My Chemical Romance sparking a reaction

By Scott Kara

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Kids. They grow up fast nowadays. Sex, cellphones, and now, legions of 11, 12 and 13-year-old boys and girls are into a concept album about death by a band who sound a lot like Queen. Oh lordy.

Admittedly, American rockers My Chemical Romance have a broader appeal than just that age group. In the fine tradition of rock'n'roll, the New Jersey band's latest album, The Black Parade, inspires the young and stirs youthful feelings in older music fans - much the same as Green Day's American Idiot did a few years back.

So watch your back Tool, and look out Killers because this popularity could make My Chem - that's fanspeak - the band to see at the Big Day Out tomorrow, although their mid-afternoon main stage slot is a slap in the face considering they're far bigger than Muse and Jet who are on after them.

Since The Black Parade was released in October it has sold more than two million copies worldwide (more than 30,000 in New Zealand) and they've become one of rock's top acts.

Guitarist Ray Toro still seems a little bemused by the album's success and how it has "crossed lines".

"People who weren't into the band before are looking at us differently and have a real appreciation for the new record. I think it's because we took a lot of risks," he says.

"We tried to have fun as much as we could, we tried to be different and not repeat ourselves. I think people respond to the fact that bands try new things, and when it works I think people are even more responsive."

While MCR's pop-punk-rock music might not sound too risky, on deeper listening it's pretty wild and ambitious. You'll hear the overblown pomp of Queen, including wailing riffs from the Brian May school of guitar, the snarl of Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins, and most importantly, The Black Parade is a dark, yet celebratory, concept album about a cancer sufferer called the Patient. Heavy stuff.

"Wouldn't it be great if we were ... dead?" asks singer Gerard Way gleefully on Dead!. And the band's young fans - many of whom are emos, a name given to black-clad, makeup-wearing teenagers - would probably smile in agreement.

It's this sort of lyrical statement that has got My Chemical Romance into a bit of trouble. The band has been accused on internet chatrooms of encouraging young people to self-harm, and they were branded a threat to society by one British newspaper. The Daily Mail labelled the emo movement as a "dangerous teen cult of self-harm", and in the story My Chem was one of three bands named that emos listened too (Green Day were another).

Yes, it is a major overreaction, especially since Toro is so casual and obliging that you imagine him to be a surfer rather than a guitarist in a so-called dangerous band. They are also adamant they're not emo, and call themselves a rock band.

Drummer Bob Bryar admits some people get the wrong idea about MCR and the majority of the songs on The Black Parade are positive. "You know, there are a bunch of things that go around about kids who like this band, [that they] are in a death cult and people harm themselves - and for somebody who doesn't take the time to really understand what this band is about, that's what they think, and that's a very, very ignorant way to think about us," he says.

He and Toro believe the music gives fans something to identify with and has positive effects for many. "And that's one of our goals - to help people get through really rough things," adds Bryar. "Any hard times that we've had have all gone away when we get to perform our songs live on stage, and that's what we live to do. If we can pass that on to other people by listening to the music, that's a great goal to have.

"If anybody, even one person, will listen to us and go get help for anything they're thinking of doing by harming themselves, then we achieved our goal," he says.

Toro agrees. "Beyond being successful and whatnot, to me, what's important is the people that we've touched. I feel very lucky that we've been able to do that so I hope when I pass on I'll be able to be pleased with what I was able to do on this earth and how I spent my life here."

Toro explains the idea behind The Black Parade is that when you die, death comes for you in a form that's pleasing. In the Patient's case it comes for him in the form of a childhood memory when his father took him to a parade, a story that's recounted on the song, Welcome to the Black Parade.

"Anybody can relate to what the Patient goes through. He gets taken on a journey and he is reflecting on his life and realises he hasn't lived his life to the fullest. He regrets all the time that he's wasted and that's something we can all relate to.

"And for me, like everyone, it's a fear that when you pass, can you look back on your life and say you really made the best of your time on earth?"

Even though the narrative is essential to the record's success Toro is wary of labelling it a pure concept album.

"It's not as hard a concept album as The Wall [by Pink Floyd] where you have recurring characters and it's very much to the script. This one's a little looser, but there's still a story the listener can follow when they play it front to back.

"And the lyrics on The Wall are very important for telling the story, but on our record, the music is important in the telling of the story, too. You know, how the music makes you feel - how it starts out pretty dark and has its light moments and at the end, the final song is the light at the end of the tunnel."

Since forming in 2001, MCR, which is also made up of Way's brother Mikey on bass and Frank Iero on guitar, have done the hard yards to get to this point, having toured almost constantly.

They've also released two previous albums starting with debut, I Brought You Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love in 2002, and Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge in 2004. The latter, which sold 15,000 copies here, made them minor stars but if you weren't into emo or pop punk, you'd have written them off as a flash in the pan.

Gerard Way started MCR after an unsuccessful career as a comic book illustrator following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He called Toro, with whom he had played in a previous band, and said "why don't you just come over to the attic and jam with us".

He did. "You just know when something feels right and you just run with it no matter what walls you hit," says Toro. "Everyone in this band does the same thing. They know there's something special about it and we just work our arses off to see it through. That's why this band is around."

And he admits to thinking a lot about where MCR can go next. "The band has always been about rising to the occasion, facing adversity and overcoming it. And that's what it's going to be about when we come to do the next record: 'What do we do now?'

"But I know and I trust that when that time comes we will have the next thing."

Here's an idea. Instead of a concept album, how about a rock opera and, just to make it even more crazy, you could get a famous guest musician to appear. A Bono and Gerard duet perhaps? We'll see.

LOWDOWN

Who: My Chemical Romance

Line-up: Gerard Way (vocals); Ray Toro (guitar); Bob Bryar (drums); Mikey Way (bass) and Frank Iero (guitar).

Playing: Blue stage at Big Day Out, 3.20pm - 4.10pm

Past albums: I Brought You Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (2002); Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (2004)

New album: The Black Parade, out now.

- additional reporting NZPA

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