Music: My Chemical Romance

Jan 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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From left: Mikey Way, Gerard Way, Ray Toro and Frank Iero

From left: Mikey Way, Gerard Way, Ray Toro and Frank Iero

It’s been four years since My Chemical Romance (MCR) released their massively popular, death-obsessed concept album, The Black Parade, which firmly established the theatrical L.A.-based band (originally from New Jersey) as master purveyors of their own idiosyncratic blend of punk, pop, metal and alternative styles. They’ve been compared to everyone from Queen to Smashing Pumpkins to Pink Floyd to Green Day, but there’s no question that MCR also have their own unique vision and approach, thanks in large part to their restless and endlessly creative leader, Gerard Way, an artist-turned-singer/songwriter whose imagination is always stoked by his visual inclinations and for whom the term “high concept” is never an understatement.

Take MCR’s latest album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. It is a collection of tunes that are loosely linked by an overarching story about a band (The Killjoys) in the year 2019 and their battles with evil corporate types and laser-wielding baddies in vampire masks known as Draculoids. (This is either ironic or exploitative, given the fact that MCR loudly turned down the opportunity to place a track on the The Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack and closes Danger Days with a pointedly critical song called “Vampire Money.”) There are already big-budget conceptual videos for a couple of the catchier tunes on Danger Days out there (“Na Na Na” and “SING,” both featuring lots of laser-gun action, chases and barely comprehensible mayhem), and Gerard Way is also working on a graphic-novel version of the story—the one-time intern at DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint previously won a prestigious comics award with Brazilian artist Gabriel Bá for their work on a series called The Umbrella Academy.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When the band got home from two years of touring behind the gaudy, Rob Cavallo–produced Black Parade—a giant production that took them all over the world and left them crispy around the edges—they were determined to bang out a simpler, more stripped-down rock ’n’ roll album this time ’round. They went into the studio with Brendan O’Brien (STP, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Springsteen, et al) and did exactly that—but were seized by second thoughts once the album was mixed and essentially done. Something didn’t quite feel right to the band, so they turned back to Cavallo and engineer Doug McKean (who had worked on Black Parade and many of Cavallo’s productions, including Green Day’s American Idiot and discs for the Goo Goo Dolls, Avril Lavigne and many others) to help rework a couple of songs.

“Initially, they asked, ‘Can you help us mix this?’” says Cavallo, who in addition to being a top-flight producer is now also the chairman of Warner Bros. Records, MCR’s label. “I said, ‘No, because it’s already mixed; it sounds fine.’ ‘Well, can we cut some new tunes?’ I said, ‘Absolutely, we can do that.’ And once we started cutting new songs, that was pretty much it. Then they realized there was a difference in terms of the kind of vibe we were getting together. Then that led to them re-cutting the whole record. But I did not go in with the idea of re-cutting the album.”

Adds McKean (who’s now a staff engineer for Warner Bros.), “The band was definitely vocal about wanting to experiment more than they had [on the earlier sessions] and more than they had on Black Parade. They wanted to do the process in a really different way. On Black Parade, they went to a rehearsal room, and I was there for a little bit of it recording their rehearsals, and a lot of songs were completely written before they came into the studio [Eldorado Sound] and then just elaborated on. For this record, they came in wanting to experiment on a couple of songs they’d already written, but it turned into them writing a whole bunch of new songs in the studio from scratch.”

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