Gerard Way and Geoff Rickly, the former faces of My Chemical Romance and Thursday, have a lot in common. They both grew up in New Jersey. They both came to fame through fronting game changing bands that came up in the early noughties. And they both broke away from those bands to pursue new avenues; Way now performs under his own name and is taking his career as a comic book artist to the next level (he made his Marvel Comics debut last year with "Edge of Spider-Verse #5" last year), while Rickly is balancing his time between his current bands United Nations and No Devotion.
Last week, the pair toured the UK together with their new projects, with No Devotion supporting Gerard Way and The Hormones. The history between the pair is loaded with significance, but just to give an idea of how significant it is to other people: on the night of their London show a line of fans began to snake down the side of Brixton Academy hours before doors. Some of them actually arrived the day before and camped out overnight (on what is practically a main road, in Brixton, in near-zero degree temperatures) just to guarantee a spot at the front. Ergo, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that some people value their music so much that they would risk actual death just to be closer to it.
Luckily for me, I got to sit down with Gerard and Geoff (without risking much death) to discuss growing up, blowing up, and moving on from the monumental projects that launched their musical careers.
Noisey: Hi Gerard, hi Geoff. You two go way back, to the point that Geoff, you produced the first My Chemical Romance record. How and when did you first meet?
Gerard: I remember it super vividly. Do you remember? I was walking out of the record shop that Alex [Saavedra, Eyeball Records] worked at on Kearny Avenue and you were standing against a wall wearing a black t-shirt. You were rail skinny and you looked like you were dying and you were so pale with this jet black hair -
Geoff: My vegan lifestyle was not agreeing with me.
Gerard: It looked like the sun was killing him. [long pause] And I thought he was super cool.
Geoff: It’s funny because I remember meeting Gerard’s brother Mikey a bunch first, and Mikey was sort of the social butterfly at the time.
Yeah, there’s this quote where Geoff, you’re talking about always asking Mikey if Gerard was still “sitting at home in his underwear eating cereal and drawing comics.”
Gerard: Right! That’s what I would do. I actually wasn't social at all. I was just hanging out in the fucking dark making comics. I grew up without sunlight. We lived in a basement and there was this little sliver of sunlight that would wake me up, like just a crack, and I would reach to it sometimes [laughs]. Oh man.
Geoff: I remember knowing that Gerard did comics and I was a total undercover comic book nerd so I would always be asking Mikey “When’s your brother gonna come hang out?” And he would just be like, “Give it up, man, it’s not happening.” But when he finally came to hang out and I was about to ask him about comics and he was like, "Hey, I got a band."
Gerard: There wasn’t actually a band, just a name. But I played Geoff “Vampires Will Never Hurt You”, our first song. It was a mess. I remember sitting in the Eyeball House, and we were near the stairway, and everybody was drinking and I’m doing these really strange fingerings on the guitar trying to get it to sound the way it did. It probably sounded horrible.
Geoff: It did sound horrible. And I was like -
“I want to produce your record”?
Geoff: [laughs] No, I was not like that yet at all. But Alex said come to practice, so I did and I was like, “Your drummer is fucking terrible.” I’m obsessive about drummers, it’s my thing. And Alex says yeah but what did you think of the songs? And I was like, I don’t know, I didn’t hear any songs, I heard the drummer missing those 1s. But in the meantime I was taking what I knew about Gerard, taking the song I’d heard, and imagining what could be. By the time I got home I was like yeah, I’m in.
What do you remember about making the first MRC album I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love?
Geoff: I remember we got to the studio and this kid [gestures to Gerard] was a fucking mess.
Gerard: I guess I had an abscess in my tooth or something, but we didn’t know what was going on at the time. I just thought I had some crazy skull thing happening, like, I didn’t know if I was going to die. Over the entire process of making that record I was constantly in pain.
Geoff: Somebody had given him a bottle of Vicodin, I don’t know if it was a doctor or not, but he was singing a little lazy when he wasn't in pain. So I took the Vicodin away from him and started eating them while I was making the record. So he was in pain like “Agh, my tooth!” and I’m like “It’s gonna be fine. You sound… You sound great.”
Gerard: Pills really were a thing back then. I mean they’re a thing now, but I remember them being the thing that was always being passed around. It felt like everybody was always trying to figure out how to get Vicodin.
Geoff: It did feel like that, mostly because that’s what I was trying to do all the time. Vicodin just seemed so much safer because they came in a bottle with your mum’s name on them, you know? So it must be okay.
Despite all the Vicodin, did you feel like you were learning from each other?
Gerard: I learned a lot from Geoff. He was such a commanding presence on stage, too. There was real dynamic when Thursday played, and it was all about dynamic. I was nowhere near as cool as that. I mean, Thursday are still my favourite live band of all time. Hands down. And I guess I learned how I was different too, from watching them.
Geoff: Definitely. From Bullets and leading up to Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, I remember seeing these different stages of Gerard. Like, there was 'drunken wild man Gerard', and then you started throwing some sass around, and then we didn’t play together for a long time. Then we came over to England for The Black Parade tour, and enough time had passed where all of a sudden I saw him fully formed as a frontman. I was really taken aback. He was so commanding and such a charismatic figure.
So Thursday and My Chemical Romance came up sort of around the same time and there was always this impression that you guys and Taking Back Sunday were part of one big scene and there was almost a brotherhood to it. Was that what it was actually like?
