Joe Trohman on the Damned Things’ Return and Fall Out Boy’s Future

From the start, the Damned Things’ existence seemed unlikely: What were two dudes from Fall Out Boy doing in a band with the guy from Anthrax? But FOB lead guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley knew their hard rock, and ended up sounding right at home on the band’s 2010 debut album, Ironiclast, alongside Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and singer Keith Buckley of the metalcore band Every Time I Die. Their excellent, just-released second album, High Crimes, though, is truly improbable, if only because it showed up with little warning a full nine years later (and with a new bass player on board, Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano). It’s as unabashed a guitar-rock album as you’ll hear in 2019, a monument to riff and crunch that stands in sharp contrast to Fall Out Boy’s savvy pop reinvention on its last three albums. Trohman, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids, explained the unusual genesis of the album, pondered the future of Fall Out Boy, discussed that band’s unlikely influence on rap, and more.

Listening to this album, I was like, “Oh, right, that’s what guitar riffs sound like.”
I know, I forgot too. It was weird, man. It’s been a while since I really played a guitar. I’ll tell you that.

After a really long break, what was the impetus to start the Damned Things up again?
It’s weird, right? So, I was on a trip with my family and [producer] Jay Ruston hit me up: “Hey man, I don’t know if you’d be into doing this, but I’m developing this artist, she’s a singer, she’s really young, she’s like 19 or something, and she wants to make a rock & roll record, but she’s not a songwriter. Can you write some songs for her?” And I was like, “Fuck, sure. Why not? Whatever.”

I got home, I wrote a couple songs. [Damned Things lead singer] Keith and I, we’re always good friends, so I hit up Keith and I was like, “Jay Ruston hit me up to write these songs. You know I’m terrible with lyrics, can you send me a bunch of lyrics?” So he sent me a bunch of lyrics and I put these two songs together, “Invincible” and “Omen.” The girl loved them. There were a bunch of people writing songs on the record, a bunch of real rock people and stuff – I think even Desmond Child wrote a song for her. And then she just kind of disappeared! I don’t know what she went to do, I hope she’s okay. None of us really know what happened to her.

I was talking with Jay and I was like, “Man, it’s weird that these songs kind of remind me of … this could be new Damned Things songs.” And he was like, “Yeah, that would be cool.” So I hit up Keith, and he was really into it, Scott was really immediately down, and it kind of just trickled from there. It didn’t start with the idea of ever making a Damned Things record again.

The first Damned Things album came out during Fall Out Boy’s hiatus, right?
I started the band before it, and then it came to fruition during the hiatus.

At that point you weren’t positive that there would be a Fall Out Boy again. In this case, as far as I know, your other band is very much an ongoing thing. So it’s a different mentality, I’d imagine.
Part of the reason we took that hiatus before was some of us felt like we had no space to do anything but Fall Out Boy. Now we don’t have to do the same type of touring that we used to do, where it was, like, 200-plus days out of the year. And it feels like we’ve all learned that everyone needs space to do other things.

Especially because when I started working on the songs, we hadn’t even made [Fall Out Boy’s 2018 album] Mania yet; we were in the middle of making it, maybe. And I knew it would take a while for us to finish the Damned Things record anyway, with everybody being in different places geographically. We timed it to where we would finish the Mania cycle and then, at that point, Fall Out Boy had done three records back to back to back. But like, do you really need more Fall Out Boy after three records? And then everyone can get a break from us. It’s a healthy thing to do. It was a perfect time to do this again.

Obviously you’re on tour all the time and you’re playing the old Fall Out Boy songs, but there’s pretty some shred-y playing on this album. Did you have to do any practicing to get your chops back to this level?
It was, like, pick up and noodle on a guitar. A cool thing that I get to do live with Fall Out Boy is embellish.  Especially on some of the newer songs that have less guitars in the tracks – or they’re so low in the mix, they’re inaudible –  I can kinda just play what I want, within reason. So basically on tour I’m playing guitar an hour and a half every day. But as far as writing on this record, I’m glad I have a [home] recording studio where I can sit there and try stuff until I get the feeling back. As long as I get my wrists warm and just strum some chords for a little bit, I can kind of get the muscle memory back really quickly.

