Fall Out Boy was formed in 2001 in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois by friends Pete Wentz and Joe Trohman. Pete Wentz was a "visible fixture" of the relatively small Chicago hardcore punk scene of the late 1990s, performing in various groups such as Birthright, Extinction and First Born, as well the metalcore band Arma Angelus and the more political Racetraitor, "a band that managed to land the covers of Maximumrocknroll and Heartattack fanzines before releasing a single note of music." Wentz was growing dissatisfied with the changing mores of the community, which he viewed as a transition from political activism to an emphasis on moshing and breakdowns. With enthusiasm in Arma Angelus waning, he created a pop punk side project with Trohman as an "easy and escapist" project. Trohman met Patrick Stump, then a drummer for grindcore band xgrinding processx and a host other bands that "never really managed," at a Borders bookstore in Wilmette. The band's first public performance came in a cafeteria at DePaul University alongside Stilwell and another group that performed Black Sabbath in its entirety. The band's only performance with guitarist John Flamandan and original drummer Ben Rose was in retrospect described as "goofy" and "bad," but Trohman made an active effort to make the band work, picking up members for practice.
The group's first cassette tape demo was recorded in Rose's basement, but they later set off for Wisconsin to record a proper demo with 7 Angels 7 Plagues drummer Jared Logan, whom Wentz knew through connections in the hardcore scene. Uprising Records owner Sean Muttaqi got word of the demo and wanted to release half of it as a split extended play with Hurley's band Project Rocket, which the band viewed as competition. Uprising desired to release an album with the emerging band, which to that point had only written three songs. With the help of Logan, the group attempted to put together a collection of songs in two days, and recorded them as Fall Out Boy's Evening Out with Your Girlfriend. The rushed recording experience and underdeveloped songs left the band discontent. When the band set off to Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin to record their three songs of a possible split 7-inch with 504 Plan, engineer Sean O'Keefe suggested they record the trio with Hurley. Hurley was also recording an EP with his new group the Kill Pill in Chicago the same day, but raced to Madison to lay down drums for Fall Out Boy. "It was still a fill-in thing but when Andy sat in, it just felt different. It was one of those "a-ha" moments," recalled Wentz.
The band booked a two-week tour with Spitalfield, and the band invited drummer Andy Hurley to fill-in for recently departed members, while Stump borrowed one of Trohman's guitars for the trek. The band began to shop around the three songs from their unreleased split as a demo to record labels. The band set their sights on pop punk labels, and attempted with considerable effort to join Drive-Thru Records. A showcase for label co-founders went largely mediocre, and the band were offered to sign to side label Rushmore, an offer they passed. They got particularly far in discussions with The Militia Group and Victory Records, and Bob McLynn of Crush Management became the band's first manager. The band re-entered the studio with O'Keefe to record several more tracks to create label interest. Wentz felt "in the backseat" in writing the songs and temporarily questioned his place in the group, but Stump argued in his favor: "No! That's not fair! Don't leave me with this band! Don't make me kind of like this band and then leave it! That's bullshit!" John Janick of Fueled by Ramen had heard an early version of a song online and cold-called the band at their apartment, first reaching Stump and later talking to Wentz for an hour. Rob Stevenson from Island Records eventually offered the band a "first-ever incubator sort of deal," in which they gave the band money to sign with Fueled by Ramen for their one-off debut, knowing they could "upstream" the band to radio on the sophomore record. Fueled by Ramen, at the time the smallest of independent labels clamoring to sign the band, would effectively release their debut album and help build their ever-expanding fanbase before they moved to Island. While the band had secured an investment from the label, they did not see immediate success: "Even when Fueled by Ramen got onboard, the band were still surviving on Taco Bell and hoping to find someone to stay with overnight."
The pre-production phase was completed in a warehouse that the band used for free at night, where they would discuss how they wanted the songs to sound. Many songs intended for the album did not fit, and the band originally planned to use the leftovers for future albums, but abandoned the songs instead.
The band again partnered with O'Keefe at Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, bringing together the three songs from the demo and recording an additional seven songs in nine days. The band, according to Stump, didn't "sleep anywhere that we could shower [...] There was a girl that Andy's girlfriend at the time went to school with who let us sleep on her floor, but we'd be there for maybe four hours at a time. It was crazy." According to Wentz, "we were lying to our parents about what we were doing, cutting corners. I was supposed to be in school. I didn't have access to money or a credit card. I don't think any of us did." The studio provided the band with soda during the recording process, but the band were more hungry: "We were like, "Could you take that soda money and buy us peanut butter, jelly and bread?" which they did." The group's goal with Grave was to make an album that was as "seamless and good from song to song" as Saves the Day's Through Being Cool.
