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Mar 31, 2011

Exclusive interview with guitarist Ray Toro of My Chemical Romance

American rock band My Chemical Romance (MCR) released their fourth studio album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys in November 2010, which marks MCR's first full length release since their 2006 album, The Black Parade. Within that four year time span My Chemical Romance relentlessly toured for two and a half years, took a long break from anything music related, created and scrapped an entire album, and had drummer Bob Bryar depart the band.
In my exclusive interview with My Chemical Romance's lead guitarist Ray Toro, he talks about how much social media has changed since the release of their 2006 album The Black Parade, setlists for The World Contamination Tour, the importance of making a solid album without throwaway songs, his opinion on MCR vocalist Gerard Way’s songwriting, and much more.
My Chemical Romance 2011 The World Contamination tour dates and opening acts
The majority of My Chemical Romance's music videos are narrative based, but the music video for "Planetary (GO!)" is strictly performance based. Why did you guys go that particular route for “Planetary (GO!)”?
Ray Toro: A couple of reasons, number one being it was a time crunch. We decided late in the game we needed another single out in the UK and Europe. We were on tour, but still needed a video to support it, which put us in a position of being limited on time, and we had to scramble to put a video together.
The other reason, which is why I am glad it worked out this way, is because to me we never really did one. The only other video that is a live video would be “Desolation Row,” but only a little bit because in a sense we were still playing characters. That video was shot to be in the world of The Watchmen. Yeah, it’s a live gig, but they brought in extras to make sure it looked the way we wanted it too.
For "Planetary (GO!)" it is all our kids. We put online that we were going to do a show, charged maybe five bucks, played a half-hour set for them, and then shot the video.
You get to see us in a different light, and our fans in a different way. The fans showed up the way they would to all our shows. They are really taking part in the creativity with the theme of the record [Danger Days], art is a weapon, and the whole Killjoys world. We did say for them to show up in their Killjoys outfit, but it’s actually cool because they show up to the shows like that anyway.
That video is very representative of what My Chem shows are like nowadays. It is a really great place of positivity, and people getting together to have a god time. I think it is important for people to see that.
Since there was a big time gap between releasing the albums The Black Parade and Danger Days, has the decision making process for choosing singles changed?
When we released “Sing” we did that because it was so different from anything we had done before. I think it was very important to put our foot down and show that the band is capable of a lot more than what people may think, and that the band has evolved.
The lyrics are really important, especially with what is going on today. In a great and organic way, the song “Sing” has become almost a rallying cry for a lot of people. It is a very inspirational song.
With everything going down in Egypt and Libya, if you listen to the lyrics it kind of talks about what is going on in those places. Granted, that stuff was going on but it was written before any of it was in the media.
It is really strange when I think about it, because that song was written last year, and a lot of what it talks about is coming true with people using their voices to speak out against things that are corrupt, or speaking out wanting change.
It was important for us to put that song out early so people could see what we are capable of, and also so people would know we are a different band now. Every record we like to change up our style, and change up the song-writing process. It is always different for us, which keeps us on our toes, and makes it interesting for the fans.
Since the release of The Black Parade social media has changed a lot with how much bands interact with fans, and Twitter and Facebook primarily being used instead MySpace. Is that something you evolved with over the years, or did you pick up on it once Danger Days was going to be released?
The band has always used the internet since the beginning. When we first started out around 2001 we scrambled to put up a webpage together. I taught myself how to program websites by a pirated software I downloaded called Dreamweaver, which I used to put up our first website. I went online, bought the My Chemical Romance domain name, put up the site really quick, and we gave away free downloads.
The internet has always been important for us since the beginning, and definitely things are moving fast. Obviously, the internet is to put something out there and anyone has access to it, but now the immediacy of how fast word travels is just mind blowing.
With Facebook, the whole idea of you posting something on your wall so everyone you are friends with can see it, then everyone they are friends with can see it, to me just seems like an unstoppable train. It is definitely important to utilize those tools, but it is also important not to overdo it.
With Twitter, the thing that pisses me off the most is when bands or celebrities use it almost like a crutch. They are not producing anything, making movies, art, or music, but they use Twitter to keep followers. I think you have to be smart with the way you use it, and we don’t over utilize it. We use it when we want too, not because we feel the need too.
Both Facebook and Twitter are very important tools, and if you ignore it, you are stupid.
What is your take on fans being demanding, and expecting bands to be more available to them?  
I think there are some people out there who do demand it, because that is what they are used too. I think that is one of the problems and there is almost too much access. A lot of the mystic is gone.
I think there is a fine line there, but I actually like being able to communicate directly to our fans, I think that is important. However, I don’t think I should be required to do it as if I am clocking in. There are some people who use it that way, and that kind of disgusts me. The fans who actually think it is our responsibility to, well we do it when we want too, and don’t want it to be a job.
For those fans, you don’t want us to get on there because we feel we have too, because then something shitty is going to be said. We like to go on there and express our thoughts when we are ready.

