Gerard Way: “Make What You Want to See”

by Keith Valcourt
Photos: Audrey Valcourt

It was the worst kept secret in recent rock and roll history. My Chemical Romance are reuniting after 6 years apart. 

Everyone knew it was in the works. Including a Jonas Brother who posted about it on social media after seeing MCR rehearsing in a neighboring studio. But the band denied it. Until a Halloween post said the band will play a “Return” show December 20th at The Shrine Auditorium on December 20th. Just eighteen days before that I sat down with lead singer Gerard Way backstage at L.A. Comic Con for this exclusive one on one. 

As I was led through the cavernous convention center, I was reminded again that I would be the only reporter to sit down with Gerard. In exchange for that, I was told not to ask the question Way had been asked in every interview for the past half a decade, “When is My Chemical Romance getting back together?” 

Okay. Rules were rules. We would discuss everything going on his world. Well, almost everything.   

But first… Some history.

I first met Gerard Way in early 2004 in a Los Angeles graveyard during a photo shoot for a nefarious men’s magazine. I was the comedy editor, and my co-worker in charge of music didn’t have a car. And he offered to buy lunch. Free lunch meant a lot back then.   

I, like most of the mass public, had yet to discover My Chemical Romance. Sure, they had quietly sold 100,000 copies of their independently released debut, “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love,” but back then 100,000 record sales meant nothing compared to what big artists of the time were doing. A quick listen to that tape, (yes, a cassette) convinced me to spend the day with the band and deceased Hollywood stars.

When the five members of MCR arrived at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village, most of them seemed unhappy or at the very least confused as to why they were being brought to a cemetery. It was only Gerard and guitarist Frank Iero who made it a point to introduce themselves and express interest in the surroundings. As I guided Way and Iero to the final resting places of the rich and famous, speaking in hushed tones so as to not wake the dead, Gerard asked, “Is that Marilyn Monroe?”  “Yes,” I replied, “and Dean Martin is over there.” “Wow!  Really?” said Way.

My impression of Gerard Way then was that he was wide-eyed, quiet, humble and genuinely into what was happening in the moment. 

When I reconnected with Gerard recently backstage at the 2019 Los Angeles Comic Con, he was… Well, basically the same guy. I reminded him of our previous meet up, and his reaction was eerily exact to the first time, “Wow! Really?” He appeared calm, wide-eyed and humble. Almost as if the past decade and a half had not happened. But it did happen in the biggest way possible.

Months after our 2004 hang, My Chemical Romance released their major label album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. It went on to sell just under 3 and a half million records and skyrocketed the band into the collective consciousness of Hot Topic loyalists everywhere. Their next album, The Black Parade, became an iconic touchstone for a generation. Packed with goth-tinged anthems, it sold 4 million copies. The band rightfully ascended to the top spot as the true kings of emo.

What followed were all the rock and roll clichés. Excess. Addiction. Destruction. The band’s fourth (and final) studio release, Danger Days: The True Life of The Fabulous Killjoys, came out in 2010 but failed to match the performance of previous MCR releases, only selling 600,000 copies. A fifth album never materialized, and My Chemical Romance broke up in 2013. Way released a solo album, Hesitant Alien, in 2014.

Gerard balanced his love of creating music and comic books the entire time with his creation of several series, including The Umbrella Academy, which was recently made into a live action Netflix series. Impressive. Yet to look at Gerard Way in 2019, one would never assume the man before me was anyone more than someone’s dad and neighbor. Here we were again. Face to face. Speaking in hushed tones. Full circle. Minus the dead celebrities.  And the free lunch. 

Al Chem: What does it mean to you, as a person who lives in L.A., to have this kind of comic con in L.A.?

Gerard Way:  First of all, I think it’s awesome. I think that it’s great that it’s a mom and pop situation and that L.A. has its own. I think it’s really amazing. There are so many amazing people here dressed up. It just looks like a lot of fun. 

When you see how your work has affected people, how do you deal with that?

It’s just very nice, and I am very grateful for them. I’m very thankful that I get to wake up every day and figure out what I want to make that day. And that people will at least check it out. And luckily appreciate it. Hopefully. If they like it. It’s just like a real gift. So, I’m very lucky.

Is it scary to meet the fans?

No. It’s not scary to meet them at all. They’re very sweet and wonderful people. The common thread I found about all of them is that they’re very creative people. 

Are you happy with the way The Umbrella Academy Netflix series came out?

Yes, absolutely. I was able to kind of disconnect from it a little bit and realize that this is the comic, and this is the show, and they’re going to be very different things. So, I was really happy with the end result.

Can we expect more Umbrella Academy?

Yeah, they’re shooting the second season right now.

Are you planning on creating any more Umbrella Academy comics?

I just started series four. Volume four, I guess. We started calling them volumes now because the TV show is a series.  

The question everyone asks – do you have plans to release new music either as a solo act or with MCR?

(Long pause) I am always working on music. So… I may start to release singles again. Instead of an album. But… I’m always working on it. I work on it (music) two to three days a week. Then I write the rest of the week. 

Luckily you don’t have to, but if you had to choose one, which would you pick, music or writing?

Aee. It’s tough. Because like… I get to… Music is more of a therapy. But art is… Writing is my real passion. So… At the end of the day I would probably prefer being a writer. Just staying at home. 

So maybe a graphic novel down the line?

Maybe. Possibly.

What do say to young creatives who are inspired and want to do what you do?

What do I say to them? I always say make the thing that you want to see. If you see that there is something missing out there that you would love to read or listen to, then just make the thing that you would love to see in the world. 

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Keith Valcourt

Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More

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