x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A return to the stage for Pete Wentz

Pete Wentz talks about his new band, and his new role as a father.

Pete Wentz from US band Black Cards will perform at Dubai’s dxb Beach Festival.
Pete Wentz from US band Black Cards will perform at Dubai’s dxb Beach Festival.

He may have once appeared bare-chested on the cover of Rolling Stone, but these days you're more likely to see Pete Wentz in the pages of People magazine than the music press. The Fall Out Boy bassplayer's highly publicised divorce from the pop star Ashlee Simpson is usually the focus of the attention, as well as speculation over custody of their two-year-old son.

With his dark, side-swept hair and "guyliner", the Chicago-born Los Angeles resident is so often the subject of tabloid gossip that his publicist instructs journalists not to ask him "any personal questions" during interviews. Whether this is sensitivity about his marriage, or the bouts of depression that led to a suicide attempt in 2005, isn't made clear.

In a 2009 interview with the rock magazine Kerrang!, the musician said he felt that "the world needs a little less Pete Wentz". But two years after the multiplatinum-selling Fall Out Boy went on hiatus, Wentz, 32, wants to prove he has more to offer than simply being the token emo kid in a world of pampered celebrities. With his new band, Black Cards, he will play Dubai's dXb Beach Festival on Friday.

As well as the negative publicity his personal life has attracted, awards show regulars Fall Out Boy suffered more than their share of criticism. Despite being loved by millions of teenagers for songs such as Sugar, We're Goin Down and This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race- the band received the same scorn that punk purists typically level at successful bands within the genre. Wentz tells me that he now regrets some of the group's attention-seeking displays.

"We went to an awards show with a monkey and dressed like we were Sherlock Holmes. That's all rather embarrassing to me now, but at the time I thought that we were being the counter-culture that was showing up at the awards show."

Two years after putting the group on ice, he claims to have a new outlook: "Where am I at the moment in my life? I am able to be the ostrich that pulls its head out of the hole and looks around. I can be myself as an artist."

That means introducing the world to Black Cards. Fronted by the female vocalist Bebe Rexha, the group's music is a curious mix of vintage Americana, early French pop and Jamaican rhythms - and it works better than one might expect. With only a few songs posted online, Wentz is putting the finishing touches to the group's debut, which he describes as sounding like a "strange cousin" to pop music.

But how will fans of the high-energy punk group for which Wentz is best known respond to such a dramatic change of direction?

"I think a lot of fans expect something similar to Fall Out Boy, and the truth is it's going to be vastly different - more escapist and fun. People should expect there to be something like an American house party on stage."

Outside of music, he continues to run the New York City-based Decaydance Records, home to Panic! At the Disco, Gym Class Heroes and others. In 2007, Wentz and some of his famous buddies opened the club Angels & Kings in New York - a chic take on the shabby rock club; framed mugshots of Johnny Cash and Jimi Hendrix adorn the walls. Three more have since opened in Chicago, Los Angeles and Barcelona. He brings a similar aesthetic to his fashion range, Clandestine Industries, aimed at giving hoodie and jeans-wearing punks a sharper alternative to their usual attire. How he also found the time to write a children's story, create a comic book and appear in episodes of CSI and One Tree Hill is anyone's guess.

"It scares me sometimes, watching him," Fall Out Boy's singer Patrick Stump once told The Independent. "The two seconds you're not with that dude he's made 30 decisions that are going to affect us for the rest of the year."

But like many high-functioning creative people, Wentz suffers from bipolar disorder. At 18, he began taking medication to calm his unpredictable state of mind and claims to have begun therapy at just six. In 2005, as Fall Out Boy's popularity was skyrocketing, he attempted suicide by taking an overdose of anxiety medication. However, the musician is keen to downplay his affliction.

"I mean, I think that everyone feels bummed-out sometimes and everyone feels really happy sometimes. More than the average person? Maybe. I don't know. I think that it's never inhibited my successes or what I wanted to do in my life."

Although the past four years have seen him marry and enter a divorce, he claims now to be stronger than ever mentally - something he credits to the birth of his son, Bronx Mowgli Wentz.

"The past two years have been absolutely amazing. My son is the ultimate exception. He is the reason to get up and be happy and face the day," he says, before his publicist orders me to end the line of questioning.

In fatherhood, Wentz may have achieved the contentment he was always looking for, but with a high-profile divorce still ongoing, his hope that stepping away from Fall Out Boy would lessen the media attention on him hasn't quite gone according to plan. Maybe that's why he's returning to music.

Doors to the dXb Beach Festival, which offers three stages and 27 artists including LFMAO and DJs such as Hernan Cattaneo and Nick Warren, open at 2pm at Nasimi Beach, Palm Jumeirah. Tickets are Dh350 to Dh950. For more information, call 04 427 8166.