This album sounds a bit more hook-y than the debut. Was that deliberate?
I can’t write a song without there being something to hook my interest, so there has to be a hook in there. I love listening to stuff that drones and has an arrangement that is nine different parts that happen in odd orders. I dig all that stuff, but I can’t write it. I like hooks. It’s weird, I didn’t listen to any music while making this record, I just listen to NPR and true crime podcasts and stuff. So it was all like, okay, I’m gonna write a song that I think will evoke Hot Snakes meets the Hellacopters. But it’s gonna go through a filter in my mind, based off of a memory of what those bands sound like, and just see what comes out.

How did what you’ve learned on the last few Fall Out Boy albums play into this album?
There used to be a lot of money to make records. So, you’d sit in a studio and you’d do 47 takes of a song and it doesn’t matter because your budget’s a quarter of a million dollars, probably more. One thing I learned, especially from a dude like Butch Walker, who is an insane musician himself, is, bring your fucking A-game. You better come in and if you aren’t really good, you’re not on this record. Luckily everybody in this band’s really good, and I think also, it taught me how to trust people that are really good to go in and do their thing and not give them a shitload of notes. You know, I’m already giving them a demo with everything on it, more or less. If I had to sit there and note them to death and make them take 30, fucking 40 takes, then I’m truly a piece of garbage for not trusting them whatsoever.

You put a lot of love and care into the construction of the songs, but then when it comes to making it, it’s just like shooting from the fucking hip. And letting it be loose and letting it feel like a band. Even though that sounds like the antithesis of the last three Fall Out Boy records, in some way it is the way we did a lot of it. With everyone just trusting everyone to do everything and letting them do it their way. Trying it and see what works. There was a little bit of that going on, and also a lot of, like, “We don’t need to do 30 takes of this. We got it once, let’s move on, it sounds great.”

On the last few Fall Out Boy records, are you sometimes taking a role that isn’t playing guitar?
Yes. Doing drum programming, synth playing, sample-making, things like that. Things that are considered very modern, production-wise. I have to sort of be like, “Well, I’m a guitar player, I’d love it if this could be all about the riff — but it’s not what it’s about anymore.” There is the “Let’s effect the fuck out of this guitar and make it a texture.” That is a thing that is very prominent as well, but no one is listening to that and hearing a guitar.

I feel both sides. I feel the side of, “I want a band just to sound like a band. I want it to be guitar, bass, drums and vocals.” I also get that things need to progress and be different and change. We need to experiment, and a guitar can sound like whatever you want it to sound like nowadays. Fuck, the amount of pedal makers out there that are making these weird, crazy pedals that literally, you’re supposed to run your guitar through them and not have it sound like a guitar. We can’t force-feed people to be into the guitar. That didn’t work, it made people very guitar-averse. It would be fun, and I know it’s a lofty goal, it would be fun with this Damned Things record, if enough people listened to it that made them want to play dirty guitar. Dirty, nasty guitar. The first song I ever learned how to play was “Kick out the Jams,” after my friend’s dad who was this biker taught me how to play two-finger power chords. And I learned a Black Flag song — that was my way into playing guitar which was very approachable and very raw and very loud. And that’s what I like about a guitar. I love the Stooges, I love the shooting from the hip, just loud, in-your-face fucking shit.

It’s funny that you have another album coming out with the dude from Anthrax and then Fall Out Boy have a song charting with Lil Peep.
It’s very weird, man. I have a weird life. I don’t even feel like a part of it, if that makes sense. I’ve always felt this way. I feel like I still don’t have my head wrapped around all the weirdness, if that makes sense.

What can you say about that song, “I’ve Been Waiting?
Lil Peep really loved Fall Out Boy and I think this was a wish of his, to try to do a track with us. His [mother] came to us and was like, “Can you do this?” At the end of the day, Fall Out Boy – it’s really mostly [about] hearing Patrick’s voice, at this point.

