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Apr 4, 2011

Recharged MCR rolls through SLC on 'Killjoys' tour

The New Jersey rockers who make up the band My Chemical Romance have never been shy about embracing high-concept theatricality. Lead singer and songwriter Gerard Way was an illustrator by trade and a comic-book artist by passion in the days before he watched as the Twin Towers fell as he rode a ferry to work on the morning of Sept. 11.
The horror of that moment made him decide to leave his safety-net illustration gig behind and pursue his dream of comics and music, living out his vision onstage and in song.
A series of albums aimed at realizing what Way and his band (Frank Iero, guitar; Mikey Way, bass; and Ray Toro, guitar ) dreamed of have built them a fine career and a solid following.
MCR's last album, 2006's "Welcome to the Black Parade," was the band's most ambitious to date, a monumental opus that examined the crossover from life to death. The stage shows and videos related to the record were elaborate and expansive.
The band took a hiatus of almost two years after that mega-tour wrapped. But the musicians are back, releasing their follow-up at the end of 2010 -- "Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys." They began their first full-on national tour in March in support of the record, which brings them through Salt Lake City next Friday.
"We did take some time off -- thank God. We needed to recharge," said Iero, calling from his New Jersey home. "We were out for close to two years straight on 'Black Parade.' Touring on anything, traveling that long, is hard with anything, but the rigidness and spectacle that went with 'Black Parade,' that was really daunting. For two years, it was like being on Broadway, rather than touring with a rock band. Costumes, set pieces galore. But when you do an ambitious record, telling a story from front to back, that is the way it needs to be. There was no way around it."
Being a band
Although band members did not want such a high concept with the follow-up to "Black Parade," they are always looking for an overarching theme to hang a record around.
"With us, it is never about, 'Oh, here are 10 songs -- put them together and put them out.' We like to invent a new world and have things around it that tie into it," said Iero. "Growing up, that was our favorite thing about music -- looking at the artwork, the videos, having it all tie in together so that you have to take a step back to see it all."
What they strove for on "Killjoys," however, was to make songs that could stand alone, even as they hung together thematically.
"It felt like with 'Black Parade' that if you changed the order, it changed the story," said Iero. "For this tour, if you haven't in a long time seen this band just being a band, you will get to see that again. That was important to us. We reimagined things we played for years, and asked ourselves, 'If we had written this song now, how would it sound?' Those old songs butting up against the new songs bring new life to everything."
Killjoy life
"The Fabulous Killjoys" is not just an album, but also a comic-book story in the works by singer Way and comic artist and longtime MCR friend Shaun Simon. Its storyline deals with a group of renegades who are fighting a Big Brother-style corporate-ruled society in the not-so-far-off dystopian future, à la "Mad Max."
"The concept inspired some of the songs -- but mostly the songs inspired the concept," said Iero. "You know, we had gone to the studio early on and said, 'We're going to make this a stripped-down record, not going to do any costumes or concept.' "
But when it was all said and done, Iero said, the band didn't like the record it had made --much too vanilla for what MCR is all about artistically.
"We were like, 'We don't want this to be us for the next two years.' So we scrapped the entire thing, and went back in."
Iero said they realized they could take losing that work in one of two ways -- be depressed about wasting the time and money, or buckle down and figure out what album they wanted, and then make it happen.
As the work began, the characters that would become The Fabulous Killjoys also started taking shape.
"If you listen to the song 'Bullet-Proof Heart,' you can hear it starting to form -- running, gunfights, that one-step-ahead-of-this-corporation vision.
"While doing the record, Gerard was in the process of working on a comic with our friend Shaun, about this group of guys called the Killjoys. And while doing it, we were also watching cinema with the sound turned off -- things like 'Blade Runner' and 'Mad Max,' and we realized we were basically starting to write the soundtrack for this world we were coming up with. If you were to listen to the comic somehow, this is what it would sound like. So we figured, 'Why do these separate?' They are really one idea."
A decade of souvenirs
The band brought in Rob Cavello, the producer of "Black Parade," for "Killjoys" as well.
"He is a really smart and talented guy, but he is also not the sort of producer who says 'Do this,' or 'This is the song I want you to play,' " Iero said. "He asks the questions --'What do you mean by this song? What are you saying?' He knows how to get into your head in the right way, help you reach the next level."
Iero sees a comparison between a director talking to a method actor and Cavello's production style.
"When Gerard is singing, Rob will ask, 'How do you mean that line? Is it truthful? Facetious?' He approaches the music that way, too, and makes us really think about what we are trying to get across in a song."
The album debuted late last year at No. 8 on the Billboard Top 200, and at No. 1 on the modern rock/alternative charts, and the "Mad Max"-like videos that the band has made to go with the album are drawing critical acclaim.
Iero said the good reception has him looking forward to getting on the bus and seeing the country with his longtime friends and artistic collaborators.
And when he does, he has a little surprise in store for the rest of the band.
"We are turning 10 this year, so I am actually going through my attic and basement this week while I am home, and finding hidden treasures. Being the pack rat of the band, I am coming up with some awesome stuff -- demos and flyers and things like that from the old days. I thought it would be fun to dig out this stuff and put it together for the other guys in the band to enjoy."

credit: Linda East Brady Standard-Examiner staff

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