When Fall Out Boy announced they were taking an indefinite hiatus last year, Pete Wentz decided his next project was going to be a total departure from his emo day job. He just had no idea what that might be. "I got kind of bummed out because I wasn't doing anything musically," he says. "I didn't have any plan at all, but I knew I wanted to do something that was nothing like Fall Out Boy."
Wentz came to New York last year while his wife Ashlee Simpson-Wentz starred on Broadway in Chicago, and started talking to producer Sam Hollander, who has worked with everybody from Gym Class Heroes to Katy Perry as half of the songwriting/production team S*A*M & SLUGGO. "At the time I was really getting into reggae and he was on a British, Lily Allen kind of kick," Wentz says. "We talked about combining the sounds."
The Fall Out Boy is calling their new group Black Cards, and snippets from two of their songs have been posted on the group's website. "The reggae influence is in the music, but it has an electronic feel to it and there's also a dance element to it," he says. "I guess this is like my version of the Tom Tom Club. It's not going to appeal to every single person who was into Fall Out Boy and that's fine."
Wentz and Hollander had no singer when they began cutting the tracks, but one day at the studio they happened to hear a girl auditioning in the next room for a different project. "I just heard this voice blasting and I said, 'Why are we so focused on finding a quirky, British girl?' " Wentz says. "There's somebody in the next room who has these awesome melodies and can really sing and isn't jaded." The singer's name is Bebe Rexha, and Wentz says she's a twentysomething from Staten Island with virtually no experience in the music business. "We have completely different influences," Wentz says. "If I cite a band from the punk scene, she often has no idea who I'm talking about. Then she'll cite a dance band and I'll have no idea who she's talking about. She's just an awesome, natural talent."
Wentz says that Rexha had posted covers on YouTube, but all the videos on her YouTube page appear to have been recently pulled; her MySpace page still appears to be active.
As he does in Fall Out Boy, Wentz wrote most of the lyrics for the group. "Fall Out Boy lyrics were vastly depressing, misogynistic kinds of stuff," he says. "That really doesn't work in a band with a female singer. There's a couple of songs from my perspective and others where I use a metaphor for my perspective." Musically, Wentz says he's expanded his influence, too. "I'm more musically free in this project than I ever was in Fall Out Boy. Patrick [Stump] was the composer in Fall Out Boy, and this is my chance to do something completely different."
The group is now putting the finishing touches on their debut record, though no release date is set. A tour will follow, though exact plans are unclear. "I want each of the live shows to be important events and the complete opposite of Fall Out Boy shows. If that means going on a U.S. tour, then that's cool. If that means starting in the U.K. that's cool too. My family is very mobile."
What does all of this mean to the future of Fall Out Boy? "The status of Fall Out Boy hasn't changed," Wentz says. "I have no idea how long the break will be. Before American Idiot people had kind of written off Green Day and around Rattle and Hum people had written off U2. At some points lots of bands go through this odd growth where they don't know which direction to go in and they feel burned out. Rather than break up, it was better for everybody to get their own outlet. The world needed a break from Fall Out Boy as much as Fall Out Boy needed a break from Fall Out Boy."