Since their first full album, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love in 2002 [Eyeball Records], the angst-filled, manic, and culturally dangerous My Chemical Romance has been a mainstay in the punk/alternative/indie/emo/whatever-they’re-calling-it-today scene. 2004 ushered the release of their major label debut, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge [Reprise Records] that continues to chart singles including, “I'm Not Okay (I Promise),” “Thank You For the Venom,” and “Helena (So Long & Goodnight).”
So, are these cackling, ranting, raging guys anything like their stage personas? Offstage, My Chemical Romance’s lead singer, Mr. “I’m Not Okay” Gerard Way, seems, well, surprisingly okay. Nighttimes.com caught up with him and his brother/bass player, Mikey Way, to talk about the tour, the band, their fans, and to get a sense of how mentally stable My Chemical Romance really is.
Dressed in a black from head to toe with white-face makeup doesn’t seem like the best idea in hundred-degree, Warped Tour weather. But for Gerard Way, it’s really no big deal.
“I am just so used to it. Last year I did it in a suit. This is a break,” he laughs.
His makeup is off now, but Gerard’s fair, half-Scottish skin is almost just as pale. With a flawless complexion and fine features, offstage Gerard is almost pretty. On the other hand, brother Mikey, with his tattoos and 70s style sunglasses, looks like he could just as easily jump into a new lineup of Guns n’ Roses. But we digress…back to the body odor:
NT: Must make for a stinky tour van. So who showers the least in the band?
“It’s either me or you, dude,” says Mike.
“Then it’s me,” says Gerard in a matter-of-fact tone. “It’s especially hard during Warped Tour. I have gotten a lot cleaner. I like to shower.”
“It is generally harder on this tour, anyway. Even if you are a really clean person, finding a shower around here is impossible,” adds Mike. For the record, we notice no smell at all.
Whew. Glad that’s out of the way. Gerard is surprisingly soft-spoken in person, but maybe that’s just because he’s ravaged his vocal chords from a Warped Tour performance so hot it just tore a new hole in the ozone layer. We wondered who Gerard idolized while he was growing up. Did he have any models to base this Clockwork Orange-style musical persona on?
He credits Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan and Greenday’s Billie Joe Armstrong as his biggest influences. “Billie Joe was the guy who actually inspired me to play the guitar. So actually, my first band, I played just like him,” says Gerard.
NT: Can you tell us a deep dark secret about you guys that nobody knows?
“Well, the thing is, our music is filled with deep dark secrets, and we just exposed how dirty we are, so we don’t have any other secrets!” laughs Gerard.
You’re a seasoned Warped Tour act at this point. Was your first tour scary?
“Yeah, it was actually just weird,” says Mikey.
“The first day was kinda terrifying,” says Gerard. “I don’t know if you know anything about the stages, but we were on the Maurice stage last year. Maurice is a pretty intimidating guy. He looks kind of like a gang member, sunglasses on all the time. I have never seen his eyes. They were very cool to us, but they wanted to see what all the fuss was about. We kind of had to prove something. So, we were a little terrified.”
“We’re not used to playing in any kind of daylight or anything!” adds Mikey.
NT: What is your favorite place to play in St. Louis?
“The Creepy Crawl, it’s the shiiit!” says Gerard. “We would love to do all Creepy Crawl shows. There’s just something special about it. Every city has their own little, special place to play music. Unfortunately, in many cities they are all closed down. My favorite place in New York, Coney Island High, closed down. So, it is amazing to see that clubs like the Creepy Crawl still exist. It’s the kind of place where, if you have never been to St. Louis, you have your first show there--and it’s phenomenal. Just right off the bat, amazing. We were able to crowd-surf, stage dive…
“I think it was because it was one of the first places we had a really great show, where it was sold out,” adds Mikey.
NT: So can you tell us about any tour plans after Warped?
“We can’t confirm nor deny, but we hear they’re talking about us doing our first headliner ever,” says Gerard.
The guys say that after Warped Tour, they’re probably going back to Europe, for the Reading Festival in Leeds, England this August.
