When they first appeared on the scene in 2001, My Chemical Romance could not have been a more sublime encapsulation of the post-Millennial musical zeitgeist. Moppy-headed, skinny-tied and unapologetically guitar-wielding, they also matched The Strokes and The Libertines for tortured-romantic poetic projections. More poignantly, they were the outsiders turned insiders, quickly swept up into the rock & roll tsunami, and finding themselves suddenly staring out from their stages at masses of adoring, alienation-plagued disciples—who often saw their angst tinged lives reflected back at them in the lyrics.
The band went on to an astonishing run until rent asunder in 2013 by the usual rock band disillusionments. Now, at a time when the charts are bloated with calculatedly cloying R&B duets, and mind-numbingly redundant EDM fills stadiums…MCR’s beloved misfit frontman Gerard Way has at last become the solo artiste he’s surely always meant to be.
And no bandwagoneer, he. In a glorious fit of defiance to musical fashion, the guitars are cranked up to 12 on his autobiographically titled solo debut Hesitant Alien (BlackBook is streaming the full record here a week before its official release). He draws skillfully on the noisier reaches of shoegaze, piles on the wicked glam rock riffs–check out the electrifying new single “No Shows”–and essentially turns out one of the freakiest, sexiest, most heroic rock records of 2014.
He’s also embarking on his first solo tour in October, which will take him from Hollywood to New York to Manchester before the year is out.
We caught up with the nattily attired singer to discuss life after MCR.
You apparently really kicked it out at your Reading Festival solo debut.
It was surprising in the greatest way. To feel that kind of excitement and that kind of love, and to have that many people show up at 11:50 in the morning…I’ll never forget that!
My Chemical Romance were never a morning band.
You know what, though? In the early days, we had to do morning slots all the time at festivals. So it was actually kind of cool to go back and do that again.
You have a pretty fanatical UK following, so it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t love you.
But I didn’t know! I had never played the material before.
Does it feel strange to play without MCR?
It doesn’t feel strange, it’s just different. The sound, the energy…it has its specific moments, instead of me trying to have a moment constantly.
Why was it the right time for the band to split up last year?
It started to feel suffocating, and it was just my time to grow. It was also a good time to do it because the band was still vital and important; it still meant something.
You came about when guitar music was ruling the zeitgeist. And you’ve said that you purposely tried to make this a radio unfriendly record by using as much guitar as possible. But then, you’ve never really courted popularity.
Right! I haven’t. I’ve always just gone with what I’m feeling inside of me. But I’m not consciously hitting the detonate button here.
What were the main inspirations for Hesitant Alien? It seems like a lot of different things going on.
At first it was bands like The Breeders, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus & Mary Chain…but then Bowie’s Berlin period, and that first Brian Eno record. I was also thinking about MGMT; I love the amount of risks they take. They’re people that truly chase the art.
“Get The Gang Together” has all the fury of a Pixies song. Who is the gang?
I’m glad you brought that one up, as it’s one of my favorites. In my head I imagine a group of friends, and what’s happened to all of them…sort of like Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side.” But it’s also about how people always want you to go back—and I’ve felt they all just want me to get the band back together.
You’ve probably run through the gamut of emotions in making this record.
Yeah, “Millions” is literally about walking away from millions, and just wanting to vanish. And “The Bureau” is about Hollywood and the entertainment business. It’s the only kind of rebellion I have left…
To rebel against being the singer of My Chemical Romance?
It hit a point where I just couldn’t reinvent any more in that space. If I had tried, it would surely have caused everyone a lot of grief.
Your style has inspired a lot of chatter over the years. There’s even a “How To Look Like Gerard Way” Wiki.
Really? Well, it’s always been a part of what I do, coming up with a visual presentation.
What are you trying to express through your stylistic projections?
I like complete things, so my music is always connected to some sort of visual idea. I represent the music through my style.
Do you find that you have connected with your fans through your particular sense of style? Does it create a kinship?
I notice a lot the fans just simply expressing themselves in their own way. When I was looking very punk-gothic, what I was cultivating was not just a visual vessel for the music, but also what I felt was missing out there. We were outsiders from literally the first tour—because I would be doing my eyeliner in a truck stop, hoping I didn’t get beat up. At that time I was thinking of The Damned a lot, especially Dave Vanian. Then when it becomes a uniform, you have to rebel against that.
You’ve always sort of operated from the point of view of a misfit and outsider; but MCR had tremendous success. Do you still feel like an outlier in the music world?
This is an awesome question, because it has a lot to do with what the album represents. I titled it Hesitant Alien because I feel more like an alien than a misfit. It’s not that I don’t fit in, it’s that I’m coming from some other place. I actually kind of do fit by being so different. And music needs that.