When it comes to 2000s rock bands, few made a lasting impact as strong as My Chemical Romance, especially with their 2006 album The Black Parade! Singer Gerard Way, guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro, bassist Mikey Way, and drummer Bob Bryar brought listeners on a whirlwind journey exploring life, death, and the moments that define someone’s memories. In a time when bands like Fall Out Boy and Green Day focused on drawing from personal experiences, MCR wanted to transport fans to a different world, which let them stand apart while still being regarded as alt-rock legends like their peers.
In honor of the album’s 15th anniversary, Gerard Way talked to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1 about the creative process, musical influences, and the lasting impact that The Black Parade and My Chemical Romance have had on fans.
My biggest takeaway is that my perspective of that album really amazing thing to see is the longer the album was out, it kind of just gained more and more importance. I noticed over the years, people start looking back at that period in music and that era, and Black Parade always comes up as one of the records of that era. But that’s been the crazy thing to see. Just even the world that’s in the record, seeing that emerge through people’s art, through people’s writing, and there’s this entire universe. It’s been amazing to see that album regarded the way it is today.Gerard Way to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1
Let’s take a look at the iconic The Black Parade album and see what Gerard shared about it during the interview!
The Album’s Context
The Black Parade came after MCR’s breakout record Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, which landed the band a slot on Warped Tour and worldwide concerts shortly after its release in 2004. With high stakes and a bigger fanbase than ever, the group had to balance their own vision with making a follow-up their MCRmy would adore.
When the band started, I kind of came up with a plan, and I feel like I had a pretty good idea of the direction I thought we would be going in. This was literally when the band started and I kind of would write down what I thought was a direction. I knew what I wanted the first record to sound like. Basically, the idea was to keep progressing more and more as the album kept going. But I feel like this really big kind of bombastic theatricality in the music as well, started to emerge sometime after Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. […] We had wanted to make kind of an important record about death. There wasn’t a lot of bands or music, at least in mainstream or popular cultures, that were kind of talking about these things.Gerard Way to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1
The album is framed as a musical of sorts, following a character called The Patient after a late-stage cancer diagnosis threatens his life and the relationships he holds most closely to his heart. Throughout the tracklist, the songs explore his thoughts and fears about dying, as well as reflecting on his memories with loved ones.
To get in touch with the haunting feelings they wanted to capture, MCR recorded the album at the Paramour Mansion in Los Angeles, California. The house is allegedly haunted, and the band had eerie experiences like night terrors and depressive episodes that even led Mikey to leave the group at one point.
‘The End.’ and ‘Dead!’
The album opens with the one-two punch of the melancholy ‘The End.’ and the explosive ‘Dead!,’ which invite the listener into The Patient’s world from the second he starts having health issues. Right after ‘The End.’ finishes, ‘Dead!’ picks up from the moment he dies with jarring energy that contrasts the acoustic-driven instrumental on ‘The End.’
‘Dead!’ also has a nod to the band’s 2004 song ‘Cemetery Drive’ – both songs have the lyric “Did you get what you deserve?” but on ‘Dead!’ it feels much more in-your-face. It shows off the band’s growth as they step into the next phase of their career!
My Chemical Romance has a lot of inspiration and one of the inspirations for me is David Bowie. My favorite Bowie song is off Ziggy and it’s ‘Five Years.’ I wanted to start the record with that kind of energy, but I wanted it to convey right away in the very first song how over the top this experience is going to be. That kind of went so big and bombastic and dramatic and just kind of everything happening right at once.Gerard Way to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1
‘This Is How I Disappear’
‘This Is How I Disappear’ seems to be about The Patient’s love life, describing his devotion to his wife who appears again later on the album. In 2005, Gerard told Rolling Stone that the song was inspired by the seances that Harry Houdini’s wife would hold to try to reach him after his death. Houdini has been a big inspiration for the band’s visuals – the cover of their debut album, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, included a painting of Houdini hanging upside-down in a straitjacket.
‘The Sharpest Lives’
The high-octane ‘The Sharpest Lives’ describes different vices of the party life, partly inspired by Gerard Way’s battle with addiction and mental health issues in the band’s early days. Like “vampires,” The Patient and his friends roamed around in the night, which led to their downfalls and stressful life experiences. The track has darkly romantic pop culture references like Romeo and Juliet, in true MCR fashion.
