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INTERVIEW: Patrick Stump, Part I

By Lizz Kannenberg in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 3, 2011 5:00PM

2010_12_stump.jpg It's a common problem that this town's musical elite like to leave us in the dust for the bright lights of the coasts, but Patrick Stump is a curiosity among Chicago-bred "rock stars" - he's seen the world and then some, but his heart and his home remain here. Since Fall Out Boy called it quits last year, former singer and songwriter Stump has been hard at work at Lakeview's I.V. Labs studio prepping his debut solo album and revisiting the influences that lead him to make music in the first place. Earlier this year Stump released two versions of lead single "Spotlight" and asked friends, fans and new listeners alike to vote on their favorite version. This sort of egalitarian approach and the new opportunity to make music on his own terms has the 26-year-old feeling renewed about the possibilities, and Chicagoist caught up with him recently to chat about Star Wars, starting over, living through your awkward phases and just how solo "solo"really means. This is the first of a two-part interview.

Chicagoist: Where are you? Where are you living now?

Patrick Stump: I’m still living between Glenview and Los Angeles. My folks live in Glenview, so I keep a little place there, and I’ve got a place in Los Angeles where I’ve done a lot of work.

C: Where the magic happens?

PS: Well, the magic happened here too. My friend’s got a studio at Sheridan and Irving Park where I did about half the record too.

C: So you still have some musical ties to Chicago?

PS: Honestly, I don’t feel like I have that many to Los Angeles. This is obviously still home for me, but I feel like it’s still music home for me too. The weird thing is though that you go away and tour for eight years - we started touring when I was fresh out of high school - and all my friends either went off to college or their bands took off. So I don’t really have as many contacts in the Chicago scene anymore, but I’m always there, I’m always paying attention and watching what’s going on.

C: It's interesting that you say that, because we were wondering if with this new project, you would sort of litmus test it here in Chicago? Or will you go straight national right away?

PS: There’s a kind of frustrating thing with city identities and pop culture where I feel like a lot of people get successful and they move out. Every so often they go LeBron, you know? I think it’s kind of a shame because you have all the best and brightest from all over the place going to New York or LA when Chicago is a totally valid place to be operating. We’re a business center but we have a major arts hub and if you’re a comedian you have to start in Chicago or at least pass through it, so I think for people to leave here is kind of silly. I definitely want to…I definitely think it’s important to…I never want to…ok wait, this is a true story! Do you want to know why I got arrested in Los Angeles?

C: Um, yes.

PS: Ok, so I got arrested for having an invalid license. It really was for missing a court date for a ‘Fix It’ ticket to change my license. So what happened is that I got pulled over for a turn that I’ve never seen anyone get pulled over for, and he said “I won’t ticket you for the turn but you have an Illinois state drivers’ license.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s where I live,” because the time I was still living here eight months out of the year. So he says, “I’m issuing you a Fix It ticket and you have to get a California drivers’ license, because you’re a California resident. If you own this car and you want to drive this car, you have to have a California state license.” So I said, “Ok, if I don’t drive here, I don’t need to do this?” He said, “Yeah” and I said, “Cool,” because I didn’t want it anywhere that I had moved because I didn’t. Anyway, I didn’t know that he had written out a court date for me and I missed it, so I didn’t drive in California for two years until they randomly ran those plates when my girlfriend was driving and there was a warrant out for me. Anyway, the point is that I never want to give up being here, being a part of Chicago.

C: You said you’ve been keeping in touch with the music scene here - is there anyone doing anything really interesting to you right now?

PS: I love how vehemently “Chicago” Kid Sister is. She is holding on to it and just riding that, and I love it. I’ve always been fascinated with a lot of the hip hop scene in Chicago, because I feel like it’s one of the things that’s kind of a plus and a minus about being from here. I don’t mean this is the sense of black people/white people, but it’s a very segregated city. You have Devon, you have Ukrainian Village - everyone kind of maintains their little areas, so I find it fascinating that you can be in Chicago playing music your whole life and never know about the metal scene on the South Side, or the hip hop scene, or all the pop-punk bands we had for a while. That’s always fascinating to me. What do they say about cities? That it’s just a couple thousand really tiny villages.

C: Yeah, Chicago is a great example of that.

PS: Yeah, and that’s the thing that’s really amazing to me - musically, you get to discover things all the time. You never really know what’s going on.

C: So you’ve been dropping these sort of musical bread crumbs of your new solo project, and when we first got the email from you a few months ago, we weren’t even sure it was the real you! So there’s not a whole lot that most people know about what you’re doing. What are your plans and aspirations for it?

PS: The thing for me is that there are two types of bands - there are the ones that are basically solo projects anyways, and I won’t name names but everyone knows the kind of band I’m talking about, where there’s clearly the one guy who’s driving the ship and everyone else is just along for the ride. And then there was my band, where you have a few very disparate-taste, creative people who kind of meet in the middle somewhere. So I think there are elements of my contributions to my old band that I think you might see in my record but I really wanted to say who I am and what I’ve been doing. The music that I made in my band wasn’t the expression of everything I was into. Bands are based on compromise, like when you look at Damned Things, Joe’s (Trohman, Fall Out Boy guitarist) and Andy’s (Hurley, drums) band, a lot of people were surprised that there was such a hard rock influence in the band. I think if you take out all the hard rock, my record sounds a little bit like that. If you take out all of the hard rock influence [from Fall Out Boy], that’s sort of more my speed.

C: Do you think you guys have enjoyed sort of stepping back and starting over? Damned Things, I think the first show I saw announced on Twitter was at Subterranean.

