Q&A: Pete Wentz on How Fall Out Boy Can Save Rock

The Fall Out Boy frontman talks about his new album, new novel, and (potential) new ink

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Pete Wentz attends Sony PlayStation's unveiling of the PS VITA portable entertainment system at Siren Studios on Feb. 15, 2012, in Hollywood.

Fall Out Boy frontman Pete Wentz is having quite a month. Save Rock And Roll, the band’s first new album since 2008’s Folie A Deux, is out Apr. 15. He’s also the host of Oxygen’s tattoo competition Best Ink; the new season began Apr. 3. And he’s also the author of Gray, his first novel, released in February. Between all that, Wentz found a moment to talk to TIME about the band returning from hiatus, the meaning of rock and what he has in common with the characters on Girls.

Let’s talk about the album title. What does rock ‘n’ roll need saving from?

First and foremost, we’re a tongue-in-cheek band and we’ve always been like that. When we were planning coming back, I envisioned reviews like, [sarcastically] ‘They came back to save rock and roll.’ Like, we’ll just say this before you can say it. That being said, I’ve been driving my kid to school and just tooling around Southern California, listening to the radio, and it’s all sounded really similar to me. That’s why I think that, within the last two years, when we started getting Gotye and fun. and stuff like that on pop radio, it was really exciting. For me, if I hadn’t ever had a chance to hear an album like [Green Day’s] Dookie, I don’t know where I would have ended up, heading down the path that I was on. If anything, we want to be a band like that. Maybe the idea is we’re not trying to save big-R rock ‘n’ roll because big-R rock ‘n’ roll is a thing. It’s, like, leather jackets. But we do want to promote little-R rock ‘n’ roll, which is an attitude, a perspective on life. We feel like little-R rock ‘n’ roll is 2 Chainz and Kanye West and Lena Dunham and people like that.

That’s a pretty broad definition.

When people start talking about rock ‘n’ roll, that’s the thing you’re not supposed to ever do. When you try to define it, it makes everyone act funny.

What was it like to collaborate with people like Elton John, who appears on the album?

He actually sings the words “rock and roll” in one of the lyrics—and it blew my mind. He sings it like somebody who experienced rock ‘n’ roll in the ‘70s. It’s just a different view of what it is, even how it comes off the tongue. And just for him to engage with a band like us and say, yeah, your album should be called Save Rock And Roll—it was awesome and really fulfilling.

How do that ‘70s rock and the 2013 rock relate to each other?

I think that in some ways the ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll is a little bit how hip-hop is looked at now. Hip-hop is looked at as a counterculture. That’s what we want to do: we want to play good music and use big ideas and make a grand discourse. We yearn for rock to be appreciated that way. But at the same time, you can’t move backwards. It’s really weird to go back and pretend that file sharing doesn’t exist, and pretend that the world’s a different place. It’s always got to be future-thinking. And that kind of relates to the title as well. It’s about moving forward and progressing.

You mentioned file sharing—is that just in terms of the industry? Or do you think things like file sharing have affected the music itself?

In some ways, it’s broken down genres. Kids in this generation seem like they’re really YouTube kids. They like songs. This song, then this song, then this song. You have kids that love Skrillex and love Big Sean. And the thing that we love about that, is that you can kind of bend genres. So when we were writing “My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark,” we had friends who were, like, “That song sounds like a hip-hop song.” We played it for 2 Chainz—and he was, like, “Wow, this is a heavy rock song.”

(MORE: Pete Wentz Talks to TIME in 2008)

I’ve seen a few places online talking about Fall Out Boy getting back together, but on your website you make it very clear that you never broke up. What’s the difference between a hiatus versus breaking up and getting back together?

There are bands that probably did similar things that we did, but didn’t do it in the Internet age, where people have access to everything you say. Any time you give any interview, any pro answer would be like “they’re getting back together” and any con answer would be like “they’re broken up for good.” I think that taking a hiatus at least leaves more room that you’re going to come back and create new music. Sometimes, I think a band reunion gives the idea that it’ll be a vintage act. For us, it was really important that if we came back it would be about new music.

And you were busy during the hiatus. You wrote a novel.

I had been working on it for six years outside the band. But that was a hard process, the editing. It was hard and just vastly different than I thought it was going to be. I was watching the Girls finale, and Lena Dunham is on the phone with her agent. He says, “It needs to be turned in,” and she says, “Or else what happens?” and he says, “Or else they sue you.” And she’s, like, “I need to write a book in a day.” That summed up that process.

Sounds nerve-wracking.

When I was writing, there wasn’t the context that it was going to be a narrative. As soon as you write something you think, “Wow, this really makes sense to me.” Then, my editors and agent were telling me, people can’t follow it. You write about what you know, but at the same time, I’m not writing a memoir. It’s fiction. Any time anyone talks to me about it they say, “Oh yeah, but it was really true, right?” I’m, like, no, the true stuff would probably be a bit more boring. It’s also weird to go out and not have the protection of the other three people in your band with you. I didn’t realize how much of a shield the four musketeers thing is—I know it’s three musketeers, but whatshisname is in it with them, d’Artagnan or something. The extra guy.

Why do you think people are so eager to see it as an autobiography?

I think we live a culture that’s obsessed with people, you know, “Celebrities are just like us!” Everything I do except my job is critically analyzed online.

(MORE: Rock and an Art Place: Our Experts Review 9 New Album Covers)

I also want to ask you about Best Ink. What made you decide to go the TV-show-hosting route?

I sometimes get pitched this reality show or that competition show, and a lot of them don’t really make sense to me. This one, it was authentic to what I’m into. I’ve been into tattoos since I was 15 or 16. Also, it ended up being this happy hurricane that it all happened at once. But I didn’t really plan on Fall Out Boy coming back at the same time.

The thing about tattoo reality shows that always impresses me, is that people are willing to get tattooed on them, since they might end up with the person who loses the challenge.

More people will get tattoos on TV than I would have ever expected. Lots of people go on because they want to be actors, and some people go on because they just want a big free tattoo. You see these cooking shows and people get a bad dish and they kind of freak out—on Best Ink there were only two meltdowns where people were really unhappy with their tattoos. I think because part of the deal is that food is momentary—but you’re going to have a tattoo for the rest of your life. People kind of try to live with it, at least.

Did it make you want to get any additional tattoos?

I really want to get something for my son when he can write his name. We’ve been talking about him helping design dad’s next tattoo.

He better work on his handwriting.