When your gut says destroy the album you just finished and start over, you should listen. That’s what My Chemical Romance decided on Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (Reprise), the band’s fourth studio album and follow up to 2006’s critically acclaimed Black Parade.
After a grueling two-year Black Parade tour, My Chemical Romance realized that what they really missed was color. So in the 11th hour frontman Gerard Way, his brother, bassist Mikey Way, and guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro scrapped the album they mixed with producer Brendan O’Brien and ran with their instincts. They weren’t going to be the My Chemical Romance they had been. They would be the My Chemical Romance they had become. The band rejoined Black Parade producer Rob Cavallo and weeks later turned out an album they could stand by.
My Chemical Romance bassist Mikey Way explains how the band’s hunch paid off.
What’s the biggest difference between My Chemical Romance on Black Parade and the band on Danger Days?
I think we’re the most fearless that we’ve ever been. I also think it’s the album that’s most true to us. On previous albums we only showed maybe one or two sides of the band. I mean each album is dramatically different, but I think we looked a specific way and people had an idea what we sounded like. I think now more than ever we’re like a completely new My Chemical Romance and it’s kind of a My Chemical Romance that’s been there all along. We really feel super liberated and it feels like nothing’s holding us back.
The band changed course while recording Danger Days. When did you realize that you were creating something different than planned?
When we got off the road for Black Parade we were all very tired and there were many successes and whatnot, but there were also things that we didn’t like about how it went. And there were things that we wanted to change. So we set up all these parameters for ourselves. When we went in to write the record we were like, “It’s going to be raw, stripped down, no costumes, no concept. Just a rock ‘n’ roll album. We’re going to do it real quick. Bam bam bam.” The result at the end wasn’t something we were ultimately happy with. It just sounded like something was missing. It was literally ready to go. We’d done photo shoots and we were scheduling shows and radio stations were going to start playing songs. Then at the 11th hour we all came to the mutual decision that something didn’t feel right. And we pulled the plug on it.
That’s a real leap of faith when everything’s stacked up.
Yeah, it’s like we learned more than ever on this album to go with our guts. If you’re feeling something then it’s probably true. We’ve kept that mantra through the whole process so we’re really very aware about how we’re all feeling about things. Going with our gut has become a very important thing.
Gerard has called this album “A big pop art project.” With characters like Dr. Death Defying and the post-apocalyptic world you paint, everything seems to live together, but you don’t consider this a concept album. Can you talk about what you imagined?
Yeah, it’s kind of exactly that. It’s a giant pop art project. To call it just an album is, I think, selling it short. There are so many different aspects and layers to it. We really wanted to use art as a weapon and use pop music as a weapon. We wanted to express ourselves in a way we’ve never expressed ourselves before and dispel anybody’s preconceived notions of what a My Chemical Romance song could be. It’s not just guitar, drums, bass and vocals. There’s so much more to it than that. We wanted to really make songs that we’ve always dreamed of making. It’s kind of like we got ownership of the band back. We released the Black Parade and any kind of misunderstanding or negativity that came out of it I think has been rectified with this album.
It was fun to see Grant Morrison play the villain in the “Na Na Na” and “Sing” videos.
It was so cool to finally get to work with him. He’s one of our best friends and we’ve been itching to do something together. When we were coming up with things for the album we were like, “He’s the ultimate villain.” I mean he’s such a sweetheart, but if you look at him, he’s just got this amazing look about him, like he can be the ultimate Bond villain. He’s got so many different sides to him. He’s just a big teddy bear at heart but his visage is very intense.
He’s an amazing writer. What’s your favorite comic?
Oh, what’s your favorite?
I like We3 and Arkham Asylum, but I definitely want to read more.
Arkham Asylum would go down as one of my favorites. I love all his work he’s done recently with Batman. I love the All-Star Superman run he did. The Justice League run was one of the best superhero comics I’ve ever read. The Invisibles. The Dune Patrol run he did in the ‘90s. Everything he’s touched is just so fantastic. He changed comic books in the same way the Beatles changed music.
Is there a song on the record that’s more special to you?
Yeah, I think our mutual favorite in the band is the “Kids from Yesterday.” To me the song is like a time machine. You listen to it and it makes us all think about growing up and it makes you think about being a kid. And then it makes you think about being a teenager. And it makes you think about where you are now and where you’re going. It’s kind of like the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. That’s the kind of journey I go on when I listen to that song. It’s just a very somber, introspective song and just one of the most powerful choruses I’ve heard in a rock song. Another favorite of mine is “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W.”
That’s really different for you guys.
Yeah, it shows a dramatically different side to us. You know we all have such varied musical tastes and that’s one of them. We love that type of thing. And to finally be able to put something like that on one of our albums is a huge victory.
What song will be the most fun to play live?
Wow, let’s see. We just did a tour in Europe where we got to play about four [new] songs. We were alternating which four. They were all pretty amazing. “Planetary (Go!)” has taken on a crazy new life live. It got an immediate reaction from the crowd. They reacted to “Planetary” almost like they would have reacted to “I’m Not Okay.” It was this immediate explosion from the crowd. It looked like an avalanche of bodies. They were pogoing in unison. By the middle of the song they knew the words. It was just something else.
“Sing” is also a very special song. It’s a sentiment we’ve always wanted to say, you know, to be the best you that you can possibly be on any given day. And just try to make a positive difference in your own world or in the world outside you. There’s just magic to it. And the song itself is so emotional and moving and how it was written was real special. How it grew day by day, just layer by layer. Everyone would add his own touch to it. It’s one of the songs I’m most proud of o the album.
My Chemical Romance performs at the 101.9 RXP Yule Rock in New York on Dec. 3. Learn more at mychemicalromance.com.