My Chemical Romance is the object of a great deal of affection these days.
The New Jersey modern rock quintet's third album, the ambitiously theatrical "The Black Parade," was one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2006 -- [i]the[/i] most, according to Alternative Press magazine. Blender proclaimed it the "album of the year," while other overwhelmingly positive reviews compared it favorably to landmark rock concept albums such as Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and Green Day's "American Idiot."
Fittingly, "The Black Parade" debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart with first week sales of 240,000 copies -- 532 percent better than the start of its predecessor, 2004's platinum "Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge." It's sold half a million copies so far.
"We had a sense that we wrote a record that was really special," says guitarist Ray Toro, who co-founded MCR five years ago after frontman Gerard Way formed a band to play his post-9/11 song "Skylines and Turnstiles." "Not only did it make us feel a certain way when we listened to it, but people that we played it for had those same feelings while they were listening to it.
"It kind of made them feel about the music the way we felt about the music, and when that happened, I think we knew we had something special."
Nevertheless, Way says he and his bandmates -- his younger brother, bassist Mikey Way, guitarist Frank Iero, drummer Bob Bryar and Toro -- are a bit disarmed by the hype surrounding "The Black Parade."
"We actually expected this record to be received well," the singer notes, "but we thought it was gonna take a little bit of time to connect on such a huge level.
"But we're very proud of it. Even before it was released, it was like sitting at a card game and holding this great hand and you're just waiting to lay it all out. So there was an anxiousness that came with it."
And, Toro adds, "It's just cool that people were out there waiting for this thing."
The truth of the matter is MCR marched into "The Black Parade" with a great deal of momentum. "Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge" was a slow-building success that topped Billboard's influential Heatseekers chart and made its way into the trade journal's Top 30 thanks to radio hits such as "Helena" (So Long & Goodnight), "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" and "The Ghost of You."
The album kept MCR on the road, including a stint headlining the 2005 Warped Tour. By the time the band hit the studio with producer Rob Cavallo last April, fans were already clamoring for something new -- which MCR partly addressed with the live "Life on the Murder Scene."
The 29-year-old Toro (ne Ortiz) says the group itself was "very separated" from those expectations, however. "We kind of live in a bubble, in a sense," he explains. "We're kind of closed off from the whole world and even thinking about those kinds of (pressures).
"Through touring and that last record cycle, we knew we had a large fan base -- and a dedicated fan base. But when we were writing this record, it was almost like we were in a vacuum, separated from the outside world. There were times when I really felt like, 'Are people really going to be interested in what we put out next?' "
"The Black Parade's" general theme of mortality was not in place as MCR began recording. The group convened in January in a New York City rehearsal space and began working on individual song ideas, some of which began in the back of the MCR bus during the Warped Tour. "The Black Parade's" first two tracks, "The End" and "Dead!," were among the first Toro says "really hit home" and gave MCR a sense of their new album's personality.
"There was an epic size to it already, even in that small practice space we were in," Toro says. "It kind of set the tone for the record."
While the music was being developed, Gerard Way began to hone in on the thread that would unify the album's 13 songs.
"We wanted the concept to come out of the songs," explains Way, 29, who even illustrated his idea for "The Black Parade's" concept to his bandmates via drawings. "I wanted to keep it very open going into it so we could say whatever we wanted to say.
"And through writing these songs, we realized they were really about life and really about death -- and mainly about life. And the story came out of that."
Toro says the idea also spoke deeply to the other band members, who Toro says were each "going through something difficult in our personal lives or musically. We could really reflect ourselves in these songs.
"It was very exciting. We would have constant meetings and discussions -- 'Is the concept working?' 'Are there certain songs that aren't fitting into the concept?' We really had the vision thing going."
Part of that involved adopting some alter egos. MCR actually became The Black Parade, "a band that's playing the songs of My Chemical Romance," Toro explains. Way, meanwhile, dyed his hair platinum and dubbed himself The Patient, because "I needed to hide behind that layer in order to be so honest, and we needed a character that people could put themselves in and really sympathize with."
The other band members, however, decided against picking up their own [i]nom de album.[/i]
"No one has an exact role," Toro says. "We didn't want to confuse things too much. We didn't want to confuse people and have anybody think we were changing or name or anything like that."
MCR did raise some eyebrows when it invited Liza Minnelli -- not exactly a name that regularly crops up in alternative rock circles -- to sing on the cabaret-styled track "Mama."
"When we actually found out she was going to do it, it was like, 'What the f***?!'," Toro recalls with a laugh. "I can't even...It's unreal. She's, like, a legend, and for her to even [i]think[/i] about singing on our record is just ridiculous.
"And then you fast forward to when she's in New York at a studio and we're in L.A. at another studio and we're talking over the phone lines and she's coming up with her own ideas and stuff. It's like a dream -- not even a dream. It's so ridiculous, y'know?"
But, Way adds, something like a Liza Minnelli guest appearance is illustrative of the adventurous spirit with which the group made "The Black Parade" -- and perhaps why it's commanding so much attention.
"I think that really sums up, in a lot of ways, what this band is," he says. "To do something like that...it's kind of a really bold thing to do, and it's very unexpected. We want to do with every record, really."
My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, Angels And Airwaves, OK Go! and the Hard Lessons perform at the The Night 89X Stole Christmas 9 at 5:30 p.m. Thursday (December 14th) at Cobo Arena, 301 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are sold out. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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