Music by VICE

How Mikey Way Made Sense of Life After My Chemical Romance

A drug and alcohol addiction after MCR split only made his side project Electric Century harder to handle—then Way learned to close the door on a dark chapter.

by Tom Connick
Aug 1 2017, 4:05pm

Foto: Jason Debiak

All the best bands are a ragtag bunch: The Beatles, Oasis, Spice Girls. A collection of weird and wonderful characters, the magic of a timeless musical group comes from their collective identity, Avengers-style, and My Chemical Romance were no exception. The ringleaders of late 00s emo were fronted by iconic, hair dye-wielding singer Gerard Way—a camp, glam-gone-gothic figure who could switch from whispered confessions to blood-curdling howls in seconds. He came backed by guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro, punk rock's prince and fretboard nerd respectively. And then there was bassist Mikey Way.

Perpetually shadowy and often sporting emo-staple horn-rimmed glasses, Mikey was MCR's mysterious heartthrob; the quiet yin to his brother Gerard's mad hatter yang. He became something of an anti-hero for many of the band's followers, his quiet demeanour perfectly aping the fragile, teenage anxieties much of their fanbase were battling with. But there was a more troubling edge to Mikey's introspection, hidden behind the eyeliner and that perfectly swooped fringe.

Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol to treat paralyzing stage fright and help compartmentalize MCR's anxiety-inducing agenda in the wake of The Black Parade's explosive success , he soon found solace in slinking ever further into the shadows. Mikey became drug-dependent quickly, saying in a Kerrang! interview ahead of MCR's 2011 Reading & Leeds headline slot that he saw intoxication as "a means to an end," cocktailing drugs to both help him to get up on stage, and come down in the aftermath. His sole source of constant light through it all was long-time friend, Sleep Station vocalist and New London Fire figurehead Dave Debiak. The voice notes they sent each other back and forth became a near-decade long exchange of musical ideas for Electric Century, a barely-existent side project Mikey could never find the time for.

Despite living on opposite coasts, Mikey and Dave remain thick as thieves. "We text about music, and life, all day long," Mikey says today, across a patchy transatlantic phone line. Now, he's a notably more chipper character than the one portrayed in his MCR days, peppering his stories with a lively giggle and an almost childlike enthusiasm. His relationship with Dave kick-started at a pre-MCR barbecue held by Dave's brother Marc (former owner of MCR's first record label, Eyeball), where the pair bonded immediately over a mutual love of new wave, post-punk, and Britpop. Even now, they share memories of early Duran Duran and Missing Persons shows, and a joint childhood dream of "being Simon Le Bon." "It kinda went from there," Mikey smiles, "We became fast friends, I became a fan of his music, and I was like, 'Man, if I ever want to do a side-project one day, this is the dude I would do it with.'"

Electric Century's debut album For The Night To Control is the result of that longstanding friendship. A full-hearted embrace of those early influences, it's a who's-who of late 80s references, sweeping through sultry pop and onto the grittier gloom of new wave. With that joint dream of being Simon Le Bon come to fruition, you can hear the pair's half a lifetime of shared experience throughout—every twist and turn feels like second nature, evidence of a semi-telepathic bond between the two friends.

Before all that could form, though, Mikey hit crisis point. The effects of spending several life-changing years in one of the world's biggest rock bands and the major label "machine" that comes with it began to manifest. Long-standing drug use and a relentless schedule came to a head with the dissolution of My Chemical Romance in 2013. Unable to find an off-switch when things went from 100 to nil, Mikey instead threw himself into his sidelined project without a moment's pause. Struggling with overdoses and failing relationships throughout MCR's latter years, Mikey nevertheless insisted he still had so much to say, but launching straight into Electric Century only exacerbated the problems he was trying to ignore. "I had done MCR for 12 years straight, so I was very much in the 'let's go' mode," he says now. "I didn't want to take a break, I wanted to go right into it." It was a self-destructive measure that led to "complete burnout," he's quick to share. "I was emotionally drained—I was barely human at that time."

