Frank Iero: music from the guts

Frank Iero & The CellabrationAlthough My Chemical Romance split in 2013, there was no way Frank Iero, the band’s rhythm guitarist, was going to slow down. He was already involved in other projects when MCR’s schedule allowed, and he’s since tinkered with industrial experiments with Death Spells, started exploring other artistic forms on his website, and embarked almost reluctantly on a solo career with Frnkiero And The Cellabration. The first album he put out under this name, Stomachaches, was composed on his own, mixing the pop/rock undertones his fans are used to and an almost folk songwriting to deliver a record that is at once straightforward and full of paradoxes.

We met a jovial and loquacious Frank before his concert at the Longlive Festival in Lyon to talk about this new project. Pleasantly surprised by the turn of events since the release of Stomachaches, the man doesn’t hide his enthusiasms or his doubts, and comes across as a tireless and humble artist who tries to fight against his own limits and do what he likes. We talked about all this in the following interview.

Frank Iero & The Cellabration

« Who wants to be a solo artist? That sucks, right? « 

How is the tour going so far?

Frank Iero (vocals & guitars): It’s fantastic! I don’t know if I had expectations, but if I had any, it definitely exceeded them. It’s strange: I wrote and recorded a record in my basement, didn’t plan on doing anything else with it and now I find myself on tour halfway all across the world, we’re playing big festivals with lots of different bands and we had sold out shows… It’s amazing! It’s very flattering. It’s overwhelming a bit. I’m really happy just to give it a play and have people appreciate it.

Yeah, the reactions so far have been pretty positive from what I saw…

Yeah, I can’t complain! I could try, but it would be hard-pressed!

You’re known mostly for being part of My Chemical Romance, but you’ve been in other bands too. What is new here though is that it is a solo project with you writing about every part of the record by yourself. So you’re a frontman now…

How weird! It’s weird, right? [Laughs]

So what does it feel like? How different is it working in that frame of mind, what did it change for you? Did you feel like it was the right time for you to, I don’t know, start writing in your own name?

Fuck no! [Laughs] No, I never thought that for a second! In fact, yeah, I never wanted that job, never! God no! I never thought I would enjoy doing that. I was looking at people who were in bands and went solo like: “What is this fuckin’ asshole?!” [Laughs] All he has to do is put his name in lights, and yeah right, then they go back, they do shows with the band, then they go off and do their solo… Stop! I don’t know. That was just always my impression of it. And now, I ended up writing all these songs by myself, I recorded all the music for the most part – I had my friend Jarrod [Alexander] come and play drums on a few tracks but I did everything else -, my friend Eddy helped me record it but I did all the stuff in my basement… I had these songs. I showed them to a friend of mine and he wanted to put it out. Then it came time for him to ask me: “What is this called?” And I was like: [sigh]. I thought: “You know what? I can make up a band! Pretend this is like a new project. But that would be a lie! So I guess I’ll have to use my name!” And I was okay with it because that was the first time I did everything, you know, so it felt true. But then there’s that thing: who wants to be a solo artist? That sucks, right? So I guess it probably plays into why I misspell everything and make it as hard as possible for myself. That’s what it is. So yeah, I guess I’m a solo artist. But I have my friends with me, they play music with me and I love that, so I wanted a name for the band and I called that “The Cellabration”. And what is it like? Well, for the first couple of months I thought it really sucked. I was like: “I don’t know if I like this…” But the more we do it the more fun I have doing it. I don’t know if I’m getting better at it, I feel like I’m getting more used to it, but I’ve realized that I’m able to do it on my terms. What those terms are I’m not really sure yet, but I can do it within my comfort zone, which is a very small zone. So I’m figuring it out as we go along. But I do know this: as soon as I stop having fun is when it’s over.

I’ve talked about that with Gerard a few months ago and he told me that it was very refreshing for him after being in My Chemical Romance that had become really big and was getting a bit out of control, to do things on his own terms and so on now. Did it feel a bit like that for you too?

I feel like your view of things changes as things evolve but I feel like he was always in control. But I can understand that. I think it’s nice to have a notion, an idea, a little spark of creativity… And sometimes when you’re in a group, you’ve got that little spark of creativity, you know that’s gonna be something special, but it doesn’t get to grow to that level because maybe it’s gonna get vetoed, or someone else has another idea that’s fully formed… It’s nice to see every idea either succeed or fail, that’s really cool. And then, I don’t know! The control thing… I think you have to have more of a plan, then… I don’t know if I have a plan, because when I started this, I didn’t plan on doing it [laughs], so… Yeah. But he’s really good at that, so I think he’s a completely different thing. He’s a fantastic frontman, very determined on what he wants and where he wants to go with it. I’m more like: “I feel like doing this today so I’m gonna do it” [laughs], and that’s how far as I see! I only see maybe the next couple of days. And I gotta stop doing that! [Laughs] I gotta look forward in the future probably. Maybe it comes with age and wisdom.

