When My Chemical Romance called it a day in March 2013, Frank Iero was planning to retire. Or at least take it easy. Which, after playing guitar in what became one of the biggest rock bands in the world for over a decade, would be fair enough. Yet under a year and a half later, his debut solo album, under the strangely-spelled moniker frnkiero and the cellabration, was released.
Frank Iero: "I like finding beauty in chaos."
Exclusive: MCR's former guitarist on his creative rebirth
Called Stomachaches, it was largely inspired by the crippling pain Iero experienced as a result of longstanding digestive problems. Yet it’s an album that’s much more buoyant and upbeat than its genesis – and his previous band – would suggest, and talking to him just after his set at Chicago’s Riot Fest this year, he’s in jubilant spirits, full of enthusiasm and excitement about his rebirth as a solo artist.
Let’s start at the beginning of the end. Tell me about frnkiero andthe cellabration and how life has been post-My Chemical Romance.
Frank Iero: “It’s been fucking busy as shit! (laughs) It’s crazy! I was doing LeATHERMOUTH, and doing this project for my friend James Dewees [MCR’s auxiliary keyboard player and member of The Get Up Kids and Reggie And The Full Effect] called Death Spells. I feel like My Chem, we were kind of over for a while before we announced it, and I was doing all these other things and I just kept hitting the ground running. James did a Reggie record, so I helped out with that and we did a couple of date together but he went on tour, so I decided to stay home and just hang with my kids and family and I ended up just writing a bunch of songs and made a record.”
That’s the thing about art – it’s always there in the back of your mind.
“Exactly. It’s part of your DNA. It’s what you do, so it’s what I did and I ended up with this bunch of songs. I played them for some people and they were like ‘Can I play it to somebody else?’ and I was like ‘I guess so’, and then they went and put it out, and I was like ‘I’m guess I’m in a band!’ It’s nice that it started that naturally.”
That must reduce pressure and expectations.
“I had none! No expectations.”
Do you find now that My Chemical Romance is over you have more artistic freedom? Because this is very different musically – it’s much more positive, despite the obvious pain in the lyrics. It seems to be about defying that pain and getting past it.
“Absolutely. When it’s just you, you can chase whatever batch of crazy ideas you have, you can do whatever it is that your heart and your mind can think of, but there’s also nobody there to either rein you in or get excited about the things that you’re doing. It’s a bit of a lonely process, actually. But for this record, I didn’t really think I was writing a record, so I never thought that far in advance. It didn’t matter. I just wanted to channel songs through me and that’s kind of what I did. The next one, though – who knows what that’s going to feel like.”
Saying that LeATHERMOUTH is completely different, too. It’s very visceral, hardcore punk. Where do these different sonic ideas come from?
“I think different parts of your personality, different parts of your psyche come out in different projects. LeATHERMOUTH started as a different band and I actually joined that band as a vocalist when the band was already together, and then those guys left and it just became me, which was kind of weird! But I think each project that I’ve ever done has been a representation of part of me, so I guess it’s a personality thing. I don’t know if they’re all opposed, but they kind of work together to make one human being. I’d like to think that.”
Which brings up the idea of that clichéd question, Are you as sad as the songs you write? But it’s an interesting concept...
“Absolutely. People listen to a certain song or read a short story or something that I’ve written or done and they’re like ‘Wow! That’s really bleak and dark.’ But I don’t see it that way. But I like that juxtaposition of finding beauty in chaos. I like things that are a tad broken. That’s where I feel at home.”
You’re 33 now. How does that affect what you do and how you do it?
“You feel yourself taking longer to recuperate. I’ll say that! There’s a lot more stretching happening! You feel older. You feel all the scars you got when you were 20, but I think it moves you in a different way. Your playing style evolves, your writing style evolves and the amount of bullshit that you’ll put up with evolves. There’s a lot of things that were super important to me at 20 that don’t mean fucking anything to me now. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to try my hardest to live and enjoy the moment. I feel like, as a young person doing the things I’ve done, travelling and being in bands, it was always about the next thing – you get through this to do this; you get home and then you’re worried about the next tour – and what the hell’s the point of anything when you’re doing that? And if you’re not enjoying something, stop. Just fucking stop.”
With that in mind, though, what are your ultimate aims for this?
“It didn’t start out with any expectations, so I don’t know if I can have them now. For me, the goal was to just make it, and I saw nothing beyond that. I had no plan. And I still really don’t, because I did what I set out to do already. So I’m kind of done, but this is weird because now – I’ve always been in stuff where you get together with five guys in a room, play your songs really loudly and then you record them. This is the total opposite. So now these songs that I felt like I was done with, now they’re changing. They’ve become alive, almost, with a new meaning, and that’s fun to see. Do I want to continue doing this? Yeah, kind of, because it’s been really interesting. Right now, it’s still fun.”
So it turns out that retirement really isn’t very relaxing after all?
“I don’t know! I don’t know if you can ever retire from being the person you are.”