My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way spent more than a few lost weekends in Los Angeles during the recording of his band's second disc, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. As part of a party that never stopped, the singer ingested a small pharmacy's worth of pills, washing them down with enough booze to float a boat. The substance abuse didn't stop once the album was finished. When the New Jersey-- based band did the Warped Tour this past summer, Way realized that he was developing an addiction.
"Things started to spiral out of control," the singer says, calling from a Detroit-area Wal-Mart where he's been shopping for Star Wars figurines. "I've always had a problem with drinking and mixing alcohol with pills, and it started to get the best of me. So the same way I was functioning just to sing when we were doing the record, I functioned just to play the shows when we did Warped. By the end of tour, what I was doing to myself was affecting my performances, my appearance, and my energy. What was funny was the shows were amazingly great, but there were definitely a few that I don't even remember playing."
Because Way isn't shy about mining his personal life for lyrical inspiration, the songs on Three Cheers give fans plenty of insight into where he's been at over the past year. Judging from "To the End" lines like "He calls the mansion not a house but a tomb/He's always choking from the stench and the fume", there were a few tortured nights alone in the dark with a bottle. "The Jetset Life Is Gonna Kill You", meanwhile, is pretty much self-explanatory, with Way exploring a world of one-night stands, empty prescription bottles, and endless lines of nose candy.
"Realistically, I was into being into L.A. when we were writing," he says. "I knew there would be a flavour to the record as a result of living in Los Angeles for two-and-a-half months. The phoniness and the sleaziness made a huge impact on me and the songs."
My Chemical Romance had a goal with Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, and that was to make sure it didn't repeat its 2002 debut, I Brought You Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love. Where that disc found Way, guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro, drummer Matt Pelissier, and bassist Mikey Way treading the dark seas of gothic emo, the new outing is all about branching out. So while the hardcore gallop of "Give 'Em Hell, Kid" and "Thank You for the Venom" won't alienate the black-trench-coats-and-smeared-mascara crowd, there are forays into previously unexplored territory. Beginning with 20 seconds of delicate electronic flutter, "Helena" goes on to become the kind of amphetamined-pop firecracker that lands deals with labels like Victory Records. The album's staccato, show-stopping killer, "You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison", references everyone from piano-plunked post-wave to death-scream metal, and the pallid "The Ghost of You" is 4 a.m. chill-down music for modern-day vampires.
"What we really learned during this record was that whenever we experimented and tried something a little different, the songs worked really well," Way says. "In the future, I can see us moving even more into a rock-type realm, with lots more melody and an overall largeness. And I can see us getting even darker as far as subject matter goes."
Wherever My Chemical Romance--which opens for Face to Face at the Commodore on Friday (September 3)--ends up going, there's every indication the band is headed for something big. The Warped Tour isn't the only place that the quintet's popped up since the release of Three Cheers. Alternative Press hailed MCR as "long-awaited heirs to the arena-punk throne", the New York Times gushed over the new disc, and the ever-execrable Blender showed a rare bit of good taste by naming the group one of its next big things. Spin tagged Way to do a fashion shoot, and MTV has even found a spot for the band between endless airings of Pimp My Ride and The Osbournes. So it's no real surprise that the singer is starting to get noticed on the street; his interview with the Georgia Straight is briefly interrupted when two fans approach him in the Wal-Mart parking lot and ask to take a picture with him.
After happily posing, Way says: "Lately, I'm getting noticed when I'm out. Actually, it's happening a lot. I don't mind it most times, but sometimes I want to just zone out and have some privacy. In a small way, I'm a public figure now who's visible on television and in magazines so it can get weird sometimes. On the Warped Tour in Chicago I accidentally smashed my face wide open. My teeth were rammed through my lip, there was blood everywhere, and I was holding a rag filled with ice to my face. I come off-stage and someone asks me to take a picture. I was like, 'Are you out of your fucking mind?' "
Way might have answered that question differently a couple of months back, but he reports that he's off the pills and the booze today. He's also genuinely happy, and not just because his visit to Wal-Mart netted him a hard-to-find Boba Fett figurine. The frontman admits that he's changed since he started the group.
"I used to be one of those live-fast, die-young guys who never wanted to get married or have kids," he says. "I don't know what I am right now, but I'm definitely no longer that guy. I want to live."
But even though he's clean, sober, and focused, Way doesn't imagine staying that way forever. As he notes, MCR's next album is going to be darker. Consequently, he doesn't discount going back to a dark place for inspiration.
"I may go on a real bender," Way says with a laugh. "But this time I think that I might do it in New York City instead."