‘Welcome to the Black Parade’
The record’s defining single, and perhaps the defining track of My Chemical Romance’s career, ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ is a thesis statement for the album and the band themselves. With rallying cries of ‘the world will never take my heart,’ ‘you’ll never break me,’ and ‘I’m unashamed, I’m gonna show my scar,’ the song is an ode to individuality and perseverance.
Ray Toro told Seymour Duncan in 2007 that they started writing the song in the early days of becoming a band before releasing their debut album in 2002. It was originally called ‘The Five of Us Are Dying’ and had a darker, slightly empty tone, but the final version of ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ takes it to a whole new level.
I had felt that we needed that one song on the record, that touchstone that kind of introduces your concept, and then the lyrics and the themes of that song kind of embody the themes of the whole record. We just kind of had this punk song that was really cool and we liked it, but nothing was about the song was speaking to me. It didn’t feel like it was going to be on the album because all the other songs had really strong themes and titles and things like that.But we didn’t want to just give up on the song. Then I started to bring the concept into the musical side of things where I was like, ‘I want to call this Black Parade. I want there to be a parade on the record.’ Then we started to kind of… breaking the song and then reconstructing it.Gerard Way to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1
MCR eventually did release a draft of ‘The Five of Us Are Dying’ on their The Black Parade/Living With Ghosts album, which they released on The Black Parade’s tenth anniversary. Some of the lyrics stayed the same, but moments like the high-energy chorus and triumphant bridge are missing the final song’s shine.
‘I Don’t Love You’
The Patient says his final goodbyes to his wife on ‘I Don’t Love You,’ a mid-tempo guitar ballad with some of the prettiest vocals on the album. The Patient wants his wife to fall out of love with him so it won’t hurt her as much when he dies, and it seemingly works – by the outro, Gerard changes the titular lyric to “I don’t love you like I loved you yesterday.”
‘House of Wolves’
The energetic ‘House of Wolves’ sees The Patient pondering whether he’ll go to Heaven or Hell and coming to terms with the times he sinned in his life. It stands apart as one of the moments that most match MCR’s usual storylines and morally grey characters. For example, their 2004 album Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge followed a man who had to kill 1,000 evil souls to be reunited with his lost wife but went to Hell before they could meet again.
The emotive ballad ‘Cancer’ has been a fan-favorite track since The Black Parade came out, thanks to its vulnerability while describing the last days of The Patient’s life. It’s become one of the most famous songs from the album, with twenty one pilots’ cover collecting over 132 million streams on Spotify! ‘Cancer’ is a My Chemical Romance staple that has haunted fans for fifteen years.
One of the most memorable moments on the album, ‘Mama’ introduces a character called Mother War. Fans believe she’s The Patient’s mother, with who he had a strained relationship after joining the military. The song describes their miscommunication and struggles, and a guest verse from Broadway legend Liza Minnelli shows off the mom’s regret that she didn’t get to repair their relationship before he died.
To really bring the family aspect to life, the outro of the song has vocals from Frank Iero’s mom, as well as Gerard and Mikey Way’s parents.
I kind of always felt, because some features got brought up and stuff, but I had always wanted Liza Minnelli. That was it. I potentially just wanted that to be the only feature on the record. It was just an amazing experience. She is the sweetest, coolest person and so talented. We had to record her remotely, actually. We were in LA and she was in a studio in New York with an engineer, and we had to basically do it remotely through the control board. But it was super fun and she just went for it and she was so enthusiastic. Then we got to meet finally when we played New York.Gerard Way to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1
Another unforgettable point on The Black Parade is ‘Sleep,’ which is inspired by the nightmares that My Chemical Romance had while recording the album at the Paramour Mansion. It has voice memos that Gerard recorded while staying in the mansion, describing the night terrors he experienced.
In The Patient’s story, ‘Sleep’ seems to address the regrets he faced throughout his life and “the monsters that [he’s] been.” The second verse nods to Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge with the lyric “three cheers for tyranny,” reflecting on The Patient’s mistreatment of those around him.
