October 2001, Ewing, New Jersey. Gerard Way and his kid brother Mikey are sitting in a beaten up van outside the town’s VFW Hall. They’re paralysed with fear. On one side of them is their good friend Frank Iero, whose band Pencey Prep are headlining the show tonight. On the other is another friend, John ‘Hambone’ McGuire- Pencey Prep’s bassist. Meanwhile, the Ways’ guitarist Ray Toro and drummer Matt Pelissier wait nervously for them. Each time the Way brothers think about what they’re going to do tonight, another wave of fear passes over them. They reach for their beers, chugging them down like water. Hambone, hands pressed on Mikey’s shoulders, is giving the bassist a pep talk-“a General ordering his troops into battle,” he recalls.
Inside the hall, in a little room that is, ironically, more usually used for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, there are 30 or 40 kids. They’re tightly pressed in, looking at a tiny stage with no monitors, a ramshackle vocal PA and a drum it. They’re about to watch My Chemical Romance’s first ever performance-just as soon as the Ways can overcome their nerves outside. The band pull themselves together, the beer giving them enough courage to move towards the stage. They plug their guitars in, Gerard grabs the mic, and they exchange one last look. “Let’s go,” says the singer. Within seconds of their first song-the only recently written ‘Skylines and Turnstiles.’-the hall is a seething mass of bodies.
“The room just blew up.” remembers Gerard now. “It was the best first gig we could possibly have had. We played the rest of the set on this wave; we felt totally on fire.”
“Something about the music took over everybody in the band,” remembers Ray Toro. “I had never moved around onstage when I had played in bands before, I had always just stood there. This time, the music made me headbang and thrash around. I was wild onstage and I had never experienced that before. From that very first show, we knew there was something special about the band.”
They staggered outside afterwards, full of fire and energy. “We were like a gang, we felt unbeatable,” says Gerard. They grinned wildly at each other as more and more people came up to compliment them, slapping them on the back. Then they shared another look. Mikey still remembers it to this day. “It felt so good. It was like we were part of something. I was thinking, ‘Something’s going to happen here, I can feel it.’ It felt like a spark on a pile of woodchips.”
Today, that spark has become a raging inferno. My Chemical Romance are the fastest-rising rock band on the planet. Released in October 2006, their third album ‘The Black Parade’ has already sold over two million copies worldwide-their record company, Reprise, are confidently predicting 10 million by the end of this year.
Here in the UK, MCR are the stuff of mainstream debate, having sparked a tabloid scare story in ‘The Daily Mail’ and scored a Number One single with ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’-an unheard achievement for an ‘emo’ act. My Chemical Romance are now more than a band; they are a phenomenon, with a counter-cultural impact to rival Green Day, Nirvana or Korn in their prime.
Yet this is no overnight success story. The journey to this point has been one of trauma, excess, self-destruction-and endless turbulence.
Gerard Arthur Way was born in Belleville, New Jersey on April 8, 1977. He grew up, as he puts it, in an area, “full of Italian-American mafia kind people.”
“My dad shaped me morally,” he says. “My dad’s a real man- a working class guy who worked hard for every penny. He instilled so much respect for women in me.”
It was that respect for women that meant Gerard always had the utmost admiration for both his mother Donna and, more importantly, his grandmother Elena Lee Rush.
“She was so instrumental in my life, I don’t think I’d be doing any of this if it wasn’t for her,” he says. “She was just this little Italian lady but she was so inspirational-she’s the reason I found music.”
And everywhere he went as a child, like a shadow, was his younger brother Mikey-born three years after him. Theirs was a close relationship, so much so that Mikey says, “We never fought. We were inseparable. We hung out with each other constantly and we still do. Every day, me and him stick together all day long.”
Gerard says his school days were, “pretty solitary. I didn’t have too many friends. I was really isolated and I found solace at the comic book store. One of my first days in high school I sat all alone at lunch time. It was the classic story-the weird kid in an army jacket, a horror movie T-shirt, long black hair. People were never really mean to me, they just left me alone. I think I wanted to be alone too.”
