Each night, as Frank Iero tucks his children in, he offers them a choice: a storybook or a song. Rarely do they choose the book, opting for a sing-along that begins with “Best Friends Forever (But Not Now).” Created by his daughter Lily as a playful retort to her nine-year-old twin sister Cherry’s teasing, the song charmed the singer-songwriter, who grabbed his guitar and, together with the twins and seven-year-old son Miles, fleshed it out. Not only did they record it in Iero’s home studio, but they also filmed a family music video. Being children, the trio are never happy with just one bedtime song, which presented a dilemma. The songs on Iero’s solo records, Stomachaches (2014, Workhorse Music Group) and Parachutes (2016, BMG/Vagrant), were not age appropriate. His solution: “A New Day’s Coming,” the uplifting, hopeful, and spiritual opening track of his newly released third solo effort, Barriers (UNFD).
Recorded with Iero’s latest band, The Future Violents,the album is not a collection of “aw shucks” happy anthems. Throughout the album’s 14 tracks, the songwriter not only draws from a palette of emotions, but he is also inspired by the many musical styles that have informed his decades-long musical career. Raw, introspective, confessional, and therapeutic, the album is not a concept record, though each track shares the common theme of shattering barriers and toppling walls.
Iero has mixed emotions as he reclines backstage at Philadelphia’s Foundry. Although he is starting a month-long headlining tour and Barriers is finally being released, he’s leaving his family behind. He saw his children off to school, but it will be a few days before he sees them again. Fortunately, the tour has been routed so that after the first five shows, he’ll be close enough to his New Jersey home to spend an off day with them. The kids have started to question why he has to leave for periods of time. They may be too young to be impressed by Iero’s given profession, but they were excited by the big shiny tour bus that rolled up to their home before school.
Iero laughs. “My son wonders why all the neighborhood dads don’t go to work on tour busses. I hate being away from my family, but if I had a regular nine-to-five job—factoring in commuting—I’d have limited time with them each day. Between tours, I have complete days to spend with my kids.”
When Iero’s best-known band, My Chemical Romance, split in 2013, he wasn’t considering a solo career. He was simply hoping to be a guitarist in another band. And that happened, for a moment with Leathermouth, the post-hardcore band he formed with Rob Hughes, but when that group splintered after just one release, he brought it to an end.
“It became a solo project, which didn’t interest me,” he explains.
Iero had also been writing and recording songs not meant for public consumption. That changed when a friend started distributing tapes of the songs to record company folk. That first collection of songs was recorded and released as Stomachaches and credited to “Frnkiero andthe Cellabration.” His second album, Parachutes, was attributed to Frank Iero and The Patience. Barriers was created by Frank Iero and the Future Violents. In addition to being a sort of an inside joke, the name changes also refer to the band lineup changes. His current “dream” band features guitarist Evan Nestor, drummer Tucker Rule (Thursday), bassist Matt Armstrong, and keyboardist Kayleigh Goldsworthy. The name The Future Violents was actually inspired by miscommunication on a flight to Sydney, Australia.
Iero smiles. “It was serendipitous. A flight attendant asked us if we were in a band and I said ‘yes.’ He asked us what our name was, and I said, ‘Frank Iero and The Patience.’ He said, ‘The Future Violents? That’s a crazy name.’ How do you confuse one for the other? But I believe the universe gives you things and you need to be listening to take notice. I wrote the name down, though I had no idea what it was meant to be. When I started to think about the accident I experienced in 2016, it was about a brutal, intense moment that changed everything for me. It was like tossing a rock into a lake and watching the ripples that result. My life changed. Things would never be the same again…. The Future Violents fit.”
It was on the afternoon of Thursday, October 13, 2016 that the singer-songwriter stared death in the face. Iero, guitarist Evan Nestor, drummer Matt Olsson, manager Paul Clegg, and his publicist arrived in front of the Twitter office in Sydney. They were unloading their van when a bus abruptly slammed into them. Iero was dragged nine feet before ending up under the bus’s front bumper. Nestor screamed, “I can’t feel my legs,” while Clegg’s leg began to bleed profusely. Fortunately, a police officer who witnessed the accident raced over and tied a tourniquet around the manager’s leg, saving the limb and his life. Iero, Nestor, and Clegg were admitted to a hospital in serious condition and remained there for two weeks before returning home for further treatment. Although no one died and everyone has fully recovered from their various injuries, Iero admits he may have a touch of survivor’s remorse.
“There are three things that occur when experiencing a traumatic event,” he explains. “One, you’re shocked you survived to tell the story. Two, most people get to meet death once. I’ve stared death in the face already and I’m waiting to do it again, which is daunting. Three, I have started to wonder what is real. Did I survive or is this a manifestation of my subconscious? You must come to this realization that this is real to you. You must deal best with the hand you’ve been dealt.”
Iero’s life has been changed forever. Even with therapy and the therapeutic effect of his emotionally bleeding and soul-searching music.
