×

It’s easy to assume that the life of a guitarist in one of the biggest alternative bands is fairly uninhibited. However, for Joe Trohman, co-founder and lead guitarist of Fall Out Boy, that’s not always the case.

“I have, like, severe mental illnesses that do not allow me to see myself as somebody that ‘rocks’,” says Trohman matter-of-factly. The term “rockstar,” he adds, makes him “want to throw up in my mouth.” So titling his book “None of this Rocks” seemed appropriate. “It’s kind of the anti-rock n’ roll memoir,” he surmises.

In the book, Trohman dives headfirst into everything from antisemitism and a suicide attempt to his relationship with his mother, and of course, Fall Out Boy, with a dark sense of humor that makes the heavy moments an easier pill to swallow. “I enjoy seeing things through dark-tinted lenses a little bit,” says Trohman. “There’s no context for happiness without the other side.”

Naturally, when you yourself are the main subject of a project it requires a lot of reflection, which can be challenging even with decades of therapy under your belt. Trohman initially had zero interest in the idea of writing a memoir — “No that’s disgusting; I don’t want to do that at all,” he recalls thinking — and was determined that no one would find it interesting. “I always thought of these types of books as what you do when you’re done with the band or done with the career and you’re ready to just dish out all of the dirt. I didn’t want to do any of that stuff at all.”

Trohman maintained a stance against writing a memoir until his literary agent uttered the kind of motivating phrase kids who grew up on punk and hardcore are accustomed to hearing: “you can’t do it.”

Trohman took the classic rebellious “fuck you” approach and started writing some stories down as if he was journaling; finding a way to write about himself without making it sound like the stereotypical sex, drugs and rock n’ roll chronicles that have come to define “rockstar” autobiographies. As Trohman puts it, “I’m going to mention the band. I’ve been in it since I was a teenager, so it’s a big part of my life, but I found a way to write about it without making it some salacious brag about my bandmates and my band and really more about my life, my stories, and my perspective.”

One of the most difficult topics to explore was his mother, who suffered from mental illness and died from a glioblastoma multiforme, an especially aggressive brain tumor, in 2015. “It’s a really difficult balance to write about her because, on the one hand, she said and did these horrible things to me,” explains Trohman, who despite having a complicated relationship with her, looks back with a new perspective as an adult. “I can see her as a three-dimensional human being. I don’t see it has her fault. She was hindered so horribly by her own mental illness that I don’t blame her, I just don’t absolve her of the deeds so to speak.”

Honesty and authenticity is at the core of “None of this Rocks,” and Trohman would be the first to admit that he’s not gleaming with optimism. “I think ironically that would be so sad if I just see everything as glass half full,” he says. “There’s no fun in that for me.” However, he has a knack for turning negative experiences from his past and flipping them into laughable moments. One such instance is having almost been arrested as a child alongside an antisemitic bully-turned-klepto buddy. As Trohman reflects: “There’s this guy who was taught to hate Jewish people and decided to use this lone Jewish kid in a small town as a way to help him steal things. I was really laughing at the extent I would go in which to please this person that wanted nothing to do with me. I really found that version of me so bewildering and so funny and I feel like I was able to find the humor in that experience.”

Now a father of two, Trohman has his “broken brain” sights set on his children. I don’t want them to experience what I had experienced growing up vis-a-vis a parent that doesn’t take care of themselves,” he says.

It’s easy to forget how young Trohman was when he started touring. It all began when he received “the First Four Years” Black Flag compilation on CD. “I was learning guitar at the time, and somebody taught me these two-finger, like Ramones, barely power chords but enough to get by,” says Trohman. “I was, like, ‘Oh, I can kind of figure out these Black Flag songs; I can kind of play guitar; I think this is what I want to do.’” After listening to grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana on the radio (Cleveland’s WMMS the Buzzard to be exact), Trohman’s taste began to branch out towards bands like the Jesus Lizard and King Missile thanks to “120 Minutes” on MTV. Punk and hardcore soon followed with acts like Quicksand, Refused, Hot Snakes, and of course, Black Flag. “Punk rock was like a guitar gateway for me — it felt very approachable,” says Trohman. Then, at 15, he hit the road with Arma Angelus, Pete Wentz’s band at the time, and Fall Out Boy was born soon after.

