The boys make teen-punk tragedies for the star-crossed Romeos and Juliets of the text-message set, and bassist Pete Wentz lives the script
Pete Wentz plays bass in Fall out Boy, but his real instrument of choice is a Sidekick smart phone – a device he employs to write lyrics, manage a business empire, argue with girls, check fan sites and take the occasional glamour shot of his dick. He never stops his virtuoso thumb-typing, even when he's rehearsing for a Letterman appearance: As the rest of the band – singer Patrick Stump, lead guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley – fools around with a tricky riff from Steely Dan's "Reeling in the Years" on the Ed Sullivan Theater's fabled stage, Wentz ignores the black-and-red bass guitar hanging at his tiny waist and texts away instead.
But at the moment, as our cab cruises past Manhattan's Union Square around midnight on an arctic Sunday in early February, Wentz is simply using the Sidekick as a phone. And he is pissed. "No, this is Pete," he yells into it. "You called me. And before you said you were going back to your apartment! Where are you? Who the fuck are you with?" With his cushioned lips curling in anger over gleaming teeth, and his glossy black hair rising from his head in exclamation-point spikes, he looks like an anime version of Elvis Presley.
Twenty-four hours from now, Fall Out Boy will release their second major-label album, Infinity on High, the follow-up to one of the decade's biggest rock hits. With its two impeccable pop-punk singles, "Sugar, We're Goin Down" and "Dance, Dance," 2005's From Under the Cork Tree pushed the geeky, suburban foursome from Warped Tour stages to what's left of the MTV mainstream, selling more than 2.5 million copies to kids unaccustomed to paying for music. And with Infinity – which moves into one glossy anthem after another – the band is targeting superstardom. "I want to be the biggest band on the planet," says Wentz, whose overstuffed lyrics pair a maturing verbal gift with an adolescent penchant for self-mythologizing – he hails his "car-crash heart" on Infinity's opening track.
Stump, whose voice is as pretty as Pete's bone structure, writes the high-glucose melodies. But Wentz is the de facto frontman, a MySpace hero to a legion of eyeliner-hoarding emo kids. Wentz, who has a Michael Jackson-like penchant for comparing himself to Peter Pan, is a new, more accessible breed of rock star, keeping in close contact with an Internet tribe of lost boys. (And girls. Lots of girls.) On his band's Web site, he regularly answers their questions: "Pete! My dog died yesterday of cancer. Has this ever happened to you?"
Wentz is twenty-seven years old, but until last year he lived in his parents' house in the upscale Chicago suburb of Wilmette. When not touring, he slept in his childhood bedroom, surrounded by his old Transformers and He-Man toys. While the rest of the band maintains homes in and around Chicago – where they all have roots in the local hardcore scene – Wentz finally moved out six months ago, heading to Los Angeles. Stump has a place out there, too, but it's Wentz who hangs with Teen Vogue cover-girl types: Lindsay Lohan, Ashlee Simpson, Michelle Trachtenberg. "I'm attracted to creative people and train wrecks, and there's no shortage of that in Los Angeles," Wentz says. He hints at some sort of fling with Trachtenberg, but insists the other two relationships are platonic. "Maybe in a different universe, we'd be some hot couple, but not in this one," he says of Simpson. (Wentz may have his universes confused: At a Grammy party, he was filmed walking hand in hand with Simpson.)
Back in the cab, Wentz ends his call and retreats into the hood of his sweat shirt. Before the phone buzzed, he had been in an ebullient mood, recounting an encounter at an ultra-exclusive karaoke night at Cipriani's in SoHo, which we had just left, and which was packed with models at the start of New York's Fashion Week. "This weird blond chick rolls up on me and goes, 'Great to see you again,' " Wentz recalls, laughing. "I was like, "Who are you?' That's all I need in my life, some model."
Wentz has an excuse for hanging out with fashionistas: Biting hip-hop's entrepreneurial spirit, he has two profitable side hustles. His clothing line, Clandestine Industries, has just signed a production and distribution deal with DKNY. His record label, Decaydance, has FOB-influenced teen faves Panic! at the Disco on its roster. So even as that band threatens to match FOB's popularity, it's also making Wentz richer: It's as if Pearl Jam had owned stock in Stone Temple Pilots.
