FROM listless art school dreamers to passionate gloom-rock heroes, My Chemical Romance have come a long way since their dreary childhoods in Newark, N.J., a region that the band’s singer, Gerard Way, calls “the carjacking capital of the world.”
“It’s not a great area,” he says by phone from Chicago, where the band is preparing to play its first show on its first headlining tour, which arrives at the Sports Arena on Friday. “When we were kids we couldn’t go out and play really. We created our own worlds and we played in our heads. We’d make up characters. We were all very into horror movies and reading comic books as children. Anything to escape.”
Though Way always had a love for the kind of black humor and macabre fiction that now play a huge role in My Chemical Romance (whose moniker is inspired by the writings of Irvine Welsh), he didn’t try expressing it through music until the events of 9/11.
“I was doing art and I was dissatisfied with it, and after Sept. 11, I felt like I wanted to make a bigger impact,” says Way, who was working in New York at the time. “I wanted to connect with people up close and personal.”
Now, after four years of touring -- and with a platinum-selling album and a batch of the most exuberant, darkly clever music videos to grace MTV’s TRL countdown in recent memory -- Way and company have made more of an influence than even their comic-book-writer heroes could’ve conjured.
Released on Warner Bros. in 2004, “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” is a potent debut, sort of an emo-meets-pop-punk hybrid with gothic undertones. Lyrically driven by “loss, pain, regret, and, yes, revenge,” says Way, it was written after the death of his grandmother -- the inspiration for the hit single and MTV Video Music Award-nominated “Helena,” which imposes a Gene Kelly-style dance vibe into a funeral setting.
“There’s a real theatricality to this band,” say director Marc Webb, who collaborated with the group on “Helena” as well as the teen-movie-preview parody for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and its latest, a war-themed mini-saga for the tune “The Ghost of You.” “They understand and respect the cinematic process, which is great, but they’re also extremely charismatic performers.”
A video in regular rotation on MTV represents the pinnacle for pop hopefuls. But for a more punk-flavored outfit trying to earn respect on the road (the band promoted the record on the hard-rocking Taste of Chaos Tour and performed on the Vans Warped Tour all summer), the exposure can actually make things more challenging.
"[Audiences] already kind of made up their mind about you,” Way says. “So it’s actually harder when you’re more well-known sometimes. But the charm of this band is that we’ve always been able to turn people around.”
Though MCR’s videos and lyrics cast the band as underdogs, industry attention came relatively quickly. After 9/11, Way started writing songs and assembled a lineup including his brother Mikey Way on bass, and neighborhood pals Ray Toro and Frank Iero on guitars, with Matt Pelissier on drums (soundman Bob Bryar, from Chicago, replaced Pelissier in 2004). A few gigs at Jersey punk dive the Loop Lounge led to interest from indie label Eyeball Records, which released the group’s 2002 debut, “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love,” a raw but promising basement-hatched collection that bludgeoned metallic riffs with heart-piercing vocals and somber atmospherics. The album’s single “Vampires Will Never Hurt You” garnered label interest soon after it was released, and the band signed with Warner imprint Reprise a year later.
ALTHOUGH “Revenge” began as more of a fictional concept album, it ultimately ended up delving deeper. “I’m Not Okay” is about high school peer pressure and, more subtly, about suicide. Other tunes deal with the personal pressure the band members felt themselves after being signed. The uber-expressive approach, coupled with the group’s menacing image (dark clothes, dark makeup), and a dramatic sound that falls somewhere between the Used and Queen (influences that collided when Way and Used singer Bert McCracken covered Freddie Mercury and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” for tsunami relief) have struck a chord with angst-filled young rock fans.
“The cool thing about this band is that it appeals to a big cross section,” says Lisa Worden, music director at KROQ-FM (106.7).
“If you like darker stuff we play like Interpol, or if you like poppier stuff like Fall Out Boy or Blink-182, or even if you like harder punk, they have something to offer.”
Way says that they’ll be offering more than ever on this tour, including new tunes.
“Sound-wise it’s more arena-style rock,” he says, describing the elaborate stage sets (giant cathedral windows will be the backdrop) and lighting that will be used for the tour. “At the same time, we’re removing the distance of that fiction. There’s going to be a lot more reality. There’s more immediacy to what we do now. This stuff didn’t happen three years ago, this happened today or last week. This is what our lives are like now.”
Lina Lecaro can be reached at email@example.com.
My Chemical Romance
Who: MCR, with Alkaline Trio
and Reggie and the Full Effect
Where: Sports Arena, 3939 S. Figueroa, L.A.
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
Price: $20 to $25
Info: (213) 480-3232 (Ticketmaster)