Trohman was only 20 years old when Fall Out Boy’s breakthrough album, “From Under the Cork Tree,” was released. He has plenty of fond memories to look back on with Fall Out Boy at the forefront of the early aught’s wave of pop-punk and emo as “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” and “Dance, Dance” dominated radio and MTV. However, he doesn’t feel as though he handled the bulk of it with grace.

Despite being in therapy on and off since the age of 10, Trohman carried a lot of self-loathing at that time. As he remembers: “There were still moments that were incredibly fun, and I had to be really present for, but then there were all these other moments where things were moving so fast. They’re blazing past me, and I just couldn’t catch up to it and I felt lost. I just desperately want to find some sort of identity. … When you’re a creative person, you do want to put your mark on stuff, and I felt like I was having a really hard time doing that in a band that was so prolific. Everybody was such a heavy brute-force creatively.”

This is where depression rears its ugly head, no matter the level of success. According to Trohman, there were things that he was doing creatively that weren’t giving him the satisfaction they should have. “I think it just goes to show how bad my depression was,” he reasons. “It was just constantly telling me that I was a worthless piece of garbage no matter what I was doing. There was nothing that would satisfy me. Mental illness would win every time.”

Trohman did eventually find his lane, but it took time. Creating is something that brings him happiness and has always been a strong motivator — something he can put 100% of himself into. “It’s doing that instead of what I used to do, which was like take drugs and drink excessively.” Ironically, “running away from the bad thoughts” sometimes means having to revisit them by writing a book. “I’ll tell you even as traumatic as it can be to relive trauma through writing or talking about it, finding additional kind of nomenclature to describe my feelings and my thoughts in ways I never had was incredibly helpful in processing things I’ve been trying to process for decades.”

It’s one thing to be this open about mental illness, therapy, and emotions in general in 2022, but when Fall Out Boy was leading the charge alongside their My Chemical Romance and Dashboard Confessional peers in the early aughts, it was far less conventional.

“When we started Fall Out Boy, we were doing things lyrically that were very much about tapping into deep, emotional dark wells that were not okay to talk about,” he says. “Yeah, we were made fun of for that, of course, but it didn’t seem to hurt the band.”

It most certainly did not. In fact, a generation of millennials and beyond found it incredibly relatable, and still do to this day. “I think the whole point of talking about that stuff in a public way on a platform, in my opinion, is to connect with other people that are feeling the same way.”

That “None of This Rocks” arrives just as emo and pop-punk is experiencing a resurgence is not lost on Trohman. “I don’t think it’s something we would ever shirk,” he says. “We don’t pretend that we’re not a part of it. We are quite a part of it. At the same time, one thing that was helpful to endure is we never made a record that sounds like ‘Cork Tree’ again, and we never will. It’s just never going to happen, it’s not what our band is.”

Trohman recognizes that Fall Out Boy’s last three albums leaned less on guitars, but he loves that guitar music is back in the mix again. “Anyone that gets angry about there not being guitars anymore, and is mad because the big guitar record is [by] Machine Gun Kelly, is missing the point,” says Trohman. “Whether it’s Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Brutalor Idles from the U.K., whatever it is, it’s happening. It’s here.”

Idles in particular have Trohman energized. Last year, they played three sold-out shows at the Fonda in Los Angeles, but Trohman caught them at the Wiltern in the before-times of 2019. “One of the best shows I’ve seen in 10 years, easily,” he declares. “I could just feel that there was this whole younger generation that is excited about guitar music. And if the emo resurgence helps that, re-solidifies that, then that’s fantastic.”

“None of this Rocks” is out on Sept. 13 and can be preordered here.