Patrick Stump
Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Fall Out Boy hadn’t released an album in nearly five years, but that didn’t stop Save Rock and Roll from debuting at No. 1 a few weeks back.

Though they’ve reached that pinnacle before (the group’s 2007 album Infinity On High also debuted in the top spot), it remains a major accomplishment for a band whom many in the industry had dismissed as kings of a genre whose time had passed.

Still, frontman Patrick Stump isn’t letting it go to his head. “I think there’s a lot of outside pressure to be focused on [numbers], but we try to focus on making the music,” Stump says. “When you’re No. 1 or No. 300, you still get to play and write the songs.”

In an extended conversation with EW, Stump talks about the creation of Save Rock and Roll, what it’s like to work with Pete Wentz, and why Elton John knows more about music than just about anybody.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the first song that came together for Save Rock and Roll?

PATRICK STUMP: “Where Did the Party Go” was the first one. Pete and I had been throwing around a lot of ideas, and sometimes Pete speaks in really funny kind of riddles. That’s one of the classic things that used to frustrate me, when people would complain about our long song titles that don’t make any sense and don’t have any relation to the song. I always thought, “You need to talk to Pete Wentz, because when you hang out with him for 10 minutes, you realize that’s how that guy talks.” He threw this puzzle at me, and he wanted me to combine a whole bunch of songs and feelings that were so disparate. As a trained musician, I thought, “Those things literally can’t go together.” But in trying to do it, not only did I surprise myself, but he was going, “Yeah, that’s it!” It was the first song that felt like the band. It’s a great song and an important song to have on the record, but the most important thing is the story behind it because it was the song that really opened up the record for us. And there’s a hint of where we wanted to go on that, because it sounds a lot like old Fall Out Boy and nothing like old Fall Out Boy.

Your records have really evolved quite a bit over time, so what do you consider “old” Fall Out Boy?

One of the things we wanted to toy around with was taking those hallmarks that people identified with us and taking them out of the superficial definitions. People talk to me all the time about emo, and I have no problem with having been identified with that, but make no mistake, we never planned on being an emo band. That was never a talk that we had. When Pete got that haircut, it was just him doing his own weird thing. Everything about it was kind of accidental. So there’s a temptation to focus on recapturing that spirit we had in 2003, and I can’t disagree with that, because that’s when the band discovered themselves. But I think we really tried to make a Fall Out Boy record without any of the genre involved.

Did anyone’s work outside the band effect the way you recorded this time around? Or was it business as usual?

I think we gained a way different level of respect for each other. We really saw what each guy could do. There’s something special about the four of us. There are a lot of bands that you can boil down to one or two guys driving the ship. We did all these other solo records to prove that we don’t need each other to make music, but we do need each other to make this music. I think there’s something about these four personalities that is special. It’s different than other bands. It’s hard to describe, but we’re really lucky, and coming back into it we have more of a sense of that now. As players and writers, we trust each other a lot more now.

How did “The Phoenix” come together?

I had been messing around with a lot of loops, and I was listening to a lot of Shostakovich, the Russian composer. I was listening through one of his symphonies and found one little string moment that I loved. I’m an idiot, because I don’t just sample things, I try to write something that is inspired by a thing I like a lot. So I wrote this whole new song around this string part, but come to find out that there’s a pretty popular German hip-hop song that actually samples the exact same moment from the Shostakovich symphony. It’s in the middle of eight minutes of music, but we both latched onto this two second bit. So I told Pete about it, and he sent me these lyrics, and I think it was one of the fastest songs we’ve ever written together. We tweaked it a lot, but the bones of the song were done on first inspiration. So thanks to Dmitri Shostakovich.

How did Elton John end up singing on the title track?

He is apparently a fan, which is a crazy thing to think. that got back to us, and I was kind of bluffing, asking if he’d want to do a song. We were done with the album, and it was scheduled to be mastered, and we got a call from Elton’s people saying he’d love to. So we put everything on hold and rescheduled mastering. It was like, “For a knight? Sure!” So I flew out to Atlanta and recorded with him, and it was amazing. He’s a stellar performer, and I think I learned more in those three hours than I did from 10 years of sessions and stuff.

Plus, he’s a true music aficionado.

Talking to him makes me feel so inadequate about my own music knowledge. I’m a guy who knows a lot about music, but I was shocked that not only does he know his generation better than I do, but he knows my generation better than I do. He knows every record, and he’s dug into everything.

Did he have any advice for you?

The thing I took away from that session was that you really do just have to love what you do, and you have to really love music. One of the things that really struck me, and Elton and I talked about this a lot because of the song title, is how not snobbish he is about any music. Good music is good music, regardless of where it comes from. I think that’s a really important thing to carry with you. I think that’s part of the theme of the record. When you’re a little kid, you just like music that makes you happy and is fun. As you get older, you reach college or your 20s and you decide that music should be challenging and all art should be smart. So you start to think it makes you like high art more to put down things you consider low art. I don’t even think things are low art. I don’t believe in that. Low art is something racist or something. We were a little bit on an island in that way, because here we are these old punk rock dudes looking to make a quirky pop record. There’s not a lot of hands to hold in that ship, and Elton got it 100 percent, and not only that, he taught us more about it. That’s the other thing that I think comes from that age: Elton has survived in the charts long enough to have seen every manner of genre and style come and go, and cream rises, and the only thing that matters still are good songs. If I learned anything from that session is that.

His career is amazing because even the stuff that is considered lesser Elton John material is still pretty amazing. He’s like David Bowie in that way—even the not so good stuff is still pretty good.

I was actually really inspired by Bowie going into this record. I was reading about the success of Let’s Dance, and I was thinking about how when Bowie made Let’s Dance, it was so bold and artistic and such a surprise, because here was Ziggy Stardust making this ‘80s pop soul record with Nile Rogers. That’s like totally left field, totally crazy, and not the expected thing. He probably would have made a faster million doing Ziggy all over again. I always thought about that and really thought about it going into this record. One of the things that always was Fall Out Boy was trying new things and kind of pushing ourselves in different directions.

You guys have a theater tour starting this week and then a larger arena tour in the fall. Will they be different shows? Do you have different approaches depending on where you play?

We’re a band who cut our teeth in basements and bars, but there’s a completely different skill set in arenas. If I went to see somebody in an arena and it was just a band on stage, I’d be bummed. We have some crazy ideas. We’re just a dweeby bunch of kids from the Midwest, but we still like to mess around with the art of performance and try different things. I hope I don’t get shot out of the floor again. I didn’t like that. I did that every night for two months in 2007, and I didn’t like that.

What was it like playing with Harry Shearer during your Spinal Tap homage on Conan?

That was so much fun. He’s so funny, and a pretty good player too. For a guy who makes his money as a comedian, he’s a pretty good bassist. That’s what I’m saying, man: All this stuff, it’s almost like getting a second act as a career, and getting to do this stuff the second time around and appreciate it is a real gift. I actually said this the other day and it’s super true: Maybe six years ago, if we were doing this interview, my head would have been elsewhere because there’s a lot of pressure and stress, and I might have been tired or distracted. Now, understanding and seeing the rise and fall of lots of other bands and my own peaks and valleys, I appreciate it so much. So to even get to be on Conan, and then to have Harry Shearer come out, it’s crazy. My biggest goal as a teenager was just to open at the Metro in Chicago, which is a 1,500 seat venue. So everything since then has been just luck and bonuses.

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