Interview with My Chemical Romance lead vocalist Gerard Way
Skate & Surf Festival 2004
Asbury Park, NJ
S&S: What’s your favorite drink?
Gerard: Vodka and Red Bull. It’s very unhealthy. It’s really bad for your heart and you. I like the Red Bull, but the vodka takes the edge off a little bit. That’s always good. I’ve been drinking it since the Reggie and the Full Effect tour. Midtown was on that. We’re friends with Midtown. One night, we were playing, and we went to a dance club after it. It’s one of those things where you play in a big venue, and next door in the same building is this big dance club. So, that’s where we played. It was totally cheesy and goth. Gabe goes, “Here, try this.” After that, I drank it every day for the rest of the tour. I drank so much that on the last day, Gabe got me a giant Absolut with a handle and a bag of Red Bull. He was like, “I want to see you go ape shit tonight.” I got fucked up.
S&S: So, you have to moderate yourself on tour now?
Gerard: Yeah, I actually don’t really even drink that much anymore. I’ve given up on getting wasted. Today, I’ll have one or two of these. Probably one, and I’ll find time to play. I’m pretty much sober. I like playing sober now. We play a little more controlled now. We try and sound good as opposed to going all over the fucking place. It hurts your body [and] it hurts the way you sound.
S&S: It’s taken a while to complete “Three Cheers”. Does that bother you, or would you rather it be perfect?
Gerard: What actually took a while was getting to the point where we could say, “Let’s go record this.” Tracking only took six weeks because we were so prepared. We were on the road. Then we had a month and a half off to write. The longest process was trying to find the right producer. That took longer than anything because we were on the road so much. We literally had to fly places to meet producers. So, the actual making of the record was one of the quickest records that Howard told me he ever made. We spent two weeks in pre-production in this little, very intimate [place]. We were supposed to spend three to four. After that we said, “The record’s ready. Let’s go do it.” Every step of the way was like that, too. Craig Aarons got very involved at that point. He would come in every day and listen and say, “You have a record. You’re done. Go do it. You guys sound great.” So, that was really quick. Now, to come out opposed to our last record is another story. We spent a lot of time touring on the first record.
S&S: Who did the artwork for the record?
Gerard: I did. You like it?
S&S: Yes, very much.
Gerard: Actually, I did a bunch of artwork -a whole bunch of stuff that didn’t make it on the record. I just didn’t want it on, and we used that stuff on the hoodies. I’ll tell you a funny story about it. I went in to the head of the Art Department at Warner. He’s a guy with a lot of history. He’s worked on Beatles stuff. He’s been in the business. Did you seen the VH1 thing with Fleetwood Mac? That band had a big special air on Sunday, and it was the making of their last record. He’s there. He’s in it. I’m sitting there and watching it like, “Holy shit.” Anyway, I go in with this book, this sketchbook of all this watercolor stuff, because I was going to use that as a basis for what the photographer was going to do. We have a photographer I really love, Justin Borucki. He ended up doing all the photos of the band for the record. But he was supposed to do this set up of a man and a woman. It was supposed to be a photo of them covered in blood. So, I pass all my sketches over, and he’s sitting there looking at them and he’s like, “What do you want me to do with these?” I was like, “I’m just going to give them to the photographer and he’s going to recreate the situation.” He goes, “How come you’re not using these?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I haven’t done art in years.” So, I didn’t think of myself that way. I didn’t think they were good enough. He loved them. He was like, “This is your cover, dude.” I was really surprised. It’s very gory, but I guess because it’s watercolor, it’s very tasteful, which is why he actually preferred all of them. Because if we put people there, it would look like a hardcore record. It would look like a movie poster for some weird movie. So, I was like, “Alright. Ok, let’s do it.” So, that’s how that came about. We have two versions of it too. There’s another gorier version that I actually didn’t like because the guy came out bad. The girl came out great. It didn’t look right. The other one is more tasteful.
S&S: So, the whole vampires, bats, bloody stuff. Where did that all come from?