He played guitar-badly-teaching himself from a cheap acoustic he and his brother had at home. Eventually, at 15, he joined his first band, “It was a shitty prog band,” he says. “They kicked me out because I couldn’t play ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. I really sucked.”
He turned to art and comic books, eventually enrolling in New York’s School Of Visual Arts, and would occasionally go out to see shows-English bands, mainly like Pulp and Morrissey. It was in 1997, though, that he and his brother Mikey would see a gig that changed their lives.
“I took him to see the Smashing Pumpkins at Madison Square Garden,” remembers the bassist.” It was the most inspirational thing I’d ever seen. As we were sat there, Gerard turned to me and said, ‘This is what we’ve got to do.’ I said, ‘I know dude.’”
They started to play in a band called Ray Gun Jones-“Smashing Pumpkins meets Weezer”, according to Mikey-but it didn’t last long, the band falling apart as Gerard became more and more withdrawn, locking himself away in his parent’s basement, drawing comics and rarely coming up for air.
“I spent a lot of time holed up in that basement depressed. I found it hard to leave the house,” Gerard says.” I’d been to art school, got out and realized there were no jobs for me. I went through a lot of negative stuff. I’d sit there beating myself up about not accomplishing anything.”
“The positive side was that I ended up with notebooks full of ideas. I even wrote a short story called ‘I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love.’ It was about gangland murders in Chicago. But, the point was, I had all these ideas and it meant that I was already shaping an aesthetic for this band-I just didn’t have a band yet.”
Meanwhile, the two guitarists who would bring his aesthetic to life were growing up nearby. Raymond Toro Ortiz was born on July 15, 1977 in Kearny, New Jersey. He grew up in a small Puerto Rican household in a bad neighbourhood, sharing a bedroom with his two brothers, watching junkies overdose on the streets outside.
He says he was, “one of the invisible masses”, in High School-neither excelling nor failing at anything. As a 13 year old he’d sit up until 2am in his shared bedroom watching his brother play guitar along to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Metallica records, dreaming of being able to do the same. “I got really obsessed with the guitar. I didn’t have much of a social life. I had friends but we wouldn’t hang out after school. The only think that was always there for me was theguitar.”
Though he played in bands-once, briefly, with Gerard Way in a “nothing special” pop-punk outfit called Nancy Drew after he left high school-film was Ray’s first love. “I wanted to be an editor-that was my focus. The whole time I was in college learning that, I almost stopped playing in bands. I played drums in a band called Dead Go West for about a year, that was it.”
Frank Iero wasn’t the healthiest of kids. Born into a lower-middle-class family in Belleville, New Jersey, Frank’s parents separated when he was young. “We weren’t rich,” he says. “But my mom tried really hard to make sure I had everything I needed, while my dad worked three jobs to support us.”
He suffered constant bouts of bronchitis and ear infections before developing a stomach illness and the [glandular fever-like] Epstein Barr Virus, both of which he stills suffers from today.
His dad, a musician, encouraged Frank to pick up an instrument. First, like his father and grandfather, he played the drums before picking up the guitar. “I’d go see my dad play in bars when I was seven years old and they’d have to hide me because I wasn’t allowed to be in clubs at that age,” he says.
It was in high school that Frank discovered punk, after hearing Nirvana for the first time. But his school days weren’t always easy. “I had about three friends,” he says. “I didn’t do much, I’d get really high and that was about it. I didn’t really want to be in school. I wanted to play music but I was always told that wouldn’t work. I got bullied a lot too.”
It wasn’t until he met John ‘Hambone’ McGuire that he began to feel more comfortable. Hambone, an obsessive record collector, would make him punk mix tapes, feeding Frank’s growing habit. They would bunk off school and get their educations at rock shows. From there, it was only a short step to starting a band of their own-Pencey Prep.
Hambone, whose current band Fairmount are due to release their album ‘Wait & Hope’ in spring this year, remembers Frank’s dedication to that band: “He gave it everything, he was a fantastic front man. Our whole band was inseparable. We’d rehearse for nine hours a day, go to a show, then go back and rehearse some more.”
“We played basements, legion halls, anywhere. I even played outside a hotdog stand one day. We would play anywhere because it was all we had,” adds Frank.
