In 1991, Andy Hurley, then a sixth-grade student at Menomonee Falls North Middle School in Wisconsin, had an assignment: Write about your future.
His first sentence: “I think I will be in a band 25 years from now.”
Hurley, 35, is indeed playing in a band for a living. Actually, he’s in one of the most popular rock bands in the world, Fall Out Boy.
As the drummer, he’s less well-known than frontman Patrick Stump, bassist and one-time tabloid magnet Pete Wentz, and lead guitarist Joe Trohman. But Hurley is arguably the most fascinating member of Fall Out Boy: a soft-spoken, easygoing, hyper-intelligent, tattoo-covered, cross-fit-obsessed, straight-edge vegan who loves his friends so much, he lets them live at his home, rent-free.
While his bandmates moved to California long ago, Hurley’s home has been in Milwaukee — a nearly 6,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, million-dollar-plus home. The house, the city — they provide him with much-needed retreat at the end of every grueling tour.
The journey has had its struggles, both professionally and personally.
Hurley’s father, a physician, died when he was 5. And when he was 9, his mother, Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer. He thought he would lose her, too.
He didn’t. Ann today lives in Franklin, Wis., with her husband of two years; Andy was her man of honor at the wedding. There’s a room in her home that includes a shrine to her son, from band posters to an action figure to a platinum record framed on the wall.
Her son, she said, “as a child, was angry....He was ending up with the wrong kinds of kids...I feel that music saved his life.”
In middle school, Andy Hurley started playing percussion. In a fake obituary he wrote for school, he hoped he’d be remembered for playing 1,000 drum sets, signing 100 million autographs and for his 100 world tours. He got into groups like Nirvana and Slayer and Black Sabbath. He kept detailed logs of all the different drumsticks he used.
“Music is the first thing I didn’t give up,” Hurley said, in part because of a series of band and percussion teachers “who pushed me further than I would have on my own.”
When he was 15, Hurley immersed himself in the hardcore punk scene in Milwaukee, and when that wasn’t enough, he would travel to Chicago to play or hang out with similar bands. That was when he was inspired to become straight-edge — meaning he wouldn’t take drugs or drink alcohol — and a vegan.
He played drums in radical bands like Racetraitor and Killtheslavemaster, with Wentz as an occasional bandmate. Then, “when we were all burned out on doing such serious political bands,” Hurley said, Wentz and Trohman established Fall Out Boy.
“It definitely took a lot of coaxing” to get Hurley in the band, Trohman recalled. But after the band had gone through two other drummers, he became part of Fall Out Boy just in time to record the band’s debut album, “Take This To Your Grave,” in 2003 at Smart Studios in Madison, Wis.
“He started making the band musically very tight. He elevated our level of musicianship,” Trohman said. “He takes everything he does very seriously. It helps that he doesn’t do drugs, he doesn’t drink alcohol. His dedication to the band made everyone want to do the band more in the beginning.”
From touring in a rundown van to becoming famous, Hurley in many ways has been the band’s rock.
“Pete and Patrick and I, we all love each other, but we’ve always hated each other at some point for various reasons,” Trohman said. “With Andy, I don’t think anyone has anything disparaging to say.”
Today, Fall Out Boy is riding the success of six albums, three of which have reached the top of the Billboard charts. The band has won a host of awards, including a People’s Choice for Favorite Alternative Band, although a Grammy is still on Hurley’s wish list. Its most recent work, “American Beauty/American Psycho,” released in January of this year, sold more than 218,000 equivalent copies in the first week alone.
“I would love to keep doing it forever,” Hurley said. “If we did end tomorrow, I would be so stoked and proud of everything I’ve done and how I lived my life. I feel like I’ve had enough experiences for multiple lives.”
That’s certainly true of Matthew Mixon, a video producer and Hurley’s roommate. He hasn’t paid rent at Hurley’s Milwaukee home since 2007.
When Mixon and Hurley were freshmen at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, “we were eating Thai food after class, talking about money our bands could make, dreaming big. And somebody said, ‘Whoever gets big off this (expletive) has to buy a house that we can all live in and play music.”
Hurley honored the pact — and more.
“He took me to the MTV Video Music Awards,” Mixon said. “He always picks up the check....And (his friends) have had these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to experience all these things with him.”
In return, Hurley’s roommates take care of the house and make sure the bills are paid on time, Trohman said. “For Andy, friends are his family.”
When he’s off the road, Hurley spends time with his roommates “24/7,” Mixon said. “We do the same stuff we did in high school. We play video games and board games all the time, and we love hanging around with each other. ... He’s the same dude through and through.”
Hurley appreciates the circle of local support.
“It grounds me, and has kept me out of this world that does affect people,” Hurley said.
This summer, Fall Out Boy is co-headlining amphitheaters across the country with rapper Wiz Khalifa for the “Boys of Zummer” tour. Milwaukee isn’t on the route, but Hurley is eager to play in Milwaukee again. “Playing there has always been my best shows,” he said. “My mom is there with all of her friends. I usually have 30 to 40 people on the guest list. It’s infinitely more stressful. But I rise to the stress and I play better because of it.”
His mother is fascinated to see how he handles his status.
“He is such a good kid,” she said. “He is very caring and he is always interested in seeing me when he’s home. He’ll take us behind the scenes after the shows in Milwaukee and Chicago. So many people want to talk to him. It’s just astounding to me to watch him interact with others. There isn’t any of this high-faluting stuff. He just doesn’t have it in him.”
After this tour is done, for the first time Hurley will not be coming back to Milwaukee. He has a brand-new residence in Portland, Ore. It’s on 48 acres, with a pool and a private beach.
The winters here are rough, he said, and the frequent commute to Los Angeles has been hard.
“I’m going to be devastated when he leaves,” his mother said. “I know he has his own life, and he keeps saying I’m going to come back a lot and fly you out here.”
He’s already sold his Milwaukee house. But his Milwaukee friends and roommates — seven of them — will be waiting in Portland. They’re all moving with him. And Hurley hopes he’ll have a couple of months off toward the end of the year to hang out with them.
“Portland is only a two-hour flight from Los Angeles. It’s really similar (to Milwaukee) where it’s kind of this big, small place and has a really amazing community, and it’s bigger in terms of veganism,” Hurley said. “But I’ve always felt like Milwaukee was a member of the family.
“My heart will always be here.”
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