When he was a little boy, Fall Out Boy bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz enjoyed reading “Curious George,” “Babar”
and Richard Scarry books, but his favorite children’s book was “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf. The
story, about a giant bull who sits under a cork tree and smells flowers instead of getting into the ring and battling a bullfighter,
was so inspirational to Wentz that he titled the band’s breakthrough record From Under the Cork Tree.
“I think it’s an amazing metaphor for how people can be,” Wentz says. “There’s something
really honorable about following your own path and not doing what’s expected of you.”
It’s a lesson Fall Out Boy have taken to heart. When the Chicago band finished touring for their debut album, Take
This To Your Grave, they were flooded with accolades from critics and fans, which clamored for a follow-up.
However, rather than jump right into writing and recording mode, as they had for their debut, Fall Out Boy took their time
experimenting with different sounds and textures in order to make From Under the Cork Tree as crafty,
infectious and enduring as possible.
“We could have easily regurgitated our last record which is what certain people expected us to do,” Wentz says.
“But when it’s all over, we want to be remembered as a rock band that pushed limits and was sincere and totally
honest to itself and its fans. When we are 90 years old and on our death beds, it will matter to us that at least we took
From Under the Cork Tree bursts with the energy of a championship sporting event, and resonates
with the vibe of good party, while retaining the honesty of a confessional conversation. The first single, “Sugar, We’re
Going Down” is a dynamic blend of surging guitars, slamming drums and longing vocals; “Dance, Dance” starts
with a buoyant bass line reminiscent of the Cure and mutates into a stomping rocker with an undeniable refrain and “Champagne
For my Real Friends, Real Pain For My Sham Friends” swells with one catchy riff after another, and is colored by transitory
drum machine clatter and point/counterpoint vocals.
“When we wrote Take This to Your Grave, we were listening to Green Day and the Descendents
and a lot of hardcore,” explains Wentz of the new album’s diversity. “But now we listen to a great deal
more music and let it influence us without getting away from our roots. I think it's important to know your place, but there's
a colossal spectrum that you can explore within that.”
Another difference between From Under the Cork Tree and its predecessor is the way the songs
came together. Last time, Stump and Wentz wrote all of the songs together. This go round, the process was more collaborative,
involving guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley. As a result, the music came out more smoothly, leaving Fall Out Boy
with 25 songs to chose from for the album. In addition, Stump often created songs based on the feelings he got from Wentz’
words this time instead of the other way around. “It’s always a struggle to figure out how to put someone else’s
lyrics into music you’ve already written because everyone’s vocals have a different cadence and that can change
the whole thrust of a song,” Stump says. “So, I’ve found stuff I really like in his lyrics and made music
beneath it that compliments it.”
One of the best ways to understand what Fall Out Boy are is to realize what they are not. Their music contains elements
of punk and pop, but they aren’t pop-punk. Likewise, their songs are emotional and their lyrics can be poignant, but
they’re certainly not emo. By tapping into elements of their favorite styles, the bandmembers are able to attain their
own sound whilst standing apart from the pack.
In an effort to stamp their music with their own seal and avoid confusion with other bands, Fall Out Boy incorporate their
dark sense of humor within their songs, which abound with clever, biting lines like “written on my wrist says
do not open before Christmas” (“Our Lawyer Made Us Change The Name Of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued”).
Similarly, track titles like “Champagne For my Real Friends, Real Pain For My Sham Friends” and “You’re
a Concrete Boy Now (Do Your Part to Save the Scene and Stop Going to Shows)” are funny as hell, but just north of absurd.
One of the most amusingly titled numbers is “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More ‘Touch Me’.”
“I used to get Circus magazine when I was little, and there’d always be these little ads in the back where
you could order posters,” recalls Wentz. “And there’d always be this super-amazing, awesome dirty picture
of [topless model turned pop singer] Samantha Fox, who sang “Touch Me.” My mom would never let me order the poster,
so I’d just cut the picture out of the magazine and carry it around with me. And, we grew up near Shermerville, which
is right near where all the John Hughes movies are set, so that’s where the Sixteen Candles reference came from. It’s
really funny to me because nobody who hears the record probably knows who Samantha Fox is, but maybe they’ll look her
up on the Internet and see all these amazing topless pictures and thank us. Either that, or they’re send us hate mail.”
Fall Out Boy formed in Chicago out of the ashes of different hardcore bands. Wentz grew up with Trohman and had previously
played in a band with Hurley, so when their other groups imploded, the three got together to jam. Soon after they bumped into
Stump, whose melodic, but edgy vocals were a perfect fit. But even after the ingredients were in place, the musicians had
no lofty career ambitions. “We just wanted to do something different with no intention of it ever becoming anything,”
Wentz says. “We didn’t even have a name until after our second show, when we played some college and asked the
crowd what we should be called and someone screamed out ‘Fall Out Boy.’”
Being from the Midwest instead of somewhere like Los Angeles or New York, the odds were against them from the start, which
only made them try harder. Fortunately, by being removed from any major scene, they could develop organically without outside
pressure, which has helped turn them into the band they are today. With lineup and name secured, Fall Out Boy recorded a three
song demo, which they sent to every record label they could think of. They attracted the attention of numerous companies,
but eventually signed with fledgling label Fueled by Ramen for their debut, Take This to Your Grave,
which sold over 200,000 copies. “We decided to sign to Fueled by Ramen because it was a long shot, and Fall Out Boy
is a long shot,” Wentz says. “It turned out to be the best decision we’ve ever made.”
For their big break into the mainstream, they joined forces with Island Records, which will help them reconnect with their
core fans while reaching an entirely new audience.
“With this record, we’ve got a bigger focus and a
grander idea,” Wentz says. “We don’t want to disappoint the 200,000 people who are part of a very cult following
that hangs onto our every word, and we won’t. But we wrote this record for all the people who haven't heard of
Fall Out Boy before. When George Lucas did “Return of the Jedi,” he wanted it to appeal to the person who saw
“Star Wars,” but at the same time, if somebody wasn't born when that came out, they can still go see the movie
and have it be a very exciting thing for them. That’s the kind of thing we want to achieve.”