do have some other stuff coming up, some comic book stuff.” However, he then explains that what is now just a three-track EP, might be expanded upon: “I don’t have any side band stuff other than The Mad Gear and Missile Kid,” he says.
While the band might be minus a drummer, they seem happier than ever, set to continue on their path to global domination. What was dismissed as a fad four or five years ago, has grown into a full-blown phenomenon, cultivating a new sound with every album and with an enormously increasing fanbase, the sky is the limit.
My Chemical Romance play The O2 on February 16th. Tickets are €33.60.The album, Danger Days: The True Life of the Fabulous Killjoys, is out now.