So far so good!

So far so good, yeah! But then, you can only be lucky for so long, right? [Laughs]

Frank Iero - Stomachaches

« I reserve the right to resurrect, but finality is also a beautiful thing. […] I like the idea of starting a project and then shutting it and not having to think about it ever again. »

So how did you form the Cellabration? You knew the musicians before, I think?

Yeah, I did! I knew that if and when I was to start another band the first person I wanted was my brother-in-law Evan [Nestor]. It’s a fantastic musician, fantastic guitar player, wonderful voice, and just a beautiful person. He’s amazing. I don’t know many people like him and I wanted him to do this with. That was the first thing. Once I convinced him to do it [laughs], from there I had to flesh out the band. The other person I really wanted was Rob Hughes who plays bass in the Cellabration. He played guitar in a band called Leathermouth with me. We did a couple of tours with Leathermouth but I ended up having to do My Chem stuff so the band didn’t have the chance to do anything else. I just love being with him. I love playing with him, and you know, some people are just good to be around… He’s like that. So I convinced him to play bass again, because originally when he began playing he started playing bass and then changed to guitar to play in other bands, so I asked him to go back to play with this band. And then we needed a drummer, which is in my opinion the hardest or second hardest job in a band, and through mutual friends I was introduced to Matt Olsson. He and I hang out a couple of times; I just wanted to see what it would be like, what he was like. Once we connected I brought Evan in, we had a couple of practices for some songs and it just felt right. I’m playing with them by since, I don’t need anybody else. He was the final piece of that puzzle and so far it’s working pretty well. I think eventually we might wanna bring in another guitar player but I don’t know. It’s working so well with the four of us, it would be weird to bring somebody else along. The person would have to be really special.

In your website, since the end of MCR, you’ve been posting articles, stories, a lot of pictures too. Did you feel the need to explore other creative fields and do you plan to carry on with these things?

Actually, thank you very much for bringing that up, I enjoy that so much! I would say if I don’t enjoy it more than music either way it’s a close second. I love writing, I love just making things, and I felt like a website would be a great place to just post like a stream of consciousness. Since the Cellabration kicked off I’ve been on the road a lot and I’ve totally dropped the ball on everything else, which hurts me so bad. I wish I could keep on doing that but somehow it’s hard for me to wrap my head around doing multiple things… But yeah! I would love to! I would love to get off the roads sooner or later and progress in that side, maybe take it out of the virtual and do something, a more physical copy of a collection of things I made. It’s definitely a project of passion, but it’s also… I almost feel like it’s a fraction of my creativity and a fraction of my brain that’s so personal that I’m almost… I’m scared to put out, you know what I mean? It took me a very long time to just be able to post things. I think it would be an enormous step for me to do something physical. If I can get over that fear and get the time I would love to do it, I’ve set a schedule to do it and canceled it more times that I could tell you [laughs], so. We’ll see what happens!

Before starting this project, you’ve been in other bands like Leathermouth and Death Spells…

I love the way you guys say Leathermouth! I love it! No, seriously, it’s one of my favorite things in the entire world! The French and German accents, it sounds like “Lessermouse”, I love it, I think it’s great! I love the way it sounds, I really do! I think it’s even a better name! I’m sorry, go ahead…

First, are these over or do you plan to do something with these bands eventually?

I don’t know! Sometimes I wonder if anything is ever over. I guess I reserve the right to resurrect, but finality is also a beautiful thing. I like being complete with things. I like the idea of starting a project and then shutting it and not having to think about it ever again. Recently on tour we’ve been doing headline spots. The Stomachaches record is about 35 minutes long, and we found ourselves in places where we had to play for an hour… So we’ve played Leathermouth songs a few times, and it’s been really, really fun. Do I ever see myself do that project full time again? Probably not, but it’s nice to revisit it from time to time.

Leathermouth and Death Spells are both kind of extreme in their own way, so were they a way for you to explore other musical landscapes, like on the side maybe?