It took Dave's intervention to finally drag Mikey out of the shadows. Calling him out to the East Coast in February 2014 on the pretence of a recording session, Dave instead spent the time during Mikey's flight phoning every local rehab facility to find one that'd take his friend in. "When he arrived, I just got him in the car and was like, 'Yeah, we're not recording. We're going to rehab'," Dave says. Mikey didn't put up a fight. "He's done so well," Dave continues, "because he definitely knew that he needed the help—it wasn't something that he was in denial of. He was in full agreement that shit needed to change."

And so on the day Electric Century were granted their first magazine cover by Alternative Press, Mikey covertly checked himself into a month-plus stint in rehab. In his stead, Electric Century released just one track, "I Lied", which itself reads like a confession of guilt: "Everything that's weak goes through the window / I gently fill my veins, watching all the doors close."

What followed was a steady road to recovery. Music took a backseat, and Mikey wasn't even sure he'd be able to write again, sober. "I was used to being a certain way when I wrote music," he tells me, of how drug use felt an intrinsic part of his creative process. "I was usually medicated on some level." With Mikey newly sober for the first time in decades, Electric Century sat dormant once more, their hastily-assembled, almost-there debut album For The Night To Control existing as little more than files on a laptop for seven months—a memoir of a dark period Mikey would rather forget. "There's something in me I could never trust ," warns "Until The Light Goes Out On Me", while closer "Live When We Die" practically begs for redemption: "Wrapped up in the comfort of your love / Don't come undone."

"You can really tell, like, 'That guy's going through something'," Mikey says of the record's subject matter, with a laugh. Flippant though he may be about their first LP, there's no denying its power as a tool of healing. While Mikey worked on rebuilding his personal life, Dave returned to New London Fire. "The healing that needed to take place," Dave says, "the band had to be secondary to that. It's not on the top list of priorities, when you're dealing with getting well." That seems a common sense attitude now, perhaps, but a world away from the relentless, major label "machine" that Mikey says he was trapped in during his darkest moments.

One day, though, that electric feel came flooding back. Digging out For The Night To Control, Mikey found himself inspired once more by the music they'd created. Months spent watching Gerard Way's solo career and Frank Iero's various new projects from the crowd had lit the spark. "I got to watch my brother do his thing, and I got to watch Frank do his thing, and they're fuckin' legends. It was fuckin' awesome!" The time felt right. Linking up once more in upstate New York come late 2014, they finally finished a story that had started back at the turn of the millennium.

For The Night To Control is a world away from Mikey's past endeavors. Sprawling synths draw on those gloomy, new wave influences like never before, and the bark of My Chemical Romance has been replaced with a more glistening bite. It's a whole different side to the goth kid's coin—a full-stop on a dark chapter of his life. Mikey is quick to downplay any suggestion that he might regret those years at the top, though, and keen to emphasise the importance of MCR's golden years.

"What we had done was once in a lifetime, and I'm thankful for it. That's why I look back and I'm not frustrated—I'm like, 'Dude, what we did? That doesn't happen.' Any amount of time that it existed was fine by me. Just to be there, I was thankful, and just to be able to be part of that was a dream. If it lasted five years or 12 years, it's all icing on the cake to me."

These days, Mikey and Dave have swapped prescription drugs for pancakes at a local diner as the precursor to their writing sessions. Mikey's spark has returned, too, due in no small part to a baby daughter, born this past May. The pair enthuse about "two more albums' worth" of demos and recordings they're now sat on, and talk feverishly about their complex plans for an upcoming duo of debut live shows. There's an energy and excitement that couldn't feel further from the gaunt, bass-toting mope Mikey once was known as. "I feel like the glue is set amongst the pieces now," he says, the caricature of his dark days at last a distant memory. "I feel like a complete person."

Photo credit: Jason Debiak.

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