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Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz talks about their new album, influencing young rappers and more

"We want to push people just to the edge of their comfort zone."

Fall Out Boy's rise to mega-fame doesn't seem all that long ago. But in recalling the band's early visits to Fueled by Ramen, the formerly Tampa-based label that gave them their big break, Pete Wentz laughs about how much times have changed.

"I remember — this is so messed up — they had an Army surplus store down the street," the band's bassist and figurehead said by phone recently. "We went in and got dead grenades, and rolled them into the office ahead of us, coming in one day. Which, now, is probably in poor taste. At the time, it was in poor taste, but it was more just funny. But they were like, That's not really that funny."

Laughing or not, Fall Out Boy and Fueled By Ramen eventually blew up together. Wentz's band was a boon to the pop-punk and emo label, which launched in Gainesville and spent years in Tampa before moving to New York. Bands like Panic! at the Disco, Paramore immediately followed in Fall Out Boy's footsteps, as did later Fueled By Ramen signees Twenty One Pilots and Young the Giant.

Sixteen years after Fall Out Boy founded in Chicago, it's an interesting time to look back on their legacy. The band is playing Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sunday, a show originally slated to be in support of their new album M A  N   I    A (creative spacing theirs; Wentz says it's meant to evoke "when somebody has a manic break, and you actually snap"). But with the album delayed until January, the show's ambitious stage production will service old hits like Sugar, We're Going Down; Dance, Dance; Thnks fr th Mmrs and This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race.

"I didn't get to go to a lot of shows when I was really little, but I always watched them on VHS, and thought, What would it be if we could do our KISS show or our Iron Maiden show?" Wentz said. "Being able to do that hopefully inspires other people."

Before the show, Wentz talked about the new album, his band's unlikely influence on rappers and more.

We should be more than a month into M A  N   I    A. Instead it's two months away. To your ears, how does the album sound right now?

I'm super-critical until the album comes out, and then I never listen to it again, Right now, we're done tracking. We're in mixing. So it's probably the time when everyone's the most critical, like, "This should be louder," "This should be quieter." I'm just happy that we found the finish line in a way that we were excited about. I remember talking to my buddy about it, and I was pretty bummed abut pushing the record back, and he was like, "What's the alternative? You put out a record that you think is mediocre? The alternative is just something you can't do." That makes a lot of sense.

I guess you're only playing a few new songs live on this tour. I'm sure you'd like to play more, but for fans, that would at least quell any calls to play the old stuff.

Yeah. We also have been playing one more song, this song called Expensive Mistakes live. It's weird to do in the YouTube era, because then people just put up a version of the song and you're like, "Well, I don't really know what this song is going to sound like." But at the same time, I feel like rewarding people's patience for sticking around is good to do.
Honestly, the truth is, I wish we had not put ourselves on the clock when we put (first single) Young and Menace out. I wish we had been like, "We'll get the record done when we get the record done," instead of starting the machine up and putting a date out there. I think it would be different if we had done it that way.

When you're crafting an album, what's more important, a sense of timelessness, or immediacy — like, "Right now, this is what's happening"?

That's a good question. The thing that's most important is to make something that we love, and that probably would be the immediate. Because timelessness is really hard — when you aim for it, I feel like I've had a ton of friends who miss it completely, and I think sometimes when you get it, it's just accidental. When people are like, "The cover of Take This To Your Grave is a classic cover!" — that's a cover that we shot on a whim. That wasn't supposed to be the cover. We had this whole other cover that we just didn't get done — or we got done, but we couldn't use. At the same time, I try to keep our lyrical and musical references … not vague, but sitting there and singing about Twitter, things that are so of-the-moment, when people go back and listen to it 10 years from now, having to explain that kind of stuff to people seems a little silly.

If people are surprised that Jaden Smith is opening for you on this tour, your response to them would be…?

(laughs) Well, I would say, don't be surprised. Fall Out Boy, throughout our career, it's not like an attempt to be contrarian, but I think we want to push people just to the edge of their comfort zone. And also, our influences are wider than maybe what people would expect. I'm a big fan of Jaden's. People ask me what he does, like, "What is Jaden Smith? What does he do?" He's, like, this guy who sews his own pants, but he can also sing, and he raps, and he's a really good actor, and he's just a creative guy. And he doesn't really need to be. He could coast through life. I really like that he does what he does, and I wanted to support it.

People have probably had that question about you and Fall Out Boy — what your involvement is in writing lyrics, or how you and Patrick write together. Yet you have managed this level of success in different fields. You are Pete Wentz; it's what you do. Is there a part of you that relates to him on that level?

I think so, yeah. I look at him and I want to embolden his creativity, and it probably comes from that place. I also just appreciate that the way people consume art and music, you don't have to necessarily pick one thing. There's a danger, when you're doing this for 15 or 16 years, of becoming super-jaded, where you're like, "I'm in another city … I'm in another arena … whatever." Having somebody out there who's doing it for the first or second time, that's one way to curb that jadedness.

There's this whole generation of rappers who are really leaning into punk and emo — XXXTentacion, nothing,nowhere., Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Peep. And they're all pointing to your generation of rockers as influences. Did you ever think the music you make could influence the hot class of rappers in the world?

(laughs) It's so crazy. Well, I didn't think it would influence anybody. But it's so crazy for it to be on that level. In some ways it makes sense, because we were so influenced by hip-hop. But beyond that, time just does a funny thing, where the longer time goes by, the more things become unmoored from what they were. No one ever thinks of the Beatles as a boy band, but they were. They weren't a put-together boy band, but they were a boy band. There's a trick where if you wait it out and are around long enough — and especially if you outlive your genre — you kind of become a different thing. That's been interesting, in these 15 years, to see.

— Jay Cridlin