“When you come back from something like that, you can’t say, ‘Okay, I’m going to write songs about it’,” he continues. “It doesn’t work that way. You must figure out a new way. I’m lucky that I am still able to create. The process is not better or worse, it’s just different. I think about things differently. Everything tastes different. And I love that I still get time to spend with my family. I still get to do this thing that has been such an important part of my life for so long. But there is also a feeling of being cheated out of my predetermined fate.”
As a solo artist, Iero has essentially started over. The weeks leading up to Barriers’ release and the start of the tour were whirlwind. The media appearances, interviews, photoshoots, and other assorted promotion seemed endless. It is the result of being the focal point; being in the spotlight.
“And my face is on the cover of this record, which is something I’ve never done before,” he says. “It scares the shit out of me. Since this record is about tearing down walls, that is what it had to be. I had the conversation with my manager. He asked me what the cover was going to be and [I expressed my ideas]. He said, ‘You know it has to be your face.’ I said, ‘Oh, fuck.’ But he was right. It is a selfie that I took on my cell phone. It was the scariest thing I could do, but I love the way it came out.”
Barriers is Iero’s second album to be recorded and mixed by the eccentric Steve Albini, who has previously worked with Nirvana and The Pixies among others.
“What is so amazing about his lack of production is that he forces you to become the producer,” explains Iero. “Both the burden and the eventual confidence falls upon you. It’s the idea that no one knows your music better than you. There is the inevitable question in the studio, and you look over to another person, who looks to another person, who looks to Steve. And he will give you nothing. He will say, “I don’t know. What do you think?”
Albini is akin to a psychiatrist or a college professor who never directly answers a question.
“It can be frustrating, but it is what you need,” the sing-songwriter continues. “With Barriers, I knew that I would make it on my terms and be the producer of it. In order to do that, I needed someone at the helm who was a genius and was able to capture whatever I threw out there.
“I hear music in colors, and I know what these songs sound like in my head. So, if I throw out a reference, and I need to chase a tone, I need someone who is capable.”
The album has already spawned a hit single and music video, “Young and Doomed,” which includes references to the accident and his previous band.
“When an artist is writing a record there are at least two songs that show where the artist is going and two that show where the artist has been,” he explains. “Young and Doomed’ is a bridge song. It ties into what I’ve done. It is not an abrupt change, but it is touching upon something different happening.”
Barriers is Iero’s first release on UNFD, an emerging independent label that focuses on a broad spectrum of heavy music. In addition to Iero, the label is home to Northlane, Tonight Alive, Hands Like Houses, and In Hearts Wake.
“I don’t want to jinx it,” beams Iero. “I have had great experiences with labels, and I have had very tumultuous experiences with labels. But this has been by far the best experience and the record is not even out yet.”
With a few minutes left before sound check for the night’s performance, the singer talks about the songs being considered as singles, “Basement Eyes” and “The Host.”
“‘Basement Eyes’ was one of those songs that came together quickly,” he says. “Everything came out at once. Songs are like love affairs. Some you must work hard at and they hurt you as much as they help you and others just come in complete packages. When I brought ‘Basement Eyes’ to the band, everyone said, ‘oh, I know what to do here.’
“‘The Host’ started with a riff that my brother-in-law Evan brought to the band. He said, ‘I got this thing and it’s real cool. I have no idea what this song is, though.’ It didn’t fall into place until we brought it to the studio. It has since become one of my favorite songs on the record.”
As Iero gets ready to join his bandmates and contemplates all of the obstacles he has overcome, he realizes the songwriting and performing is in his blood.
“It’s the only reason to do this,” he says. “This is an industry where you put all your love, time, and money… your blood, sweat, and tears into it, but it rarely loves you back. For me, it is like breathing.”
Although Barriers was completed in November, it has taken until the end of spring for it to be released.
“You write and record a record and then there is this weird purgatory you are in where you are waiting for the album to come out and for people to hear it,” explains Iero. “Now there is excitement because the tour is starting, and the record is coming out. After all the work you put into the music, you finally get to share it. You believe in it, but you also want to know if you were crazy.”
A treat for hardcore fans, Frank Iero and The Violents are offering “The Neverender Experience.” The package also includes an exclusive t-shirt, a Neverender laminate, a signed Future Violents’ set list, early entry to the respective venue, early access to the merchandise stands, photos with the band, and a mini-set with the band of songs that will not be performed during the show.
“We have three albums of material from which to choose from and I put together a wish list of what I wanted to play,” he says. “It is way longer than what any venue would have allotted us to play. We learned them all. It would be cool if we could do a stripped-down set before the show starts or experiment and present some music in different ways. I am excited to try it out.”
As Frank Iero and The Future Violents begin their soundcheck, more than two dozen fans have already lined up outside The Foundry. Although it is more than four hours before the venue’s doors open, the ticket holders are excited to be there. There is a special, indescribable vibe in the air, and they want to experience it as close to the front of the stage as they can get.
Be sure to catch Frank Iero and The Future Violents live on The Liberty Bell RiverBoat Cruise in NYC on June 22, at Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park on June 28, and the Vans warped tour in Atlantic City on June 30.