As the taxi speeds uptown, Wentz is silent, lost in bleak thoughts. When he unleashes one of his broad, dimpled smiles, the force of his alpha-male charisma is almost blinding – but his sudden shifts into black moods are just as intense. "I fully admit that I have a manic personality. I'm either on or I'm off," says Wentz, who has spoken at length about a 2005 near-suicide attempt. "I have the ability to make a room go cold."
Director Alan Ferguson – who worked on Fall Out Boy's last few videos, including the self-mocking clip for Infinity's first single, "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" – has seen Wentz's volatility up close. "Pete is the nicest, most loyal, most giving dude in the world," he says. "And he's also got a dark side that really makes him charismatic." For the final Cork Tree video, the mini-horror movie "A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More 'Touch Me,' " Ferguson created a vampire character for Wentz based on his black moods. In the opening scene, Vampire Wentz jumps off a cliff to get away from the rest of the band.
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.
It looks just like a scene from a Fall Out Boy video: Pete Wentz and a striking young woman with a septum piercing and an aloof air stare soulfully at each other as they sit side by side. They look alike, their eyes enshrouded in the same amount of makeup. Wentz occasionally takes her hand, but says nothing. They're at a Fall Out Boy photo shoot, and the girl looks camera-ready too: Her hair is a punky shade of red, arranged in spikes. She's wearing knee-high leather boots over strategically torn stockings. Her name is Jeanae. She's just shy of twenty, a hair-dresser from Chicago. "This is way more boring than I expected," she says as flash-bulbs go off. Wentz keeps sending wounded little looks her way – and seems unnerved when he sees me talking to her.
Wentz appears distracted as the shoot continues at a warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, hardly speaking to his bandmates. He does brighten when Stump mentions an obscure Star Wars spinoff: two live-action Ewok TV movies from the mid-Eighties. "You've got to see the second one – it's awesome," he says. Meanwhile, Hurley pauses from a vegan lunch and logs on to MTV's Web site to see the TRL position of the "Arms Race" video. The site promptly crashes his browser, and he goes back to his food.
Eventually, everyone piles into a van, headed back into Manhattan. Wentz and Jeanae sit in the last row. The conversation turns to Morrissey, Prince and then Young Jeezy's new album: Stump hates the rapper's trademark "ha-ha!" laugh, while Trohman – the only member of the band who drinks and smokes pot – is a fan. "We should bring him on tour," he says. "It's my dream to smoke weed with that guy."
Wentz and Jeanae seem to be ignoring this discussion. Wentz has the hood of his sweat shirt up, and they're whispering. Two days later, Wentz will tell me about her, how he can't let her go, how she's crazy, how she's the only girl he really wants. But I'm already starting to get the idea.
Trohman and Hurley get less attention than their bandmates, which can be a source of frustration. "We mean a lot to each other as musicians and as people," says Trohman. "But sometimes we start believing what people write about us: That the band is just one guy or two guys. That can be harsh for the soul." Trohman's playing combines heavy-metal riffage with Johnny Marr-inspired atmospherics – along with high-jumping, headbanging onstage showmanship so intense that he's given himself shinsplints. "Joe wants to put on a good show," says Stump. "There's a dichotomy there: He wants to be the guitar player where people stand back and say, 'Wow, he's good,' but at the same time, he can't help but go ape shit onstage." Trohman also has a segment of the Fall Out Boy fan base all to himself. "Middle-aged women love me – they say I look like Dr. McSexy or whatever his name is," says the guitarist.
We're cabbing over to Rudy's Music Stop on Forty-eighth Street, where Trohman spots a Fifties Les Paul Junior and inquires about the cost. "Eighteen-five – it's a good price," drawls a salesperson.
"Dude," Trohman whispers, "does that mean $18,000? That's a lot of money. Even for me." We walk out, but then Trohman heads back in to play a gorgeous 1972 black Telecaster. A different salesperson takes him into a back room. "What guitar are you playing at home now?" he asks. "I've got a whole bunch," Trohman replies, cranking Metallica riffs through an amplifier. The clerk takes a blind stab: "You guys in a band or something?"
