When Chicago punk-pop outfit Fall Out Boy released American Beauty/American Psycho this past January, few followers expected the serious left turns the music would take: Such as a hip-hop-inflected kickoff single, "Centuries," that employs a tick-tocking sample from Suzanne Vega's folk classic "Tom's Diner." Or the title track, which somehow manages to build a Fall Out Boys song around a riff from Motley Crue's "Too Fast for Love." Or even "Uma Thurman," an ode to the Pulp Fiction actress that also incorporated the theme from TV's camp-horror classic The Munsters.
But over the course of 15 up-and-down years and six studio albums, the band members have learned that they can reinvent themselves at any point in time, whenever the mood strikes. The risk, of course, is that fans will get upset that a new album doesn't sound like its predecessor.
"And I get it," says lyricist and bassist Pete Wentz. "An audience falls in love with what it is you do, and if you switch to another thing, you ask them to fall in love with that thing, too. But we got lucky to have a fan base that was really open, and ready to grow with us."
Ironically, the band had gone through a self-imposed, three-year hiatus that began in 2009 and easily could have spelled curtains for Fall Out Boy. Wentz has always stayed busy with side projects — he's acted, penned a novel, hosted a radio show and even found himself being snapped by paparazzi during his brief marriage to pop star Ashlee Simpson.
The musician also runs his own record label, clothing line and film production company, while spending his downtime with another combo called Bad Cards. After parting company with Fall Out Boy co-founder Patrick Stump and cohorts, he told one interviewer that he figured "the world needs a little less Pete Wentz."
Being in the tabloids didn't help. "All of a sudden, it was more about the outfit that I was wearing, which made no sense," he complains. "So when we took time off, and that time off didn't necessarily mean that we were going to come back with anything? It felt like the end. It was dark."
The light began to dawn when he read a disgruntled blog posted by Stump, who was playing small clubs behind a solo album.
"He's a friend of mine, and I don't want to see him bummed out, so I reached out to him," recalls Wentz. "And he had some great new music, and that's really what needed to happen, and what was going to drive the whole thing."
That led to 2012's Save Rock and Roll — which debuted at No. 1 — and then on to American Beauty. The creative juices were flowing again.
Stump also had those samples he was eager to use, including the Suzanne Vega one. "I was like, 'Oh, my God — this sounds so bad on paper,'" laughs Wentz. "I always thought of 'Tom's Diner' as somber and kind of sad. But then I heard it, and I said, 'Oh, yeah! Let's do it!'
"The idea of samples just doesn't make sense to most rock bands, I guess. But that's one of the things that we wanted to dive into."