Photo: Ross Gilmore/WireImage.com
Gerard Way Steps Out With Debut Solo Album
In March 2013 My Chemical Romance announced their split after more than a decade of thoughtful and ambitious rock, which reached its peak with 2006's hit album The Black Parade. Since then, the band have released a greatest hits collection — 2014's May Death Never Stop You: The Greatest Hits 2001–2013 — and rhythm guitarist Frank Iero announced his new project, Frnkiero And The Cellabration, who released their debut album Stomachaches on Aug. 26.
While frontman Gerard Way has remained mostly out of the public and musical limelight since the band's split, he is set to return Sept. 30 with his debut solo effort, Hesistant Alien, an equally thoughtful and compelling album that ties together many of his influences, from David Bowie and T. Rex to Brian Eno and the Stone Roses. Produced by GRAMMY winner Doug McKean (Dave Matthews Band, Green Day), the album features 11 tracks written or co-written by Way, including the lead single "No Shows," which he co-wrote with Ian Fowles of the Aquabats.
Ahead of the album's release, Way participated in an exclusive GRAMMY.com interview, discussing going solo, his dream GRAMMY collaborator and being a musical "outsider."
What song made you realize you were writing for your debut solo album?
When I realized it was an album and when I realized it was a solo album are two different times. So when I realized it was an album was by the time I hit "No Shows." But after a lot of tracking, almost principle tracking for a lot of the songs, then I realized, "Wait, this is a solo album." I didn't know what it was going to be, I just knew I was compelled to keep making music. But it was probably "No Shows." That's when I realized, "Hey, this is an album and it's becoming more ambitious."
Are there songs on this album that involve topics you didn't realize you were thinking about at the time?
Yeah, a lot of them because I just wrote them down immediately and sang them immediately, so I wasn't thinking too much about what they meant. And then later on I looked back and I was like, "Yeah, a lot of this was about self-realization and liberation and a lot of it was in fact about ending a big part of [my] life, some of it directly about ending the band." So it all crept in while it was going on, and that is usually what happens.
Were there any particular songs that stood out to you?
The thing about "No Shows" and why I chose it to be the first single is it's also the song [on which] I realized things about myself. It was the song where I realized, "You don't need any structure to fit in, you don't need a show, you don't need a band, you don't need any of that stuff. The most important thing is the connection to other human beings." That's the most important thing, and you don't need all of the fanfare that goes with performing to have that. You can have connections with human beings in many different ways. But I look back at stuff like "Millions" and it's very obviously about leaving a big machine. "Get The Gang Together" … felt like it was about the business. It felt like it was about a group of friends that you knew in your 20s and what happened to everybody by the time they got to their 30s. And "Bureau" is directly about my experience in the business and [what] I didn't realize while I was doing it.
Is there one recurring theme on the album?
I think the record is largely about celebrating my own differences and not only accepting [them], but really embracing [them]. I always struggled to figure out where I fit in a musical landscape and I think I finally realized I fit in by not fitting in and people [who] don't fit into that are just as vital — people [who] are trying different things and taking certain kinds of risks. … There are more people than me, there are other people [who] fit in that way too. You have your Nick Caves and your Tom Waits and they're legendary, and Morrissey and Bowie and they fit in by not fitting in.
Is this album reflective of where you are today musically than where you would've been with My Chemical Romance?Absolutely. It was very of the moment, of the entire year and a half. It had gotten to a point in My Chemical Romance where I felt that certain things were expected of me, and thus certain things were expected of that band, almost like people could count on it or rely on it to sound a certain way. And it just wasn't where I was anymore. I just couldn't make the kind of music that we were going to make anymore. So [Hesitant Alien is] very representative of who I was during that year and a half, during that tough time.
Are there any artists you admire who have made the transition from band to solo act?
I look to Morrissey a lot. I look to him a lot because … he's not dependent on radio, he's not dependent on hits. What he's dependent on is his audience and giving his audience the best and truest art he can. And the funny thing about [him] is when you [went] to a Morrissey concert I don't think anybody came to that show to [hear the] Smiths' songs. He'll play one occasionally in an encore, but that was never the highlight of the show. The highlight of the show was really [that] there were so many Morrissey songs that were your favorites, you wanted to hear those. It didn't seem like the excitement was any greater for the Smiths songs than like "Suedehead." It seemed like the same type of enthusiasm.
Were you surprised by the fervor and dedication of My Chemical Romance fans?
Yeah, I think there's a lot of people who feel they don't fit in as well. … There are a number of different ways you don't fit in; being an outsider is a more aggressive stance, it's more combative and I think that really resonated with a lot of teenagers because at that age you're feeling that kind of angst and aggression toward being an outsider. Later on, as I got older, I felt like I was coming from a different place; I did feel more like an alien. So there's something in it that's a lot softer and it's not aggressive and you just realize you're coming from somewhere different. So it's interesting to see how fans of My Chemical Romance respond if they come along for the ride, because it is different. It's not an army thing, it's not a call to arms, it's very much accepting yourself as different and being really cool and happy with that.
Who would be your dream GRAMMY collaborator?
Probably Bowie, that would be it. There's a lot of glam [on] this record, too. … There's that Berlin period that Bowie had, and he's my biggest influence. And I think that would be pretty incredible if this record got to a point where it made enough of noise to warrant a nomination or [GRAMMY] performance. That would be the dream for me, to perform with Bowie.
(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, MOJO, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)