While My Chemical Romance were in a Los Angeles studio recording their second album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, singer Gerard Way was locked in a dark attic, screaming his head off.
The idea was producer Howard Benson's, and the goal was to get the most soul-baring performance possible out of Way. The attic was equipped with headphones and a microphone, and without any distractions or external stimuli, the vocalist was able to explore his subconscious without feeling self-conscious.
"No one was allowed in there when I was doing my thing," Way said. "At first it was weird because I'm a showoff and I like people being able to watch me when I'm in the booth. But now, I can't imagine doing it any other way. I really let some intense stuff come out because I became very comfortable being naked and alone like that."
The first single from the disc, "I'm Not Okay," illustrates the power and passion of Way's new way of singing. The vocals are melodic and emotive, enraged without being screamed, and by the end it sounds as if he might pass out from exhaustion. "I like to think of it as a cry for help trapped in a pop song," Way said. "When I was writing it, I was remembering how hard it was to be a 16-year-old in high school. I always wanted to be an artist, so I was this loner kid who just got drunk all the time. I only had one real friend.
"There was a girl I really liked, and she ended up taking really sleazy photographs with her boyfriend, and that really crushed me," Way continued. "I was just swimming in this pit of despair, jealousy and alcoholism. And when someone's in that situation, it's very rare that they turn to their mom or their best friend and say, 'Hey, I'm not OK. I'm in really bad shape.' "
Way's not really in bad shape anymore, but he's still obsessed with art. The cover of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge features a drawing of a couple with bloodstained faces, and the back of the CD's insert is designed to look like a film advertisement. My Chemical Romance might fall under the category of emotional punk-pop, but the New Jersey band's approach to music is more theatrical than that of many of its peers. The lyrics on the disc tell a story inspired by foreign films, performers like Tom Waits and Nick Cave and the comics of Garth Ennis, who created "The Preacher" series.
"We had a song called 'Demolition Lovers,' from our first record [I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love]. In the end of that, the main character and his girlfriend get gunned down in the desert. So, on this album, he's in hell looking for her, and the devil tells him she's still alive. And he says, 'I have to be with her,' and the devil says, 'Then bring me the souls of 1,000 evil men. I'll send you back to earth, and when you kill the last one, you'll find her.' "
Those who wish to follow the violent, romantic plot can easily do so, but there's a duality to My Chemical Romance's lyrics. Taken word for word, many of the songs could just as easily be about any type of battle with authority or adversity — or, for that matter, the band's personal struggle to succeed. "It always felt to us like this band is about fulfilling a destiny," Way said. "And the story of the record is linked to that. There's this guy who's doing, very much what he feels he should be doing and if he has to kill 1,000 evil men to get to the woman he loves, then he'll do it. And there's a lot of sacrifices we make as well."
The music on Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge is as creative as the band's lyrics. The songs are filled with unconventional intros, textural breaks and unpredictable middle sections that keep My Chemical Romance sounding fresh and inspired. "We took a lot of risks on this record because we knew we had been put into the genre of emo because of the tours we were doing," Way said. "We always felt we were much more of a rock and roll band. So that's what we really tried to assert this time."