My Chemical Romance might be touted as a New Jersey band, but they're based, not literally but rhythmically in Chicago. That essence can be attributed to the addition of West Suburban drummer Bob Bryar in 2004.
Not so long ago the Downers Grove don used to roll deep in the "630," serving as a section leader in his high school's marching band drumline and backbone to the jazz band's rhythm section, all while moonlighting as a drummer in a few local punk bands. However, Bryar's extracurricular interests in the local music scene soon turned from playing to doing live sound for DIY shows in DuPage County where he established himself as the guy behind the guy behind the scenes, out in the periphery.
Nowadays Bryar can no longer claim anonymity when he's getting big ups from Diddy on MTV's Video Music Awards, becoming pin-up material for young girls on Warped Tour, and even starring in the band's epic videos as a World War II G.I. — begetting his own action figure.
"When I first started, there was nothing going on with this band," says Bryar, who began playing with MCR in August 2004.
But now everything is.
A platinum-selling album (Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge on Reprise), MTV awards, sold-out shows across the world, and armies of fans, including some of the most unlikely celebs.
"We were doing rehearsals for the VMAs and two big dudes come walking up," recalls Bryar of the telecast performance this past August. "Then Puff Daddy comes up to me and says, 'Hey man, what's up? I really like your band.'"
Bryar's VMAs stories don't stop there. "An even weirder thing was when Kelly Clarkson was freaking out about us backstage saying, 'Oh my god! I love you guys,'" he remembers. "It's really strange and I'm not used to it."
High profile performances like the VMAs and rubbing elbows with celebs might be the standard for MCR these days, but Bryar doesn't take it for granted.
The prospect of bling and fame wasn't Bryar's main incentive in summer 2004 when he hooked up with the band. After all, Bryar was friends with the MCR guys first through mutual friends in The Used, for whom Bryar used to tour manage and do sound. Bryar got into the incestual touring circuit after working sound at Chicago's House Of Blues where he met a lot of bands. He eventually went on the road full time in 2000 working as a sound man and road manager for everyone from bad nu-metal acts to up-and-coming punk groups like Thrice and The Used.
While on tour with The Used in 2003, Bryar and MCR hit it off so well they invited him to do sound for them in Europe in early 2004. It happened to be a time when their founding drummer, Matt Pellisier, was coming to blows with the band — and eventually Bryar, too. "I almost threw him out of a hotel window."
After Europe Bryar got a call from the MCR guys. "They called saying, 'Our band's about to break up because of our drummer,'" he says. Then the kicker literally came. "They said, 'We're going to kick him out of the band and we want you to be our drummer.'"
In a whirlwind, Bryar abruptly left the Projekt Revolution Tour in August 2004 — where he was still working for The Used — and flew to Jersey for a full day of rehearsals with the band. Real initiation began when they left for a tour with Face To Face that same week.
The first couple shows were rocky at best and Bryar was unsure if it would work out, but the band dynamic lacking in My Chemical Romance — due to tension from previous drummer Pellisier — was noticeably restored.
"We all got along great, but I still felt like I was a way better drummer when I was in high school," Bryar says, reflecting on that first tour with MCR.
"I was relearning how to play the drums." He hadn't played since 1998, when he began doing sound full time. "I wasn't ready or in shape at all. When we first started we'd get halfway through shows and I'd get so tired. It was more that than learning the songs."
After ironing out the kinks on the Face To Face tour, MCR was just hitting their stride and Three Cheers was starting to take off. It was also the time when Bryar feels he transcended his hired-gun status and earned his stripes as a true member of the band.
"We kind of had to get used to each other," says Bryar. "The first couple shows I was like, 'I don't know if this is going to work,' but after three shows everyone was like, 'This is going to work out.'"
MCR became a much better live band to the point their early tours seemed like disasters. And that is largely due in part to Bryar's sense of dynamics and meter, which he credits to those high school jazz and marching bands.
Being on tour forever has made Bryar both appreciate and lament the Chicago music scene. "The Chicago scene never seemed that big to me until I left," he says, "and everyone would talk about bands like Alkaline Trio and Rise Against." However, Bryar feels Chicagoans need to better embrace their local music scene like the more rabid ones in New Jersey that he is accustomed to now. To him, the kids need to be more proactive in seeking out new music and not relying on TV.
"A lot of kids need to learn about what's available in their city," says Bryar. "I think places like Metro are one of the few things that's helping with bands that aren't huge."
Touring most of the year and living in New Jersey keeps him from seeing his family and friends as much as he'd like, although he comes back when he can. Bryar misses Whirlyball and Chicago institutions like Kingston Mines. "Back in the day we used to always go there. We were jerks and the only white people there," he laughs. "But it was fun."
Despite being an international success, Bryar's Midwest upbringing grounds him. "After being all over the country and the world you realize Chicago is a great city," says Bryar. "It's kind of a middle ground. You go to L.A. where everything is fake and it's a game. But in the East everyone is an asshole and it's dirty and scummy. Chicago is the best of both sides."
"The suburbs of Chicago will always be my home."