PS: It’s interesting starting over because this isn’t the first time for any of us to start a new band. We’ve all been in punk and hardcore bands for a long time, and in Joe and Andy’s case, they’d been playing together since they were 15. So it’s 15 years ago, 15 years’ worth of “band breaks up, band breaks starts over again, new band starts,” whatever. It’s interesting because Fall Out Boy is just the biggest name on that paper, but we’ve all done it before. It’s kind of like going home to be a start up act. I think it’s something that we’re all used to. It’s been watching that and it’s been fun participating, doing my thing.

2011_01_pstump01.jpg C: I think its safe to say that you’ve gone from having more “people,” in the business sense, around you guys than you may have liked at times and now you’re each doing it on your own. So are the “people” coming later or are you content to just run your own show for a while?

PS: That was a huge thing for me, it was one of the big reasons I had to do this [solo project]. Any good art comes from frustration, and that was one thing that was really frustrating to me. Everyone had all these ideas and there’s a lot of math involved, where people say, “Well this works and this works, and if we add them together it will be even better!” So we would find ourselves in a lot of situations that were horribly unnatural because someone somewhere down the line thought it was a good idea. Over the years, I kind of took notes on everything that I don’t want to do, and I don’t want to go in blind and uneducated but basically I wanted to get back to DIY. I did the whole record myself, I recorded it myself, I paid for it myself, you know…I wanted bring that to a label, rather than approaching them and saying, “Hey, I want to record.” The other thing is that I don’t make sense in a lot of situations…I’ve tried a little bit of everything because of a lot of ideas other people have had - I can produce, I can write, I can kind of passably act - but the reality is that I’m only good at those things when I’m by myself. Like, I kind of write hip hop/R&B stuff but when they try to put me on hip hop/R&B stuff it doesn’t sound natural. I’m really best by myself - there’s a little bit of that Brian Wilson reclusive thing.

C: You were talking about how if you strip everything else from Fall Out Boy away, you’ll be able to hear your contributions there as similar to the current stuff you’re working on. So prep us a little bit - what are the influences that have always been there but may have been overshadowed before this?

PS: I think any good artist - and I’m not saying that I am one - takes notes and should first emulate their heroes and then try to move beyond them. So in that way, I look at somebody like Prince, who started out with very obvious aspirations to be James Brown, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, and then moved beyond that…I’d say yeah - Prince is a huge influence on me. David Bowie is a huge influence on me. Peter Gabriel is a huge influence on me. Michael Jackson. These are just popping into my head now, and when I list those I realize that there is sort of a battle between really, really poppy pop - I really like pop music, I don’t think it’s a four-letter word, I’m not ashamed of liking pop music - but I also think I’m really attracted to music that sort of toes that line between pop and avant-garde, that pushes the envelope of what you can get in a pop song.

C: It’s more cerebral?

PS: Yeah, that’s the thing- it’s not like it’s a thing I have to hide behind. I definitely have a certain degree of nerd pedigree. So I’m sure I’m arriving at R&B and soul and things like that from a very cerebral perspective. There’s a lot of nature in it, but it’s also me trying to understand it and deconstruct it and feel like a robot about it…I guess another influence for me would be The Clash or the Talking Heads in the way that in both cases, you had people who didn’t even know what they were doing as far as music, and purposely tried to do things that were out of their comfort zones. So ten years into those careers, you have records that are way more sophisticated than their peers. Again, I’m not there yet, but I’m saying that’s very much what inspires me.

C: So does that kind of nerdery extend into other parts of your life? Is there anything outside of music that you’re really into but don’t normally admit to?

PS: Another reason I really like the title “Soul Punk” is because I don’t really fit into either. I was in a lot of power violence and hardcore bands - and a notable pop-punk band - a lot of punk bands and stuff, but I never fully fit in there, and I never fully fit into the hip hop/R&B world. In that same way, I feel like I never fully fit into nerd world because I’m really nerdy about music and I’m really nerdy about art - I get really excited and I have to know everything about film and visual art. Whenever I see something I have to know everything about how they did it, you know - all that dorky stuff. And then Star Wars, that’s it. That’s my major nerd pillar. I’m kind of a Star Wars diehard.

C: All your life?

PS: I’m the younger brother, and my older brother was very, very into Star Wars so I don’t know when it started but I was always there.

C: Ah, well I just started reading the Harry Potter books, so…

PS: There are some very popular opinions that I simply disagree with, but I don’t ever want to be contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. If there are that many people liking Harry Potter, I have to at least hear it out.

C: I noticed my 88-year-old grandma reading The Deathly Hallows at Thanksgiving.

PS: That’s kind of one of the things I think is really telling and important - can anyone rightfully belittle that, if you’re reaching 10-year-olds and 88-year-olds? Is that bad art? I mean, Harry Potter gets put down in the common culture a lot, but everyone’s into it, so it has to be valid in some way.

C: It’s kind of interesting, the “contrarian for the sake of being contrarian” thing because I think a lot of people could say that about your former band.

PS: And that’s one of the things that was really interesting to me. A lot of the people who disliked my band - I’m pretty sure I would have disliked my band from the sidelines as well, if it was presented to me in the way it was presented to those people. I definitely related to that, but at the same time I stood by everything I was doing. It was a very interesting sociological experiment to have been on TRL at the time that we were. It was very interesting to see what the reactions were, and I think as it plays into my current music now, I’m king of bracing myself for a lot of negativity because I think it’s a really tempting trump card to pull…”Oh, the demo was better” or “Oh, the old band was better,” whatever it is. There’s always the “How can I put an interesting spin on negativity?”

Check out part two of our conversation with Patrick Stump.