By September 2001, you’d be forgiven for betting against My Chemical Romance ever forming. Ray Toro was finishing his film course, having given up all ideas of playing the guitar seriously. Frank Iero was playing on Pencey Prep, touring their album ‘Heartbreak In Stereo’, while the Ways looked a long way from ever starting a band. Geoff Rickly, singer with fellow New Jersey residents Thursday, knew all of them at that time.
“Mikey was always the more sociable one who’d come out to the parties that we threw, “ says Rickly. “ He could be really crazy. He’d stay over at our house and we’d often have to ask him, ‘Who the hell was that girl you were with last night?’. He’d say, ‘I’ve no idea.’ He was a little out of control.
“Gerard would stay at home. I got the feeling he was severely depressed because he would never come out. When I finally met him, we formed a friendship right away. He was a big fan of Thursday and so, in the early days, he did some Thursday T-shirts and things like that.”
But, on September 11, 2001, Gerard’s life changed forever. Until then he had been working as an intern at the Cartoon Network on a show called, ‘Sheep In The Big City.’ While there, one of his ideas-a cartoon called ‘The Breakfast Monkey’-was beginning to excite some of the network’s producers. Soon they were talking to Gerard about merchandise, stuffed toys and script meetings. “They were missing the point. That wasn’t why I got into it at all,” he remembers. “I discovered I was dealing with a committee about something I had created. So I was thinking ‘Fuck this’.”
One day, disillusioned and heading to work, he gazed up at New York’s Twin Towers, and nothing was the same again.
“I was in Hoboken, which is right across the Hudson River,” he recalls. “There were 400 people and me. Right in front of us, those buildings went down. It was the biggest fucking neutron bomb of mental anguish you’ve ever felt. The people around me were all co-workers and they were just freaking the fuck out. Crying, screaming and cursing and yelling about the Devil.”
Suddenly Gerard realized that he was wasting his time with cartoons; he needed to go out there and really achieve something.
“From then on, I was in my parent’s basement with a small practice amp and very old Fender guitar. That’s when I wrote ‘Skylines And Turnstiles’ [as a reaction to what he saw on 9/11] and some of the earlier material. I wrote those songs sitting in my pyjamas with notebooks all around me. It was me going, ‘All this stuff has been inside me for years and I want to get it out.’ I wasn’t depressed at that time exactly but I was certainly a hermit.”
Momentum picked up quickly. Gerard met up with a drummer he knew, Matt ‘Otter’ Pelissier, at a local club called The Loop Lounge and asked him to put some drums over his songs. He quickly realized he couldn’t play the guitar and sing at the same time, so he got in touch with a guitarist he’d met-Ray Toro. He was actually plating drums for a local band at the time. Ray’s that kind of guy-he was the best guitar player on Jersey, yet he was playing drums just because he wanted to be playing,” says Gerard.
Within days they had written more material, feeding off a sense of urgency instilled by Gerard. Seeing what was happening, his brother Mikey decided he had to be a part of this new band too-even coming up with a name for the band after spotting an Irvine welsh novel called
’Ecstasy: Three Tales Of Chemical Romance’ while working at bookstore Barnes & Noble. Suddenly people on the local scene realized this was a band with potential.
“I was on tour with Thursday,” recalls Geoff Rickly. “I got a call from [Eyeball Records founder] Alex Saavedra. He said, ‘Dude, I’ve got to tell you about My Chemical Romance. They’ve got this one song that they’ve recorded and it’s really good.’ He sent me a CD with ‘Vampires Will Never Hurt You’ on it. It blew my mind.”
From then on, MCR pestered Rickly, determined that he should be the man to record their first album. This, remember, was a band who were only three months old.
“There was such an immediacy to everyhthing,” says Gerard. “A magic to it.”
The pressure on Rickly paid off and, in January 2002, the band headed into Nada Studios, New Windsor, New York with producer Rickly, label boss Alex Saavedra, and engineer John Naclerio. The problem was, My Chemical Romance weren’t the most accomplished musicians.