I hear so much Fall Out Boy in all these emo rappers. Juice WRLD, to me, he sounds like he’s singing the kind of melodies that you guys have.
It’s crazy, they all say they listened to us growing up, and I’m like, “You listened to the whitest dudes!” That’s cool, these guys are all really great. I remember Lil Yachty told us that we were something he grew up listening to. I’m like, “Dude, you should walk away, ’cause you’re way cooler than us.” So it’s very nice. I mean it’s neat, it’s interesting to see how it’s all morphing musically. I wonder where it’s gonna go from here, and to be a part of the change in even a small way is really cool, but I don’t even understand anything — and I don’t mean it in a get off my lawn kinda way. I’m like, “This is really cool, I don’t get any of it, but do it, that’s awesome, I’m all for it.”

Can you pick a couple of the new Damned Things songs and break them down for me?
“Cells,” for instance, that was a song when I was talking about like I wanted to do a like a Drive Like Jehu/Hot Snakes noise-rocky thing. And then I know with the chorus, I wanted it to feel something like the riff in “Kashmir,” where you’re always waiting for it to resolve but it never resolves? And then the guitar solo was my best impression of J Mascis. “Omen” is weird – I wanted it to have some vibes of later-era Black Sabbath. But then I think the song ended up sounding more like a Scorpions song. But then it still has some Thin Lizzy vibes and some weird Doors-y keys stuff. So I was able to marry all of my favorite classic-rock things, but I still think in a weird way, it doesn’t exactly do any of those things correctly

The opening track, “Something Good,” with the weird cheerleader chant, is my favorite Damned Things song ever.
That’s a really weird song, ’cause it’s one of the few songs that Scott contributed any writing to on the record. I was pushing everyone, I was like “Dudes, do you guys wanna write anything, I’m not trying to make this like a dictatorship, please.” And everyone’s just happy with the songs I was giving, so I’m like, “Okay, that’s great, I’m very flattered, but whatever you guys want to do”. So Scott sent me four iPhone riffs, and then I just took all of them and made them the verse. And I had a drumbeat going knowing that I wanted to do a cheerleader chant, like in Faith No More’s “Be Aggressive.”

Did Scott ever show any doubt about playing with guys from Fall Out Boy?
I think if he had shown me any disdain, I just think it would have never happened. No man, we met through a mutual friend in L.A, and I wasn’t even living in L.A at the time, well over a decade ago, and I think he was open enough just to talk to me as a person and we just were into the same shit, and I think that conversation – I don’t know how much of a salesman I was being, I don’t know if I was really pushing this idea onto him – but I know I probably must have been thinking about doing something that was in my mind supposed to be what the Damned Things became. And here was Scott Ian, and we were talking about Thin Lizzy, and we were talking about that at the end of the day we both just really like really hook-y rock music. And then I was like, “You wanna jam with me?” And then he said yes. I found a somewhat safe opportunity to ask this guy that I grew up idolizing if he would play guitar with me in my hotel room, which is a really weird thing to do.

What’s worth saying about the future of Fall Out Boy?
I’d say there is a future. I honestly have no idea what it is. I don’t want that to sound ominous. We did Mania, and three records back to back, and we’re literally seriously taking time to be with families and make anything that anyone else wants to make without the looming schedule of Fall Out Boy overhead, which is great. It’s something that we all needed. We all needed a break. We went back to back for years, again. And again, we learned that lesson first time around not to do that again, not to go nine years or whatever and then, like, beat ourselves into a hateful submission. This time it was what, five or six years? And we were like, “Cool, let’s give ourselves a healthy break from this”. But I mean, will there be Fall Out Boy again? Yeah, I do not see why not. Yes.

With the Lil Peep hit there might be demand for shows.
Yeah. We might get something like that. I mean we are doing little things, we’re doing Bunbury festival in Cincinnati. We’re not against playing some festival dates and doing little things. I think as far as making a record, there’s been no discussion about that — but that doesn’t mean we won’t make a record, that just means it’s break time, man. Break time, hang with your family, work on other projects, mental health, all that stuff.


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