Emo Kings or Underdogs?

Ready for more from the “Kings of Emo?” Fall Out Boy’s fifth studio album, Folie à Deux, was released Dec. 16, 2008. Translating to “A madness shared by two,” the album title may be more fitting than intended. It seems their music incites a sort of madness both among fans and critics. Critics love to throw around terms like “sell out” or “overproduced,” claiming either that Fall Out Boy has strayed too far from their characteristic sound, or that they’re simply catering to the masses and aren’t offering anything new. Others feel that Fall Out Boy’s new album demonstrates the courage to take risks and experiment with new sounds. Whatever the reason for their popularity, fans can agree on one thing: bassist Pete Wentz made “guyliner” famous.

The band isn’t worried that the public is completely divided about their music—they embrace the controversy. “I don’t care what you think just as long as it’s about me,” Fall Out Boy declares in their new single. Guitarist Joe Trohman explains, “It’s good to be polarized”¦the love on the one side and the hate on the other side. I think that’s the only way to stir up real thought-provoking conversation and real emotion.”

With roots in the Chicago punk scene, Fall Out Boy formed in 2001. They are Patrick Stump (vocals and guitar), Joe Trohman (guitar), Pete Wentz (bass) and Andy Hurley (drums). They put out their first major release, Take This to Your Grave, through a small-scale Wisconsin production company, but quickly signed with Island Records in ’03 and are now seeing astounding success. Although their music is often referred to as a “guilty pleasure,” these kings of emo are now a musical force to be reckoned with—love ’em or hate ’em.

In the typical way of indie music fans, not everyone was happy when Fall Out Boy left their independent label behind. “It’s a very juvenile way to go about things, but once we got on the major label [some people] were probably like, fuck this band. So I’m sure we lost some people to the wayside,” Trohman explains. The band had little reason to worry, as From Under the Cork Tree—their 2005 major label debut—sold well over 2 million copies.

“Although we’ve been changing musically—and in my opinion organically—from record to record, we’re still the same band,” Trohman explains. “I think most of our fans are smart enough to know that whatever label we’re on doesn’t dictate how ‘cool’ the band is.”

Fall Out Boy is enjoying the ride and all that fame brings—in their case, this includes a signature instrument for every band member. If you’re a die-hard Fall Out Boy fan, you have your choice of the Patrick Vaughn Stump Signature Series Gretsch STUMP-O-MATIC Electromatic Corvette Guitar, the Squier by Fender Pete Wentz Signature P Bass, the Vic Firth Signature Series Andy Hurley Drumsticks or the Joe Trohman Washburn Idol (which is rumored to be very difficult to smash onstage).

Trohman also has been experimenting with heavier rock and metal music on the side. “I’m more influenced by the heavier classic rock bands, like Zeppelin and Sabbath and Cream. I think I take a lot from some of their riffs and ideas,” he explains. He’s been interviewed by numerous guitar publications, such as Modern Guitars and Ultimate-Guitar. Despite rumors of an upcoming release, Trohman’s first loyalty is to the band. “One day [my music] will see the light of day, but Fall Out Boy is my main goal, 100 percent”¦ As long as there’s work to be done with Fall Out Boy, that’s where my heart is going to be. ”

As is appropriate for the unofficial Fall Out Boy spokesperson, Wentz has his own record label, Decaydance, and works with bands like Panic at the Disco, Gym Class Heroes and The Academy Is”¦ Although Decaydance is commonly thought of as a Fall Out Boy side project, Trohman explains that it’s mostly Wentz’s venture. “We support it a ton, which is why I think it comes off a lot like we all sit down and find bands for the label,” he explains. “It is kind of part of the Fall Out Boy world, but it’s more Pete’s bag.”

For those who dismissed Fall Out Boy after being bombarded with overplayed emo-pop singles like “Dance Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Goin Down,” it might be wise to give Folie à Deux a fair listen before writing the band off as just another teen icon. “It’s collectively probably our most favorite record, because it’s new and it’s our best collection of songs,” Trohman explains. “We did some experimenting.” In addition to the expected angst-y lyrics and bubblegum beats, Folie à Deux boasts new territory—R&B harmonies, jazz melodies and some heavier guitar riffs. “There are places we meet up and there are a lot of places we differ as far as musical tastes. I think that is what is able to help make Fall Out Boy have a better sound,” Trohman explains.

This album retains much of what Fall Out Boy is famous for, such as catchy tongue-in-cheek lyrics that thrive off of puns: “My head’s in heaven, my soles are in hell,” they write in “W.A.M.S.” They also still love to refer to “the scene,” making light of their own place in the fickle music kingdom.

What is missing from the new album is the ultra-long song titles characteristic of earlier albums, such as the infamous song, “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race.” With the exception of the song “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet,” these newer songs feature two- or three-word titles.

Still, some fans aren’t going to embrace the new album. Fall Out Boy understands that within the music scene, you simply can’t please everybody. “I feel like sometimes people just complain to complain,” Trohman says. “Your personal art is going to look and/or sound different to you than other people. Some people may interpret it just as the same old thing because it may have that sense of you in it, but those who really pay attention may see the differences. And then there’s other people who see the differences and hate it off the bat because it’s different.”

Luckily they still don’t take themselves too seriously, and pride themselves on a kind of “underdog” approach to fame. Fall Out Boy claims loyalty to their fans and their music first and foremost, refusing to be taken in by the limelight. “It’s weird, we try to really focus on our fans and the music and not necessarily on getting to the top and saying, ‘We’re the best, we’re the most awesome, fuck all you guys,'” Trohman says. “Fans own us, the people that love us own us, basically. No matter where we go, we’re going to definitely kind of cater to our fans.”

True to their word, Fall Out Boy keeps their fans informed of their every move through multiple Web sites, where they answer questions about anything and everything—from wondering why they use the word “Pavlovian” as an adjective in their lyrics, to questions about which of the guys is the funniest when drunk. You can even get a Fall Out Boy widget, if you really want one. They love their non-fans too—make your opinion about Fall Out Boy public at Friendsorenemies.com, where both fans and critics can rant and rave about the band. Also check out Falloutboyrock.com and Myspace.com/falloutboy for the usual band info, and Decaydance.com to learn about Wentz’s production efforts.

With album sales soaring and fans eating up their every word, what do the self-proclaimed underdogs do if they actually make it to the top? Trohman laughs, “I think if we ever make it there, we’ll probably get torn down and have to work our way back up again.”