Still glistening with post-show sweat, Pete Wentz – bassist, lyricist and designated pretty face of Fall Out Boy – strides through a grim backstage hallway. "I better say goodbye now," he warns, heading out of the squat brick building that houses tonight's venue, a club in Manchester, England. "It's gonna be hectic with all the fans outside." He pulls a bright pink scarf tightly around his neck, pushes a heavy door open and braces for mass adulation.
Outside, it's the kind of Manchester evening that moved Morrissey to pen morose lyrics about fat girls: Rain falls in frigid drops from a single, endless gray cloud. There are all of three kids hanging out behind the Manchester Academy, and not one of them even glances at Wentz. He's taken aback for a moment, then breaks into a homecoming-king smile. "Look at this," he says, gesturing at a nonexistent crowd. "Is this Beatlemania or what?"
Wentz isn't delusional – he's just in the wrong country. Eight days earlier and 3,000 miles away, a chorus of high-pitched voices screams "Pete!" As Wentz, 26, hustles toward the side entrance of MTV's Times Square studios, he pauses to face his public: a giggling group of junior high school girls wearing braces and North Face jack's. "I'm gonna give every single person here a hug!" he announces. The girls swarm him, ponytails flying, as they snap cell-phone pictures destined for purple-bordered MySpace pages.
A year ago, Wentz and his band – an emo-ish pop-punk quarter from the wealthy suburbs of Chicago that took its name from the sidekick to Bart Simpson's favorite superhero, Radioactive Man – were an indie act known only to skateboarding Warped Tour kids. They seemed unsuited for mainstream success: Their singer, Patrick Stump, was a music geek who hated the Spotlight; Wentz was borderline suicidal, OD'ing on his anti-anxiety meds as they recorded their first major-label album.
But then came "Sugar, We're Going Down," perhaps last year's catchiest rock single and certainly its most unintelligible, as well as the Sixteen Candles-inspired video for "Dance, Dance" and a marketing strategy that takes its cues from hip-hop (Wentz has his own clothing line, record label and protégé acts). Now Fall Out Boy are pop stars, with a double-platinum album (Fron Under the Cork Tree, due for a March 14th re-release with five extra tracks), a spring arena tour and nearly 800,000 friends on MySpace.
Wentz is visiting TRL today to accept a plaque commemorating the "retirement" of the "Dance, Dance" video after fifty days on the show's countdown. The audience unleashes hormonal shrieks, as Wentz walks onto the set, wearing a red hooded sweat shirt from his clothing line. Backstage, the grizzled road crew of the day's other musical guest, prog-rockers Coheed and Cambria, is unimpressed. "Oh, I love him," a roadie sneers. "He's my favorite!"
In a cramped tour bus parked outside the Manchester Academy hours before showtime, Patrick Stump is yanking a striped polo shirt away from his belly. "I'm horribly uncomfortable with being the frontman," Stump says, looking horribly uncomfortable as he sits Indian-style on a leather couch. His endearing look combines mutton-chop sideburns, thick glasses, an ever-present hat and a slight paunch. "With Pete, I get to be the anti-frontman," he says. "There's not attention on me; I just get to sing. Pete loves photo shoots, and I fucking hate them. Of all the things I have to be self-conscious about, my looks are top of the heap."
While he is unlikely to seek a male-modeling contract, Stump, 21, is his band's musical engine. Wentz e-mails him huge files of lyrics that Stump puts to music, playing bass, drums and guitar on demos made with Apple's GarageBand. "I guess Patrick is some kind of genius – he's a total mad scientist," says the band's shaggy-haired lead guitarist, Joe Trohman, 21. Trohman first met Stump in a Borders bookstore when they were both high school juniors in 2001; after checking out the songs Stump had posted on MP3. com, Trohman and Wentz decided his high, pure tenor was perfect for the poppy group they were forming.
Stump wrote "Sugar, We're Going Down" in about ten minutes. He admits to deliberately slurring Wentz's lyrics to "make them sound better." (A much-circulated Internet parody transcribes one garbled line as "lonely dark cock that's going and pulling." The actual lyric, for the record, is "A loaded God complex/Cock it and pull it.") "I was trying to do a straight punk song for fun," Stump remembers. "And I saw, out. But there was something about the rhythm of it, where I was like, 'Hmm, that actually might be too good for just a shitty punk song." After recording his vocals for the tune, Stump turned to Andy Hurley, 25, the band's intense, bespectacled, vegan drummer. "He was like, 'Yeah, I just got your kid's college tuition paid for,'" Hurley says.
The son of a folk singer turned corporate drone, Stump is the sole band member without any tattoos and the only one without ties to the local hardcore scene. Instead of playing basement shows, he spent most of high school in his bedroom, obsessing over music. "That's what I did instead of making out with chicks," he says. "I didn't have girlfriends or anything." His strongest memory of his parents' divorce is carrying his father's records out of the house. He learned a lot of songs from his dad, which was a mixed blessing. "It's sort of gross to watch your dad sing – kind of guttural and passionate," Stump says. "It's almost like watching him bone."
The other guys in the band namecheck the Smiths, Pantera, Slayer and hardcore bands you've never heard of, but Stump big-ups jazz guitar virtuoso Joe Pass, John Prine, Tom Waits, the Small Faces, Prince, Jackie Wilson, Christina Aguilera, Ornette Coleman, Taj Mahal, Abba and Earth, Wind and Fire, among others, in the course of an hour. He drops his voice an octave into an eerily accurate impression of Elvis Costello singing "New Lace Sleeves." "My Costello thing helped me a lot in Fall Out Boy, because he has that element of Yeah, I'm singing this really catchy pop song, but the lyrics are really negative,'" he says.
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