Frank Iero has become synonymous with the now-disbanded cult-favorite My Chemical Romance, but many often forget how well rounded the guitarist is. Growing up in New Jersey, Iero performed in various punk bands before joining the group and continued to dabble in hardcore by fronting Leathermouth until its split in 2010. When My Chemical Romance broke up in 2013, he formed Death Spells alongside The Get Up Kids’ James Dewees, and the duo released several demos online while embarking on limited touring stints before it quietly took a backseat to its members’ other projects. Since then, he has turned his focus to a much more personal endeavor, using the music he created in his home as a way to cope with extreme stomach pain as the content for Stomachaches, his first true solo record under the name Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration. Now, the jack of all trades is gearing up to launch his first headlining tour with a handful of veterans from Jersey’s local scene in tow. The Aquarian recently caught up with Iero to discuss Stomachaches, the pros and cons of being a frontman, touring and more.
How was writing as a solo artist different from creating music as part of a band?
It’s a bit more of a lonely process. However, at the same time there are these moments where it is really fulfilling, when you’re in a situation that nothing makes the record that doesn’t come from your head or your heart—and that’s a really special feeling. But there is nobody else to bounce stuff off of and to get excited about it, so you have to find that excitement within.
Since Stomachaches was initially written without much of an intention of a release, was it difficult to reveal a very vulnerable side of yourself to the public and put out such personal music?
Yeah, and relinquishing that control over the material and the recordings was a bit hard. When you’re making something like that, you’re really making it for yourself, and you don’t think to tailor it for outside ears. So there’s moments that I feel are brutally honest, or moments where things are mentioned that wouldn’t have necessarily been. That’s the really hard decision, when you find out that it is going to be heard by a lot of other people that you don’t know. Once you figure that out, you can either decide to edit it yourself or just let it be as honest and pure as possible, and I was hoping to make it as pure as I could.
When did you realize that you wanted to release all of this material?
The story has a lot to do with my good friend Matt Gallihugh, who has been with me since forever. I had been doing some things like touring with Death Spells, and James Dewees, who I do Death Spells with, was starting a new Reggie And The Full Effect record. So Matt and I were talking one day and he asked me, just in passing, “What are you going to do when James is doing Reggie again? Are you going to tour with him?” And I was like, “Oh, no, I’ve been working on something else.” And he asked me to hear it. So I sent him some tracks, and from there he convinced me to let him play it in front of other people, and this interest started growing. That’s when I decided, “Oh, wow, I guess it’s an actual project and not just something I’ve been doing on my own.”
Was there any music that you feel specifically influenced you during the time you worked on the LP?
I feel like I definitely drew upon music from my youth. There was a lot of stuff that my father played for me as a kid, and I think that had a lot to do with it. My parents split when I was young, so I would go to see him on the weekends, and that was like an hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive there and back. That relationship was he and I in a car a lot. We would listen to cassette tapes over and over again; lots of old blues and rock stuff. Most of these had simple progressions with one mic recording and just a very human element to them. But then I also feel like I cut my teeth growing up in the ’90s and hearing a lot of ’80s punk rock and ’90s alternative. So it was just a mishmash of all of that, and I think that’s where I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from.
How did the ideas for the “Weighted” and “Joyriding” videos come about? Was the theme of gore intentional?
(Laughs) I feel like with videos there are two things you can do: You can either really drive the point home of the lyrics and do that with the visual that goes along with it, or you can take the money and say, “I can create an accompanying art project which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the meaning.”
It’s just another chance to do something creative. So as far as “Weighted” goes, when it came to time to sign to Staple Records and pick a single and come up with a video, I thought to myself, “Well, I said everything I’ve wanted to say already in the music, so why not take this money and do something really fun with it?” And we made Pet Sematary, basically.
Then we found out that we were going to be able to do another as well, so with that video it only worked with “Joyriding.” That song is about basically taking in everyone else’s disappointment or problems and internalizing them, and trying to swallow it down until you can’t take it anymore, so the video is very much like a bloodletting. That’s why it starts off very clean and pristine until it begins to just ooze out of you and everything turns to chaos. So that was the thought process there.
Oh cool! That makes sense.
Yeah, it just so happened to be very gory. But you know, that is also telling of the people I got to work on it too. Between myself, Brandon LaGanke and John Carlucci of Ghost+Cow Films, and Tate Steinsiek, all we do is geek out over horror films and stuff like that (laughs). So that definitely made its way in.
How is being a lead vocalist different? What are the pros and cons of being a frontman?
