Electric Century, the meeting of minds between My Chemical Romance's Mikey Way and Sleep Station frontman David Debiak, are returning with more than just their second album.
Four years on from the 80s new-wave debut album 'For The Night To Control', the duo are back with a new Electric Century album and a graphic novel by the same name. It's a bold, visually striking project which reunites Mikey with Shaun Simon with whom he worked on the graphic novel 'Collapser' last year.
Electric Century's synopsis reads, "Johnny Ashford, former sitcom-star, drives drunk through a storefront and gets arrested. His aspiring actress girlfriend bails him out, and he begins seeing a hypnotherapist. Dr. Evers sends Johnny to his "happy place": 1980s Atlantic City, where he relives his childhood on the boardwalk, hardly noticing shadowy spectres all around."
The musical side of the project is as mysterious as the plot right now but for the haunting, piano-led, melody which accompanies the trailer for the project.
But, in the hope of shedding some light on Electric Century, the world of graphic novels, his disjointed plans for 2020 and the Way family work ethic, is Mikey Way to guide us.
Electric Century, the album and graphic novel, is a huge project - how long has it been in the works?
This project has been in the works for a couple of years now. It organically grew into what it is now through some chance circumstances. Back in 2014, after we had recorded 'For The Night To Control', I had a sliver of an idea that maybe we could make Electric Century, a kind of fictional band. I had just left rehab and didn't really want to tour at the moment, so I thought it could be cool to make a fictional landscape and narrative that the band exists in. Maybe the band could perform remotely over the internet even or in an animated fashion. I took this idea and kind of tucked in away for quite some time.
We went through that release cycle, did some fun stuff and put it to bed. The way we make albums with Electric Century is, Dave and I fire voice memos back and forth and stockpile what we feel is quality. The voice memo ping pong never really ends for us, so this process started immediately after 'For The Night To Control'. When we eventually have enough great pieces to facilitate an album, we start demoing.
After the demoing, Dave and I will physically hit a studio together with a producer to get it down for real. We live on two separate coasts, so some of his stuff is done in different studios, sending Pro Tools sessions back and forth. This is all very time consuming, but it works for what this project is. There are never really ever any time restraints put on it, and that makes it pretty relaxed.
What came first, the music or the comic? Did you always have both in mind?
In the midst of the actual recording, Z2 came to me with an idea of doing an Electric Century graphic novel. While on the call with them, one of the owners said something that rocketed me back to the thought I had in 2014. He said "Well I kind of see Electric Century becoming something like the Gorillaz", and I was like "Wow that's freaky! I had a similar thought way back!" and it felt like something fated to happen. This presented me with an interesting challenge. Normally a project like this starts with a story in mind and goes from there, but in this case, I was going to spin a story from an album that was already written. I simmered on this for a bit.
One thing that's very present in Dave's voice is his New Jersey roots. To me, this made it very natural to have the story take place in Jersey, and in a place that I spent a huge chunk of youth - Atlantic City. From there, I saw threads and themes scattered throughout. Dave's lyrics speak a lot about mental health, which I also feel very passionately about. This led me to think about a time where I tried out hypnotherapy, and the story cascaded from there.
To what extent was Collapser the test for this? What did you learn from that?
I feel like that experience informed this one a great deal. Collapser was my first stab at professionally writing comics. I can't thank Shaun Simon enough for all his guidance and wisdom throughout that whole process. He showed me the ins and outs of writing comic books and the art of panelling. When Z2 proposed the idea of a one hundred plus page graphic novel, I knew that it would be the perfect opportunity to team up with Shaun Simon again. Prior to Collapser, and even to this day, we are always firing ideas back and forth on projects we are working on. We speak the same language creatively, and he helped me take my idea and run with it.
As far as thematically, there are certainly some roots from Collapser in this story. I feel like no matter what story I tell, there's always going to be a hint of horror. I just can't help myself. I wrote a Christmas movie with a friend, and there was a horror element in there, too!
How do you want people to consume this? Listen to the album first, read the story first or both at the same time?
In this case, the music acts as a soundtrack for the story. When people make soundtracks for movies, the story and sometimes the filming is usually complete. I feel like each element can be enjoyed, however, the viewer or listener sees fit, but to me, it makes sense as a score to the story.
Musically, how did you want the album to sound?
With Electric Century, I always strive to celebrate a few periods of time in my musical life. When I was a kid, 80s new-wave dominated the radio, and in my teens, Britpop ruled my world, and both were deeply important to me. With Electric Century I'm always chasing the feelings I felt when I listen to my favourite pieces of each. I know Dave has influences he feels that same way about, and those are ever-present on the album as well. He's a huge fan of Elbow, The Beatles and Springsteen. We have tons of musical commonality, some differences - and from that Electric Century songs are born.
Do you have a plan for where the story goes? What are your ambitions for the story?
At the moment, I'm just excited to tell a dark fantasy tale about New Jersey. It's something I've always wanted to do. As far as where it goes, that will present itself in time, I believe. It's a story that speaks a lot about redemption, and I feel that's an important sentiment.
The groundwork for Electric Century is already massive, where do you want to take this story? Live music, theatre, film/TV?
The way the story is structured, it could always continue if we had the urge. Who knows where the future will take us?! I'm not opposed to anything, and I love a challenge.
When 2020 began, it looks like you had a pretty busy year planned, how frustrating has it been having to delay or cancel plans for things outside of your control?
I feel like everyone across the globe is frustrated. Everybody had something that they were about to do. I feel like the most productive thing to do in a time like this is to roll with it and maintain positivity. Lean on your family and loved ones when you are having a tough time. Make sure to communicate when you are feeling hopeless. Now more than ever, we need to lean on each other to weather this storm.
How important is that escapism for you, and how delighted are you to have created a world for people to get lost in?
We are seeing it across the board right now - fictional worlds are more important than ever. I'm seeing it as a lifeline for some right now. People engrossed in their Animal Crossing towns, diving into new series on streaming services, reading books they've always meant to read but didn't have the time. You really need escapes to be able to withstand the current events today. It's essential for me as well. I'm at the very end of the new Stephen King anthology 'If It Bleeds' and it was fantastic. Trying to get caught up on tons of movies that I missed over the past few years as well. To be able to give people an outlet to take a breather from the world sometimes is important, and I'm glad to help.
For those who have very little knowledge of graphic novels, which are the ones most important to you, and what you recommend to people wanting to explore the art form?
Some of my most favourite graphic novels - Alan Moore's The Watchmen, that goes without saying. I love all of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing graphic novels as well. Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman and New X-men are some of the greatest superhero stories of all time. Just classic and essential in every way. The Umbrella Academy series by my brother, also another classic. Frank Miller's run of Daredevil is an important one for me as well. I could go on forever, but that's a good starting point.
What's in the "Way genes" to not be phased by these huge concepts for every project you set your minds to?
We like to dream big! The way I feel is - if you aim for the moon, even if you miss you'll probably end someplace nearby.
Taken from the July issue of Upset. Electric Century, the album and graphic novel, are due for release later this year.
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