Absolutely. Well, I try not to do things “on the side”, I try to dedicate as much as I can to them. Sometimes life gets in the way, but I just have a love for creating things, and it tends to be sometimes very much on different sides of the spectrum. That makes me happy, because I get to live in those worlds. But there’s actually a couple of songs that I did on my own for the Cellabration project, I didn’t know if they were gonna be… I was like: “Maybe they feel more like Leathermouth songs?” “Smoke Rings” is one of them that could have gone that way, but I was like: “I don’t have that band anymore so I’m just gonna do it the way I would do it”. I like that with the Cellabration stuff. I think, at least I feel that when you listen to the record, it has that feeling of kinda jumping all over the place and I like having that opportunity to… I don’t know. If I wanna release a thrash EP I’m gonna do it, whether I have a band or call it under my name it’s the same thing, you know what I mean? Maybe it’s all under the moniker “Frank Iero”. Which sucks because I love naming bands! I have really good band names sometimes! But we’ll see. Maybe I just need to call it all my name.

Frank Iero & The Cellabration

« I tell a lot of stories on the record, so for me it’s kind of a folk record in that respect. »

Another thing these two bands had in common is James Dewees, who played live with My Chemical Romance too. Can you tell me about your collaboration?

I have been a long time admirer and now long time friend of James. I love working with him. I think he’s an absolute genius. I’ve never seen anybody… His genius, it’s like all over the place too: it’s music, it’s coffee [laughs], it’s baking, it’s comedy… He’s unbelievable. I’ve never known anybody like him. He doesn’t sleep very much but when he does he tends to eats in his sleep, it’s weird. He’s an amazing person. I love playing with him, I love creating with him. I’ve done a few projects now. I was lucky enough to be asked to play with Reggie And The Full Effect, he played in My Chem of course, he played drums on the Leathermouth tours, and then we did Death Spells together. He’s been telling people he’s waiting on me to finish the Death Spells stuff, I’ve been telling people I’ve been waiting on him so apparently we had some miscommunication, I think we’ll try to put that to bed soon, and I look forward to it. Doing anything with him is always a pleasure and an honor, so I’m sure we’ll do something again soon.

Now, back to Stomachaches: the first time I heard it, from your entire career, it got me thinking about Pencey Prep, the band with which you released your first record. It may be due to the fact that you’re singing on both, also that they’re both kinda pop punk. Do you think it’s relevant to see Frnkiero and the Cellabration as a way to go back to your roots enriched with all this experience you gained as a man and a musician through the years? Like some kind of more mature take on pop punk?

God, I hope it’s more mature than Pencey! That’s the thing: I think back to that band and it’s a strange feeling, right, because some of the songs I wrote I was sixteen, you know what I mean? It’s forever! The record is out there and you think like wow, if people listen to something you made when you were sixteen [laughs] and then judge you on that like: “Oh, he’s that kind of person!” Jesus! What if?!

But it was nice!

I know! It was a time and a place! But you know, I was sixteen! So yeah. I think there’s definitely a tie there, it was a band where I was playing guitar and singing at the same time, it had been a long time since I did that and I had to relearn to do it for this. But I hope it’s more mature!

Can you tell me about the “Weighted” music video? Because it’s really something…

Sometimes people give you money and they’re like: “Now make a video!” And you can either do something that’s completely representative of a song, or you can be like: “I said all I wanted to say in the song so I’m gonna make something that’s completely different, another piece of art.” I ended up having a story in my head that I wanted to do and we did it at like 4 in the morning with my friends in my backyard and it was really awesome [laughs].

The record is entitled “Stomachaches”. Apparently, it’s been inspired by literal stomachaches, like real body pain, and song titles like “Blood infections” and “Stitched” are along the same line. But then the lyrics are filled with doubt, anxiety, self-hatred… After all, stomachaches can be caused by anxiety, worry and so on! So is it a way to make a kind of summary of things you’ve been through?

I think the songs came from health issues, and I wanted to make positives out of negatives, so stomachaches became a synonymous with creativity and songs. That’s where it came from. As far as the lyrics on the record, I think it’s very based on experiences that I went through as a young person and things I saw other people go through. I feel like I tell a lot of stories on the record, so for me it’s kind of a folk record in that respect. It’s funny this is the first record under my name because I think a lot of things are recalling either experiences or influences from my youth, so it feels like it’s a good place to start. Where it goes from there? I’m very curious to see!

Interview conducted 8th, may 2015 by Chloé Perrin.
Retranscription: Chloé Perrin.
Pics: Jeff Crespi.

Frank Iero official website: frank-iero.com.

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