Gerard Way should have been quite pleased last year. His theatrical proto-punk combo My Chemical Romance had just toured behind The Black Parade, its ambitious 2006 concept album that helped put the group on the post-emo map. He was also simultaneously authoring an Eisner Award-winning comic book called The Umbrella Academy, about a ragtag ensemble of young superheroes coming to grips with their unusual powers; it's already been optioned by Hollywood as a feature-length film. And a new MCR salvo was in the works, a bare-knuckled garage-rock set, reportedly.
But Way wasn't happy. Not in the least.
"We were making this attempt at a record," explains Way, who'd also gotten married and had a daughter, Bandit Lee. "But when you get assimilated into 30-something rock culture, your life gets easier. You get things kind of handed to you, you start getting free shit, and you start getting to be asked to be on the covers of magazines that you wouldn't normally be on. You start to get stuck in this thing, and before you know it, you've completely sold out who you were, and you didn't even realize you were doing it. That's what was happening with me."
How did Way and company manage to arrive at their new genre-jumping, operatic stunner Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys? It's no garage album. They scrapped that idea and instead fast-forwarded to a concept album set in 2019, where street gangs battle a Big Brother-ish corporation. And, yes, it's already inspired a line of jackets, a mythical spinoff band called the Mad Gear and Missile Kid, an ongoing series of Perils of Pauline-ish videos, even an upcoming Killjoys graphic novel.
"I was on the wrong path, but now I'm knocking on the right door," says Way, who understands the spiritual significance of his current age, 33. "So when I turned 33, I got a bit nervous. But I had my 33rd birthday in the midst of our previous [album] attempt, and right around then everything became clear to me — 'You're doing the wrong thing. You're going the wrong way.' And then I started writing songs like [the Sweet-meets-Stooges] 'Vampire Money.'"
A share of the credit goes to Doom Patrol comic writer Grant Morrison, a personal hero who became a close friend and appears as the villain in the latest MCR music videos. Way believes he and his idol got along so well because they have similar polarizing effects on people — you either love their work, or you loathe it. "But he knew how to deal with it," says Way, who also dyed his hair bright red during his transformation. "And he had the courage to keep doing it, despite all the polarization."
So Morrison was especially pleased when the Killjoys came to life.
"When we finished touring on Black Parade, he was afraid we were gonna backtrack and make 'the punk record' or whatever," recalls Way. "And he said 'You think you've made Sgt. Pepper's, but you've only made Revolver or Rubber Soul — you haven't gone that far yet. So you need to make the next one even crazier!'
"And I was scared of that. But he was totally right."