As the cookie monster-barking vocalist of the metalcore band Arma Angelus, Wentz was already a Chicago hardcore-scene celebrity in 2001, when Fall Out Boy began to take shape. "We're all kind of extreme versions of what we were," says drummer Andy Hurley, an introverted comic-book fan who played with Wentz in both Arma and a band called Racetraitor (the name was intended as an anti-racist statement, for the record). "Pete may go to hot-spot clubs now, but he was hanging out with A-list hardcore dudes back then. He was obviously the dude you want to know, such a magnetic personality."
Future FOB guitarist Joe Trohman toured on bass with Arma one summer when he was just sixteen, after Wentz used his considerable powers of persuasion on Trohman's mom and cardiologist dad. "I definitely got initiated on that tour – they would rip my underwear off me every day," Trohman says. "I hated it, dude. I should have stopped wearing underwear."
After that tour, just as Trohman started talking with Wentz about forming a new, poppier, more Green Day-like band, he met a long-sideburned kid his age at a Borders bookstore: Patrick Stump, who was then drumming in a proggy band that sounded like Rush playing emo. Stump wanted to sing and write songs, and Trohman introduced him to Wentz. "I had heard all these legends about Pete Wentz," says Stump. "That he was in six bands at once, that he was the world's greatest Casanova. But when we met, Pete and I looked at each other and went, Who the fuck is this guy? We sucked at first. We were horrible." They got their name – a reference to a comic book that Bart reads in The Simpsons – at random: They asked the crowd at an early gig for suggestions and someone shouted it out. They recorded an entire indie album before they finally got Hurley – a precision-tooled drummer influenced by Slayer's Dave Lombardo – to join the band. "I don't consider it Fall Out Boy until Andy joined," says Stump.
On the first track of the band's now-disavowed, pre-Hurley debut, 2003's mostly dreadful Fall Out Boy's Evening Out With Your Girlfriend, Stump sings, "I got an honorable mention in the movie of my life – starring you, instead of me." The singer, who's sitting at a glass desk in his room in Times Square's W Hotel, his friendly features cast in shadow by his ever-present baseball cap, nods and half-smiles when I bring up those lines. He wrote them himself, before Wentz took over lyric duty. "I know exactly where you're going with this – the whole Pete thing," he says, glancing out the forty-eighth-floor window. "But those lines were about how I felt in high school. It didn't actually refer to Pete, as ironic as it is now."
Ferguson sees the bespectacled Stump as a skilled character actor to Wentz's leading man. "He's my Philip Seymour Hoffman," he says. Adds Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, the unlikely guest producer whom the band recruited to work on two Infinity tracks: "Patrick is one of the baddest dudes I've seen in a long time . . . He has a great voice – very soulful." But Stump is self-deprecating to the point where you find yourself reassuring him of his charm. "I hear all sorts of things slung at us," he says, "one of my favorites being the boy-band accusation. I'm like, 'Boy band? I'm fat! If we were a boy band, I'd look good, I'd dance and I'd be charming – so what the fuck are you talking about?' I write songs, that's all I do."
Until recently, Stump – who rarely speaks onstage during Fall Out Boy's infamously sloppy live shows and hardly moves from his microphone stand as Wentz and Trohman bounce around him – was lost in Wentz's shadow. But lately, he's been coming into his own, even producing songs for the Decay-dance alt-hip-hop act Gym Class Heroes – he sings the Supertramp-derived hook on that act's "Cupid's Chokehold," which sits alongside "Arms Race" in iTunes' Top Ten.
On the hotel-room desk in front of him is a silver laptop armed with Apple's Garage-Band software, which he uses to record Fall Out Boy demos, hip-hop beats and random experiments. He plays a bunch for me; many of them are startlingly close to the finished songs, and some of the beats sound Hot 97-ready. Two of the funkiest songs on Infinity on High – "Arms Race" and the album closer, "I've Got All This Ringing in My Ears and None on My Fingers" – were originally intended to be hip-hop tracks.
The day before, Stump met with Jay-Z to play him beats and discuss production projects – and last year, Jay invited Stump into the studio to write a hook for a Kingdom Come track. "All of hip-hop showed up – Jay walks in with Timbaland, then Swizz Beatz walks in. Beyoncé was there, doing that dance you see on TV," says Stump, who was intimidated – the scene from the "Arms Race" video where all the hip-hop dudes laugh at him is inspired by the incident. In real life, Stump never even got behind the microphone. "I had the worst writer's block," he says. "So I was like, 'I fucked up the Jay-Z thing, so I better write the best fucking Fall Out Boy record ever now."'
Arguably, he did: On Infinity, Fall Out Boy morph beyond the boundaries of their genre to embrace rhythms and vocal inflections that show Stump's affection for Prince, Zapp and Earth, Wind & Fire. "I was like, 'This dude's got something to prove,"' says Wentz, whose working relationship with Stump has its tense moments – the otherwise mild-mannered singer punched him in the face once during an argument over lyrics. "I think he was holding back before, so I just let him put the music where his mouth is – or the music where my mouth is, maybe."
Edmonds – no stranger to love songs – was struck by Wentz's achingly personal lyrics, which the bassist said were written about one particular girl. Last year when we first met, Wentz told me the same thing: that many of the new songs he was writing were inspired by a doomed relationship, that the girl in question had driven him so crazy that he'd put his hand through a car window, that he was done with her forever.
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