Analogue Music | Patrick Stump

Patrick Stump

By Matt Conner

Fall Out Boy has taken him around the globe, but Patrick Stump feels most at home as a composer.

When he's not touring with his internationally known rock band, you'll find the vocalist and rhythm guitarist for FOB working away on film and television scores—the sort of hard work he actually refers to as a "vacation."

That might sounds a bit odd at first, but after hearing Stump explain his mindset and his process, things make a bit more sense. Composing for films, such as his latest endeavor, the feature film Spell, allow him to instinctually respond to the work of someone else. He can pour himself into the work, but he doesn't carry it with him night after night like the songs of Fall Out Boy. He can come and go. He's not shouldering the load. He's highlighting the visual work of others.

These days, Stump is finding more and more work as a composer which certainly competes for his creative time with the band, but Stump doesn't seem to mind. Whether working on animated flicks like Gnome Alone or more serious fare like the newly-released Spell, Stump is more than happy to meet the creative demands placed in front of him, especially when it feels so rewarding at the same time.

Analogue: When you get a chance to score a film like Spell, how much are you nervous and how much do you relish the challenge?

Patrick Stump: With scoring, it's something I'm actually really comfortable doing and I noticed that right away. With the band, when we get up on stage, it takes something. It takes some doing from me. I have to get in the headspace and it's stressful for me. It's the same thing with interviews, like when I have to be on a morning radio show or something, I get really terrified. It's really stressful for me to have to be on and all these other things.

"It's like being an architect. You care about it and you put yourself into every inch of what you build. But at the end of the day, you do not live in that house, so you have to make something that the people who live there want to live in."

Scoring is a place where I feel so comfortable and pleased. It's almost like vacation, really. It's fun and relaxing. There's a certain kind of passive nature to it where I'm actually working a lot and I'm investing everything in it but in a weird way, it's like I'm discovering it while I'm watching it. I'm discovering what the score is going to be. I'm waiting to see it on screen and then it speaks to me in a certain way. I see it and then it's clear to me what needs to happen. It's almost like I'm not really thinking about it.

So if anything, it was really freeing to get to do it, especially too because this was my third feature score. I was very lucky that all of them were totally different. Basically in all three cases, they needed a composer and they didn't have time to worry about whether or not I knew what I was doing. [Laughs] They didn't have really strict parameters of what they wanted from me, so I was able to do three really diametrically opposed scores in a row.

So I did Gnome Alone, which was an animated kids film. Then I went from that to Changeland which was a dramedy set in Thailand. It was a much lighter score very much influenced by Thai music. Then I went straight into Spell, which is mysterious and ominous and foreboding but it's also not a horror score. There's just this icky feeling throughout, which is great. So straight out of the gate, I got to do these three wildly different scores.

Analogue: Have there been other projects that allow you so instinctually respond in this way or is that new to you?

Patrick: Well, the big one is the way that the band itself ended up. Pete writes the lyrics and I write the music and it really is kind of a discovery for me. There's an implicit way that words speak to you, so when I read the words off the page—and they're just words with no rhyme scheme attached to them or a rhythm attached—I'm discovering things. As I'm reading, I'm feeling a rhythm, I'm hearing chord changes influenced by the words or subtle differences that I don't perceive happening except by reading it. I read something out loud and start to see what the song is going to look like.

So I think this is something I do a lot, really. It's funny because I put out lots and lots of music but I don't really feel like I'm an idea guy. I mean, I know I have a lot of ideas, but I feel like I'm often passive where I feel surprised by some of the stuff that I write because it's usually serving some purpose. It's serving a story if I'm working on a film. In the band, I'm serving Pete's narrative or Pete's lyrics, you know? So it feels like I'm on the journey with everybody. It's really neat because of that. In film, I get to be surprised always.

'Spell' soundtrack cover
'Spell' soundtrack cover

Analogue: That's great that you feel that way within the band, but what you create there also stays with you. You have to sing those songs every night. What's it like to work on something that you can seemingly detach yourself from? Or would you say it that way?

Patrick: Oh my gosh, that's exactly it. I try to describe that to people and they don't always get it. You know, being a recording artist separate from scoring, a lot of times that's the fear that directors have to work with you. They think artists are really precious about what they come up with. There's this idea that if you're a singer that you're going to be like, 'My art is my child.' That kind of thing. Whereas when you work on a film, you can't do that. You're beholden to the story.

At the end of the day, if the story warrants that you should have a passage that calls upon Spaghetti Westerns or something and you don't personally like that, it doesn't matter. Your taste doesn't really matter. The story needs it and you have to find a way to do it.

Whereas if you're going to go and sing a song every night for a three-month tour or, God forbid, a year-long world tour or something, that song really has to mean something to you specifically. It's really cool and freeing, I feel. It's like being an architect. You care about it and you put yourself into every inch of what you build. But at the end of the day, you do not live in that house, so you have to make something that the people who live there want to live in. [Laughs]

Analogue: How do you balance your musical ideas and what you want to see when you're working in concert with a writer and director and others. You could be heavy-handed in places where the director wants emotional restraint? What was that dance like for you in this film?

Patrick: This film was actually pretty smooth. Brendan [Walter, director] is a musician. It was weird because he trusted me a lot, but his notes were also very specific and very brief. There was only one cue in the entire film that we did multiple versions of. For the rest of it, it was adjustments where he'd say, 'I'd like this to be a little bit quieter here.' But there was only one or two cues in the entire film where he felt it wasn't working. Sometimes he would even hum things over the phone. It's not like I used those, but he had musical references that I could utilize.

There are a lot of other directors who don't know music. I'm surprised at how often that is the case, because I just assume that art is art. Everybody probably knows a little bit, but a lot of directors don't know about music. Then again, I know nothing about photography, so there's that.

So in this case, I was free to do what I wanted. Initially they had this idea to use four or five pieces and have them recur through the entire film. I said, 'I like that, but if possible, I would rather use them as motifs than strictly reusing pieces of music, y'know? In that sense, I used that template they had initially and then stretched it out and mutated it. By the time you see the film, there are a lot of references to these strong motifs that occur, but I was allowed to play around with them. I bent them and messed them up a lot.

Analogue: Have you ever been completely baffled as to what to do in this world of composing?

Patrick: Not on this film, but yes I absolutely have. This film was actually wonderfully easy to understand. Like I said, Brendan has such a great shorthand for describing what he wants. There's also an art to hearing what someone is asking for. But there was a film once with a cue with one moment in the temp that didn't make sense to me. It didn't make any sense. It was very impenetrable. What was happening on screen didn't seem to match what was in the temp. I asked the editor and they said, 'No, that was the director.' I kept asking the director and I can't remember his wording but it was so confusing. I wrote like 10 different pieces for this one shot that was a very brief thing and, in the end, he didn't use anything. He went with silence in that last part. But it was very funny. It was, like I said, totally impenetrable.

It's all about hearing through their words. I heard someone once say, 'I want something heavy and aggressive like a Linkin Park song. Well, just whatever Thom Yorke would do.' I was like, 'What?' [Laughs] You're like, "Uh, I don't know that those things work together," but oh well. You have to learn what they are trying to say.

Analogue: What else is coming up for you, creatively speaking?

Patrick: It's weird. More than with being in a band, when you're working with film, it's hard to talk about it ahead of time, because you really don't know until the thing is out that you're working on it. So I won't name anything but I'm currently working on a TV show and two comedies. We'll see how those come out.

*Photo Credit: Marcus Maschwitz