"He is," I say, pointing to Trohman, who's wearing a Dior hooded sweater over an old Pantera T-shirt.
"Oh, yeah? Which band?"
"It's called Fall Out Boy," Trohman says and kicks into the chords of "Back in Black." The salesman's eyes light up with dollar signs, and Trohman walks out five minutes later, lugging his new $4,495 impulse purchase in its battered original case. 'I'm gonna feel guilty about this for a while,' he says, looking not at all guilty. "It's the Jew in me – like, 'Oh, no, you spent money!"'
Andy Hurley is eating macaroni with vegan cheese and talking about the end of the world. We're in a cozy East Village vegetarian restaurant, fresh from shopping for comic books at Forbidden Planet. More than anyone in the band, Hurley has stayed closest to his left-wing hardcore roots: Besides his vegan diet, he's so serious about being straight-edge that he pulls his shirt collar up over his mouth and nose when Trohman smokes pot.
Hurley's father died when he was just five, and he was raised by his mom, a nurse. He was inspired to start drumming by Metallica's Lars Ulrich: The first albums he bought were Ride the Lightning and Van Halen. "Andy is a musician, he's the instrumentalist of the band," says Stump, who as a drummer himself is a tough critic.
Hurley – who lives in Germantown, Wisconsin, about an hour and a half from Chicago – has some radical political views, part anarchist, part environmentalist. "My whole thing is I'm not into civilization as a whole," says Hurley, who's wearing a Starter-style jacket with the Public Enemy logo on the back. "The only actual solution is the eventual collapse and demise of civilization . . . I think it needs to happen, but no one, not even me, really wants it to happen." It's not that hard for him to reconcile all this with his band's success. "Ultimately I am an employee of a corporation, and that's weird, and does contradict some of the things I believe in," he says. "But at the same time, I have to make a living."
So will there be rock bands after the collapse of civilization? "Probably not. Music would probably go. A lot of art would," he says, looking sad for a moment. "That's what I'm saying – I'm really into comics and movies and video games, and I don't want to give that stuff up. At the same time I think it's filling the void for stuff that we're missing."
It's Saturday night in Atlantic City, where civilization's long collapse is clearly under way: Beefed-up dudes in starched, untucked Oxfords are cheering unironically for "Eye of the Tiger" at a basement club in the Borgata hotel and casino, where Pete Wentz has a DJ gig. Spinning records (or, rather, CDs or MP3s) is a sometime hobby for Wentz, who has previously DJ'd at events such as the New York hipster party MisShapes – and tonight's set is a chance to pick up some easy cash and get a comped trip for a posse of friends. Afterward, Wentz wanders through the mazelike casino. "I don't gamble," he says, glancing at aisles of frantically buzzing slot machines. "I mean, not with money – I gamble with my band."
It's 3:30 in the morning, and we head up to his hotel room to start an interview. Wentz turns on the TV, which happens to be tuned to a series of alarmist Fox News reports on teens gone wild. He takes off his graffiti-covered white Converse sneakers and sprawls out on one of the beds. I kick off my shoes and hop onto the other one. Wentz – a chronic insomniac since age ten – talks with dazed, sleepy honesty.
First, he discusses how it felt to have his unit go, um, viral. Last March, some nude self-portraits Wentz had taken spread across the Web. He's pained by accusations that he deliberately leaked the pics – and is pretty sure that someone hacked into the backup Web site for his Sidekick. He was driving in Chicago when he heard the news, and he became so distracted that he ran into the car ahead of him. "I thought it was the end of the world," he says. But he now laughs off the incident. Mostly. "I had dreams that it didn't happen, that it was all a joke, and then you wake up and have that sick feeling in your stomach, because it did."
Wentz, the child of a law-school professor dad and a private-school admissions-dean mom, had always presented his childhood as idyllic and uneventful. When pressed, he touches on a couple of traumatic events. The first is relatively trivial: "My parents separated on my birthday when I was, like, six, and got back together about six or eight months later. That made me hate my birthday. I mean, Patrick's parents are divorced, and Andy's dad has passed away, so I don't really think of myself in terms of really having a fucked-up childhood – everyone I know had a more fucked-up one."