“Gerard had a billion great ideas and he was very excited about it all,” says Rickly. “Mikey had a great record collection but had no idea how to play bass. Ray was the sort of guy you’d find working in a guitar shop-one of those people who’d be a little hard to deal with because he’d be a much better player than anyone else. Otter was messy though.
“The thing was, they had great ideas. Ray had tons of different guitar parts. I asked,’ How are you going to play those live?’. He just shrugged and went, ‘I’ll choose between the important parts and the not so important parts’. I thought, if they’re that important, you need to get another guitar player to play them.”
Which is when Frank Iero stepped in. Pencey Prep had almost fallen apart and Frank had been playing with other local bands. My Chemical Romance, as well as being his close friends, were his favourite band. A week before MCR went into Nada Studios, he got a call asking him to join.
“It was fucking awesome. I felt like the kid in the crowd who had been pulled up to play a song. I just loved the band,” says Frank. Unfortunately, it meant writing parts to new songs moments before recording them.
“I wished we had had more time,” says Ray.” Frank was taking demos of the songs into our van, where he’d write his part, then he’d run into the studio and record immediately. I had never played with another guitarist before and he brought a very different style and way of thinking to the band.”
There were other difficulties. As they went into the studio, Gerard contracted paralysing toothache, making him unable to sing. The pain was so bad that he had to go to an emergency dentist and have his wisdom teeth removed.
“When he came back to the studio, he was slurring so much because he had blood in his mouth,” says Rickly. “They had given him a load of painkillers so he took them and the zapped the life out of him. There was no way he could sing on those painkillers, so we took his pills away. About six hours later he was in so much pain that he was pleading with us not to make him sing.”
Sick of Gerard complaining and realising that something had to be done in order to force the life back into him, Eyeball Records boss Alex Saavedra took matters into his own hands.
“I was about to sing ‘Vampires Will Never Hurt You’.” remembers Gerard. “There was a storm forming outside, my teeth were hurting and then Alex came up to me, gave me a hug, then punched me right in the mouth. I think he did the right thing, to tell you the truth. It was an act of love but I was fucking riled. I went up to the mic and nailed it first time. We listened to it in the van ride back. It was just the loudest, gnarliest, darkest, most melodic song I’d ever heard. It was fucking amazing.”
Forcing himself into character is a trick Gerard has repeated ever since.
“It’s almost like method acting,” he says.” ’Vampires’ was definitely the first instance of that.”
“There were times,” adds Rickly , “that Gerard completely ripped himself apart on that record. The second I started recording Gerard’s vocals I turned to his little brother and said, ‘If you stick with this, you’re going to be the biggest band in the world.’ I knew from Gerard that they were a band who would have an impact. There was a level of humanity in there that meant people would be able to relate to it. I was amazed by it because I’d never seen that in a person before.”
‘I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love’ was released in July 2002, earning a rave review in Kerrang!. “My Chemical Romance are astonishing,” we gushed. “And they’re going to be huge.” The band’s live reputation spread rapidly, earning them a tour with The Used. Here they met The Used’s tour manager Brian Schechter , who was so impressed by the band that he offered to manage them. They also met The Used’s soundman-an accomplished drummer called Bob Bryar who became firm friends with MCR, something they’d remember down the line.
By November 2003, life was looking good. MCR had just signed a major label deal and were about to head into the studio to record their second album. Suddenly, and tragically, Gerard and Mikey Way’s grandmother-the women who had taught Gerard to sing, paint and play music-died. The pair were utterly crushed.
“I wasn’t with her when she died and it took me a while to get over that,” says Gerard. “I was very angry with myself. She was in hospital and I had just got home from tour. I went to bed, woke up the next day and she was dead. The emotions I went through at that moment completely fuelled ‘Revenge’. All the fucking anger, the spite, the beef with God, the angst, aggression and the fucking venom all came from that. When I lost her, I thought I was screwed. I was done. I had lost my mentor. That’s why I took it so hard.”
He took out his frustrations by drinking heavily and popping Xanax, an anti-depressant pill. Meanwhile, the pressure on his band to record an album worthy of their major label was tightening.
“It was a fucking insane place to be at that moment,”says Gerard, with considerable understatement.
