Guest List: Gerard Way Marches his Doom Patrol to Stoner Metal, New Wave and Experimental Soundscapes

Comics Features Gerard Way
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Guest List: Gerard Way Marches his <i>Doom Patrol</i> to Stoner Metal, New Wave and Experimental Soundscapes

In Guest List, Paste’s favorite artists and auteurs reveal the music that’s inspired some of their most seminal works.

For Gerard Way, Doom Patrol is a homecoming. The former vocalist of My Chemical Romance and upstart comic scribe filled his brain with music notes and comic panels during his formative years, eventually landing a gig as an intern with DC Comics in the mid ‘90s. Restless innovators at the company like Karen Berger (who nurtured the mature readers imprint, Vertigo), Grant Morrison (the Scottish writer who ushered comics into surreal, postmodern extremes) and Shelly Bond (an editor of Morrison’s and intellectual free spirit) would help set the multi-talented artist on a trajectory that would later swim through arena tours, music videos (in which Morrison would star) and such excellent comic books as The Umbrella Academy and The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys at publisher Dark Horse.

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DC has now invited Way back into its fold through Young Animal, a pop-up imprint curated by the creator as he and a host of writers and artists reintroduce Vertigo properties like Shade as well as a brand new one (Mother Panic). And though Way is curating all the books and co-writing Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye with Jon Rivera, he’s solely scripting Doom Patrol—a mind-melt, cerebral superhero epic famously jumpstarted by Morrison—alongside artist Nick Derington. The debut chapter of the comic, out today, also connects the prolific auteur to his musical foundation. For example: character Niles Caulder, the traditional leader of the Patrol, searches for metaphysical (and bizarre) tones on his keyboard. (At least it looks like a keyboard.) Ambulance driver and protagonist Casey Brinke encounters a spontaneous roommate who greets her with an adorable telegram proclaiming a birthday that doesn’t quite exist.

Unsurprisingly, music played an integral role in the book’s creation. Way was kind enough to synthesize a list of ten of the most influential tracks, and the parallels are potent and endlessly intriguing. (Connect Casey’s proclamation that “you see things that make you want to put your brain through a car wash” to entries five and nine, for example.) From ubiquitous icons like David Bowie to the cult sludge gods of Sleep, Way’s layered an engulfing, mysterious and challenging sonic journey that’s just as intriguing as the comic it inspired.

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How Gerard Way Uses Music When Writing

The first thing I do when I sit down to write is open up my music player. I then select an album that I believe captures the spirit of what I’m trying to do—sometimes this can even be a single song. The music plays and I begin to write. The music guides me into the work, and after a while it disappears into the background. When the album finishes, I don’t notice it for quite some time, continuing to work in silence, with only the sound of the keys clacking away to keep me company. The goal is to get to the point of silence, of being completely in the writing. Then, eventually I notice the silence, or in the case of a song on repeat I notice it has been playing for entirely too long. By this, point I should have a fair amount of writing done, and to get back into it I simply select another album and start the process over again.

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Doom Patrol #1 Interior Art by Nick Derington & Tamra Bonvillain

I find music to be very important when writing, and this stems back to the days when I was a clumsy teenage typist (I’m still pretty clumsy with a keyboard, but a little faster). I would work on a borrowed old typewriter that was my grandmother’s—it was loud but very satisfying. Back then I had a simple Sony Walkman cassette player containing either one of my favorite albums or a mix tape. I would wear the headphones while I worked, but before this stage I would lie in bed, daydreaming up the story while listening to a particular song, memorizing how far back I had to rewind to get back to the start of it. I did this over and over for hours. Daydreaming is still a part of my process, but for some reason it no longer involves music, because music is for the writing. The only thing I can figure out about all of this is that I almost always hear music in my head now, being a songwriter, so the time I spend listening to music is almost always for a specific purpose.

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Doom Patrol #1 Interior Art by Nick Derington & Tamra Bonvillain

Here is a list of songs that have been important to the process of writing Doom Patrol, mainly the first issue—a lot of time and preparation went into that issue, and I continue to listen to these songs as I write the rest of the series, occasionally popping a new song or album into the mix. Fittingly, doom metal was very important to the series (if people are calling Black Sabbath doom metal these days), as well as stoner metal, along with a bit of ’90s music, experimental tape loops and stuff that would be considered ambient or electronic. To me, the Doom Patrol exists in a world that could be the ’90s, or some kind of mixture of ’90s and modern day. I have yet to include a cell phone or any kind of specifically modern dress in any of the scenes (though that may change). There is also an element of new wave, no wave and punk in Doom Patrol, which I feel has been there since Grant [Morrison] and Richard [Case] did their run. I wanted to honor and celebrate that in the book, and in the look and feel of the characters.

