If you're like most people, your initial reaction to the clip for My Chemical Romance's "Welcome to the Black Parade" probably went a little something like this:
"Man, look at those marching-band costumes! Check out Gerard's hair! Peep those spooky skeletons! Wait, is that Lukas Haas running around in pancake makeup?"
Well, as it turns out, yes ... yes it is. And Haas — who wowed audiences with his turn as a 7-year-old murder witness in 1983's "Witness" and has made nearly 40 films since, including last year's much-buzzed "Brick" — had roughly the same reaction.
"Yeah, I don't really know how it all came together," Haas said. "I think what happened is that the band had seen me in a [1988 horror] movie called 'Lady in White.' They watched it when they were kids and it really scared them. So they reached out to me to play the role of 'the Patient' in the video. I don't know, I guess they thought I'd be the best actor for the part."
He's downplaying the juiciness of the role, because as the Patient — a central character in MCR's upcoming Black Parade album (see "My Chemical Romance Reveal Details About 'Daring' Concept LP") — Haas clearly had a large responsibility on his shoulders. But if you press him about the role, Haas just dishes out more of the modesty, choosing to talk up the band's new album rather than his performance.
"We did the shoot in two days, on this giant soundstage with a burnt-down city," Haas said. "The whole thing was really fun. I was wandering around on the stage, and I got to wear all this face paint. It was kind of like Halloween. But the best part was hanging out with the guys in the band and getting to listen to their record over and over again. It was really great. It sort of reminds me of some of the best aspects of theatrical rock and glam. It's pretty excellent."
And Haas knows what he's talking about: Despite working as an actor for nearly 25 years, he's always been a musician at heart. His mother was an opera singer and his uncles played in 1980s German pop act Steinwolke (who had a hit with "Katharine Katharine"), and he's been writing songs ever since he was 11 years old.
"I was kind of born into music, and one day when I was like 9, I heard the Beatles on the radio, and I asked my dad who they were. He told me they were the best band in the world, and I became obsessed," Haas said. "He started giving me their albums in sequential order, and I listened to them — and only them — until I was probably in high school. And based on all that, I started playing drums and keyboards and eventually got into guitar."
In keeping with his general "aw-shucks" attitude, Haas kept his songwriting to himself. Despite the fact that he played in a band with actor/misanthrope Vincent Gallo and contributed songs to director Gus Van Sant's sorta-Kurt Cobain biopic "Last Days," no one really knew he was a budding musician — until very recently, that is.
It seems sometime over the past few months — perhaps building on the rave reviews he garnered as the goth-lite drug lord in "Brick" — he launched a MySpace page, posted some of his demos (which, in breaking with the actor-turned-musician mold, are actually pretty good) and has decided to record an album. And none of these things came easy for him.
"I mean, I know next to nothing about technology. I just got my first iPod yesterday, and the day I started my MySpace page was the day I got my first computer," he laughed. "Plus, I've never really played my songs for anyone. So the whole thing is pretty weird for me. But I really, really want to put an album out. I'm focused on doing that more than anything else at the moment."
And so with an ever-increasing book of tunes to choose from ("I'm writing songs all the time," he enthused), Haas is working with Ima Robot guitarist Tim Anderson and producer Josh Abraham on his debut album. The songs he's making run the gamut from lightly strummed acoustic folk (check the demo for "Kemp" on his MySpace page) to full-bodied retro rockers, showcasing his lithe, airy vocals. And though there's no firm release date for his album, he's pledging to start debuting songs from the disc in and around Los Angeles in the near future.
"I think I'm gonna start playing at [L.A.'s] Hotel Cafe a couple times a month, and if people really want me to do more, then I will most certainly do it," he said. "I like both music and acting, and they both have a lot in common — timing, immediacy, stuff like that. But acting is more regimented. You wait around for hours, you don't get to write the script, you get hired. Music represents me better. I'm not acting; I'm just expressing myself."
And though Haas is swearing off acting for the near future, he still said he'd be more than willing to step back into the Patient's hospital gown again. My Chemical Romance just need to ask him, and he'll be there.
"Yeah, if they need me, I'll do it again. They haven't said anything yet, but who knows," he laughed. " I mean, acting only takes a little while — like a few days or a few months. So I can leave my music and come back if I need to."