How did the name The World Contamination Tour come about?

It started with the spring of ideas about spreading the idea that art is a weapon, and to use your creativity to fight. The record cover, and symbol of the Killjoys calling card is a spider, so that ties into the contamination as well.
Can you recall a favorite tour name you have been on?
The World Contamination is pretty awesome. Sometimes I forget we have a tour name since we are just kind of on the road.
Pretty much we started the launch of this record overseas, and the first place we went to was Japan. We started two months ago, were on the road for two months, and just got back to L.A. It is crazy within two months all of what has gone in Japan, it is just crazy.
It is definitely a world tour, we launched it in Japan, UK, and Europe. It is interesting to see the spread of the record. Kids are picking up on the style and making it their own, and that is my favorite part. Kids are making it their own, and that is a very important message throughout the record.
Some kids come dressed up [to concerts] how we look in the video, and then other kids are taking it in another direction by bringing artwork to express their creativity. We love that, and it is exactly what this record is about. The fans are taking it to the next level, and I am really excited to see what the US has in store for us because we have not played any shows here yet.
Well, we did do some radio shows, but that was when the record [Danger Days] first came out, and to me radio shows don’t really count because they are not really your shows. Granted, a lot of the kids there are your kids, but there are also random listeners of the station who happen to get in, buy a ticket, or win a freebie. It is definitely nice to be in a venue with just our kids, and have it just our show. That is kind of how we like it.

My Chemical Romance’s last major tour was in 2007, which is a long gap between starting The World Contamination Tour end of 2011. Have you noticed any changes in the touring world from then until now?

We have not really noticed any differences. We go on the road, and get nostalgic for it. Whenever we are on the road we have a lot of memories for the venues we’ve played. We go back to a lot of venues, and play some new ones.
In the sense of the people that are coming to the shows, the crowd is a lot more diverse now, which is really exciting. We have seen a huge new influx of fans. A lot of young fans combined with a lot of the old ones we’ve had.
I feel the band gets passed around though families like a dusty record. You see parents come out to the shows with their kids, brothers, and sisters. That is a little different from when we first started.