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1. “The Fear,” Pulp

Ah yes, the Fear. It means so many things. I’ve gotten the Fear many times in my life, and the spiral of madness that would be writing Doom Patrol started with a very real fear of botching the whole thing. How would this new Doom Patrol stack up against every previous incarnation? Would it be a tribute? Reinvention? Glorified fan fiction? In the end it became many things. “The Fear”—by one of my favorite bands of all time, Pulp—is, in my opinion, the best opening track/follow-up album song ever created. “You’re gonna’ like it—but not a lot.” I love when artists know exactly what situation they’ve found themselves in—I think there is power in that.
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2. “Sweet Leaf,” Black Sabbath

I get attached to great track ones, and this song starts one of my favorite Black Sabbath albums, Master of Reality. They just come right out of the gate with the heavy riffs. For some reason, Black Sabbath became extremely important to me when I was working on what this new Doom Patrol would be. And for some reason, Black Sabbath makes me think of Robotman, Cliff Steele. I was able to get lost in all of their music; it was comforting, and heavy.
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3. “I Am the Fly,” Wire

Flies also became very important to the first issue. A fly appears a couple of times throughout the story, threading two of its scenes together. I remember sitting with Grant and explaining the gyro concept to him and how there was this fly god in the world of the gyro and he freaked out about it, making me promise to include as much of the fly as possible. The insect itself makes me think of the Doom Patrol—outcast, living in filth, eating garbage. I am certain I included a fly in Doom Patrol because of this song. It does have meaning, and also does eventually make sense in the story, but we see the beginnings of the fly arc in this issue.
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4. “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” Johnny Thunders

This song appears in the Martin Scorsese film Bringing Out the Dead, which was about EMTs and provided early inspiration for Doom Patrol back when I had first attempted to write it, shortly after completing The Umbrella Academy: Dallas. This is a beautiful, haunting song that sounds like end credits to a very sad film. I will always connect this song with EMTs, who are featured prominently in Doom Patrol. This makes me think of Casey Brinke and Sam Reynolds, two of the new characters in the book.
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5. “Dopesmoker,” Sleep

This is it. This is the Dark Side of the Moon of stoner metal to me. Not because it is a group of songs telling a story—because it isn’t—but because it is one very long riff telling a story that makes me feel spaced out. It is an odyssey, a journey. I listened to this more than anything while writing the first issue, and as soon as it would finish I would just start it over from the beginning and keep going. It is more than an hour long, and has a droning quality to it, which makes it perfect for writing. This song led me on a path away from songs with lyrics, and I started listening to more of what my friend calls “brain cleansers.” There is a direct nod to the album artwork in Doom Patrol #1, as Cliff Steele finds himself in a barren wasteland with a group of hooded individuals, much like the Weedians of Dopesmoker. I have always loved the marriage of psychedelic rock and comic books; there is a lot of history there, so I wanted to continue that legacy.
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6. “Word on the Street,” Black Pus

Brian Chippendale created the most tripped-out variant cover for Doom Patrol #1, and his art and music have been an inspiration to me for some time. To me, he is pure living art—always creating, always connecting all of the dots. I think in a lot of ways his art was a starting point in my head for the kind of chaos I wanted to create with the imprint DC gave me, Young Animal. I watched Brian perform in his solo project, Black Pus (he is also a member of the duo Lightning Bolt) at a place in Los Angeles called The Smell, and the whole experience took me back to my youth, and the days of being in a dingy punk club listening to very loud noise, but it was something even more than that—it was this new kind of chaos I was experiencing.
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7. “Lady Dada’s Nightmare,” MGMT

I had to put MGMT on this list because I constantly listen to them, and they are my favorite modern band, period. This song in particular, which is like listening to an audio version of a Dario Argento film, satires Lady Gaga in the title (I’m guessing), but it always resonated as something more than a joke to me because of the word “Dada” in there. Not only was Dada an amazing art movement (or is it non-art movement?) but the Brotherhood of Dada, created by Grant Morrison, are some of the most important villains (or are they?) in his original Doom Patrol run. Could there be a Lady Dada showing up in the pages of the book? Possibly. I love this song. I wish I had thought of it.
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8. “Warszawa,” David Bowie

Here we continue down the trail of experimental music, and head toward more brain-cleansing work. I had to include Bowie on the list because he is so important to me as an artist and musician, and I listen to him constantly. I thought this selection would be very different than what people might normally know him for. To me, the end of Doom Patrol #1 is in some ways a nod to Bowie’s passing. Look for it and tell me if you pick up on it.
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9. “Flux (1),” Robert Turman

This is the brain cleanser, as the concept was presented to me, and it does the trick. The whole album clears you out. Sometimes I start a writing session with this album, also called Flux, and it carries me right into the place I need to be. As I started to get more into this kind of music I found a kind of peace within it, and it allows me to write freely.
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10. “It’s Raining Today,” Scott Walker

I think this is a fitting end for the list, and in some ways a fitting end for our entire Doom Patrol run, whenever that may come. I can see the rain-slicked streets in my head. This song has a sadness to it and a hopefulness as well. I like endings with quiet moments.

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