Pete Wentz learned some important life lessons during his salad days on the Vans Warped Tour.
"I would say a big one is, you really have to maintain some state of hygiene on tour," the Fall Out Boy bassist and figurehead laughed during a recent conference call with journalists. "I came back from Warped and I was a changed man. I knew that you could exist on just baby wipes and water."
Ah, life on Warped.
Much has changed for Fall Out Boy since playing punk's premiere traveling circus in 2004 and 2005. First and foremost: They're now playing 20,000-seat venues like Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, where on Saturday they'll co-headline a concert with fellow Warped Tour alums Paramore.
The bands have dubbed this the "Monumentour," and the moniker fits — both are riding commercial and critical highs; they have similar, largely overlapping fan bases; and despite hailing from the same label family, they've never toured together. "Our fans have been asking for it for a long time," Wentz said.
But there's another, less obvious reason why this tour is so momentous. Fall Out Boy and Paramore are among the surprisingly few rock bands who have clawed their way up from the hot, sweaty, stages of the Warped Tour to this level of global success.
For every superstar band that started on Warped — Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, No Doubt, Avenged Sevenfold — there are hundreds who never got nearly that big. When the 20th edition of the Warped Tour returns to St. Petersburg on Friday, it'll bring some 90 artists into Vinoy Park, and the odds are long that any will ever headline a show like the one Fall Out Boy and Paramore will play Saturday night in Tampa.
"To top arena shows feel incredible," Paramore singer Hayley Williams said during a conference call of her own. "And now we're getting to do all these amphitheaters — some amphitheaters that we played with No Doubt back in 2009 — and it feels amazing. I can't wait to see how much celebration there is between Paramore fans and Fall Out Boy fans who have watched our bands come from nothing."
A rise, a fall, a revival
At 35, Wentz is a decade older than Williams, but Fall Out Boy and Paramore are still about as close to peers as two bands can get.
Both exploded during the emo-pop heyday of the mid-2000s, striking seemingly overnight with hit singles (Fall Out Boy's Sugar, We're Goin' Down and Dance, Dance; Paramore's Misery Business and Crushcrushcrush) and critical acclaim, including a pair of Best New Artist Grammy nominations. The spunky, flame-haired Williams instantly became one of rock's most recognizable frontwomen, while Wentz's savvy with soundbites and fashion — not to mention Patrick Stump's soulful voice — earned Fall Out Boy legions of fans and magazine covers.
"We were on Warped when we put out From Under the Cork Tree, and it was a strange summer," Wentz recalled, referencing the band's breakthrough 2005 album. "When us and My Chemical Romance were both first on TRL and stuff, it was strange; it was like the planets aligned. I guess it was like the closest thing to punk bands being like boy bands."
The Grammy and MTV love gave Fall Out Boy and Paramore a leg up on their former Warped tourmates (although Paramore did return to Warped for a few shows in 2008, 2009 and 2011). Their followup albums also sold well, allowing both bands to headline arenas and amphitheaters on the Honda Civic Tour, Fall Out Boy in 2007 and Paramore in 2010.
But as is so often the case, that much success, that early in their careers, took a toll on both bands. In 2009, Fall Out Boy went on indefinite hiatus, nearly spiraling apart from depression, self-doubt, substance abuse and the pressures of fame. And in late 2010, Paramore split, acrimoniously, with founding guitarist and drummer Josh and Zac Farro, who blasted the band as being little more than a marketing vehicle for Williams.
"Not only did we have to go through the emotional processing and the grief and all that sort of stuff — some anger, some bewilderment, all those crazy emotions that we had to ride up and down for a while — we were at the same time realizing that we did still want to make music, and that didn't change the way that we felt about Paramore," Williams said. "That alone, before we even got to actually writing music, that took time, and it took us making a really valiant effort to get to know one another as people."
In 2013, both bands roared back to life in ways that few saw coming. Fall Out Boy returned with the boldly titled Save Rock and Roll, featuring cameos from the likes of Elton John and Courtney Love. It debuted at the top of the charts, and perhaps more surprisingly, earned the band the best reviews of their career. In September, they sold out the USF Sun Dome.