A month later, still grieving, Gerard, Mikey and My Chemical Romance flew to Los Angeles to begin sessions on ‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’. They chose Howard Benson to produce.
“I had heard their demo and, honestly, it really wasn’t that impressive,” says Benson. “But it did have the one thing I always look for and that was intensity. It sounded fearless. They played some songs and they weren’t great. But I sat and talked to Gerard and he said he was willing to work. I always look for a star in a band and Gerard is certainly that.”
Benson sat down with the band and ripped apart almost everything they had written, honing their songs. He repeatedly reinforced his production mantra: songs must have strong choruses. Only then would he allow them to start recording in LA’s Bay 7 Studios, where he pushed Gerard as far as he would go.
There, Gerard was kept just out of his comfort zone and made to sing harmony parts he wasn’t used to. He accessed every locked up emotion, taking on different roles in his lyrics, playing with the comic book personalities he had in his head and turning himself into those characters on the record.
“It meant re-inventing the wheel each time,” says Gerard. “A lot of times that involved acting. During ‘You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison’. I wasn’t wearing many clothes, for example. I was in an attic that nobody was allowed into and running pornography on the TV at the same time. I do remember Howard encouraging me to get pretty weird in there.”
The turning point in the sessions was when Gerard sang ‘I’m Not Okay[I Promise]’. It was a song that had been kicking around for a while but hadn’t yet been developed by the band. “It was beautiful,” says Frank, “but it was only Gerard singing, ‘I’m not okay’. The Ray put a few chords under it and it was the most beautiful song we’d ever heard. We went, ‘Why the fuck haven’t we put this on the album?’.”
From there on, the recording went like a dream, the song giving focus to their ideas.
“Still, there were times we were worried that we might be the only people in the world who liked it,’ days Frank.” We were thinking, ‘Is this good?’. We lived and breathed that record. There were times we got so attached to it that we wanted to redo the whole thing because we wanted it to be so good. It was real intense.”
Within days of finishing the record, they were on tour again, arriving in England in January 2004. It was their first headline tour of Europe but, what should have been a triumph was fast becoming a disaster as the atmosphere within the band slowly fell apart. It was something Bob Bryar, then working as MCR’s soundman, saw first hand.
“I noticed that things weren’t right between them all, and I think it came from the old drummer. They were definitely going to break up at that point. They wouldn’t even look at each other when they played. They’d get in the van, put their headphones on so they couldn’t hear each other and couldn’t talk to each other. It was miserable.”
Still, it wasn’t affecting their performances. The band’s first UK press officer, Susie Ember, remembers when they headlined Camden’s tiny Barfly venue.
“I had spent all day with them doing interviews and I was struck by how articulate and confident they were,” she says. “When they were onstage, they morphed into a completely different entity. The band blew us all away. Everyone’s mouths were gaping open. It felt like the beginning of something explosive.”
The problem was, behind the scenes, one member of the band was falling apart.
“Alcoholism runs in my family,” says Gerard Way. “They say it’s something that’s in your DNA, like cancer. I started drinking four or five beers before we played to deal with the stage-fright. Then we started touring. Most of the time, it’s easier to get beer than water on tour. It was a boredom killer and that’s where things started getting serious.”
It was a problem spinning out of control but one the whole band, on some level, been party to.
“When we were recording ‘Three Cheers’, we were all partying a little,” says Frank.
“We’d get home from the studio, have a few beers and then maybe take a few pills. Let me put it this way, there are some weekends that I don’t really remember-I took a bunch of pills and woke up on Monday.
“What sent Gerard over the edge was after we finished recording. He had recorded certain songs as though he was playing a character. In order to play those characters, he had to get fucked up, which meant that, he felt he needed to be in the same headspace. That led to him drinking a lot.”
He also had a willing partner in crime. His brother Mikey was perfectly happy to be Gerard’s drinking buddy.
“We were pretty wild,” says Mikey. “People called us ‘the Chemical Brothers.’ I’d roll into places and people would always ask me if I had any drugs, because that’s what they were used to. Me and him got a reputation for it, we had this aura if trouble around us, people thought we were dangerous.”
