For long-time fans of My Chemical Romance, it probably won't come as a surprise that the band's frontman Gerard Way has long felt like an outsider. That sense of alienation was a regular theme in the singer's lyrics throughout the band's run. As he's recently launched a solo career, with the recent release of Hesitant Alien, he's found himself in even more unfamiliar territory, which has inspired him to look back into his own early musical influence.
For his solo album, Way reached back into the 1990s, the decade in which his musical taste was formed, for stylistic, musical, and lyrical influence. The result is a trip through the glam rock, Britpop, and noise rock feedback of the likes of Suede, Blur and Pixies, all of which he readily points to as formative bands in his teen years.
Way hopped on the phone with me last week, while running errands to prepare for his upcoming European tour, to talk about the album.
MTV: Was there a song you wrote, or an idea that came to you, that made it clear what the overall vision of your post-My Chemical Romance direction was going to sound like?
Gerard Way: Usually the song I always like to choose as the first single is the one that forms the whole landscape of the record. For me it was “No Shows," because that was the song that made me feel a sense of not needing to be a part of a larger thing in order to kind of fit in somehow. It was kind of very liberating, you know? It's about not needing a scene or anything like that. It was about directly not having anything to do with scene I came from, and it made me think of being 16 years old and not feeling a part of it back then.
MTV: Was this style of music, the glam and Britpop stuff, always a part of your musical taste?
Way: Everybody eventually discovers their own identity, not even just playing music, but listening to it. I connected so heavily with glam, but it was very challenging to me at first, Ziggy Stardust, and T. Rex and stuff like that. I started to discover bands that people that I listened to loved. I got into The New York Dolls because of Morrissey. I was looking at who was influencing my influences, then really connected with glam. It's always been a part of everything I've done, musically, visually, from Queen to David Bowie.
MTV: I hear a lot of Suede in the record. Do you remember first getting turned onto them?
Way: It was all kind of around the same time I discovered glam and connected with that as the true source of everything I love musically. To me, Britpop was a response to grunge. I never connected to grunge. I love Nirvana, but I never considered them grunge, I just considered them a punk or a rock band. So grunge comes along, and it's almost a seamless shift in my high school -- kids who listened to classic rock shifted over to grunge. I didn't like classic rock either. It just felt like the same thing to me. So Britpop comes around, and it's absolutely different, visually, challenging. There were elements of glam in Suede, it felt like it thumbed its nose at anything with a lack of sophistication. Britpop was very sophisticated and kind of dangerous while celebrating an artistic side of things.
MTV: Do you have a sense of how My Chemical Romance fans are taking to your newer direction?
Way: I do have a sense, and it's interesting. I don't normally pay attention to those things, but you can get a really good gauge just by the energy you feel at your shows. And not just attendance alone. From the very first show, I got a strong sense of people just wanting to be a part of it and wanting to see me perform and kind of share what I was doing. It didn't matter even at the time that the record wasn't out yet; it was all new songs in the set. They're not coming to hear My Chemical Romance songs. I feel like a lot of them came along with me, and that's a really nice thing. And I feel like I've reached out to an older crowd as well.
MTV: Who's the Hesitant Alien you're referring to in the album title?
Way: I feel like it's me kind of fully understanding and coming to grips with my identity in music. To me, there's a big difference between, I guess, like an outsider and an alien. An alien is somebody coming from a distant place. I started as an aggressive outsider. I felt the more years that went by, I felt like someone that was coming from a different place. I came to embrace that. I think there needs to be people that are doing something different in music. There's a need for that as much as there's a need for a scene.
MTV: You've talked recently about the guitar being the least radio-friendly instrument. Do you think it's harder for a rock band to get noticed now than it was when you came out?
Way: I think so. I think that in order to overcome that the guitar needs to function in a new way, do something different. I had this crazy sense, it's almost like you have to go to a whole new extreme, like the sound that a band like The Jesus and Mary Chain had, is what was needed on the radio, to sound fresh to a whole new group of listeners. And it always starts with listeners first. Radio always comes after -- it catches up to people. One thing I've noticed is a lot of young people have strong desire to hear guitar, and a lot of it, and in a way that I kind of predicted, like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
This band The Eeries I brought out on tour, I tweeted about one of their songs, I think Courtney Love did as well, then KROQ started playing them, and everyone wanted to sign them. They're a heavy guitar band with no pop elements. The amount of people that responded to them on tour was crazy. They loved them like they going to see a band they've seen a dozen times. What that said to me is that a lot of youth culture, maybe they don't miss it, but they're first hearing it now: loud distorted, walls of sound, as opposed to what was popular in the 2000s. I think what happened in the 2000s contributed to rock and roll kind of atrophying, just sonically. Even if the songs were different, all the guitars were sitting in the song in the same way, I think My Chemical Romance music included. You'd hear it on the radio in such a way it just became boring after a while, the same exact guitar sounds from every band.
MTV: Do you pay attention to what's going on in the pop punk and emo revival stuff going on?
Way: I think I know what you're talking about. There was a few of those bands. I think the way I would listen to music, when I was young, was just certain bands as opposed to everything in a scene. Put it this way: It was very interesting for My Chemical Romance to be called emo. Emo as I knew it was very different, bands like The Promise Ring, but I wasn't a huge emo fan. There was nothing derived from that in My Chemical Romance, so to be tagged emo was a really startling thing for me because I wasn't drawing from that. There is kind of this revival of stuff, The Promise Ring, The Get Up Kids, maybe one or two others band. I haven't been paying too much attention to it. I don't have any issues with it. It just wasn't my thing in the first place.
Gerard Way is on tour now.