Gerard Way interview: ‘Thankfully I haven’t gone bald’

Who would have expected the My Chemical Romance singer to make a solo album influenced by the Britpop scene? Gerard Way talks Blur, Bowie and board games

‘I haven’t even had my coffee yet. It’s bananas,’ yawns a jetlagged Gerard Way down the phone from Portugal. It’s been nearly two years since his old band My Chemical Romance dissolved, but at 37, Way isn’t twiddling his thumbs. His sold-out show in Lisbon show is just the start of a month-long tour. In Brixton this week, almost 4,000 fans will go nuts for a set of new songs from Way’s scuzzy solo debut ‘Hesitant Alien’. And he’s also set to continue his award-winning comic series ‘The Umbrella Academy’ (‘It’s like “X-Men” but a lot cooler,’ he explains).

But what I really want to know is why a platinum-selling rock singer from New Jersey has started name-dropping ancient British indie bands in interviews.

You’ve said that your new album is influenced by the ’90s Britpop scene. How on earth did you get into those bands?
‘It just happened to be what I was connecting with, you know? Grunge had been really big, but a lot of it didn’t make sense to me: there were a few of us Americans who didn’t connect with it. But all the stuff coming out of England at the time – it really felt like they were singing about what it was like to be from New Jersey.’

So what’s your favourite band from that era?
‘Probably Pulp. I think “The Fear” is my favourite song: track one off “This Is Hardcore”. I loved Blur – they were the first that I loved – and then I liked Elastica a lot. And I always liked Lush, though I never really thought that was Britpop.’

Do you think it’s a bit odd, the fact that you’re the former lead singer of a multimillion-selling American rock band, and you’re channelling Elastica?
‘I never thought about it that way. I guess that is a bit strange, but whenever I brought something into My Chemical Romance, it did always feel like there was an element of British music to it.’

‘I definitely never felt like a rock star. I never subscribed to any of that’

© Tasha Peto

How would you describe your relationship with the UK in general?
‘Oh, it’s always been super-unique and special and extremely strong. I’ve always loved coming over to the UK, and wanted to spend as much time there as I could. The press has always been extremely interesting, even if at times sensational.’

You mean like when the Daily Mail effectively called MCR leaders of ‘the sinister cult of emo’?
‘Yeah. That was pretty intense. The whole experience was actually a bit traumatising, but I guess it was exciting, even though there was constant misinformation flying around.’

I have to ask – you look a lot like David Bowie on your album cover. Was that a conscious imitation?
‘Ha! No, I don’t think I’m consciously imitating him. I just looked at that era and tried to think of what another album cover would have looked like around that period: from I guess about the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s, everything from Iggy Pop records to Gary Numan records.’

Those guys are a generation older than you, but they were younger when they made those classic records. Can you still be a rock star at nearly 40?
‘Well, I definitely never felt like a rock star. I never subscribed to any of that, and I definitely never played the part: the trappings never fit me correctly. So that’s all worked to my benefit – I feel like I can kind of do what I want now. I don’t think my next record’s going to be a rock record. I’m not sure how I can do anything different with rock ’n’ roll any more.’

What about your image? What would happen if you went bald?
‘Oh my God. Well, then everybody would see this really odd-shaped head. Thankfully I haven’t gone bald – I think that would really bum people out. God, yeah, I’m almost 40! It’s weird to think about it that way.’

Do you think you’ll ever play any MCR songs again?
‘That’s a good question. I’ve thought about it recently again, and I don’t think it’s off the table, over the course of the next year or two. I’m comfortable with it now, even if it’s only a couple of songs.’

A final geeky question: I hear you used to be really into Dungeons & Dragons…
‘Yeah, I still collect some of that stuff. I’m a big Games Workshop fan too – I have a lot of those old box copies of board games they used to make.’

What D&D character did you play?
‘I always played a half-elven ranger. I like rangers – they can track things down and use a bow. It was always hard finding clerics though: to find a friend of yours that’d want to play a guy with a mace that healed people. That was very hard.’

Listen to ‘Hesitant Alien’

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