Well, I don’t know the pros yet (laughs). It’s different in the way that everything kind of relies on you, but then again I guess that can be a pro as well. But I had never set out to be the frontman or a solo artist. I’ve done it in other bands because no one else wanted to do it, and I wanted to be in a band so badly that I was like, “Alright, I’ll do it if no one else will!” (Laughs)
So, with this, what I feel is a con is that there are so many outside factors that rely on how the show will go. From sickness, to weather, to not getting enough sleep—this all affects your instrument. I love to just play guitar; it’s wood, it’s steel, it’s something that you can depend on, as opposed to an instrument like the voice where you can’t see it. You can’t stay up all night smoking cigarettes and expect it to play well the next day. It’s troubling, because everything relies upon these vocal cords, and that’s the worst job in the world.
That’s one of two cons. The second is when you get up on stage, some fans expect this quintessential frontman-type thing. I feel like certain people are really good at that, but for the most part it’s laughable. I’m not the type of person to do that with a straight face; I’m not like that. So I’d much rather go up there and have a bit of a conversation and then just play the song.
My wife and I were just talking about this. What we loved so much about the first time we saw Against Me! was that they’d get up there, and maybe they’d say they were Against Me! but other than that you’d just get laid out by the music, and that was awesome. They wouldn’t need to say anything, they’d just let the music speak for itself. And I tend to be of that mindset.
My Chemical Romance was so influential and still has such a huge following. How have fans of that reacted to Stomachaches and overall your solo career thus far?
It’s been really great. There are a lot of people that have carried over from different projects, but then there are a lot of new faces as well, and that’s pretty amazing. What’s strange to see is a lot of younger people coming to shows. The people who carry over from say, My Chem, are like super young, and they say, “I never got to see My Chem.” It’s weird to see that young generation get into a band now, you know? I guess that’s telling of the generation we live in and how we find out about music. But the people who get into this project that weren’t necessarily into My Chem or Leathermouth or something like that are older, and it’s a cool diversity in the age groups.
How does being from NJ affect your music?
These days, seeing how diverse the scene is, is really amazing for me. I remember when I was growing up, there was a time in the ’90s where it was very split, and bands either sounded like Strung Out and Bigwig, or they sounded like Madball, and that was it. That was the extent of the Jersey scene. Maybe a couple of ska bands thrown in there for good measure. But that was pretty much it.
Now, I feel every week I see like an alt country band, or there’s a mathcore band, or there’s a straight-up punk rock band—there’s just so much going on. It’s such a melting pot. I really enjoy the scene now. But as far as how it has influenced me, I feel like it’s the work ethic. I think it’s very much the working class mindset and that feeling that no one is going to hand anything to you. Just this feeling like you’re growing up like a normal person, as opposed to being coddled.
I know a member of Science is in The Cellabration, are there any other any other local bands that you’re into?
Yes! It’s funny, everyone who is in The Cellabration is kind of spread out and plays in a bunch of different stuff. Evan [Nestor, guitarist], like you said, plays in Science. Rob [Hughes], our bass player, played in Leathermouth, and Matt [Olsson], our drummer, plays in like 25 different projects, one being Impossible Voyage. There are just so many bands that are going on right now.
Reese Van Riper is a great band and practices in a building close to ours. I like The Scandals, too. And This Good Robot are fantastic. I feel very privileged to come from a place where so many amazing artists come out of and are working. They’re really just recording and coming up with new stuff all the time and it’s really great to see.
How have you been prepping for The Cellabrations’ first extensive headlining tour?
Oh man (laughs). It’s a lot! Seriously. Especially because I don’t have management or a group of people doing everything, it’s really just me juggling the responsibilities of this and also real life. Your kids don’t give a shit that you have a tour coming up (laughs). Though I have like 13 things that I have to work on, they’re still like, “I have school, and homework, and I want to go play in the basement, and you’re going to watch me.” So doing all of that is a bit of a full-time job.
Also, it’s hard to do a headlining tour with a band that has one record out, because essentially you have to play all of that and more. Rehearsal is a lot of it, and also just figuring out the logistics of touring. But I’m really excited to go out with The Homeless Gospel Choir and Modern Chemistry, which is actually another Jersey band!
Any future plans to continue work with Death Spells further down the line?
You know what’s funny? I was actually listening to the songs the other day, and… yes (laughs). It’s a matter of finding out when our schedules actually work. He’s so busy, I don’t even know how he’s doing it. I think he’s out with Reggie right now, and then goes out with The Get Up Kids right after that. It’s crazy. And I don’t know if when I’m done in May he’s going to be done as well. It’ll be great to finally finish it by the summer, but every time I say that it pushes it back a year.
Don’t jinx it!
Yeah, seriously. But I really want that done. But now—that’s the thing, too—you listen to it and you’re like, “Oh man, I want to redo all of this!” I’m trying to fight that urge of going back and changing everything because I’ve been sitting on it for so long.
Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration play The Studio At Webster Hall in Manhattan on Feb. 18, The Barbary in Philadelphia on March 31, Saint Vitus in Brooklyn on April 1, and the Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park on April 2. Stomachaches is available now through Staple Records. For more information, go to frank-iero.com.