For a commercially successful pop-rock band with multi-platinum album sales, Fall Out Boy seems unusually comfortable with the discomfort of experimentation. Since forming in the early 2000s with a punk-ish, guitar-driven style, the Chicago-born foursome — lead singer/guitarist Patrick Stump, singer/bassist Pete Wentz, lead guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley — have regularly marched into uncharted musical territory.
Armed with two drastically different versions of a new collection titled “American Beauty/American Psycho” and a newly released single “Irresistible” (featuring vocalist pop Demi Lovato), Fall Out Boy will lead the Wintour is Coming tour to the Lowcountry for a March 1 concert at the North Charleston Coliseum.
“Despite any experimentation, I think we have retained our core identity,” says Trohman, speaking to Charleston Scene last week from his home in Los Angeles. “But we always try to bring new things into the music. I think we’ve done that on every record. It fails from time to time, as it should. We’ve had our own big and small failures, but it’s good. It’s important to move like that.”
Fall Out Boy kicked off as a typical four-piece rock band, configured with the basic two-guitar/bass/drums instrumentation with few frills involved. That simple, traditional set-up remains at the center of their concerts, but there are many more audio and visual production elements surrounding the music.
Fall Out Boy’s Wintour is Coming Tour kicked off on Feb. 25 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it will wind around the U.S., hitting more than 20 cities along the way. It’s the kind of massive road trip Trohman says he and his band looked forward to, especially since releasing “American Beauty/American Psycho.”
“You know, driving ourselves across the country has gotten a lot easier over the years,” says Trohman. “Just traveling in general can be a little harder when you get older. Plus, these days, it’s harder for us for tour because we all have kids (Trohman and his wife have a young daughter in L.A.), and being away from our families is tough.”
“The greatest thing, though, is that we get to play these big venues in front of tons of people who want to see us,” he adds. “We have great productions, and we have a ton of songs we can choose from for each set. Overall, it’s ideal in regard to what we always hoped to accomplish. We didn’t set out in the beginning to get to this point; we hoped to make the steps to get to the next level. We’re super, super lucky to be here at this point.”
Trohman, now 31, was born in Florida and grew up in Ohio before he and his family settled in the Chicago area. It was during his high school year when Trohman started getting serious about learning and playing electric guitar. He hooked up with classmate Wentz while attending New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., and the two played together in a teenage hardcore/alt-rock band called Arma Angelus.
In 2001, Trohman and Wentz invited singer/guitarist Stump and drummer Hurley to sign up for their a new band project, which aimed to blend elements of pop-punk, hardcore, classic rock — not too far away from what was happening within the so-called “emo scene” at the time.
The earliest Fall Out Boy recordings found a home at the indie Uprising label, but the band’s first major break came when they inked a record deal with the Florida-based Fueled by Ramen label. With it’s intense vibe (and Stump’s charismatic singing), the full-length “Take This to Your Grave” hit the street in mid-2003 and made a splash in the rock underground, and successful stints at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Texas and on the 2004 Warped Tours led to more opportunities.
Major label Island Records secured the band for its breakthrough collection, “From Under the Cork Tree.” Well-produced and full of catchy pop melodies and rock riffs, the album hit the scene in the spring of 2005, going platinum by the end of the year, and scoring two Top 10 hits with “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” and “Dance, Dance.”
“We’re still very much the same four guys who first got together in a basement to play rock songs,” says Trohman. “In the beginning, at the small clubs, it was more like, ‘Set up, plug in, play loud and take no prisoners,’ but now it’s much more dynamic. We can’t approach it like we did at the small clubs, so we try to feature awesome visuals and video walls and that kind of thing to engage larger crowds in bigger rooms.”
As the lead guitarist in a band that has employed more synthesizers, samples and additional instrumentation, Trohman has had to adjust his role in recent years. Fortunately to him, it all feels like a natural progression.
“As the songs have evolved, my playing and interaction with the band has evolved, too,” Trohman says. “My set-up has become more intricate, and my playing has more nuances. Same with everyone else. And we’ve realized that we’re not allowed to have a bad night. Like a lot of other artists, we realized that had to really up our game and tighten it up. You can’t just get away with being the notoriously sloppy live rock band.”
“We do live versions of everything, and it’s a bit more guitar-in-your-face than some of the recordings. It’s not at all like bands who pretty much play their records exactly note-for-note on stage.”
After the 2008 release of the experimental album “Folie a Deux,” all four members of Fall Out Boy agreed to take an extended break to get away from the pressures of their intensive touring and recording routine and to dabble with side projects. Stump dug into his soul/hip-hop leanings on his debut solo album “Soul Punk” (released in 2011).
Wentz collaborated with singer Bebe Rexha in a project called Black Cards. And Trohman and Hurley revved up some heavy riffs with a metallic rock supergroup called the Damned Things alongside Scott Ian of Anthrax, Rob Caggiano of Volbeat, and Keith Buckley and Josh Newton of Every Time I Die.
Trohman and his bandmates solidly reunited in 2013 and recorded a new collection of songs titled “Save Rock and Roll,” which emphasized new elements of modern pop, electronica and hip-hop.
Fall Out Buy promptly returned to a full touring schedule across North America, Europe, and Australia. The single “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ’Em Up)” helped push the album to No. 1 on the U.S. charts.
“Taking a break was a really healthy thing for us to do,” Trohman says of the four-year hiatus. “We’re more mature now. There’s more collaboration, and there’s a stronger sense that we all have each other’s backs.”
The band’s latest slab, “American Beauty/American Psycho,” expanded on its modern stylings with even more pronounced accents of electronica and hip-hop: from Stump’s rapid-fire (and occasionally soulful) lyrical delivery to the synth-heavy production and funk-beat aggression from the rhythm section.
“You have to try new things, ebb-and-flow and change it up so that people don’t get completely bored with you,” Trohman says. “We like the idea of new listeners who wouldn’t have listened to us before checking us out because we’re pulling from the things we like best about current pop, electronic and hip-hop.”
The bombastic single “Centuries” and the light-hearted single “Uma Thurman” (utilizing samples from the surfy theme to the ’60s show “The Munsters”) propelled “American Beauty/American Psycho” to platinum status.
Last October, the band released an assertively reworked version of the album called “Make America Psycho Again,” featuring new productions for every song with guest performances from rappers Migo, A$AP Ferg, Azalea Banks, OG Maco, Juicy J, Black Thought (of the Roots), and Wiz Khalifa.
Musically, much of “American Beauty/American Psycho” sounds miles away from Fall Out Boy’s initial pop-punkish rock style, but there are more than a few moments that resemble the band’s core rock sound.
“It’s almost impossible to define the sound of the band right now,” Trohman says with a laugh. “We do tend to get annoyed when we see reviews that call us ‘emo’ or ‘pop-punk’ because I’m pretty sure we haven’t done anything like that since 2007” (when they released the album “Infinity on High”).
“I think some critics simply rest on their laurels and can’t figure out how to describe us these days.”