Way back when, Fall Out Boy was just another wannabe band and Fueled by Ramen was the small-time label that took a chance on them.
Fall Out Boy has since become one of the biggest bands in the world and its bassist Pete Wentz, via his imprint DecayDance Records, has become the backbone of Ramen’s financial success. In fact, almost half of Ramen’s artists are DecayDance acts, discovered by Wentz: Panic! At the Disco, the Gym Class Heroes, and an up-and-coming group Wentz used to know back in his Chicago youth called The Academy Is ... Consequently, one has to imagine that the folks over at Ramen piss themselves every time Wentz throws a tantrum, but, hey, his knack for discerning the next step in emo’s evolution into mainstream rock can’t be faulted, and The Academy, possibly one of those steps, ain’t complaining.
“I’ve known Pete longer than I’ve known William,” Academy guitarist Mike Carden says, referring to his band’s vocalist William Beckett. “We were just all in it together. We would open up for them, Fall Out Boy would open up for my band. It was just part of the fun, what was happening.”
The camaraderie hasn’t abated, either. Since DecayDance signed The Academy, the two bands, along with the rest of Pete’s cavalcade of rising superstars, have often toured together, and The Academy has come to rely on Wentz’s advice. “We’ve all stayed friends,” Carden explains. “We grew up together and, not only that, we get along. We’ve just known each other so long, it’s definitely like family to a certain extent.”
But back then, “No one imagined Fall Out Boy would become the band they’ve become, you know what I mean?” Carden adds. “It’s hard to imagine all that as you’re doing it. Not much has changed in the attitude, though. Just different levels of success if you have to measure it.”
In 2002, Carden and Beckett were still local rock rivals, engaged in what Carden labels a friendly competition that would find them meeting outside venues both of their bands would be playing that night. That was the year, though, that they realized they had more in common than they thought. The Chicago punk scene was bubbling up back then, and mainstream rock and rap-rock, they agreed, just wasn’t for them. Before long, they had their own band called The Academy, a name apparently already in use, so they became The Academy Is …
“With little or no money, with little or no pressure, the next thing you know you have something that’s relatively successful,” Carden says of Almost Here, the 2005 debut that caught Wentz’s attention and got them signed. “It was a very organic record.”
It was also, by the time it was released, not especially revolutionary since emo, even the sort that Fall Out Boy pumped out on their first two albums, was growing stale and in desperate need of some reinvention. It sold a decent number of copies, but certainly didn’t manage what DecayDance label mates Panic! At the Disco would accomplish later in the year with their debut.
Maybe that’s why their sophomore release, Santi, was reportedly accompanied by considerable distress. Allegedly, Beckett was on the verge of a nervous breakdown through much of the process, though Carden calls such reports “overblown, way overblown.” But, he adds, “It was probably a good read.”
“A lot of times, with a second album, you can over-think things,” he continues. “The final answer would be: We didn’t want to make Almost Here again.” And that’s where the real stress came from, “an unspoken thing” that began to manifest in the songwriting process; even though some of the sounds crossed over between albums, it was vital to all that The Academy become something else.
“There was a lot of ground we covered with that album, from the sound to the lyrical content, just the sonic value,” Carden says, describing what is essentially a rock album filled with complex lyrics, addictive hooks, and some guitar solos that ache for arenas. “I’m very proud of that. It’s a photo of who we were at that point.”
As Carden discusses The Academy, it’s hard not to appreciate how much perspective he possesses. He’s still young, but his attitude sounds like that of a rock veteran. Much of that probably has to do with the friends he started out with. He even points out that his friends’ successes haven’t made life any easier for them, but often only made their problems bigger.
“A lot of our society is so built on success and the idea that success builds happiness,” he says. “If you have all these things, then you’ll become a happier, better person. With touring, you learn that isn’t necessarily the case.
“A lot of people never get here, or get to experience this, so I’m not complaining at all,” he continues. “But making music has kind of changed for me. At first, you want a bus, you want to sign autographs, but once you get past that, you realize you just want to make music — and I think that’s where we are.” •
The Academy Is …
w. Armor For Sleep, The Rocket Summer, and Sherwood
8pm Tue, Oct 2
2410 N. St. Mary’s