Gerard: It absolutely was, but it took a while to get there. It was like everyone was in different gangs. We were friends with Thursday but that was it.
Geoff: Yeah, for a little bit it was like Taking Back Sunday? Really? You tryna' ride on our shit? What’s going on here? But then it all changed.
Gerard: I remember all that. Even the mic swinging thing - like one day, Geoff just started swinging his mic and then everybody started doing it. It was ridiculous. I heard stories of Geoff walking into a show and first song in the dude would swing his mic and Geoff would walk out. Everyone was a pioneer trying to put all this shit out, so if somebody stole your shit - even black nail polish - you’d get fucking pissed off.
Geoff: It was like, two years from now when everyone knows this is my shit, go ahead and take it because everyone will know it’s mine, but not when we’re all so new that anybody could think that you did it first [laughs].
Gerard: That’s exactly what the vibe was, and out of that a brotherhood really did grow. We’d run into these guys at a show - like, another band’s show, which is how you’d always meet each other - and think actually, they’re pretty cool. I remember that benefit show where the line-up was Saves The Day, Taking Back Sunday and Thursday, and you could feel everything starting to gel. It was amazing.
What are your favourite pieces of work by each other?
Geoff: The Black Parade is probably some of my favourite stuff that My Chem ever did. I remember being over here with you guys on tour and seeing on the high street that all the shops were selling The Black Parade outfits and I just didn’t know until then that it was affecting culture on every level.
Gerard: My ultimate Thursday story is seeing them play the Loop Lounge. Tucker had just gotten this orange drum kit and they were way too big to be playing this place. They could go to any hall and there would be hundreds of kids turned away, it would be like a mob scene on the street of kids who couldn’t get in. So to be able to see them at this bar, in a very intimate setting, that was it for me. When people talk about moments where a band changed their life? That was mine. I didn’t have a band then, I was just drawing shirts, but I was like: “This is it. I have to do this.”
What was it about Thursday you loved so much as a then-aspiring musician?
Gerard: Thursday started as a very emotional band and became a very interesting band, and that was one of my favourite things about their evolution. But for nostalgic reasons, it was always about “Cross Out The Eyes”. If people want to talk about “emo”, that is the song. That is emotional hardcore. They were playing that video on MTV when they weren’t playing anybody else. It was fucking nu-metal and “Cross Out The Eyes”. There’s this quote from a conversation between Brian Eno talking about David Bowie, and he said that after Ziggy, it felt like what Bowie was trying to do was escape the momentum of a successful career. And I always felt that about Thursday. When that moment of MTV-ness happened, it was almost like they didn’t want it.
Geoff: We never knew what we wanted. We fought so fucking much. That’s the one thing I can’t believe now that I’m in another band it’s like, it’s weird to not fight, right? For War All The Time, which is one of the bigger records that we did, we went to Australia for the first time and we were playing these massive shows and we got into a plane crash when we were landing. And it was such a weird experience. I’d had 7 days off that year, I’d just almost died, and the first thing that the label rep said to me was, “Too bad you didn’t die, you’d be huge!” That really was what some people thought, that I wasn’t even a human being. That was a huge turning point in our career where we were like, no more of this.
Was it difficult for either of you trying to break away from these massive bands that most people would say define you as musicians?
Geoff: I think that’d be hard for anybody. That’s kind of the fun of it too, but like you said, it defines us, you know? People know Gerard Way because of My Chem and people will call me "Geoff Thursday" forever.
Gerard: I think a lot about My Chemical Romance was me having to learn how to accept things. Just to be like you know what yeah, I did that, and The Black Parade was rad. Since it’s demise, I’ve learned to become very proud of it. So now I get up there and there’s this sense between me and the audience that I’m proud of it and that’s cool and we’re all here in an understanding that I don’t do that anymore.
Geoff: Right, so you’re not being like, “I’m past that.”
Gerard: Yeah. Even the decision to not play My Chem songs was very calculated. It didn’t feel right. One day maybe I could play one or two, who knows.
I think the common thread between you is that you’re both polymaths. You each have your fingers in all these pies - comics, art, songwriting, performance - and you don’t limit yourselves to one thing. Is there anything either of you would like to do but haven’t had a chance to get around to doing yet?
Gerard: I’ve thought of maybe writing a book. I think the comics and the writing are a way for me to, in a certain way, not make it about me. They don’t feel like they’re about me. They allow for me to be a different person.
Geoff: The Umbrella Academy [a comic book series created and written by Way] got me back into comics. They thrilled me so much but it wasn’t like My Chem at all. I have friends that are much older that are fucking crazy about Gerard’s comics. They think My Chem’s for kids but like holy shit he’s the best writer. And I think that’s a testament to his art.
And Geoff, you had Ricky Eat Acid remix a No Devotion track and that’s really leftfield experimental stuff, so is that something you’d like to pursue more?
Geoff: Oh my god I love that stuff so much. You know, it’s one of those things where now that I’m doing a record label as a full time job when I’m home, one of the things that I’ve started to learn is that I have certain strengths and I can do those, and then I’ll nurture people who do things that I love and I can be proud of them as if they were mine. All the successes that Gerard had? I was proud of those as if they were mine because I helped in the beginning and I always fostered that love. And with the Ricky Eat Acid stuff it’s like, I still get to do that, but it doesn’t need to be about me, and that’s where I’m going with things now. I know what my strengths are, I know what my voice is, it’s gotta come from the heart.