Fall Out Boy interview: Sharing the madness

NO ONE is paying Patrick Stump much attention during an evening shopping excursion at the East Village vintage vinyl emporium in New York. Flipping through racks of albums swiftly, like the record-shop employee he once was, Stump, 24, prefers it this way. That he is the lead singer of the multi-platinum rock band Fall Out Boy has done little to convince him that attention is something to warm to.

Instead Stump has quite willingly ceded the spotlight to the band's bass player, Pete Wentz, 29, the rambunctious attention vacuum

known for marrying the singer Ashlee Simpson, hosting his own show on MTV and oversharing on the internet, including some unfortunate photos of his nether regions that surfaced in 2006.

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Fall Out Boy, which also includes the guitarist Joe Trohman and the drummer Andy Hurley, released Folie Deux, their fifth album, last week. It's the band's most concise, restrained album to date, taking its main cues from slick Eighties arena rock, but what's notable is Stump's growth and versatility as both a vocalist and a songwriter. The album comes at a time when Stump is also in increasing demand as a producer for other artists and Wentz is reconsidering his public image. If there were a time for Stump to step up and demand notice, this would be it. But if it's okay with us, he'd rather not, thanks.

"I never really felt like the frontman type," Stump says. When he speaks, he worries the shock of hair that hangs down in front of his left ear, running his fingers over it repeatedly. "I got really lucky in Pete. He's such a personality that I don't have to be a character, really. It's selfish that I let him get thrust into that, but it was awesome for me."

Stump has fronted Fall Out Boy since its inception in 2001 in the Chicago area punk scene, and he has been the primary architect of the group's sound, which has evolved from spiky emo to radio-friendly pop-punk. Wentz, who writes the words, is responsible for the group's hyperliterate emotional heft, but it is Stump who takes it from there, chiselling Wentz's lyrics. "I sing because Pete wanted me to," he says. "I sing because Pete saw in me a singer."

When Stump auditioned for Fall Out Boy, it was to be the drummer. "I don't remember ever singing for anybody until I was in a band," he says. "It was something you did very privately."

This attitude possibly owes something to Stump's father, David, a sometime folk singer with a large, genre-spanning record collection. Even though the elder Stump gave up performing long before Patrick was born, Patrick would still catch him singing the occasional song around the house. Stump's father also provided a cultural and moral template that he thoroughly soaked up. "Civil rights was a huge thing in my family," he recalls. "It almost took the place of religion as far as morality, ethics, things like that."

This left Stump with a healthy respect for the potency, musical and emotional, of soul music. His voice is light and clean, with the nervous yelp of Elvis Costello, the slyness of Prince, a little of Steve Perry's yearning. Mostly, though, Stump is a great soul singer – precise, romantic, vigorous – even when his band is at its most jagged. He argues, not altogether unconvincingly, for the influence of John Cage on Fall Out Boy's music. When talking about how to deliver Wentz's lyrics in the most effective fashion, he invokes David Mamet: "He says that when you're an actor, you don't figure out the character or whatever, you just get up there and read your lines so that people can hear them."

In recent years Stump has begun working outside Fall Out Boy, producing both in the hip-hop sense, making beats for Lupe Fiasco, and in the rock sense, helping shape songs by Gym Class Heroes, Cobra Starship and the Hush Sound.

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The lyrics on Folie Deux are the least personal ones Wentz has ever written, not coincidentally at the time of his highest tabloid value. In May he married Ashlee Simpson, and last month the couple had their first child, a son, Bronx Mowgli. But as Wentz tries to restore privacy to his life and Stump continues to shun the limelight, will the void leave Fall Out Boy without a centre of gravity? Wentz insists that Stump has been that all along: "I think people will remember the immense ideas that Patrick had. He's definitely a lottery ticket."

Folie Deux is out now www.falloutboyrock.com

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