“It’s a huge honor,” says Mike. “I dreamed of going to attend the show, let alone play in it. We are doing headliner in the fall. In winter, we’re probably writing a new record.”
NT: If you are able to pick openers for your own tour, who will you pick?
“That’s tough,” says Gerard. “It is a respect issue. Like, we would have been afraid to ask Alkaline Trio! Last year when we played Warped, I met Matt Skiba [Alkaline Trio guitarist/vocals] and he made me promise that we would play [with them]… I thought he was fucking insane to ever say that!”
Gerard looks down, totally humbled that they’d even consider My Chemical Romance as an opener. And now he’s got to think about asking bands like that to open for him. It’s almost too much for him to fathom. “I was like, yeah, that would be an honor, you know? There are a lot of [great] bands.”
NT: If you could give a couple words to describe each member of the band, how would you sum up their personalities?
“We will start with Ray Toro [vocals, lead guitar],” says Gerard. “Crazy!” Mikey nods in agreement, repeating the word.
“Genius,” Gerard adds.
“Crazy genius,” says Mikey.
“Frank [lero, vocals, guitar], he’s crazy, agro-crazy.” Again, Mikey mirrors Gerard’s words like any faithful little brother.
Gerard turns to Mikey, as if to give him a chance at his own thoughts. “Bob?” he asks.
“Weird, gentle, weird, aggro,” says Mikey of Bob Bryar, My Chem’s drummer.
NT: And Gerard?
“We’re innocent,” says Mikey, blushing and looking like he means it. Yeah, riiiiiight.
“We’re the same person,” says Gerard.
“Just different heights,” adds Mikey.
“I think the only difference between me and Mike is that one of us is extraverted and one is introverted.” So, which one is which? (as if we didn’t know)
“Well, I act like an idiot,” says Gerard.
“And I am pretty mellow,” says Mikey.
“He’s really shy. When he was younger, he was wild,” tattles Gerard. The brotherly dynamic between the two of them is so obvious, despite the fact they don’t physically resemble each other at all. The two constantly set each other up and play off each other’s lines like a well-rehearsed act.
“As I got older, I mellowed out,” says Mike.
“Yeah, and I was the quiet sweet kid, part of it now is that the music makes me do crazy things,” says Gerard.
NT: So what’s it like, being on TRL, and all these tours? What is your ultimate goal for the band?
Gerard takes a thoughtful pause. “Our ultimate goal was always to reach as many people as we can with our music, with our message live. We feel that we have done that. But I am sure we can reach a lot more. I think now we can reevaluate our goals. I mean what Revenge has done has really surprised us. We didn’t think a little punk rock band could potentially hit platinum. I think: just keep reaching people, evolve as human beings, and get your fans to evolve with you. Make things better.”
And Gerard is on a personal as well as professional crusade to do just that. We didn’t discuss it here, but in addition to continually evolving in mind and spirit, he’s got a year of sobriety under his belt.
“We are very much a self-aware band,” Gerard continues, “and very much aware that there are fans that have been with us since the beginning. The band has been around three years and we only have two records to show for it.” Gerard says this like two records in three years is a bad thing. [Um, how long has it been between albums for bands like NIN?] “We don’t want to milk it,” he adds, seemingly worried that the fans will somehow think MCR is exploiting them.
NT: How far are you with the new album?
“We are eight songs in, writing,” says Gerard. “We are really excited about the material, we feel really strongly about it. Here’s the thing: bands these days, they’re not just bands, they start to become institutions or something. Ok, so you get a hit record and you have to tour the fuck out of it. It becomes this product in a way, not even in a negative way, just becomes this thing, this lifestyle. Not a lot of bands make a lot of records constantly. At the end of Warped Tour, we will make a record, [we want to] just keep being artists.
NT: Do you think you guys are becoming institutions, then?
“Yeah, it could be that way, because there is such a branding of the logo,” says Gerard. “It started as a cult. Cults can go either way; they can become institutions or they can stay a cult. Our cult just actually, turned into an army. I started to think of it as a military force, rather than an institution of a corporation. It feels more like a force.
