FRANK IERO is exhausted: flat out, buried. He’s got deadlines he has no idea how to meet, commitments all over the place, and people everywhere he needs to talk to. He has a family too, kids to whom he wants to give his undivided attention and a wife he loves dearly. He’s got stuff going on all over the place.
Exclusive: Frank Iero on life after My Chemical Romance
The former MCR guitarist faces the future
In the middle of all this, he gets a message. It tells him that Weighted, the first song from his first proper solo album, will be aired on Radio One that night. It’s the first he’s heard of it and he doesn’t know what to think: should he be excited, nervous, nonplussed? He knows one thing, that his Twitter feed will be a whirl of opinions straight after. “I guess I just want a reaction,” he says. “Good or bad, but nothing in between.”
It’s a breathless existence he’s living at the moment in the run up to the 25 August release of Stomachaches., his debut album. Given the occasionally frantic, frequently high pressure life he used to lead as the guitarist of My Chemical Romance, he would be forgiven for being wary of the whirl. But that’s not how Frank works. In fact, give him a minute to take a breath and he’s just as likely to freak out as he is to enjoy it.
Because Frank is an anxious character. He’s always been friendly, quick to smile, keen to joke. When you talk to him, he’ll be self-deprecating. But underneath, there has always been unease. He has a habit of letting a little giggle seep out when he says something serious about himself, a little chuckle to take the edge off what he’s said. But it doesn’t make it any less serious. Because beneath the friendliness, Frank is restless. It’s why he likes to keep moving, keep creating.
It’s hard to think of the last time he had any downtime. When a member of My Chemical Romance, his life happened at a constant pace. Even when the band took time out after The Black Parade, and damn near split up too, he was back out on the road playing furious hardcore with the band that became his sideproject, Leathermouth. In the year-and-a-half since My Chemical Romance have split, he has released a variety of solo singles, toured with his hardcore band Death Spells, worked with James Dewees on his latest Reggie And The Full Effect record and is now about to release his first solo full length Stomachaches. He has not stopped. He’s the shark who can’t stop swimming in case he dies.
“I suppose so,” he says. “I know that I can’t stop. Three months ago, I had a lot of time on my hands and I was very, very unhappy. Now, I’ve got no time on my hands at all. While I don’t know if I’m happier, I do know that I don’t have time to be unhappy.”
Stomachaches. is a record of stories. It’s about Frank’s life and about the lives of those around him. Frank played all the instruments except drums – which were handled by Jarrod Alexander, who filled the My Chemical Romance drum stool before their split. Most of the album – the guitars, the vocals, half the bass – was recorded in Frank’s basement and, in the best possible way, it sounds like it. On the faster songs, his vocals echo and howl while the guitars spit and punch. Both voice and guitar are dirty as sin, needle in the red. On the beautiful and delicate .stage 4 fear of trying. – which is just Frank’s guitar and voice – there’s a vulnerability that is almost indecent. But it all sounds desperately real, Frank’s voice is at each song’s heart in a way that it hasn’t been heard before. And what he’s singing about is that same restlessness he’s always felt. He’s looking for his place in life, and he’s not sure he can find it.
“There’s definitely an uneasy vibe that runs through the entire record,” he says. “It’s searching for that feeling like you belong. The stories on the record are very different from each other, but something that underlines them is this feeling of searching for peace. I chose stories from my life and from the lives of other people that I know and subconsciously they’ve all ended up with that same theme running through them. That search is something I struggle with.”
It’s been something that has afflicted him for much of his life. He has always been someone who feels both sides of an argument personally. Though he was the most punk rock member of My Chemical Romance, there was still a part of him that dreamed of playing the big arena shows. And then, when those shows came, they made him so nervous and uncomfortable that he was forced to take medication so he was calm enough to play.
That feeling of being split in two is partly what is behind the quest for peace on Stomachaches. too. On the one hand, he wants to be able to settle down with his family and to lead a normal life. On the other, he has this thing gnawing away at him that tells him he must create, he must make music because otherwise he is nothing. It’s why he can’t sit still, because if he does he knows he’s dead in the water.
“Everything moves a million times a minute inside me. It’s one thing I truly hate about myself – I can’t just enjoy the downtime. The downtime is just soaked in worry for me, I can’t just sit around and not do anything.
“The biggest struggle for me is keeping the creative part of me and the family part of me separate but entwined. If the creative side of me isn’t sated, then I can’t function as a father or a husband, or be the person I want to be. It totally consumes me and makes me crazy.
“There is a huge part of me that wishes I wasn’t like that. It would be easier to live a life where I had more stability, where I worked regular hours and where I was around. Sometimes I wish it would be gone so I could have a normal life. But I don’t see that on the cards.”
FRANK’S FATHER and grandfather were musicians. Both played session drums, and Frank spent weekends as a kid staying up late watching his dad or his grandfather playing gigs in jazz clubs, blues clubs and rock clubs. It was a romantic life, but a precarious one. If they didn’t have a gig that night, they weren’t getting paid. So Frank’s father and grandfather were hustlers too, hustling for work, putting themselves around. Frank has inherited the trait – it’s another reason for his restlessness. It also imbues his music with some of the working class spirit of his New Jersey home: if he’s not making music, he’s not earning money, and so his family aren’t being provided for. There’s something noble in that.