The North America leg for The World Contamination tour is a couple days shy of two months. Is there anyway you can physically and emotionally prepare for an extensive tour?
You kind of have to go with it. Luckily, it is scheduled where we have three weeks on, and then a week off.
The one we just did was really tough because we were in Japan, had not been on tour that extensive in a long time, and we were overseas. On top of that, Frank (Iero) just had babies, and it was the first time Gerard (Way) was leaving his wife and kid at home. It was definitely a big adjustment.
Honestly, I don’t know how those guys did it. When you are overseas it is so much harder to communicate, make phone calls, and video chat. Half the day seems like you are trying to do anything possible to find internet so you can make a video call. You will see dudes huddled in corners, which is the only spot they can get a Wi-Fi signal. It is definitely taxing.
Wouldn’t technology be a big change since touring in 2007? Did you guys video chat back then?
Yeah, with the iPhone 4 and FaceTime stuff, that is insane. God bless Steve Jobs for bringing it because it is fucking awesome. It works so good, it is so cool. People can say we had video chat before, which we did, but it was not easy to use, and it didn’t look well. That definitely is a big change. We used to Skype, but to have it on your damn phone is insane.
For My Chemical Romance’s setlist during The World Contamination Tour, are you guys basing it primarily on Danger Days, or will it be an even mixture between all four albums?
I would say definitely more Danger Days. We don’t know touring wise what the rest of this year or next year will hold. We are really excited to play these songs, and some people have not heard them. It is definitely primarily Danger Days, but there is also a good mix of stuff from The Black Parade, and songs we have not played off Revenge (Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge) in years.
We have even been playing a couple of songs off our basement record Bullets (I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love) which is pretty cool. I don’t even know where we got the idea from, but we started playing the second or third song the band wrote, which was the first song we recorded for real called "Vampires Will Never Hurt You.”
That is a super fan favorite, and if you are a super fan of My Chem then you will know that song, and know it was almost our first introduction to the fans. That was when we were a little bit darker.
We brought that song out, and I cannot remember which city we did it in, but the hardcore fans flipped out. We play that song every once in a while depending on how the night goes, and if it is a really good show, we will probably play it.
Another crazy thing is because every record is so different, it is cool to hear them budded up against each other, and they take on a different light. It is definitely a fun show.
When creating a setlist, do you group songs together based on the same album, or do you mix it up?
We kind of mix it up. On The Black Parade tour we were doing that, which was playing the record front to back. That was kind of cool because you got to feel in a live sense what it is like to drive in a car listening to the record from front to back. Not that a lot of people probably do that. I hope people still listen to records, but I don’t even know anymore.
We designed the record in a certain way, and even decide how many seconds of silence are between each song. I’ll sit there and listen to it over and over again just constantly trimming milliseconds off the end of one track so it leads right into the next. Hopefully, kids get to experience that.
I feel My Chemical Romance puts together solid albums that you can listen to from front to finish without skipping tracks.
You’ve got too, you have too. Singles are very important and I almost think of singles as an advertisement for a band. Singles are the songs most people pick up on because they have a special quality to them. They have a certain pixie dust that happens to catch your ear, and a lot of people can enjoy them.
You hear a single or two that make you want to buy the record, and most good music fans will tell you they have favorite album tracks they enjoy better than the singles. It is always about digging deep, and digging further like that.
I am really proud of us for doing that, and we don’t put a bad song on our record. We don’t put throwaways, we can’t fucking do it.
I know there are bands, and people out there doing it, and it sucks. To me, those are the people who kill the record, it’s what kills the album. A lot of people talk about it is because of downloading, or iTunes and the 99 cent single, which plays a part, but the reality is, people are fucking tired of paying ten to fifteen dollars for three songs. That is the problem. There was an era of music with a lot of fucking bands, and a lot of rock artists who put out shitty records and ruined it. They are the ones who fucking ruined it.
You have to be on top of your game all the time, and there are a lot of people who don’t do that. They concentrate on three or four singles, and put them up front on the record. It is so fucking obvious, and the rest of the record straight up fucking sucks. You can talk to these people and they will talk about it like they did their best, but they are throwaways. That is what sucks, so that is what killed the album.
We are doing our part, and put the same amount of effort into every single song that goes onto a record. We spend countless hours working to make sure it is right. We cannot do it, we can’t put out shitty songs, we won’t do it.
Bands that create albums based on singles eventually get weeded out over time. I think My Chemical Romance has stayed popular for so long because you do put out quality work, and in the long run will show with longevity.
I hope. It is definitely funny how the music scene looked when we came out starting with Revenge. Now it has been the thinning of the herd, I guess I’ll call it, and thank God too. It is funny because we were not in the best of companies, and a lot of times we did not understand why were lumped in with [certain] people, but what are you going to do. I guess at the end of the day, the true stuff rises.
From Danger Days, musically what is your favorite song, and lyrically what is your favorite song and why?
That is a tough one because I have a lot of favorites. “Summertime” musically is great because it is a lot lighter than anything we have ever done before. It is breezy. That song in particular is called “Summertime” because it is about a summer one of us had but also you can picture driving during the summer with the windows rolled down. It has a perfect tempo for that.
"S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W" I feel is our stab at Beatle-esque kind of slow vocals. It has an acoustic guitar, there is a wild solo in there, and a weird arraignment that keeps growing and growing. Musically, I have a lot of favorites, so that is a tough one.
Lyrically, it would definitely be “Sing.” Gerard is an incredible lyricist, and he is aware of things that I think he is not even aware of. He is just a really smart guy that to me is years ahead of what is going on in the world, and the world always seems to catch up to things he writes about. “Sing” is a perfect example of that. Think about what is going on in the world, and read those lyrics. It is really crazy.

credit: Natalie Kuchik - Music Examiner -

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