Fall Out BoyThe Chicago-based punk rock band’s mastermind, Pete Wentz, explains how to value your flaws and turn outsiderdom into success.
THE RED BULLETIN: Most people know Pete Wentz as a self-confident rock star who has sold 7 million records with his band Fall Out Boy. But in contrast to your peers, you don’t sing about your extravagant lifestyle. Instead, you give outcasts a voice.
PETE WENTZ: That’s important to me, because I felt a bit like an outsider myself in high school. I played on the soccer team, but I also listened to punk rock and had weird, colored hair. I hadn’t figured out who I was and I was nervous about not fitting in.
How did you overcome that?
Green Day’s album Dookie was very important to me. It made me feel like maybe it’s OK to be weird. And the minute you accept yourself and say, “I’m an outsider to these people, but I feel comfortable with myself,” life becomes instantly easier.
Today you pass on this positive message to kids. What’s the best compliment you ever got from a fan?
I’m not a therapist—I’m probably not even the best person to be giving out advice. But I’ve been through some serious stuff myself, so when someone tells me that our songs have helped them through a breakup or that our music saved their life, that kind of human interaction is the real payoff of my job.
How do you react when someone tells you they owe you their life?
It’s humbling. But what’s essential in a situation like this is to help people realize that it’s not us, it’s them that saved their own life. Our songs, hopefully, are like the last little dip that puts the pep in your step. It’s like, don’t forget you’re the milkshake. We’re just the cherry on top.
What do you mean?
In every single moment you need to make choices for yourself or against yourself. That could be anything, like, am I going to sleep an extra 10 minutes or am I going to get up? With our songs we try to encourage people to make decisions for themselves, decisions that help them. But eventually they make those choices themselves, not us.
What’s this choice philosophy all about?
It’s based on this Native American parable that’s touched upon in the recent movie Tomorrowland. There are two wolves fighting inside of everybody. One wolf stands for despair, joylessness and selfishness, the other one stands for positive traits. In the story, someone asks which wolf wins. The answer is, the one that you feed. You have to make an effort to feed the good side, that’s what the “making choices for yourself” means. Your capacity to grow and to be a happy person is only going to get bigger by feeding compassion and empathy back into the world.
What do you do if you feel the negative wolf is taking over?
I have two kids, and if I hang out with them it’s pretty much like taking happy pills. When you hear a 1-year-old laugh, it’s pretty much the funniest thing on the planet. It changes my mood.
Your career is a prime example of turning from outcast into rock star. What’s the secret of your success?
There’s something to be said for perseverance. My dad used to say, “Put elbow grease into it.” You just have to push through tough times—that’s the hardest part. I’ve always found Michael Jordan’s story inspiring. He was famously cut from the basketball team as a high school sophomore. Imagine if he hadn’t tried again the next year, we wouldn’t have Michael Jordan! That’s pretty crazy.
Did Fall Out Boy experience setbacks at the beginning?
Totally. Our band toured the country in a small van. Usually not a lot of people showed up to our shows, so they got canceled. Back then, no one told us we were special. We were just this punk rock band from the Midwest. But we believed in ourselves and kept doing what we love.
How did you stay optimistic?
Setting ambitious goals might have helped. I just always wanted to be the biggest band on the planet. We’re nowhere close; it’s still a long way up, but that’s something that has always kept us going.