Way talks to Gigwise about Hesitant Alien, MCR, Blur, Spider-Man and what's next
Andrew Trendell
13:08 22nd December 2014

"The future is bullet-proof," spat a voice-over on the opener to My Chemical Romance's Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. While it would turn out to be their final record, the sentiment remains the same - and Gerard Way is unstoppable. 

He's had quite a year. His solo debut Hesitant Alien saw him adventure into new sonic territories and win hearts, with the world at large accepting him as an artist living in the now, away from the shadow of his legacy.

Not only that, but he's also found time to make a Spider-Man comic and begun to consider work on a second solo album.

As one of the most successful years of his career draws to a close, we caught up with Gerard Way to discuss My Chemical Romance, Blur, Jack White, his favourite music, comic books and his plans for 2015. 

Hesitant Alien is such a defined, bold and confident album. At what point did you start to feel the strength of your writing as a solo artist?

It was around about the time I recorded 'No Shows'. Up until that point, it was this very small kind of 'fuzz rock'. I wouldn't even call it an album at that point - it was just a collection of songs I was making. So much about 'No Shows' is about realisation and self-actualisation and not needing to feel part of something to make something greater. That's also where the ambition started to creep in.

You could sense traces of Britpop in My Chemical Romance, but why did those influences take the lead now?

I think it was the music that always stayed with me. Britpop was something that once I discovered it, I never stopped listening to it. Here and there with MCR, it would pop its head out briefly, you would occasionally hear the influences. It just felt like I needed to be making music that resonated with me since I was a kid.

What was your introduction to Britpop and what was it about that connected with you in a way that British music didn't?

I think a lot of it was the sentiment in the songs that it was really about a mundane existence, and I never really let go of that growing up in New Jersey, even though I went on to be in a band and tour the world and things like that. I still never forgot what it felt like to be from New Jersey. That and how varied the music was. There seemed to be no limits to Britpop. You could have a band like Pulp, which occasionally had these dance or disco elements to them - it had romanticism. You had glam in bands like Suede, you had pure pop in bands like Blur and you had this working class rock in bands like Oasis. It just felt like it could be anything.

Are there any British acts of today that you feel that same energy?

It's tough for me speaking of new artists just because I feel like I'm largely out of the loop on things. I'll kind of gravitate to a band here or there, like I'll listen to Eagulls, I like The History Of Apple Pie, I like Temples, I like Warpaint a lot. There are some younger artists out there that I really like.

There was a point earlier this year, before Arctic Monkeys played Finsbury Park, where people were talking about it as if it was our generation's Oasis at Knebworth or Stone Roses on Spike Island. Do they have that kind of impact in America?

I feel like they had a really interesting impact, and it was just cool to hear a British band on the radio playing rock music. The thing about England is rock music resonates a specific way here, in a really huge way. You could only really achieve those things over here with rock. MCR got to a point where we were headlining Reading and Leeds - in the States, we wouldn't be able to do that kind of thing. Arctic Monkeys resonating on a huge cultural level over here is something that can happen with rock.

The UK has a complicated love of Britpop and you talked to Rolling Stone about loving Damon Albarn's cover of Select dressed as a public schoolboy. Did you buy into the fashion of it?

I did, because it was glamming things up. I was in high school and everybody was wearing flannels and baggy stuff and grunge was really big. I didn't respond to it at all. There was something classy about Britpop, there was something interesting about it. It was like people dressing for the life they want, rather than the life they had, and I liked that.

What's your Blur track of choice?

Probably 'Sing' off the Trainspotting soundtrack.

Much like Blur, My Chemical Romance reached a state of closure at one point. Do you relate to them in that sense or as a fan, do you pine for them to return?

I relate to the fact that they knew when it was time for them. I also relate to the fact that they do it when they like to do it. Will we get to see Blur again - who knows? But that song they did, 'Under The Westway', was beautiful. It's nice to get another song from them but only when it's right for them, I can relate to that for sure.

Are you going to continue down the Britpop route or branch out elsewhere on next record?

I see Hesitant Alien as a really great kind of start-off or kick-off. I always saw it that way. There are a lot of elements that I want to explore within that album. A lot of what I looked to with this album, besides Britpop, was glam, David Bowie and Iggy Pop. I also started experimenting with horns. I feel myself moving more towards that direction and horn arrangements and exploring different types of music. I've been listening to a lot of Bobby Womack, and I'm trying to figure out ways to incorporate that into my music.

You've also spoken of your admiration of Jack White. Is that because he's a bit of a polymath like yourself?

What I respect about Jack White is that, yes, he has many different interests, but what I like about him and a few other people is that he has a distinct vision and he knows what he's after and is not afraid to go after that. As a listener and fan of his music, I know it's something that he wanted and fought hard to get.

