STOMACHACHES AND HEARTACHE COULDN’T STOP FRANK IERO FROM ANSWERING HIS CALLING. NOW HE JUST NEEDS TO GET USED TO THE LIMELIGHT.
WORDS: SARAH JAMIESON. PHOTOS: SARAH LOUISE BENNETT
For someone who’s only 33 years old, Frank Iero has done a lot. Having grown up in the midst of a musical family, his path was set from an early age and since entering into the New Jersey punk scene barely a teenager, his life has gone from one musical juncture to the next.
“That’s the thing, I’ve always been in bands,” begins Frank, on the other end of a phone line from somewhere in his native New Jersey. The guitarist has just returned home from a lengthy jaunt around the UK and Europe, and he’s contemplating just what drove him to get back on the road. “Towards the end of my other band [My Chemical Romance], I was doing a project called Death Spells and then when James [Dewees, his collaborator] went on tour with The Get Up Kids, I immediately went into making this record. Then, as soon as I had done the record, I ended up getting a deal and putting it out. I don’t think I know how to do anything else, you know?”
Since his early teens, Frank has been in and out of more bands than some people can even think of. From his early groups I Am A Graveyard and Pencey Prep – who released their only record back in 2002 – to the multi-million-selling beast of My Chemical Romance, he has had his fingers in many pies over the years.
It was only when his former project wound down in 2013 however, that he realised he had different priorities to take into consideration. Despite already having begun his aforementioned electronic-fused Death Spells, he was also enjoying being a husband and a father to the family he had spent so much time away from already. It was the music, though, that really pulled him back out onto the road.
“It wasn’t a decision to make lightly,” he admits, opening up about how touring was back on the table once again. “It was definitely something I had to sit down with my wife and think, ‘I don’t know if…’ I didn’t know if I wanted to do this again, especially in the capacity of how I was gonna do it now. I’ve always been very happy being the guitar player, being the ‘other guy’ who’s a little bit more in the background. To be a focal point or a mouthpiece for a band has just never been a goal of mine. We sat down and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I should do this, and I don’t know if I want to do this.’ She was just like, ‘Well, you’ll never know unless you try it and if you don’t try it, you’re gonna hate yourself for it.’ She just said, ‘See how it goes; if you like it, great, if you don’t like it, come home.’ That’s what I’ve been doing. The second it stops being fun, you have to go home. If I could choose where I would rather be, I would rather be with my family, but this is all I’ve ever known and all I know how to do.”
The very fact that music was all he knows how to do was even the reason for his latest project. Having suffered from chronic stomach issues for the majority of his life so far, sessions for his newest album ‘stomachaches’ – the debut under his solo guise of frnkiero and the cellabration – stemmed from the pain affecting his sleeping pattern. The music became his therapy, and sooner or later it brought him back to where he belonged, even if it was with a bit of a different agenda.
“It’s weird, I don’t know if…” he starts, again referencing his newfound role as a frontman. “I’m getting more used to it and I’m having some fun with it. I’ve been realising that it’s possible to do it on my own terms. If you look at that quintessential frontman, for me that’s always been something that I’ve never wanted to do. Not that I’ve hated it, but it seems kinda funny to me. It’s a little bit laughable, so now I find myself in that position, I’ve realised I don’t have to do it like everyone else has before. I want it to be genuine and I want to be able to do it on my own terms. I feel lucky enough to be able to do it.”
His worries about his new position didn’t just stem from him being a bit more fond of the back of the stage – “It’s a rough one, especially for an anti-social person like me!” – either; turns out, it’s a hard job in general, and he’s still learning the ropes.
“I mean, that’s the thing!” he laughs. “I didn’t really fully know everything that goes into it. Now that I’m doing it, and at first I was like, ‘Oh man, this sucks, I don’t like this at all,’ but I have obligations that I have to fulfil so the more I do it, the more I learn and am able to control things. Once you get the hang of it, it starts to get more fun. It’s definitely a lot of responsibility; I give singers a lot of credit because I didn’t know how hard it all is until I’ve had to step into those shoes. Especially, being in charge of an instrument that you can’t see, and have everything that you do affect it. If you play guitar, even if you’re not feeling that well or you’re a bit under the weather, you can still play it all night long. If you’re tired, you can muscle through it. But if you have to sing for an hour every night, the third or fourth day it’s hard to have anything left. It’s hard to mask how you’re actually feeling because it shows up in your playing. It’s such a strange thing. I’ve never been that healthy a person, to try to be the best that you can at it, is incredibly hard. There’s a lot of moving parts. On paper, it’s the worst job ever! It’s the worst!”
What’s incredible to see, though, is while Frank’s project may have been born from pain and uncertainty, it’s really offering him the chance to be the person he wants to be. Whether that be the father at home, or the musician on tour, this project is another opportunity for him. He’s never one to take that for granted.
“For me, at least, I didn’t expect to be doing this again,” he offers. “It really is a bit of a surprise because after my previous band effectively finished, that was it. I was gonna do other things.” Talk turns to his most recent set of dates. “I don’t know if I went into the tour with any expectations. It’s one of those things where this project is very unique for me because I wrote and recorded the record in my basement; I didn’t really expect to release it or anything like that. So now that I’m touring these songs it’s pretty incredible for me, to play these songs that I wrote in my basement. The fact that people show up is insane. I’m so thankful for it.”
“I’m not gonna say I’ve not been tired or sick of stuff because that would be untrue,” he adds, “I think you’d be crazy not to be a little fed up at times. There’s nothing worse than hearing your kids say to you, ‘I miss you, I want you home’, so it’s like, if you’re just out on the road somewhere eating chips and watching TV, it’s like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’” That’s half of the reason that, when he’s on tour, he’ll meet fans, play in-stores and just stay as constantly creative as possible. “If you’re working and constantly playing, it takes up that time and makes it go quicker but you’re also achieving a goal or completing something and that helps and makes the time feel worthwhile. Every little step along the way, every good experience and every bad experience has shaped the person I am today, so I’m very thankful for it.”