“I was such an alcoholic,” says Gerard. “While we were touring with Funeral For A Friend, I remember going into their dressing room and asking to drink some of their Vodka. The next thing you’d know I’d almost finished it. I had to apologise for that sort of thing a lot. Our manager started removing vodka from our rider to keep it from me.” Funeral For A Friend drummer Ryan Richards remembers those sorts of incidents well: “He would start drinking well before going onstage, The more he drank, the more unhinged the show would be. It was like watching a car crash. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. Everyone was talking about him, about the band with the crazy front man. Ironically, now he’s given up the drink, he’s even more compelling. He’s something amazing now.”
“I was pretty reckless then,” says Gerard. “In retrospect there was a lot of hiding. I wanted to keep anyone from knowing about the real me. The problem was, the real me was slowly
It came to a head in Kansas in July 2004. Gerard went to a bar called The Hurricane to see a then-unknown band called The Killers. At this time, he estimates he was drinking a bottle of vodka a day and taking $150 worth of illegal prescription pills a month. The night, he also managed to score an ‘eight ball’ (3.5 grams) of cocaine- a drug he used infrequently when drunk.
“I had done so much coke that night that I was completely out of my mind, I was throwing up in the street and my head was going to explode. I laid in my bunk and couldn’t sleep. I’d never felt more suicidal in my life. I just felt so empty. I felt so much despair, more than I’d ever felt in my entire life. I felt completely desperate. I wanted everything to stop; I wanted it to be all over. I wanted to go home, I wanted to freak out and smash things, I wanted to hurt myself doing it. I wanted it all over, all of it…everything.”
Days later, My Chemical Romance were on a plane to Tokyo to play the Summer Sonic Festival. “I didn’t pack anything to go to Japan because I didn’t think I was coming back,” says Gerard. “I’ve always wondered whether I was flirting with the romanticism of suicide or whether I really wanted to do it. I’ve never truly been able to figure that out. Either way, it’s dangerous.”
While there, he binged on sake, getting himself so drunk that he could barely perform. When he came offstage, he threw up for 10 minutes straight before collapsing in a puddle of his own vomit.
“Ray turned to our manager while I was vomiting and said, ‘You’ve got to get this dude some help. He’s sick, look at him,’” remembers Gerard. “By sick, he didn’t mean I was ill either. He meant sick like I wasn’t going to make it. He was right. I knew it had to stop.”
On the flight home Gerard started going through withdrawal symptoms, shaking and crying until he reached such an emotional pitch that, when they left the airport in New York, he hugged each of his bandmates, unsure whether he could get sober. Unsure whether he would ever see them again.
He went to a therapist who told him his problem was that he couldn’t find the line between onstage and off he couldn’t stop performing. “He said I was permanently in character but the character was going to kill me,” says Gerard. “I had to figure out how to do this without being that character the whole time.”
Such was the success of the band at this point-‘Three Cheers..’ sold in one week what ‘Bullets’ sold in two years-that demand for the band was insatiable. They had tours booked in solidly then a long stint on the Warped Tour-not the ideal place to get sober.
“That was one of the hardest things,” says Gerard. “The actual physical addiction was the first part-I went through the sweats, I was lying in the bottom of the van shaking. Then came the mental part. That first year was fucking hard. I’m sure I made a lot of enemies on Warped Tour because I couldn’t leave the bus. I’m sure everyone thought that I was being the rock star. But I knew that if one more person waved a bottle of alcohol in front of me I would have gone crazy.”
Gerard’s drinking wasn’t the only problem they had when they got back from Japan. With so much touring ahead of them, they needed to address a dilemma that had been nagging them for a while.
“There was definitely inner turmoil then. It was mostly between us and our old drummer,” says Frank. As much as we wanted to make it work, you just can’t live with certain people.”
The band had been nervous that Matt was unreliable onstage for a while. Ray was determined that, live, he should play to a click track to keep him in time. Matt was equally certain that he wouldn’t. Loyalty had kept him in MCR until August 2004 but the relationship between the drummer and the band had fallen apart long before.
Angry at being sacked, Pelissier immediately vented his frustrations on the band’s messageboard, saying: “They told me I’m out of the band because,’they are uncomfortable with me onstage and they’re afraid I’ll mess up.’ I’m human, we all make mistakes. Do I think I’ve been shafted? Yeah. Someone please tell me what happened to my best friends. Because they are lost.”