Gerard: I probably haven’t ever said this in an interview, but the whole “unleash the bats” thing came from a Birthday Party song called “Release The Bats.” Ian MacKaye used to be in The Birthday Party, and I love The Birthday Party. I just thought it was the wackiest, craziest little phrase. That’s where it came from. I’ve always been obsessed with death and dark stuff and horror movie stuff, but I don’t consider myself goth. I think there’s a distinct difference. The whole vampire thing [came up when I thought], “Man, nobody writes songs about vampires. How cool would it be?” I thought it was kind of risky or ballsy to play a rock song or a hardcore song that was about vampires. Like Ink and Dagger. I love that band, but nobody does shit like that anymore. It was a really big metaphor for what I wanted to write about. Then it got carried away, obviously. I go to shows, and kids ask me to bite them, and I’m not a gothy guy really. I just happen to be very obsessed with death and dying and the beauty and tragedy of it all. That’s really where it comes from.
S&S: I’ve just always wondered about that.
Gerard: This record’s way more about death because I lost my grandma in November, and it changed everything. She taught me how to sing. She taught me how to paint. She taught me everything. She was so talented. I just kind of dealt with that -real death for a change. So, the lyrics are actually seriously way more disturbing.
S&S: What song on “Three Cheers” means the most to you and why?
Gerard: “Helena” -that’s my grandmother’s name, and it’s about her. Originally, I wanted the lyrics to be more directly about her. It ended up being more of a song about her writing to me. The lyrics are very aggressive. It’s more about me ragging on myself for being away so much. After we had toured for about a year and a half straight, she died the day after I got home. She had been in the hospital, so I couldn’t see her because I was sick, too. I got home, and the next morning I woke up and she was dead. I was very angry with myself for that. I didn’t regret it, obviously, because she would have wanted me on the road. The song’s very aggressive towards myself. That’s kind of what I do. That song definitely means the most. It’s awesome. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record.
S&S: What are a few of the best and worst things that have happened to you at a show?
Gerard: It was really hard in the beginning. The worst thing that happened to us was probably breaking down in Nashville and being stuck there for two days in the worst part of Nashville. We had the van because we didn’t have any money, so we couldn’t stay in a hotel. There were crackheads everywhere and muggers. All the worst shit. That’s probably the worst thing. That happened right after our first tour. We had a new van after that. The best thing that happened, as rough as it was -touring Europe with The Used. A lot of people would probably argue that that was one of the worst things that happened as far as us getting sick. We had near pneumonia illness running rampant, and we were in this tiny, little van. We had to sleep on the floor, and we followed The Used around. It was awesome. It was such an amazing opportunity. It was within the first four months of being a touring band. That’s probably the coolest thing we’ve ever done.
S&S: What inspired you to be in a band?
Gerard: I’ve always liked music. I originially wanted to be in a band when I was in middle school. I sucked at guitar so bad that I got kicked out of the band. Then I was like, “You know what. Let me try something else.” I had always liked art, so I went to art school. I had a hard time breaking in. It’s a really hard field. I started to do really good in animation, then 9/11 happened. I was kind of like, “You know what. This is fucking pointless.” I was working on cartoons and stuff and it was just dumb. I wanted to do something that makes more of a difference. That was the way I saw to do that and to deal with the whole 9/11 thing. I was like right there. I was on my way into the city, so I was right on the edge of what happened, surrounded by all these people. We were all on our way to work. It was fucking crazy, you know. So, after that, I just said, “What the fuck am I doing with my life?” I was like this scrubby intern slash artist guy who’s like 24, 25 years old [and] doing nothing. I decided to change my entire life.
S&S: Where is your favorite place to play?
Gerard: Chicago and Jersey. Two best places to play for us in the whole world.
S&S: Because of the crowd energy?
Gerard: Yeah. A Chicago crowd for us is like a Jersey crowd, so it feels like a second home. There’s lots of great places to play there, too. There’s a shitload of venues and really down to earth people.
S&S: What do you do after shows?
Gerard: We used to drink and party a lot. Not even really party. We’re not like a Motley Crue type band -[we don’t] party like that. We used to just drink a lot and kind of wake up the next morning, be all fucked up, be tired, go to the next show, and play like shit. Now, we pretty much go right from the stage to the merch or whatever, to meet kids that came out. We have it very set up now. It’s like stage, some guys load out, some guys meet kids, then the guys that were loading out meet kids, then we go right to the hotel or the next destination. Sleep is our main thing now. Staying healthy, getting a lot of vitamin C, eating well, and sleeping. We were like, “You now, we’re not going to make it like this, at the rate we’re going.” The only reason Motley Crue made it as long as they did is because they had a bus immediately. We’re not in that kind of a situation. Most of these bands aren’t.