O'Keefe paid for studio time himself for the band. He pushed the band due to perfectionist tendencies, leading Hurley to feel more professional about the recording process. Hurley compared the making of Take This to Your Grave to "going to war", stating that recording with the rest of the band was similar "being in the trenches together". The process was not without its difficulties: "It's not always happy: There's a lot of push and pull and each of them trying to get their thing. With [the album], we never let anything go until all three of us were happy," said O'Keefe. Wentz recalled that it was "mind-blowing" to see a certification plaque for Nirvana's Nevermind on a wall. The band were shown the microphone used in the recording of that album, but were unable to use it as "they said only Shirley [Manson] from Garbage could use it." The group created a running joke to pick on O'Keefe after he mentioned he had smoked marijuana at least once months before. The quartet was straight-edge at the time and exaggerated the story to insinuate O'Keefe was a habitual, obsessive user of the drug. The band credited O'Keefe in the album booklet with "like 10 different stoner nicknames - "Dimebag O'Keefe"", although only several remained after the record label felt it "excessively ridiculous."
The band received a $40,000 investment from Island Records to create the record but the album was completed for "maybe $18,000."
Mani Mostofi, former vocalist of Racetraitor, had held many discussions with Wentz when the band formed about their pop punk sound, which Wentz described as "softcore." Mostofi described Take This to Your Grave as "sounding like Hot Topic," but "feeling like CBGB."
According to Johnny Loftus of Allmusic, Take This to Your Grave's lyrical content "merges musings on love and youth with healthy amounts of cutting cynicism, savvy popular culture touchstones, and cheeky phraseology." Stump wrote "Saturday" about how he felt like a failure upon graduating from high school and originally kept the song to himself until the group needed additional songs. Stump then collaborated with bassist Pete Wentz to complete the song's lyrics. "Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy" deals with jealousy and unrequited love.
Stump, who viewed himself an "artsy fartsy dude who didn't want to be in a pop-punk band," had composed much of the band's lyrics to that point, including the songs "Saturday", "Dead on Arrival", "Where is Your Boy?", "Grenade Jumper", and "Homesick at Space Camp". While Stump did not take his lyrics seriously, Wentz had recently re-committed himself to the band and "it felt like he had a list of things in his head he wanted to do right. Lyrics were on that list." Wentz excessively picked apart Stump's lyrics down to syllables and began giving him notes. Stump felt exasperated, remarking to the bassist, "You just write the fucking lyrics dude. Just give me your lyrics and I'll write around them." The duo were new to this process, and they found it exhausting: Stump would write the song, scrap his lyrics, then attempt to fit Wentz's lyrics where his were.
Stump was more concerned with the melodies, including the rhythm, syncopation and alliteration of words, while Wentz felt none of it mattered if those lyrics themselves lacked meaning. The result made the two musicians unhappy: "Man, did we fight about that," recalled Stump in 2013. "We fought for nine days straight all while not sleeping and smelling like shit. It was one long argument, but I think some of the best moments are the result of that." O'Keefe commented on this process: "They would go through 10 revisions for one song. I thought I was going to lose my mind with both of them."
"'Tell That Mick He Just Made My List of Things to Do Today'" opens with a telephone dial tone, which Wentz found particularly enjoyable, as it provided stark contrast to the louder instrumentation to follow. The song's chorus was the result of many arguments between Wentz and Stump over the phonetic phrasing of words versus their meaning. Wentz ended up throwing out all of Stump's lyrics for the first time in the recording process, and it became the first song in which he wrote the entirety of lyrics. "I realized I must really want to be in this band at this point if I'm willing to put up with this much fuss," said Stump. Lyrics such as "Let’s play this game called “when you catch fire" / I wouldn’t piss to put you out," were inspired by Chris Conley's use of bizarre metaphors to prove a point on Saves the Day's Through Being Cool. "Dead on Arrival" is among the earliest compositions, dating to before Hurley joined the band. Stump wrote "Saturday" about how he felt like a failure upon graduating from high school and originally kept the song to himself until the group needed additional songs. It marked one of the first times that Wentz and Stump collaborated on lyrics. Wentz considered "Saturday" the best representation of the band at the time. In contrast, both disliked "Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy" during the recording process; Stump particularly disliked the a cappella opening, which was O'Keefe's idea.
"Sending Postcards from a Plane Crash" is largely a studio creation, and was seldom played live by the band. Stump and Wentz had a particularly big fight regarding the track "Chicago is So Two Years Ago," which Stump initially did not want to record. He had secretly kept it to himself in case the band did not work out and he wanted to pursue his own music, but O'Keefe desired to introduce it to the rest of the band after he heard Stump singing it to himself in the studio lobby. "I was very previous about it [...] I kind of lost my song," said Stump. Wentz disliked several lyrics and he and Stump argued over every word one by one. The bridge features a guest appearance by Motion City Soundtrack frontman Justin Pierre. The band had wanted Pierre on the song but schedules did not work out initially; O'Keefe, who was friends with Pierre, recorded Pierre's part (which he wrote) while the band was on tour, leaving it as a "surprise" for the rest of the group. "Grenade Jumper" references Christopher Gutierrez, who was an early supporter and attended each show from the beginning. The song's chorus came from a conversation between Trohman and Stump in the kitchen of the band's apartment; Trohman said they should write a fan appreciation song, and Stump noted how Chris "was [their] only friend." The song's title refers to a phrase coined by the band regarding "whoever would be the person that would have... um, relations Biblically with a girl in order to have the rest of the band stay at the house," said Wentz.
"Calm Before the Storm" first appears on the band's first true recording, Fall Out Boy's Evening Out with Your Girlfriend. Its bridge features a "screaming harmony" from Wentz, which took "five or six" digital tracks to create. "Reinventing the Wheel to Run Myself Over" was heavily inspired by the band Lifetime. Following the song's conclusion, De'Mar Hamilton of Plain White T's can be heard singing the song's refrain while laughing. "The Patron Saint of Liars and Fakes" was composed in drop D and gives a "dark ending" to the record. Stump wrote it just outside his vocal range, and found it difficult to sing while recording, as he was not a singer before joining the band. It was intended as a foreshadowing of the sound the band would intend on their next record (the song that opens their second album, "Our Lawyers Made Us Change The Name Of This Song So We Wouldn't Get Sued", is also composed in drop D).
The blue-tinted cover of Take This to Your Grave features the band's four members — left to right, Pete Wentz, Andy Hurley, Patrick Stump and Joe Trohman — sitting on a couch with each of their names printed above, in a nod to classic Blue Note jazz records. The futon pictured in the photograph was actually busted in the middle and contributed to the members' close proximity, and the exposed brick wall was part of what Wentz described as "the worst apartment of all time." The photo was simply a promotional photo taken during the album's promotional cycle, although Stump initially wanted a live photo on the cover. It was originally intended to be on the back cover, and left one unnamed member of the band "pissed about it forever." In addition, not each member was keen on having their names printed on the cover, as it was very uncommon for modern albums. Wentz used the cover in an effort to reject the notion that the group was all about him and to demonstrate that the four members mattered as a team. "Pete had always wanted to create a culture with the band where it was about all four guys and not just one guy," remembered Stump.
Ryan Bakerink was the photographer for much of the album's photography, including both the rejected and final cover. The band stripped Wentz's bedroom, the largest, and filled it with items from each member's rooms to create the set. "In hindsight, I kind of feel like the rest of the band just let Pete do all of the heavy lifting. It was exhausting. We were carrying beds and dressers and all these things into the other room, and we were just soaked in sweat," remembered Bakerink. Bakerink had had a lengthy conversation with Stump about Stump's love for Elvis Costello, and Bakerink had found an Armed Forces LP of Stump's sitting out, strategically placing it in the image to play it off as Stump's. As the band was "rooted in nostalgia from early on," the photograph was filled with 1980s toys and cereals. The photo went through several versions, with one idea involving the bed sheet pulled back, just as if somebody got out of bed and left a letter to someone. As the album title had yet to be finalized, they did two shots of a sealed envelope, one with the alternate title To My Favorite Liar and one with Take This to Your Grave. Eventually, Wentz suggested they use his girlfriend at the time, lying on her back in bed, exhausted. Bakerink showed the Polaroid to Wentz, who immediately loved the shot. The photo session ran later and later, and by 2am they began shooting individual member shots and what became the album cover. When sent to Fueled by Ramen for approval, the label responded that they "couldn't clear any of this stuff," such as posters of Cher, Morrisey and Edward Scissorhands and images of Count Chocula and Darth Vader. When Trohman showed the new album cover to Bakerink at the album release party at the Metro, he was surprised: "It was interesting how they ended up using the last image we took that night, and I didn’t even know if it was supposed to be used at all. I wound up really liking it." The original cover was eventually used for the first pressing of the album's vinyl edition.
Alternative Press called the finalized cover "the pop-punk Abbey Road," calling it "instantly recognizable, extremely identifiable and absolutely iconic in certain circles." Wentz elaborated on the selection of that particular image and not the record's original cover: "It makes me wonder: How many of these things are just accidental moments? [...] If we had a bigger budget, we probably would have ended up with a goofier cover that no one would have cared about."
Take This to Your Grave was released in the United States on May 6, 2003 by Fueled by Ramen. The band held a release party at Chicago venue The Metro. Previously, one of the band's earliest recordings, Evening Out with Your Girlfriend, had not seen release until shortly before Grave in March 2003, when the band had gained considerable momentum. "Our record was something being rushed out to help generate some interest, but that interest was building before we could even get the record out," said Sean Muttaqi. The band actively tried to stop Uprising from releasing the recordings (as the band's relationship with Muttaqi had grown sour), as the band viewed it as a "giant piece of garbage" recorded before Hurley's involvement that the band ceased to consider their debut album.
Gradually, the band's fanbase grew in size as the label pushed for the album's mainstream success. The band's popularity grew as the band "would play anywhere"; they did frequent in-store performances at retailers that sold the album. While many were corporate-owned with numerous rules, some, such as Hollister, allowed the band to perform as they wanted. On one performance at a mall Hollister in Schaumberg, Illinois, the band's merchandise manager took a decoration surfboard off the wall and began crowdsurfing during the band's final song. According to Wentz, shows began to end in a near-riot and the group were banned from several venues because the entire crowd would end up onstage. The band gained positive reviews for subsequent gigs at South by Southwest (SXSW) and various tour appearances. The band joined the Warped Tour for five dates in the summer of 2004, and on one date the band had only performed three songs when the stage collapsed due to the large crowd (the band finished with an a capella rendition "Where Is Your Boy" with the audience). Many of the more establishing bands were angry at the new "up-and-comers" stealing the spotlight. The band graced the cover of the August 2004 edition of Alternative Press, and listening stations at Hot Topic partially helped the album move 2,000-3,000 copies per week by Christmas 2004, at which point the label considered the band "tipping" into mainstream success. Prior to their signing with Island, Take This to Your Grave had sold 200,000–300,000 copies, considered outstanding for an independent album.
In 2005, second single "Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy" became the band's second song to chart, peaking at number 84 on the now-defunct Billboard Pop 100. The album was re-released in January 2005 as Take This to Your Grave: Director's Cut for a run of 5000 copies, featuring a dance remix and a cover of The Police's "Roxanne", along with Enhanced CD footage of the band commentating and breaking down each song, and the music video for "Saturday". In 2006, Take This to Your Grave was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipments of 500,000 copies, and had sold over 553,000 copies by January 2007. By the week ending August 24, 2008, Take This to Your Grave passed 634,000 sales according to Billboard. In 2013, the album was certified gold British Phonographic Industry for over 100,000 shipments.
Johnny Loftus of AllMusic described the album as a "spectacular debut art project," calling it "a smart collection of emo-influenced pop-punk tunes." Rolling Stone wrote that "FOB show[s] a knack for mixing caffeinated, up-tempo tunes with sensitive, tortured lyrics [...] Overall, it's the run-of-the-mill stuff you'd hear from just about any other Warped Tour act."
Retrospective reviews have been very positive. Alternative Press called the album a "subcultural touchstone," describing it as "a magical, transcendent and deceptively smart pop-punk masterpiece that ushered in a vibrant scene resurgence with a potent combination of charisma, new media marketing and hardcore-punk urgency." The band expanded upon their evaluation, writing, "There's no overstating the impact Take This to Your Grave has had on not only the scene (and eventually mainstream culture) [...] it represents a zeitgeist that launched untold numbers of bands to pick up some musical gear, make noise in their garages and actively participate in this culture. The fact that the album continues to resonate with generations in the years following is a testament to its longevity." Gigwise called the album "an almost flawless slice of pop-punk [...] The record had just the right amount of sincerity, cynicism and slick pop-culture references — it didn't matter if you were 14 or 24, TTTYG would appeal to the streak of teenage bitterness inside all of us."
* denotes an unordered list
All lyrics written by Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump, except where noted; all music composed by Fall Out Boy.
Take This to Your Grave debuted on the US Billboard Heatseeker Albums chart at No. 31 week ending March 6, 2004, almost a year after its initial May 2003 release, and peaked at No. 11 week ending January 15, 2005, almost another year later. It spent twenty eight weeks on the chart in total. After its first three weeks, at No. 31, No. 41 and No. 22, the album fell off the charts and re-entered four months later at No. 29, falling out after nine more weeks. Three months later it re-entered at No. 37, then the next week saw a rise to No.34 and peaked at No. 11, and then logged another eight weeks (below No. 20). Again, it fell off and shortly re-entered at No. 43, inching up to No. 42 before dropping off and re-entering at No. 48. It spent its last week on the chart two years after its initital release at No. 47 week ending May 14, 2005; the band's follow-up release From Under the Cork Tree debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 the following week, which made the band ineligible to chart on the Heatseeker Albums chart any longer. In February 2006, Take This to Your Grave reached No. 96 on the UK albums chart.