My Chemical Romance had already had a ready-made replacement—their old soundman and friend Bob Bryar. Born in Chicago on December 31, 1979, Bob had played in school marching and jazz bands since grade school. After leaving school, he studied for a sound engineering degree in Florida before becoming the soundman at the House Of Blues in Chicago, from where he was picked up by touring bands like The Used to be their on-the-road soundman.
“The first time I saw My Chem play was in Irving Plaza in New York.” says Bob. “It was before ‘Three Cheers’ was out and no one knew who they were. I thought, ‘If this band ever need a drummer, I’m there.’ I was shell-shocked when they asked me to join-they hadn’t even heard me play drums at that point. It was the most risky thing they’ve ever done. They picked me up and we went to New Jersey on the day they were shooting the ‘I’m Not Okay..’ video. The next week we were out on tour. If it hadn’t worked with me, it would have been a disaster-they would have ruined the video and had to cancel the tour.”
The next year and a half was a blur of touring. The highlight was going out on the road with Green Day, a band My Chemical Romance had always admired. The respect went both ways too, Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong saying: “They work hard to be the best band they can be. They want to make their mark. I like the fact that Gerard takes charge of the audience, that he communicates with them. I can also see how he’s not afraid to play around with stage personas and to invent characters. Not everyone can do that.”
It was a difficult period, though, as Gerard learned to deal with more and more people wanting his time and opinion. Suddenly he realized people were treating him like a rock star-not something he had come to terms with.
“When we were on tour with them, I had a conversation with Gerard,” says Armstrong. “He was feeling a bit uncertain at the time and I just told him not to be afraid. I think he was shying away. He was at the point where a band reads too much of its own press, and they start to internalise everything.To the point where they become boring. So I told him that it’s okay to be a rock star. It’s okay to be that, because the world needs good rock stars. We’ve got enough boring people. And he took that to heart, I guess.”
It had been a grueling year-one that left the band exhausted. Frank says: “By November 2005 we felt done. I didn’t have time to regenerate, to sleep, rest and heal my body. I felt like I was cheating people, I felt like a jerk because I didn’t have 100 per cent to give.”
A break was essential before they stared work on ‘The Black Parade’, but it was a break one member couldn’t handle.
“It was the first time the band had got the chance to be home and be normal human beings for a while,” says Mikey. “That was a hard hit to me. It felt weird. I just couldn’t get used to being home for two or three months. I just didn’t get it.”
He was still drinking heavily, on top of taking prescribed anti-depression drugs and beginning to worry about how the band could follow ‘Three Cheers.’
By the time they actually went into the studio, he was in trouble. Their choice of studio didn’t help much either-hidden away in the Hollywood Hills, the Paramour is almost entirely cut off from the rest of LA. Mikey felt trapped, imprisoned by his own band. A collapse was inevitable. He had to leave the studio, convinced that he would also be leaving the band, and stayed with a friend-band lawyer Stacy Fass. She forced him to se therapists- at one point four different doctors a week-while he commuted back to the Paramour to record ‘The Black Parade’ with the rest of the band. His brother Gerard was also going through his own set of problems.
It was an album fraught with drama and tribulations yet, it was also making of the band. Within a week of its release, ‘The Black Parade’ sold 240,000 copies in the US alone. In the last fortnight of 2006, it was still selling 156,000 copies a week. ‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’ took none months to go gold, ‘The Black Parade’ took only a week.
The band, meanwhile, are about to embark on their most ambitious tour yet- a world-straddling, arena-bothering jaunt that they’ve already promised will outstrip any previous tour. Ask the band whether they expected any of this and they’re humble. Ask Mikey Way if he could have predicted it and he says, “I still barely believe it.”
“Honestly, we’re just a punk band from Jersey,” says Frank. “If this all ends tomorrow, then we’ll still be a punk band from Jersey. If we end up back in basements playing ‘I’m Not Okay..’ to 50 kids, then I’m still psyched. That’s all I ever wanted anyway.”