“My dad was always out there hustling, he knew you had to chase the gig because you had to make sure the opportunities kept coming in to survive. The men in my family, and even my mom too, were always out there hustling. Nobody ever had a day off – that didn’t exist in my family,” says Frank. “It’s not just a monetary thing though, some of it is a creative thing too. If the opportunities don’t come to create, then what do I do? How do I stay sane? How do I keep the demons at bay? If I sit on my ass then things will pass me by. If I don’t get inspired one day, then will anyone care by the time I do get inspired? It’s scary.”
There’s more to it as well. If Frank sits on his ass, then he’s all manner of things – a dad being chief among them. Though each morning he drinks his coffee out of a mug that says All Star Dad on it, that’s not all he wants to be. Because, since the age of 11, he’s defined himself as a musician. So wrapped up in Stomachaches.’s search for peace and belonging is the search for identity. With an upbringing and nagging creativity like his, Frank knows that if he’s not making music, then he can’t call himself a musician. And that would scare the shit out of him.
“Very much. I started my first band when I was 11. If I’m not in a band, or if I don’t have a gig or rehearsal coming up, then what do I do?”
Speaking to him, it becomes clear that music and family are the twin pillars of his life. It’s a difficult balancing act: he’s as devoted to both.
“I’m very split down the middle,” he says. “Because as soon as I’m out there playing shows, all I want to do is go home and play with my kids. Of course, once I’m home and playing with my kids, I’m worried about the fact I’m sitting at home and not doing anything. It’s a never-ending cycle. My head pounds with anxiety.”
How does he work that all out?
“Shit man, I’ll tell you when I figure it out,” he says, one of those nervous giggles slipping out. “I guess you try to swallow the anxiety down and not let it affect every single waking moment, even though it seeps in. You force yourself to stay up late and create in the middle of the night while the kids are sleeping so that you can give them as much attention and time as possible when they’re up. And you keep doing that until you keel over.”
FRANK HAS never really been in this situation before. He’s never been full glare in the spotlight. As a member of My Chemical Romance, he was the guitar player who was a part of the whole. Now, as FrnkIero and the Cellabration. he is the whole. Though he handled interview and attention duties in Leathermouth, he tried his damndest not to: they first considered playing in masks so no-one would know who they were. It means that, now the focus is solely on him, he’s had to come to terms with things.
“Well, whether I like it or not, it is what it is. It doesn’t matter if I don’t like it, I’ve still got to do it. One of the reasons I named the band the Cellabration is because I’m the complete opposite of that.
“I’ll tell you a story to give you an idea of the sort of person I am: when I was a teenager, I’d hear about a party and I’d really want to go. I’d get there and go, ‘Fuck, I’ve got to talk to people’. So I’d get fucked up and sit in the corner until the party was done. I have this weird social thing. I’m not comfortable in that way. But I like to write songs and I like to play them for people, so [doing interviews] is a necessary evil.”
I ask him whether he finds it hard, or if it affects his songwriting. Is he tempted not to write about certain things to avoid being asked about them by prying journalists?
“Tom,” he says, “that’s the killer. I’ll be in my basement writing a song, then something will creep in. And I’ll think ‘I can’t write about that because someone will ask me about it.’ I definitely have those moments where I think, ‘I should probably change this line because Tom’s going to call me up and ask me about it!’ I mean this in the best possible way, but I have to say to myself: ‘Fuck you Tom!’ and go write it, then I’ll deal with you later. If you let thoughts like that in, you might as well fucking stop. Because this has to be pure.”
Stopping, though, would seem impossible for Frank. The album’s not out yet, but he says he’s already thinking about what to do next. He’s like a junkie, chasing some kind of musical high.
“After I write a good song, or have a great show, I feel totally spent because I’ve got it out,” he says. “The next day is bliss … but then it’s not. It’s onto ‘what’s next?’”
But though he’s already thinking about the next thing, the next piece of music, first there’s Stomachaches. He is not hoping for My Chemical Romance levels of success, nothing like.
“It’s not even on my radar. When I think about touring, I’m thinking about getting up there and hearing the words back. As far as how many voices, I couldn’t tell you.”
What he wants for Stomachaches. is for people to listen to it, to let it into their hearts and to feel something honest about it. And if they go on to love it too, well that would be great.
“Do I have expectations? Not really,” he says. “Well, I have small ones. I remember driving to shows as a kid and, when you would get close, you’d be stuck in traffic and you’d hear other records being played in cars, and people would be singing along. I’d get this feeling, this excitement. I’d love my record to played like that, by people who are getting excited to go to a show. That’s the kind of success I’m looking for.”
And who would say he doesn’t deserve it?
Tom Bryant is the author of the My Chemical Romance biography 'The True Lives of My Chemical Romance', out now through Sidgwick & . Buy it here.