Ten years ago, My Chemical Romance (due at the Fillmore this Saturday) was just another aspiring band in a van hoping to make it big. With a handful of three-chord punk rock songs hastily written and recorded in the attic of a house in New Jersey, the young outfit had no idea it would someday be elected to be the unofficial spokespeople for an entire generation of alienated kids.
Now more than a decade after those early attic practice sessions, My Chemical Romance has easily moved from the beer and sweat-soaked clubs to the flashing lights and complicated stage sets of arena shows. In advance of this Saturday night's show at the Fillmore, we spoke with guitarist Ray Toro about some of the things that have changed over the last decade, as well as a couple questions about Hot Topic clothes and the people who wear them.
Westword: What kind of musicians do you consider yourselves? Punk? Rock and roll? Or...
Ray Toro: I guess, just a rock band, we call ourselves? It's interesting especially with Danger Days, I feel like we've kind of always crossed the lines between genres, and I think a lot of people have always had a tough time putting us into a category. For a while, we were kinda put into, you know, the emo category -- for however long that existed.
But the band's music is so varied that people have a tough time categorizing us, which is why we just like to say "rock band." If you check out Danger Days, we go from songs that have elements of dance, there's songs that are straight punk, and there's songs that are a little more like epic rock songs like "Bulletproof Heart." We've always thought of ourselves as a band that is undefinable.
Your band has been playing Denver since long before the sold out auditoriums and arena shows of the last five years. Are there any special memories of those early days playing clubs in Colorado?
You know, if I'm not mistaken, I think the first that we might have played was called Tulagi's in Boulder. Yup, that was the first place we ever played out there. I remember when we pulled in. Just driving through the mountains was amazing, and that was our first time touring out to that side of the country. We'd never been out there before. We were in a van, and I remember the drive through the mountains; it was just so picturesque.
Pulling into the town, I remember a lot of college kids around. There was a great pizza joint there, and everybody was just really cool. What was cool about the area was that it was kind of like the Village in New York, a lot of people with dyed hair, a lot of indie kids, which was really cool. The shows have always been really good there with tons of energy in Colorado. I definitely have fond memories of that first time pulling up to Tulagi's.
How important are the clothes you and your bandmates wear on stage and in photo shoots to the image and identity of the band?
Well, you know, I think clothing is definitely a bigger part of the videos in a sense because for us whenever we do a record, we try to tie everything together. The music is tied into the artwork of the record, which is tied into the merch we do. It all plays a part. I guess you could call them "costumes." What we wear in the videos are a part of the world we are creating. Our stage clothes are usually just a reflection of how we're feeling at the time, but what's cool about it is that you can place us in time like us in the Black Parade costumes.
Right now, it's a little more natural the way we're dressing. We'll just go on stage with what we wore the day before [laughs], but you definitely have to feel comfortable up there. It's kind of like how a hockey player tapes his stick a certain amount of times -- like, see, I have this jacket I like to wear at every show, and if I go on stage without that jacket, in the back of my head, I feel uncomfortable. So, I guess, in a way, they do sorta become our uniforms because you get so comfortable on stage with them, that it feels weird if you go on stage without it.
Speaking of clothes, your band is considered by many to be a "Hot Topic" band. Is that a moniker you find fair, unfair, on the money, or completely off base?
Well... if Hot Topic is synonymous with the word "SUCK" than I would say it's completely off base [laughs]. You know, I don't really know but I'm not a big fan of generalizing, you know what I mean? To reference your first question, we get lumped into a lot of categories and using generalizations takes away from it. To say that our fans are Hot Topic fans -- there's so much more to them. They're a lot deeper than people think. They're creative, they care about people, they care about each other. Our fanbase is like this growing community and the more we do shows, the more we're finding all this out.
How old were you when you picked your first musical instrument and started playing songs?
I think I was about thirteen or fourteen. Me and my two older brothers all shared a bedroom. My oldest brother was in high school at the time. He loved playing the guitar and had tons of guitar magazines. I would sit and watch him play all day up until two in the morning. I was enthralled by it -- I picked up the guitar, and he taught me some songs. I definitely give him credit for where I am now.
Do you remember the first song you played on your own?
I'm trying to think... what was that first song? Oh, it was "Welcome To The Jungle" off Guns N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction. This was like when Guns N' Roses had just come out with Appetite and they were just killin' it. That band was just so unbelievable, and that was the first song I learned how to play.
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MCR's music often times is pretty fast and technical. Could your band have pulled off some of the songs you play live now ten years ago?
Well [laughing], you know, me and Frank [Iero, rhythm guitarist] joke around about this. The songwriting is different now, but actually, it's the reverse. Back in the day, ten years ago, when we first kinda started, me and Frank, especially -- well actually everyone in the band -- we tried to fill as much space with as much playing as possible. So when we go back now and try to relearn the old songs, we're like "Oh my god, my fingers are moving faster than I can think, and I don't even know what's happening!" Yeah, [laughs] It's reversed.
If anything over the years what's gotten better is the songwriting and really more about choosing the moments and picking your spots. Knowing when to put in something a little flashy and when to lay back. I definitely think the songwriting and the mindset of the songwriting has gotten much better, and for that, I don't think we'd be in the same place. Like back in the day the idea of a chorus was totally beyond us. We would just write one part to the next to the next and so on. There wasn't a lot of song structure. Nowadays we like to write a little more concise; we love choruses and big hooks. The band ten years ago probably wouldn't have thought that way.