It’s minutes before the second date of Death Spells’ UK tour is set to kick in and James Dewees is stood on stage, looking at the video projections on the wall and asking, “what the fuck is going on?” It’s a question that could, if given space, be asked several times over the next hour. Bizarre, future-nightmare graphics cascade against the wall while Frank Iero screams, hollers and generally makes loud noises into a microphone. It has the makings of a mess, but somehow it never gets close. There’s something to the pair throwing every fibre of their being into this project that makes it glorious.
“Finally having the album out makes it seem more real,” starts Frank. “Otherwise, it could have been this weird dream we had. Did the tree fall? I don’t know but I hear something.”
“Last night when we went into the second song and people started going nuts, that’s when I knew that this is great. This is going to be a lot of fun,” adds James.
“It’s the perfect storm. This is the first time we’ve played shows where people have had the record and actually understood what it was as opposed to showing up, not knowing what to expect and feeling assaulted. I think they’re still getting attacked, but in a great way. All we have to do is unleash. It doesn’t feel like work at all.”
Making first contact way back when after Frank went to a bunch of Reggie And The Full Effect and The Get Up Kids shows (James’ solo and full band project, respectively) the pair finally met and started hanging out in 2003. “MCR were playing Kansas City. It was an all ages’ show in a warehouse and I went because Reggie was going to tour with them,” explains James. “The thing that struck me about that band first was ‘it’s hot as balls in here and that lead singer is wearing a leather coat. What the fuck?’ From stage, they then gave me a shout out, ‘This one’s for James, he’s back there behind a chain-link fence, drinking beer.’ We hung out, we went on tour together and we clicked from minute one.” The pair know now each others dietary requirements, they both have the same sense of humour and like long walks on the beach. “It also comes from all the years of touring together with ‘the other band’,” says James, referencing MyChem “But we were friends in the first place. With all those years of touring, you become brothers. You’ve got each others backs and you trust each other 100%.” Sometimes, Frank will even drive from New Jersey to Long Island to rehearse.
Finally finding time to work on music together in 2012 while the pair were living together near the studio were My Chemical Romance were working on their fifth album, Death Spells came out of a carnal desire to create.
“One of the reasons we’ve always gotten along so well is that we both like creating. Even in that apartment in North Hollywood, we couldn’t just fucking sit there. We need to work on shit. We need to do something,” explains James. After watching ever ninja movie, visiting every farmers market and baking, “Dump Cake? Remember that bullshit?”
“Worst name but it was so good.”
“I went and bought an espresso machine, I would sit there and try to figure out how to make macchiato well. Then I’d take it over to the studio. It’s that need to create. It sounds nuts but I can’t control what I’m hearing in my head. I can’t control what inspires me. I’ll hear a melody or will want to go and sit and write music. It drives my wife nuts,” laughs James. “That was one of the things with Death Spells, it’s so different to everything else we’ve done. You keep going, you finish a song and then ask, ‘what other fucked up thing can we do now?’ Let’s keep pushing towards, we don’t know what yet, but let’s keep making it fucking nuts and see how far we can go.”
What started as a weird studio project became a live entity thanks to Mindless Self Indulgence. The band’s frontman heard James had a new electronic project and invited him on tour. Without really stopping to consider how it would work live, Death Spells said yes. “We didn’t know what to do. The video is going and we’re going nuts on stage. Everyone in the crowd was going ‘What the fuck is going on? What is he screaming about? What is this video? Why is that man hanging from hooks? When are MSI going to play?’”
“And that’s when it cemented itself. We have to do this.”
The pair finished a bulk of the work for ‘Nothing Above, Nothing Below’ back in 2013 but they didn’t have time to properly finish it off due to solo records and all the other stuff that came with it. They kept in contact though, speaking at least once a month and reminding each other they had to get it sorted. Then, all of a sudden, their schedules opened up and it just worked. Half the files wouldn’t open because their operating system was now obsolete but even redoing a few bits, the record still retained a feeling of this is nuts. “There’s still nothing like it out. I feel like if we had put it out three years ago, it probably would have been way over people’s heads trying to conceive what was happening. For some reason three years later people get it,” starts James before Frank takes the baton. ”I feel like that too. It’s weird. Everything happened for a reason. The first time we posted a sound clip from a song we made, I remember getting hate mail. People were so angry. Now people are like ‘this is my favourite record of 2016’. Really? Cos I still have your hate mail.”
“Honestly, it felt like this chapter of the story wasn’t properly told. I had a really hard time finishing my new thing that I’m doing without finishing this. It didn’t feel right and I couldn’t bust open that door. Once James and I had the time to finish this and knew we had a release date and everything, it felt like every door blew right open,” offers Frank.” I thought for a really long time you create this stuff just for you. You make it and you could sit on it forever, no big deal. I’ve since realised that’s wrong. The final stage of what we do is releasing it to people and getting that reaction. Whether you’re around to see the reaction or not, you need to effect other people. Even if it’s a thirty second song clip, if it’s a project and it means something to you, you need to go out and share it.”
Between Frank and James, they’ve had a hand in creating some of the most important records of the past twenty years. “As far as legacy goes, if you don’t take risks and do things you want to do because you feel compelled to do them, there is no legacy,” starts Frank. “Having other projects under our belts that people look to and respect, that allows us a bit more leeway to do the things we really like to do. There’s never been a moment where someone has said maybe you shouldn’t do that. If there’s anyone to blame, it’s us.”
Almost four years in the making, the future of Death Spells is uncertain. The pair have other stuff to occupy them for the next couple of months but they’re going to see where they are come January. However, due to their stripped back live setup, “it could get to the point where we both have our DS stuff and if we end up having a day off somewhere at the same time, there’s a DS show. I don’t know if it’s going to be like that, but it could get to that point.”
But for now James, after turning down a stint being the live keyboardist for a certain nu-metal band (that leads to both parties exchanging stories about Puddle of Mudd) has his eyes set on new albums from Reggie and The Get Up Kids while Frank has his next solo record to sort out. “It sounds amazing,” teases James. “I didn’t think it was Frank at first. There’s so much energy, it’s going to smack kids in the face. It will.”
As always, Death Spells don’t really know what the fuck is happening but if there’s a chance for chaos, they’ll take it.
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