It’s been nearly eight months since the release of his solo debut and almost 13 years since his initiation into music, and yet GERARD WAY still has an urge to create, and unsurprisingly, connect. Next to The Umbrella Academy, his experiment with Marvel, and Hesitant Alien – a disc that rebooted Britpop with Suede/Lush/Bowie tendencies – he’s developed a flair for BASE jumping into any project for the sake of taking chances. For what it’s worth, it’s worked out in his favor and to a larger extent.
Way may not have “changed the landscape of music” on a universal scale, but he’s certainly altered his corner in it and done so on his own terms. As he noted during our quick chat in Toronto, his goals are generating new listeners and a new atmosphere, and they will only expand as he continues to study pop music and test himself. “When you’re in a band, you have a lot of people to worry about and that can creep into the music and make you feel responsible for everyone,” he says. “Nobody ever put that on me. It’s just something that manifested inside of me and as a solo artist, you live or die by your own sword.”
You have a history with visual art as you attended art school and created your own comic book series – do you believe that art and music are interconnected?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve kind of always felt that way. Even before I started to do comics again, I felt that a band should have a visual representation when they’re performing live.
How did your art background help with creating music?
There’s a lot of things I learned during that first year of art school that really opened me up in a lot of ways. It just taught me to learn how to communicate. It didn’t matter which medium you were using, but it really taught me how to communicate thoughts and ideas.
So what’s it been like touring as a solo artist with your own material?
When you’re in a band, especially when your band is very big, it’s kind of this huge rolling machine that has a lot of parts and a lot of things to worry about. When you’re solo, it’s a lot different. It’s really a lot smaller. That’s the biggest difference, I guess? It’s just a smaller scenario with less to worry about.
Does it get lonely when there’s less people around you in that situation?
Well, I miss the guys. But I don’t know if it gets lonely though because I have a really great group that I’m currently with.
Have the crowds at your solo shows been different than the ones you’re used to seeing?
I think they’re a little different. It’s hard to point out exactly what’s different about them, but you know, obviously when you become a solo artist, you can’t expect to take everyone with you. My Chem had really amazing fans and I think I’m just doing something that’s pretty different. I’m putting out a different energy and that energy has come back in return as it’s been a less aggressive atmosphere.
What do you mean by “less aggressive”?
Well, the music was very aggressive. For example, there haven’t been any mosh pits at my shows. It almost feels like an ’80s no-wave punk show – people kind of pogo, hang out, and have a great time.
Have you seen any crossover between the two fan bases?
Yeah, I think a lot of people carried over. I definitely met some people that are into what I’m doing now as opposed to what I was doing before so there’s newer fans as well, which has been interesting.
What’s it been like growing up – and even starting a family – while still appealing to an audience that’s much younger than you but can still relate to the music you create?
It’s just really amazing. I’ve always made art that connects with people that are young and old, but it just really connects with a teenage audience. I don’t think about that when I’m making art. I’m just kind of making it what I want it to be and that’s been the response to it. I’ve never had an audience in mind… I’ve just done what I was supposed to do.
Do you ever wish you had more of an adult audience that could relate?
For a lot of artists, maybe especially the ones that are playing in big arena rock bands, there is a part of the brain that’s always thinking about that. It’s just natural to be in your 30s and then say, “It’d be nice to play to people that are my own age”. Those thoughts pop into your head but it’s not really an issue, you know? I’ve always enjoyed the audiences I’ve had. The fact that people are just showing up at the shows and coming to see me is amazing.
With the release of Hesitant Alien, do you see it as a one-off project or are you hoping to continue to pursue the solo side of your career and expand a little further?
The idea of Hesitant Alien was to just kind of get it out there and really just establish myself as a solo artist. I didn’t intend for it to be this giant record; by the nature of how it was made it was supposed to be a really small record. The fuzz is a really big sound on the album but everything is just smaller music. It wasn’t supposed to crossover or do things like that… but we did get radio play with “No Shows” which was cool. We kind of admitted that was our favourite song but we didn’t have the record label push it or anything. People just liked it and started playing it.
You’ve said Hesitant Alien was heavily influenced by Britpop; are you sticking to that influence with future work or are you hoping to experiment more?
I’m definitely experimenting right now as I want to try something different. I don’t think I’ll ever shake some of those Britpop and ’90s sensibilities because I’ve always tried to bring that into my work, even with My Chemical Romance. It’ll always be there but with the next record, I’m trying to figure out what makes a pop album experimental just because I’ve never gone down that road. Like I’m currently trying to think of some of the experimental things I can do. It’s going to be interesting.