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Sometimes, in order to grow, you need to tear down everything that came before. And, if you’re My Chemical Romance, sometimes you have to do it twice.

The Jersey band had conquered the globe with their platinum-selling third album, the bombastic and bleak The Black Parade, but two years of touring took their toll. Every night the band strapped on their monochromatic uniforms, show after show frontman Gerard Way inhabited the skin of the album’s protagonist, the sickly, spiteful “Patient.” In every country visited, thousands of fans flocked to stadiums but with them came disturbing stories of violent confrontations on the city streets, of persecution based solely on their choice of clothes and professed passion for My Chemical Romance. By the time the band reached its professional peak – headlining Madison Square Garden in the spring of 2008 – they were personally exhausted. “We saw the world and the world saw us,” says guitarist Frank Iero. “It was fun but it was grueling. That was a dark record to relive every night.” At the end, “it was acrimonious, it was empty,” explains Gerard. “The album had become so misconstrued I felt like all I was doing was defending or apologizing for things. Speaking for kids who were victims of hate crimes. None of it had to do with music.”

And outside of the arenas, the band was changing too. The four core members – Gerard, his brother, bassist Mikey Way, and guitarists Iero and Ray Toro – were approaching 30 and all had either gotten married or were about to. The Black Parade – its darkness, its pomp and circumstance – was a triumphant struggle but the internally the group was ready for a different sort of battle. “I wasn’t that person anymore,” Gerard says. “I don’t think anyone in the band was that person anymore. We looked like a bunch of guys in black. A bunch of really tired guys in black.”

And so The Black Parade was laid to rest. But not with a Busby Berkeley-esque funeral, like the one seen in MCR’s breakthrough video for “Helena” a few years back. No, it died suddenly and without ceremony. Gerard decamped to Los Angeles with his wife, Lindsey, and their baby daughter Bandit. There he threw himself into Hollywood, working on translating his successful comic-book The Umbrella Academy for the screen. “Everybody needed to normalize and be a human being,” says Mikey, who spent time addressing the well-publicized anxiety issues that had plagued him during the Black Parade tour. “We all learned that it’s ok to enjoy things. You can smile. You can have fun and not be such a defeatist.”

But in 2009, when it became apparent that it was time to make music again, the old stresses quickly returned. Gerard set down a reactionary mandate: no concepts, no costumes. “It was going to be quick, stripped down, and raw,” Mikey explains. “A punch in the face without allegories or stories. Just a comet, a real fast hit.” Gerard and Ray traded inspirational mixtapes featuring the raw power rock of Iggy and the Stooges, lyrics were written about cars and kung-fu. “The sound was in opposition to what we had done on Black Parade,” Ray says. “But we had put all these walls up: what we could do, what it should sound like. It really limited what the band is capable of doing. We were going through the motions.” And yet, slowly, an album was made and mixed with producer Brendan O’Brien at the helm. It was only then, at the 11th hour, that the frustrations and doubt that had lived beneath the recording process like an unwelcome squatter, began to squawk. “We kept saying ‘we’re going to have fun,’” Mikey says. “But we didn’t realize that it hadn’t been any fun.”

Gerard is more blunt: “If you’re guarded when writing music then the music’s not very good. That first attempt at an album was the sound of someone who didn’t want to open their mouth.” Disillusioned and depressed, he and his wife took their first vacation in years, decamping to the desert that surrounded their new hometown. And it was there, amidst the red rocks and cacti, the strange and primal nature that lurks and threatens just outside the man-made metropolis of Los Angeles, that Lindsey let her husband have it. “She said, ‘look, you’re an artist and you’re trying not to be an artist,’” Gerard remembers. “I had started the band after 9/11 when I hated art. Black Parade had been about hiding and punishment. I couldn’t tell the truth so I’d talk about cancer instead. I had to put on a mask to show people who I really was. But now it was time to own it. To be who I was before this band started. And I had something in my back pocket: this song, ‘Na Na Na.’”

Back in Los Angeles in January of this year, the band regrouped at the home studio of Black Parade producer Rob Cavallo. “’Na Na Na’ really opened our eyes,” remembers Ray. “We’re all creative guys and Gerard is about ten times more creative than everyone else in the band. His brain is always firing. To limit that had been the worst thing we could do. It’s like clipping the bird’s wings.” The song is, in Gerard’s words, a “nail bomb”: an utterly outrageous explosion of every quirk, kick and punch the band had been holding in for years. Gone was the dark poetry, the gloom and doom. In its place was unadulterated exuberance: Batman is namechecked, jazz hands are celebrated. Those who have spent time with Gerard know he has a wicked sense of humor and an innate love of showmanship. “Na Na Na” blasted through the frustration of the past year like a circus stuntman out of a cannon.

From there, it was off to the races. “We worked for two or three weeks undefined,” Gerard says. “We didn’t know if we were making a new album. Rob was working for free. He just knew there was magic happening and he kept capturing it.” Among the rules that fell by the wayside was the band’s self-imposed strategy to work with a new producer everytime out. Though they had enjoyed their time with O’Brien, returning to Cavallo was, in Mikey’s words, “that clichéd thing where the beam shoots from the sky and the clouds open up. It was like going to war and coming home. It became this huge art project and we were all involved.”

