Gerard Way knows people miss guitar music
It’s interesting to look back too, because they had the grunge tag and we have the emo tag, and I don’t think any of our bands ever felt comfortable with those tags. I never really liked [other] grungy; it was Nirvana for me. I didn’t necessarily consider them grunge – I guess they embodied it, but at the same time nobody else who was a grunge band really sounded like them, you know? I also felt that about My Chemical Romance. We had emerged in this second wave emo scene, and it never really went down well.
But anyway, I loved what Nirvana was doing. It was this new way of looking at this punk rock that we all grew up with, including Kurt. Stylistically, what was interesting was that there was this working class [look] – it would eventually become a uniform grunge look, but with those early grunge bands and Nirvana, it was almost anti-uniform, you know? A bit the opposite of what we had seen before. To relate this to My Chem, stylistically, My Chemical Romance was almost a response to T-shirts and jeans. We looked for more costumes and more theatrics – it felt fresh when we started again. Kurt, Krist and Dave really paved the way for bands to continue to transform punk rock and find new ways to channel that energy that we grew up with. Seeing this on MTV, I guess I was surprised that something so genuine, loud, different, and unapologetic would show up on that channel all the time.
With My Chem, how did you approach this theatrical look? What were you thinking about in terms of how you wanted to present yourself and how that would reflect in your sound? Or did the sound inform him?
Theatricality has evolved over time. When we started, I was wearing really ripped old jeans, taped shoes, Motörhead t-shirts and these leather jackets that stuck together, that had been really sweaty show after show. I had experimented with things like eyeliner and different types of makeup. I was inspired growing up by Dave Vanian from The Damned, like, “You know, it would be pretty cool to be a vampire.” I grew up listening to Misfits and Danzig – it was all theatrical, if not very extreme. I mean, you look at the Misfits wearing skeleton outfits, they have these devilish locks and they play these monstrous instruments. There’s a theatricality there that I don’t think was happening in punk at the time, and it sort of made its way into My Chemical Romance.
You mentioned how distinct Nirvana felt from the rest of the grunge scene. What made Kurt cool? And more broadly, what makes the frontman style cool?
Oh, man. Well, I think what makes a cool frontperson changes all the time. Many things happen in cycles. [Comic book writer] Grant Morrison is a very good friend of mine, and they have this theory that basically [trends go from] hippie to punk, hippie to punk, over and over again. It has something to do with the phases of the sun, or something like that. You never know what will connect with people, who they will gravitate towards, who they will turn to to be a voice for them. You cannot conceive of this – it just happens.
I think the first time I saw a [Fender] The racing blue Mustang with the stripes was “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the first time I saw a beat-up old Jaguar was watching Nirvana. The cool thing Kurt did was go to pawnshops; I remember seeing an interview where Krist was also going to pawnshops and looking for Mustang guitars for Kurt. It was a blast after that: everyone wanted a Jaguar, everyone wanted a blue Mustang, everyone wanted what they were playing. That’s what an artist can do sometimes – take something that’s kind of escaped public awareness and represent it to people in a different context than they’ve seen before.