You can hear his attitude in everything, whether it's solo or Dead Weather or Raconteurs. Do you ever fancy being in a band again?

The thought has crossed my mind. Once I made this step as a solo artist, because initially I did just want to start another band but that wasn't right, but the thought has closed my mind. I'm basically in the situation that Jack finds himself in some times: I may find myself saying 'I wanna start a band today'. Mikey and I often talk about one day making music together again. We talk about wanting to form a band that sounds like Love And Rockets, so I could see myself doing a lot of the same things that Jack does where he does something, has fun with it and then moves on to something else.

So nothing is in concrete?

No, but I do plan on focussing heavily on being a solo artist. I do plan to be firmly planted in that.

What were your first gigs like as a solo artist? What was it like turning around and not seeing MCR behind you?

I didn't really focus on that. They were different. What took more getting used to was everything being very new. We didn't have any 'hits' to fall back on, nobody had even heard the album and yes, I was playing with a different group of people so the energy was completely different, but what made the shows stand out and so special was the love I was getting from the audience. Their desire to be part of what I was doing whether they knew what it was or not was so overwhelming that that's what carried me through the shows.

Did you see the footage of the gates opening at Reading Festival and the kids charging in?

Yeah, I saw little bits here and there of that and that felt so good because I remember about half an hour before going on I asked our sound guy 'How's it looking out there?' He said 'Oh, there's like 50 kids up at the barricade and they all have G shirts on' and I was like 'Alright, let's do it!' Then I got out there and there were thousands. Oh wow, I wasn't ready for that. I was going to deliver the same show for 50 or 5,000.

Obviously the strength of the album means that you could draw entirely on that as something fresh, but even Noel Gallagher might dip into Oasis from time to time. Did you feel daunted by having your catalogue and legacy hanging over you?

I wasn't daunted by it, I felt liberated by it. I feel that when Noel plays an Oasis track, he'll do that because it's right for him. I don't think he does that solely to serve and audience. I think he's enjoying doing it. At this stage in my career, I wouldn't enjoy doing a My Chemical Romance song because I don't relate to them. I don't think any audience would want to see that. It was very liberating to get up there and have the material work without everyone being familiar with it.

Did that give you a greater sense of closure?

I had felt closure quite a while before that, even before making a solo album. That's what was great about going into the situation: nothing about performing live for the first time or putting the album out or it having a great response - none of it felt connected to My Chemical Romance. None of it felt like opening or closing a new chapter, All of that was very removed from the situation.

Your Spider-Man comic came out earlier this year. How have you found the world's reaction to it?

The reaction was amazing. I got in touch with Nick Lowe, who's the editor, and asked how it was doing and he said it had sold out instantly and was going in to second print. I was very excited about that. Nick's a guy who's been a fan of my work for years and he's been very persistent and stayed on me and we finally found a moment where I could write stuff for him. He made it work. He found Jake Wyatt for me to work with and I was definitely sold on his art.

Writing a comic, you have the freedom to create a whole new world from scratch. Did it ever feel overwhelming doing that with the legend of Spider-man or did that only add to the experience?

It was easy because I had free reign to do what I wanted with the concept of Spider-man, giving the nature of the story as these alternate universes. One of my strengths lies in creating worlds, and I'd been doing it for so long with My Chemical Romance and Umbrella Academy that it felt very natural and was easy to do. It was very fun to write.

What else are you working on right now, outside of music?

I've been working on Umbrella Academy series three, which is difficult for me to say as it always feels like I'm working on it but I'm writing a lot of music - and that's the main focus of what I'm working on.

Ever felt the urge to write for anyone else?

You know, it's come up here and there. The Band Perry once flew me out to Nashville to jam with them and it was more than a lot of fun, it was great. They're such sweet people and it was amazing to work with a group of artists from such a completely different place and style of music. I'm definitely open to it. I think for my next solo record even, I would be very open to working and writing with different people. That would be a new challenge for me.

Have you ever considered production or launching your own record label?

No, that's never appealed to me. I don't think I'd be good at running my own label, I don't feel like I'd be super-great at discovering bands. I guess I'm too focussed on my art - well enough to know that I shouldn't be putting other people's art out. I can only handle so much.

So, touring aside, what's next?

Next year is pretty full on - a huge world tour. We're discussing festivals and it would be a nice to end things, but I might be in the thick of writing because the plan is to be in the studio in September. I want to make a new record pretty quickly

Gerard Way's upcoming UK tour dates are below. Buy tickets safely and securely with Seatwave here

Tue January 20 2015 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Wed January 21 2015 - SOUTHAMPTON O2 Guildhall
Fri January 23 2015 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton