(Photo by Paige Farrow)
Frank Iero has the kind of speaking voice you can hear grinning through the phone. There’s a lilt that sometimes punctuates the conversation with a sort chuckle that seems to belong there as much as much as an em-dash or an ellipsis would. His answers to my questions are short and unrehearsed: straight, to the point.
Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration’s aptly titled debut album, Stomachaches (2014), is coming up on two years old. These are songs that Frank Iero wrote during a bout of the sort of stomach pains that he is used to experiencing, songs he continued to write into the breakup of the beloved New Jersey rock outfit that fell apart as its contemporaries just starting to come back together. The title of record might be a direct reference to the pains through which the record was written. These are the first songs released by Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration. These are songs that might have belonged to another band, to another scene, another generation of kids.
Admittedly, the first time I ever saw Frank Iero perform with a band was when Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration supported Taking Back Sunday at Starland Ballroom’s Second Annual Holiday Spectacular: a Jersey band in a Jersey venue playing for a very excited Jersey crowd. This is how I will always know them, with their neon green lights and the sort of wunderkind energy that comes off of a quartet no one has heard of yet, bringing me back to memories of concerts I was never cool enough to see. Exuberant. Joyful. Brand new.
There’s more where that came from. On their way into the studio to record a new album and kicking off summer with the second annual Shadow of the City in Seaside Heights, Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration is very much a band doing what they can’t help but do.
When Frank Iero picks up the phone, he greets me by name, expecting my call.
Hi Veronica, how you doin’?
I’m doing good, how are you doin’?
I’m doing good. I’m doing very good.
I hear you guys are out in California right now. What’s the weather like out there?
We are! (chuckles) It’s nice. It’s actually a little colder than I thought it was going to be but it’s nice. It’s welcomed, to be honest…Right now, though; I’m in a Jack in the Box, waiting in line for a bathroom!
Oh! Haha, would you like to give me a call back?
No, no, no, no, no! It’s okay—it’s just a ver…it’s a…it’s…it’s weird! It’s just a strange…It’s been a strange experience.
Waiting in line at the Jack in the Box?
(laughs) Yeah, ha, yeah.
So I hear that the reason the cellabration is out in California is to record a new album. Could you tell us a bit about what’s going into this new project?
I’m excited—we start the process tomorrow. We flew in, like, a day early, to just kind of get our bearings and stuff like that, and we start the journey tomorrow, so we’ll see what happens.
I think I have a wish list (chuckles), you know? But I feel like every time you walk into a situation like this, when you go into the studio, you have to kind of throw out all your preconceived notions of what’s going to happen and just let life kind of take over.
So I have a road map but I’m ready to, kind of, burn it (chuckles) right now.
Would you say that that way you anticipate going into this next album is your most organic way of going about things? Do you tend to go about songwriting and creating an album this way, or is this approach something new for you?
Well, the material is definitely a lot different than, say, the last record. And I’d written (inhales audibly) about (exhales audibly), I guess, like, 18 or 19 songs by now? I’m curious as to what is going to survive the process, you know?
Yeah, I guess it’s good to have more to work with so you can kind of edit from there.
Yeah, yeah, I mean, there are certain things that you are more in love with than others, and also you have to be open for inspiration to strike at the last minute.
What has Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration been up to since spending the holidays with Taking Back Sunday at the Second Annual Holiday Spectacular?
Been writing. We actually did a quick tour in Australia. We did a couple of acoustic shows out there. And then we did a little bit of demoing, then we did another supporting session out in Chicago, which was nice. And now we’re headed into the studio in Venice tomorrow.
So it’s been kinda…like, we’ve been home, but we’ve been working really diligently.
What was that acoustic set at Crossroads in Garwood, NJ like? I heard it was “the best show ever.” What was your experience?
(chuckles) It was amazing. It was unlike anything else we’d done (short pause) before. It’s weird—we had never done proper set up acoustic shows before. The first time we ever set up to do that kind of stuff was when we were in Australia.
Those were kinda impromptu, you know, because we had a festival tour booked. And then that festival (chuckles)…and then that festival ceased to exist. It was really, really strange. It was us just touring this huge festival, and all of a sudden, it wasn’t happening, and then we just had nowhere to play.
And so instead of not going [to Australia] at all, we decided, “Fuck it, we’re just going to go, and we are going to play wherever we can, for whoever shows up.” Our label was amazing and really helped us out…
Our label in California, they helped us out and set up this like tattoo shop, art space, and we got to play there. We got to play a record store, in Sydney. So that was amazing. And people flew in and waited, like, all day long. And we were able to do, like, these free shows and meet hundreds and thousands… (asks someone something about numbers in attendance inaudibly). So, it was crazy. It was beyond our wildest dreams, kind of thing. And when we did that it was the first time we had ever done it. And it was weird because it wasn’t like a real venue, you know? So it was a bit stripped down of an acoustic set.
We had so much fun that we actually wanted to, like, “Alright, let’s actually try this for real and do it in an actual venue.” And that’s when Garwood came about. It sold out so quickly that we had to do two shows, so we set up two different sets and invited our friend Geoff Rickly to come play.
It was…it was amazing, man. The reception was unbelievable. I never thought I would enjoy doing something like that—these intimate settings with an acoustic guitar. I didn’t know if the songs would translate, but I was happily and pleasantly surprised.
The second annual Shadow of the City in Seaside Heights, NJ is coming up very soon. How’d you get a on the bill and what are you looking forward to?
Sure! Well, I know Jack Antonoff [Bleachers, fun.]—it’s his festival. And I know he was playing Phant-o-Matics for a while, so I guess there was a connection there. And also, I believe he is booked by Matt Galle, who is also my booking agent, so we have this mutual friend. And when he was putting on the fest, I guess he and Matt talked and I got a phone call asking if we would want to play.
To be honest, this was the first I had heard about the festival. And then I saw the lineup and I was like, “Oh, this is crazy.” We never get to play with bands like this. You know what I mean? It was almost like, I was shocked that we were even asked to play. So I said “Yes” immediately.
Festivals are usually hit or miss. The settings usually gear themselves more toward people who really enjoy music or as a crazy experience that goes by in a whirlwind. There are a million problems and it’s really hard to do. But from what I’ve heard, Shadow of the City is run really, really well. I know a bunch of people that are helping put it together, so I have a lot of faith that it’s going to be really fun.
You can’t really beat playing on the beach at the Jersey Shore, you know? So any opportunity to do that, I’ll jump at.
What do you think it is about the geography, the culture of New Jersey that has produced so many influential acts in a scene full of your contemporaries? Would you say that New Jersey is still turning them out today? (chuckles a bit myself)
(short laugh) I think that there are a whole lot of bands around and in order to stick out you need to be really good. So I think that it was a hot bed for people pushing each other to be better, and a hot bed for talent.
I feel like now there’s more of a diverse scene happening, a diverse scene that’s kind of a melting pot because they mix together a lot, as opposed to 10, 15 years ago, when there were a lot of bands, but they were all separated by genre, and no one really hung out with each other (chuckles). Nowadays, I feel like there are more varied shows, which is really nice to see.
What’s your favorite place to see music and your favorite place to eat—in Jersey?
Oh man. Well, it used to be Maxwell’s [in Hoboken]. Now I’d say Starland [Ballroom, in Sayreville]. The Wellmont [Theater, in Montclair], is also nice—I just went to a show there. Yeah, that was a cool venue.
What’s the best place to eat in New Jersey? Man, that’s a hard question. We’re really into Plaza Bagels right now…I don’t know if anyone ever really refers to them as “Plaza Bagels” or if they just call them “Punk Rock Bagels”—like, “There’s a place called Punk Rock Bagels that’s pretty good.”
Any words to the fans?
Yeah! Um, I guess—be patient, we got a lot of cool stuff comin’. Yeah, I think by the end of this year, I’m going to need a really big break (chuckles). Because even though things have just gotten started, like, oh my god, we just have so much stuff comin’. And I’m really excited for it. I can’t wait. It’s going to be really good. So yeah, uh, be patient (chuckles).
Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration will be performing at Shadow of the City in Asbury Park on June 18. For more information, visit frank-iero.com and shadowofthe.city.