Stump bounds off after the conversation winds down, grateful to escape the attention. In contrast, it's hard to get Wentz to stop talking. He's been in therapy for a while, and it seems like his shrink doesn't have much trouble getting him to open up. Wearing his pink scarf and a black hat covering his red-and-black-striped hair, Wentz settles into a worn sectional sofa in the club's dank dressing room. A bulletin board on one wall is emblazoned with graffiti left by bands like Sepultura; a huge marker drawing of a hairy penis covers another wall. The room smells faintly of ancient sweat.
Wentz ignores the ambience and seems to enter a trancelike state, answering questions with compulsive honesty over the course of three and a half hours. The twenty-six-year-old son of a law professor and a private-school admissions dean, Wentz was a soccer jock who dove into hardcore in his teens, becoming a local celebrity in the scene. He gave himself his first tattoo during class one day when he was fourteen, digging into his ankle with a pin dipped in India ink. The black "x" is still there – it looks like it hurt.
When Wentz plugs his clothing line, Clandestine Industries, and record label, Decaydance, he sounds more like a rapper than a rock star, and that's no accident. "Rock guys are like, 'Fuck, I don't want to do stuff like that.' But look at the state of rock music," he says. "Bands can't sell fucking records. The new rock stars are dudes like Jay-Z." He wants Fall Out Boy to be "a culture. You're going to eat, sleep and breathe it. I want it to be a way you think about the world." And he's frank about his motives for signing bands like the FOB-sound-alike Panic! At the Disco to his label. "People are going to be piggybacking bands off of us," he says. "Somebody's going to be pulling those strings, why would it not be me?"
Wentz's verbose, angsty lyrics about making out, breaking up and hating yourself account for much of the band's teen appeal. Many of his songs are about one on-again, off-again, girlfriend. But an argument last year ended with him punching out a car window, and they split for good in October. He's moved on and now speculates about dating one of his many celebrity crushes. "We talk sometimes, me and Ashlee [Simpson]," he says. "I mean, I think she has a boyfriend or whatever, but we talk. She's gorgeous."
But for all his drive, entrepreneurial verve and elaborate grooming – his pre-show primping involves a straightening iron that needs a thirty-pound industrial converter to work overseas – Wentz is wracked with insecurity. "I feel confidence in myself, but at the same time there's these cracks in the facade and those little things underneath that are unstable," he says. He takes Xanax every day to calm an anxiety disorder and pops Ambien to sleep. And in February 2005, he may have tried to kill himself. Sitting in a Best Buy parking lot in Chicago, he took so many Ativan pills that he collapsed and had to be hospitalized for a week.
Wentz refuses to call it a suicide attempt but doesn't know what else to term it. "I was isolating myself further and further," Wentz says, speaking softly and slowly. "And the more I isolated myself, the more isolated I'd feel. I wasn't sleeping. I just wanted my head to shut off, like, I just wanted to completely stop thinking about anything at all." His eye contact with the ceiling is intense as he admits to a fascination with the suicides of Elliott Smith and Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. "It's so hard to think about and understand. I'm not making an argument for being a disturbed genius; I was a confused kid," he says. "I felt like I was being Pete Wentz for everybody else, and I didn't have Pete Wentz to turn to."
While Wentz recuperated, the rest of the band was forced to do a brief U.K. tour with a substitute bass player – which is harder than it sounds, since Wentz supplies all of their stage banter and much of their showmanship. But in the end, his absence boosted the other guys' confidence. "We couldn't latch onto Pete, so we had to grow some balls and, like, talk on our own onstage," says bleary-eyed, jet-lagged guitarist Trohman, fresh from a four-hour afternoon nap.
The metalhead son of a cardiologist, Trohman used his bar mitzvah money to buy his first half-stack. He's the only Jewish guy in the band (his Smiths-themed tattoo violates Talmudic law) and the only one who's not straight-edge. During a 2003 trip to Tokyo, Trohman started drinking, and he's partial to weed now, too. "I smoke a decent amount." he says. "This is gonna sound like a total fuckin' pothead's logic, but it helped me put some things in perspective." The last year has offered a lot that needed to be sorted out. "It's like, 'Go do this thing, go do that thing. Go to Fuse, go to MTV,' " says Trohman, who's dating a college student from back home. "It's not just like, 'Here you go. Here's a million dollars.' All of this stuff is awesome, but it's tiring."
By the time he steps onstage a couple, of hours later, Trohman is finally awake. He matches Wentz's pogo-ing energy (apparently undiminished by Xanax), leap for leap. It's a short but fiery performance, with an audience of sixteen-year-olds screaming along to every word.
Afterward, back in the dressing room, the four guys hang out, relaxed but pumped up in post-performance bliss. Stump, for some reason, breaks into an impersonation of Christopher Walken's lines from Annie Hall, while Wentz happily munches cookies. Stump eyes the snack. "I gain weight if I eat an apple," he says with a sigh.
A few minutes later, in the middle of a dorky discussion of the merits of the Fall, Pere Ubu and Mogwai, I find myself humming a snatch of "Sugar, We're Going Down." Everyone, stares. "Dude, what were you just singing? Was that Superchunk?" Stump asks. "Nah, he was totally humming part of 'Sugar,'" Wentz says, grinning in triumph. "See: There's the bands that you say you like to sound smart, and there's the bands you say you like to get laid. And then there's the bands you really listen to."
This story is from the March 9, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.
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