NT: Have you guys experienced any backlash from people who would have preferred it to stay a cult?
“Um, not from fans,” says Gerard. “Only from people who want to be that dude who can call their friends on the cell phone and be like, ‘I saw that My Chem dude and called him a fag!’ Or ‘a sell-out,’ you know, anything negative to get a reaction out of somebody. People start thinking you’re famous and then all of a sudden, ‘Ah he is famous! It is funny to fuck with famous people!’ But I’ve never [been hassled] from anyone who has been with us from the beginning, and never from anyone who has believed in us.”
“Yeah, I think the kids who didn’t want us to become popular just stopped coming to shows,” says Mikey.
“If there was a backlash, it was way earlier,” continues Gerard with a shrug. “Fans were just bummed that others came to our shows and it was sold out. We’re talking like 150-max capacity sell-outs. I think if they got out [of the My Chem Army], they got out early. We’ve never really had to endure more than a ‘you suck.’
“Most people have a beef with emo,” continues Gerard. “And it is weird for us, because we aren’t emo. We are just emo by association. We toured with emo bands coming up, because those were our friends. We just call ourselves a punk band, a rock band. We have done Christian Hardcore tours, straight up hardcore, emo, indie-rock, everything you can imagine...”
NT: How does it feel to go from playing at the Creepy Crawl to an arena with Greenday?
“We kind of like skipped a step,” says Mike. “We got supported for years, but never actually headlined. Now that we get to headline, it’s at really big places. We’ve never headlined our own show at a midlevel club or a smaller level club, so we will see how it goes.”
“It is different,” says Gerard. “You have to mentally prepare yourself [for the arena tours]. This is the step you have to take if you want to reach more people. It is a new challenge. The band thrives on opposition and challenge—we want to have people whose minds we can change, or new challenges like making your show work in an arena. Um, it’s a blast, but you do get so disconnected in an arena. We miss stuff. We do occasional Creepy Crawl-type things, they are just under the radar, and we do them, like, once every two months, where we play in 150-300 person clubs.”
NT: You talk a lot about the minds you want to change. What is the message in your art, then?”
“It breaks down in very simple ways: It constantly evolves. It is case-sensitive. In the beginning, it wasn’t a message. It was our therapy. Then, it became others’ therapy. Then, it became more about suicide prevention, keeping yourself alive. Next, there was a period where it kind of went on a crusade against bands that were full of shit, with nothing to say to you, you know? ‘Cuz there are a lot of bands that have nothing to say to you, just up there, going through the motions, trying to make a dollar. Now, Warped Tour has become about how you treat each other.
“We are very much anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, and there has been some of that stuff we’re against on Warped in the past. We were hoping in gaining power by being on Warped this year--that we could maybe, in some way, change that a little bit. [We want to talk to] the kind of band that wouldn’t want to be around a band like ours. Hostile, different opinions are afraid. That’s what punk rock means. It’s a bunch of opinions, and the ability to voice those opinions for others to see your point of view. I have always thought that was punk rock, maybe I am wrong.”
Gerard likes to give what he calls ‘tips’ to the audience at each show. In fact, at the Warped Tour 2005 show in St. Louis, he asked the girls in the audience, “How many bands have asked you to show them your tits? Next time, just yell, ‘Fuck you!’”
“When we started to become really popular, it became again a crusade of how poorly women are treated in the rock community, and then on the Greenday tour, I said a tip every night, to get people to understand us. We still try to bring a message every night,” he says.
“It is hard to tell if people truly understand, you can’t gauge by record sales. Record sales are like speaking Japanese to my band, we don’t know. But we can pretty well see the faces. A lot of people I’ve met in person seem to be very changed people, but I don’t know if that has to do with us. We had a mom the other day, she said, ‘this is weird, but my daughter used to be really shy and hated herself. Then she found out about this band and she came out of her shell, and now she is excited about life.’ That is just crazy to hear that. That is awesome. That’s the idea. That’s what it is about. To do something radically different.”
Visit My Chemical Romance at www.mychemicalromance.com.