Paramore, meanwhile, released the bouncy synth-soul single Ain't It Fun, a stylistic departure from their Hot Topic punk of the past. It became their biggest hit, reaching No. 1 on Billboard's rock singles chart. "I don't think you should ever just assume that a single's going to be your big hit," Williams said. "But this one by far has just shocked all of us."
Wentz, too, sounds a little shocked at how well-received Fall Out Boy's comeback has been. "Being able to get into amphitheaters — I guess we didn't even have the hope of that when we started this album process," he said. "We came from a very specific scene of music, and now that doesn't seem to exist. It's a different thing now, and we're trying to figure out what our place in it is."
Warped's next stars?
Artists who play the Warped Tour frequently liken it to a boot camp. It's swelteringly hot, the conditions are spartan, the daily regimen intense and uncertain. But there is great camaraderie among fans and artists, and it helps toughen you for life on the road as a rock star.
Still, even the brightest young bands have trouble parlaying niche Warped fame into a mainstream career. Paramore and Fall Out Boy struggled and survived; My Chemical Romance, who broke up in 2013, did not.
Both Wentz and Williams seem to realize they're in uncharted territory for bands of their genre. "We've broken through whatever ceiling there was before," Williams said. Adds Wentz: "I'm not exactly sure who our contemporaries are."
For that reason, both Fall Out Boy and Paramore have become unlikely mentors to a new generation of rock bands, many of whom aren't much younger than themselves. Take Danish pop-punk group New Politics, the opening act on this tour (a band who, it should be noted, has never played Warped). "The least we can do is try to give them some platform to express themselves, whether it's amphitheaters or whatever," Wentz said.
One of the buzziest young bands on this year's Warped Tour is Echosmith, four photogenic siblings between the ages of 15 and 21 whose catchy blend of rock and synth-pop fits any number of radio formats, from pop to alt-rock to adult contemporary. They've received next-big-thing hype from MTV and Alternative Press, among others, and their breakthrough single Cool Kids just reached Billboard's Top 40.
Singer Sydney Sierota was just 16 when Echosmith played their first Warped Tour last summer — the same age as Williams when Paramore first played Warped in 2005.
"A lot of people like to bring her up, because she is from this world," Sierota said by phone during a recent Warped stop in Massachusetts. "We haven't crossed paths quite yet, but you never know. She's awesome, and I would really love to meet her."
Sierota, now 17, is well aware of Echosmith's crossover potential, but for the time being she's content to build a fan base and establish industry relationships through Warped.
"Stadiums sound awesome, but you can't focus on that every day," she said. "There is a balance of having a goal and wanting to reach it, and desiring it, but you also have to not kill yourself over it if you're not at that level yet. Because playing stadiums takes a long time. And our goal isn't that, necessarily. Obviously, that would be awesome; we'd love that. But our goal is to try to reach people in a special way and connect with them. And that's already happening. As long as we continue, we're going to be happy, no matter where we end up playing, no matter how big the venues are. We're still going to be thankful."
That's how Williams views her life as a musician in 2014. Releasing an unabashedly poppy single like Ain't It Fun was "a huge risk," she said, but its success has enabled Paramore to experiment with new sounds, even as they continue to play huge venues.
"Before this album, we always put ourself in a box, and we always had to live up to whatever expectations we felt mattered," she said. "Next year, if we put out an album or make an album that is all pop songs, or is all heavy songs, or funk like Ain't It Fun, I just don't think there are any rules anymore."
On Monday of this week, at the Alternative Press Music Awards in Cleveland, the stars — or at least the dates for the Monumentour and Vans Warped Tour — finally aligned, and Sierota and Williams were finally able to meet and say hi.
Long lost sister? Sierota tweeted, along with a photo of her smiling face next to Williams'.
Loved meeting you, Williams replied. You guys reminded me of pmore when we were younger & out on Warped & it made me smile. See you around!