“The one thing we kept saying is: we’ve got to bring the color back,” Frank says. “It’s hard to wear black all the fucking time. You want moments on your record where the brightness can shine through.” And if “Na Na Na” opened the door then it was the creation of “Planetary (GO!)” (“you keep eternity / give us the radio”) that knocked down the walls completely, letting all the wonderful Technicolor weirdness in for good. A four-on-the-floor glam-disco stomper, the song was a victory for recovering Britpopper Mikey. “Being able to write a song like that for MCR was so liberating,” he says. “We realized we really can do anything. The rules were gone and anything could be on this album.” By the time they’d cracked the slow-burning, inspirational “Sing,” – another left-field improvision cultivated at Chez Cavallo – the band knew they were starting over. Gerard turned to Mikey with a smile and, almost by accident, named the new album: “Danger Days, here we come again!”

“The thing about the first try is that it was a perfectly normal rock record,” Gerard explains. “We looked normal. Short black hair. No more makeup. Perfectly tailored suits and leather jackets, perfectly made for the red states. And then we destroyed it. The question we faced was: would you destroy something perfect to make it beautiful? And that’s exactly what we did.” A straightforward song from the early sessions called “Trans Am” was ripped apart then tied to a rocket, re-emerging from the sci-fi ether as the worldbeating “Bulletproof Heart.” Motor City rave-ups like “Party Poison” were re-recorded and re-energized by the new direction while late-night experiments took on lives of their own. The epic “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” (Frank: “that’s a weird one, man”) started as a chorus and then a song was built around it out of original loops, a haunting fortress constructed, brick-by-brick from sonic scraps. “A friend of mine told me that when Scorsese finishes a film the first thing he does is locate his best scene in the raw footage and cut it,” Gerard says. “We couldn’t fuck around with the past. We had to keep going.”

Out of the album’s chaotic creation, a concept came together, one loosely inspired by a comic-book project that dated back to the band’s earliest days criss-crossing the country in a beat-up van. “Sonically, we were trying to make stuff from the future,” Mikey says. “We imagined California in this post-apocolyptic 2019. These were all songs that would fit into that world.” Bit by bit, pieces were added to the puzzle: the new songs were being broadcast by a pirate radio DJ, Dr. Death Defying, whose transmissions were a lifeline for the Fabulous Killjoys, a gang of dystopian rebel-kids attempting to survive a bleak maybe-future where art and color were illegal. But that’s as specific as the guys want to get. “A Killjoy is everybody,” Gerard explains. “It’s the band, the kids, the artists. Where I went wrong on Black Parade was trying to dicate the outcome. I can’t do that. The world is big, metal and chaotic and we’re just fragile little insects – one wrong move and you could get crushed. This is just a big pop art project.” “If you want to know what a Killjoy looks like then go into a costume shop and put it together yourself,” Ray says. “On The Black Parade things got misconstrued. There is no enemy this time. Be creative. Use your voice, your community. Art is the only weapon.” With a familiar swagger returning to his voice, Gerard adds: “Rock and roll is old as hell and I’m not saying we’re gonna save it. We’re not trying to. We just want to make it beautiful.”

No song sums up the gleefully creative explosion that is Danger Days as well as “The Kids From Yesterday.” Recorded in May at the very end of the process, after Frank had already flown back to New Jersey to be with his expecting wife (they welcomed twin girls in July), the track is fresh yet immediately familiar, a bracing blast of invented nostalgia and misremembered memories. It’s already the band’s favorite song on the album and, perhaps, in the entire My Chemical Romance catalogue. “Lyrically, I felt I had to write that song to be complete with the album,” Gerard says. “What it means to me is: I’m a grown-up now – we all are – and that’s cool. We’re a generation of wild artists, free thinkers, crazy people. We’re not going to lay down and have a boring life because we’re supposed to. ‘The Kids From Yesterday’ are the the adults, the ones who never forgot the feeling of holding onto a chain link fence yelling at the top of their lungs.” The song completes the circuit from the last album’s fearful, freaky “Teenagers.” Gone is that song’s paranoia and fear of the future. In its place is hope. “Part of accepting being a grown-up is trusting the kids, our fans,” Gerard says. “My band is not leading you. Anything can be art. Anything can be self-expression. Now you take the weapon and run with it. Don’t be an easy target. You don’t always have to wear black. I feel like by adding color we’re handing off the keys to the fucking rocket!”

Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is the album My Chemical Romance have been building towards their entire, nearly decade long career. From soaring sentiment (“The Only Hope for Me is You”) to bare-knuckled brawling in the streets (“DESTROYA”) it defies lazy labels and demolishes expectations. Beholden to no scene, credo or code it’s a rock’n’roll album from the future aimed directly at the dead-hearted present. “Next year it’ll be ten years since we’ve been together,” Frank says, “that’s a long time to stay in one shade. And I think if you’ve been a fan of our band for a long time then you need these different feelings in your life, these different emotions to come through. And I know that because it’s what we need right now.”

“Black Parade was asking for a lot of misery and punishment. Danger Days is asking for a big hyperspace adventure,” Gerard explains, finally, with a wink. “We’re not saying we deserve it. We’re just asking.”

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