It’s my favorite alongside ‘Mama’ to play from the album. [It just has a] completely nuclear guitar sound. It’s just complete brutal… wall of brutality, rather. I like the subject and it’s a really just great one to play live. You could really lose yourself in it and feel it. ‘Sleep’ and ‘Mama’ tend to be… the two of them are my favorites.Gerard Way to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1
One of the album’s biggest hits, ‘Teenagers,’ is a commentary on how authority members treat teenagers, making fun of young people’s violent reputation. The video creates what can best be described as a punk pep rally as a nod to Pink Floyd’s movie The Wall. ‘Teenagers’ got more exposure in the 2010s thanks to covers by artists like The Vamps, who introduced the song and MCR to a younger generation!
‘Disenchanted’ might just be the prettiest track on The Black Parade, blending a more mellow acoustic guitar with a frustrated chorus. It describes life’s ups and downs, especially as The Patient nears his dying day, so the contrast between the verses and chorus makes the back-and-forth nature more apparent. It shows off the duality that My Chemical Romance has while still fitting in with the album’s other songs!
‘Famous Last Words’
One of the most personal songs on the album, ‘Famous Last Words’ was inspired by the band’s experiences at the Paramour Mansion, particularly what Mikey went through before deciding to leave the band. It showcases the fear My Chemical Romance felt during the production process and explores Gerard’s feelings about the idea of his brother giving up on their musical dreams.
When we were at the Paramour in pre-production basically still writing, things, they got kind of dark. I know that Mikey struggled with some mental issues. The place, we liked it, but it had this weird energy that it was kind of haunted. Things would occasionally kind of get kind of dark. One night I’m up really late because sometimes we would work well into the morning. And [I was] just with Ray and I think he was kind of playing something and basically this song started to kind of take shape, or at least emerge, and then we all started playing it together.Gerard Way to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1
The song returns to the heavy rock sound that MCR explored earlier on The Black Parade with tracks like ‘This Is How I Disappear’ and ‘Sleep.’ Gerard told Apple Music 1 that they drew inspiration from rock legend Judas Priest for this track:
I think one of the things I like so much about this song is I like the verses a lot because even in the studio, I remember thinking that I wanted those verses to feel very Judas Priest. I kind of wanted this old-school, driving metal sound, like almost early days of metal sound. Just to have that kind of swagger that Judas Priest has. But it was written at a dark time, and I think that’s why there’s so much emotion in that song.Gerard Way to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1
The cabaret-esque ‘Blood’ was a hidden track on physical copies of The Black Parade, starting around a minute after ‘Famous Last Words’ ended. The song describes The Patient’s experiences in the hospital, calling him a “celebrated man amongst the gurneys,” but it’s also a metaphor for how in-demand and pressured MCR felt in the music industry.
The music video picks up where the ‘Teenagers’ video left off, following MCR as they try to unwind in a locker room. Cheerleaders try to get their attention, but they refuse to talk to them, showcasing how they want to focus on music and their bond as a group instead of trying to pander to what others want.
We’ll Carry On…
There’s a reason that fans often say The Black Parade is My Chemical Romance’s best album. Its intricate storyline, powerful energies, and descriptive lyrics make it an unforgettable staple of the 2000s rock scene. It’s gone on to inspire newer artists like New Years Day, Sleeping With Sirens, and even Post Malone!
The Black Parade pushed MCR in a new direction of fame and more acclaim while letting them stay true to their sound and focus on stories. It highlights what the band does best: creating an immersive universe of lyrics and storytelling while also drawing from feelings that are very real and present in our world.
At times it really did feel like a display of organs that you kind of reach deep and you just kind of pull out all your organs. And you just lay them on a table for everybody to look at them and stare at them. And it’s exciting that people are discovering it again. Then, what would be the message? I mean, more than anything, just stay alive, live your life, be kind, don’t be so hard on yourself.Gerard Way to Travis Mills on Apple Music 1
What’s your favorite song from The Black Parade? Let us know in the comments below or join our parade on Twitter @TheHoneyPOP! You can listen to Gerard Way’s conversation with Travis Mills on Apple Music now.
Featured Image Source: Chris Anthony