S&S: What is your favorite way to kill time in the van?
Gerard: Listening to headphones, reading, or playing video games like Gameboy. It’s hard for me to do all of those things and focus in the van, so I usually just sit there and stare at the ceiling and think for eight hours. Just [do] nothing. I don’t even use my phone or anything. I just sit and think. That’s where I get a lot of the lyrics from, especially the tours leading up to the record. If we got to a venue at one and we had to play at nine at night, I would sit there for that long and just stare at a wall. It’s weird. I used to kind of feel that I had to get myself in a certain mental place to play every night, like a certain zone where I had to be crazy or hurtful to myself or conjure up really bad shit. I don’t do that anymore. I’m a much more mentally healthier person because of that. Shows are more fun now, and I’m not tired anymore. It’s because I haven’t spilled my guts all over the stage. I’m just having a good time. We’re playing much tighter now as a band, because everybody gets like that now.
S&S: That’s cool that you went through that change. I’m sure everyone at shows can tell.
Gerard: You can because it’s way tighter. The way we’ve been playing ever since we finished that record, everything clicked. We became a different band as soon as we finished that record.
S&S: Describe your first kiss.
Gerard: Ok, I can do that pretty easily. I was 15 years old. I believe my best friend was in the front seat with a girl. I was in the back seat. I think we were waiting in a car for these two girls to get picked up. He was a little older than me, so he had a permit. I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t kissed anybody ever. Not even like playground type shit. She definitely initiated, because I’m not an initiator. She just started sticking her tongue down my throat and I was like, “What the fuck is this?” At first, it was really gross, then I was like, “Alright. Well, I guess this is kind of cool.” You never know what you’re really like until you do it. Afterwards, I ended up obviously really being more into that sleezy, dirty type thing. Not a lot of people kiss like that. I was way into it. She wasn’t the most attractive girl, but I wasn’t really the most attractive guy.
S&S: What is your favorite article of clothing?
Gerard: My leather jacket. Actually, it’s my belt, because I’ve had this since the beginning. The jackets come and go because the sweat eats away at them. This is my second leather jacket now. This is my favorite, but I think it might go away. It’s already started coming apart. I bought it fucked up. It was used.
S&S: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Gerard: Probably jumping over a six-foot barricade to a 10-foot drop to concrete in a bear costume. In a bear costume is probably what makes it a little crazier. That was on the Reggie tour, and they have a bear come on stage with them. They didn’t have their bear [guy], so the first day, James said, “Hey, bro. I got a job for you if you’re interested. If you want to, start our set and say ‘Let’s get it on’ then kind of do whatever you want.” I was like, “Alright.” So, I got in the bear suit, jumped, and nobody caught me. I’m thinking, “Dude, they’re definitely going to catch a guy in a bear suit. Who wouldn’t want to catch a guy in a bear suit?” I thought I was going home in a helicopter. That was the last time I did that. That was in Florida, too, and Florida kids can’t catch for shit anyway. That’s been my experience.
S&S: If you had to watch only one movie for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Gerard: Empire Strikes Back. There are movies that are obviously better films, but that has a lot to do with my childhood. I think it’s probably one of the greatest movies ever. If I had to pick another, like a more cerebral film, [it would be] probably A Clockwork Orange. The Shining is good too, but I’m not a big Kubrick fan, so that’s tough. Empire Strikes Back.
S&S: Tattoos and piercings: Great additions or would you rather not?
Gerard: I don’t have anything. I really like tattoos. I’m just a pussy about needles. I’m afraid of needles, even when they draw blood and shit. I have to lay down, and I have to do special breathing with the doctor or else I’ll pass out. I think it’s a nice addition on some people. On some people, it’s a little carried away. But it’s not for me really. I really always wanted a black widow on my neck. I’d be way into something like that.
S&S: With or without a web?
Gerard: No web. Just a black widow.
S&S: What to do you do to get psyched up before a show?
Gerard: I used to do all kinds of shit like punch mirrors, smash my head against walls, talk shit to myself and just kind of freak out. Now, I just really focus and I warm up vocally. I stay kind of calm. That way I save all that intensity. The minute I walk on stage, everything changes completely. I like that better. So, I just kind of chill out.