A few years ago, Gerard Way says, he was a dead man walking, racked by cocaine and alcohol addictions that helped the shy kid face the public. But his problems caught up with him, and he got seriously ill while on tour in Japan in 2004. The My Chemical Romance singer has since kicked those habits, revitalizing his New Jersey quintet and making one of the best rock records of 2006, The Black Parade. The concept album uses The Wall, Sgt. Pepper and Queen’s A Night at the Opera as touchstones; with the guidance of producer Rob Cavallo (also behind Green Day’s American Idiot), MCR holed up in a haunted monastery in Los Angeles to create a twisted, heroic and ultimately hopeful concept album about a cancer patient who discovers a will to live and love, after getting a sneak peek at death. And MCR’s live shows have turned into theatrical extravaganzas, with Way (who dyed his hair platinum “to look bald and deathly”) and his bandmates donning black marching-band get-ups. “I was so afraid of making something that wasn’t special, not fulfilling a destiny,” he says at a tour stop in Glasgow. “I was like. ‘My whole life is leading up to this, will I have anything to say?’ Now, playing those songs every night is like a victory.”
How did you get the idea to make the new album about a parade?
I have a really strong memory of my dad taking me and Mikey [Way, younger brother and MCR bassist] to a parade. I remember the big inflatable balloons — even the ones of cartoon characters I loved — were so imposing. So I wouldn’t say that was my happiest memory, but there’s something really cultural about a parade, which is why it became the perfect vehicle. It could represent a funeral procession, or the Day of the Dead or a celebration. For the album’s character [the Patient], it’s what he wants death to be.
There is some black humor on The Black Parade. Where did you find your dark comic sense?
Probably British comedy. A lot of what my grandmother did influenced me — she was always watching public TV and the BBC, shows like Are You Being Served? and Fawlty Towers. And Monty Python — I’m a huge Terry Gilliam fan. He’s a big influence on the aesthetic of the record.
At this point, those marching-band outfits you wear onstage must smell like shit.
It’s the weirdest thing. They don’t! We sweat all over them, but they don’t retain the sweat or stain from the sweat. There have been times we went two weeks straight in them, and they didn’t smell.
Why did you pick Liza Minnelli to do a cameo on “Mama”?
We wanted someone who had a lot of strength and a lot of sorrow. Somebody who was a bit of an outsider themselves, faced really hard things — maybe even ridicule — yet somebody so completely talented that their voice shadows all the positive and negative things said about them.
Are you still homeless?
When we’re off tour. I’m currently residing in hotels or on my parents’ couch. I really loved the vibe in California. I like the artistic communities there, and I like the weird designer shops. Eventually, when our lives slow down, I’d like to go there. But now I want to be in Jersey near the band. We work too hard, so I want to stay around everybody.
What have you splurged on?
Nothing, really. I bought myself a computer, and I occasionally buy Sixties sci-fi DVDs, like The Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek and I’m really into Planet of the Apes.
If The Black Parade could inspire a social or musical movement, what would you like that to be?
I don’t want people to be afraid of living, which I think is everybody’s biggest fear. I want people to express themselves how they want. If that means dressing up in women’s clothing, so be it. I’m very opposed to intolerance, racism and sexism. Men are still being called “faggot.” I see women being treated as second-class citizens, even in punk rock. So if it’s happening there, it’s happening everywhere. I’m very much into acceptance.
How hard was it to stay sober on the Warped Tour?
The hardest tour in the world! I love that tour, it’s amazing, but that was during my first clean year. If you walk five feet, somebody is waving a bottle in your face. I had to stay on the bus the entire time, which bummed me out.
What names on My Chem’s guest lists have freaked you out?
Billy Corgan. He didn’t make the show, but that freaked me out — I want to be good for a guy like that. I’ve listened to Siamese Dream more than any other record. It got me through getting dumped in my first relationship. One night I was really depressed and I went to the Little League field by my parents’ house and I just laid in the dugout listening to it and fell asleep. When the Pumpkins toured on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Mikey took me to their show at Madison Square Garden.
Your kid brother took you?
Yeah! I was really into them, but I was more of a hermit. Mikey was such a devout Pumpkins fan that he followed them up and down the East Coast. He had tickets to every gig.
How could he afford to do that?
[Laughs] I don’t think I should say this, but Mikey was bootlegging Disney movies that were only out, like, in the Philippines — like Song of the South and The Black Cauldron — which he’d fucking sell on eBay. A private investigator came to our house, and he got nabbed. But they didn’t throw him in jail. He was fifteen!