Wentz, who's wearing a brown-and-black vintage hoodie and untapered, regular-guy Diesel jeans, nervously slides the battery cover of the TV remote control and moves on to a later trauma: "When I was fourteen, I got sent to boot camp," he says, gazing at the ceiling. He had been skipping school regularly in his freshman year, and a guidance counselor persuaded his parents to send him to a tough-love, scared-straight sleep-away program. For eight long weeks. "It was terrible," Wentz says softly. "Every kid there was so much more fucked up than me – demented, satanic kids. I got beat up a couple of times. I'd call my parents every day, crying and saying I wanted to come home. I would beg. I felt isolated. It created these dependency and attachment issues."
And then you ended up living at home . . . Wentz nods. "Until age twenty-seven. Yeah. Even now I need maternal people in my life more than anything," he says. He traces many of his emotional problems – and his artistic drive – back to the boot-camp experience. "That was the point I stopped talking to anybody. I really haven't since then. I don't talk to people about my emotions – it's not pleasant to be in a relationship with someone who's robotic like that. And if I don't get the emotions out somehow, whether it's punching things or writing, I would probably explode."
The reason Wentz finally moved out of his parents' house was to get away from Jeanae, his sulky teenage muse. "There was bad stuff between us, bad blood," he says. "She's one of the few people who can actually get to me. One day I was just like. 'I'm leaving,' and I took a plane." But now you're back together? "She's irresistible, I guess. The best ones are crazy, for sure . . . There are parts of me that are like, 'Yeah, we could get married,' but there are parts of me that couldn't spend tonight with her."
Wentz, who has never had trouble attracting female attention, seems enthralled by Jeanae's relative indifference – she's even unimpressed by the songs he writes about her. "I don't know that she cares about the songs as much as everybody else who listens to them does," he says. He seems half-asleep, his eyelids drifting down. "But I don't know if I could write them if she cared that much. If you could ever explain yourself to somebody, why would you keep explaining again and again?" He shows me half-moon scars on the knuckles of both hands – he's put each of them through windows during fights with her. "You watch Walk the Line and you don't feel so bad. Everyone's got a bit of a crazy spirit in them. I'm not interested in other people. There could be a million girls and it doesn't matter to me."
I look at the clock: It's six in the morning. I head to my own room and pass out. Wentz stays up watching TV, and gets two hours of sleep. It's not unusual for him.
We continue talking two nights later back in his Ritz-Carlton hotel room on Central Park South – which is a mess, with sweat shirts exploding all over the floor from his leather Louis Vuitton suitcase. Amid the clothes is a copy of Kafka's The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. He loves the hotel, especially since room service has been willing to bring him peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches each night.
In recent months, Wentz has dropped some of the signature looks that have become emo clichés: He doesn't put on eye-liner much anymore, and he's moved away from tight girls' jeans. "All of a sudden you see the laughability of swished-over hair and eye makeup," he says, perched on the hotel bed. "New metal had its look, and Seattle had flannel shirts. It's stupid."
Wentz was a soccer jock when he started playing music. "I used to get made fun of for being, like, your typical dude," he says. "So sometimes I tried to look strange. I wanted to look androgynous, weird." Wentz's five-foot-seven physique is boyish enough to fit comfortably in the girls' jeans that he's helped popularize for guys – a style choice that was also big in early-Nineties hardcore. But the look has become so popular that the emo masses are all but starving themselves to squeeze in – prompting this magazine to coin the term "emorexia." And Wentz is sick of it. "It definitely got ridiculous, where we were painting on our pants, pretty much," he says. "I'm over that thing."
Instead, Wentz has been engaging in the least emo of all activities lately: He's been lifting weights. "I've been working out. Isn't that weird?" he says. "I'm going to get buff. I want to be, like, a man now." Pete Wentz, king of the lost boys, flashes one of his killer smiles and repeats himself: "I want to be a man."
This story is from the March 8th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.