August 9, 2019 Interview – Frank Iero
How do you whittle Frank Iero’s eclectic career in music down to a few words? A talented guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, you may have heard a little something about his past band, some guys from New Jersey called My Chemical Romance. But Iero, he’s no one trick pony: with a veritable plethora of projects to his credit before and since that dark parade, he’s logged many miles touring across the globe.
Most recently, he reincarnated himself as Frank Iero and the Future Violents, along with Guitarist Evan Nestor, Bassist Matt Armstrong (formerly of Murder by Death), Drummer Tucker Rule (of Thursday), and Multi-Instrumentalist Kayleigh Goldsworthy. For the May 2019 collection Barriers, Iero chose to go deeply personal, crafting an album that is ironically upbeat in its melancholia, often with a delicious Punk attitude. In honor of the album’s release, Iero recently sat down to discuss the dichotomy inherent throughout Barriers, the longevity of his music, and much, much more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been writing and recording music for over 18 years now, which for some reason sounds impossible.
Frank Iero – I actually think it’s more. Here’s the thing: I started my first band when I was 11 and I wrote a song then. It wasn’t very good, but I was writing songs then. I played my first show at 13—mostly originals and there was one cover in the batch. Then I went on my first tour at 17 and never stopped. I’m going to be 38 in a couple of months, and yeah, it’s been a long time. (Laughs) Twenty-something years of writing and recording.
At a very, very young age I knew that was the thing I wanted to do. I never wanted to do anything else. You know, I had said early on, “Oh, I want to be a doctor,” or a veterinarian or something like that. It was like, oh, this is perfect: this is the path for you and eventually you’re going to get there. I think my parents were just like, “Oh no, you picked the one thing where you don’t have any security!” (Laughs) Even if you’re really good it doesn’t mean anything. So, it’s scary. If your kid says “I want to be an artist” or “I want to be a writer,” that’s the cue that you better start having more kids. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Throughout your career, what have you learned about yourself?
Frank Iero – Everything! Honestly, that’s not an easy question to answer. When you do something for this long it becomes intertwined with your personality and your life. I used to think that my creative side and the real life side were completely separate, I could keep them separate and one never really entered into the other, but that’s not true. It’s so intertwined. If I’m not satiated creatively then I’m completely miserable—I’m not the father I want to be, I’m not the husband I want to be, I’m not the person I want to be. So, I need that!
It becomes who you are and not just something that you do, but there are so many lessons along the way. Those things, some of them are very small but some of them are giant. You know, the idea of self-editing and realizing that not everything you do needs to be entered into the art; sometimes you can just do things for yourself and that’s cool too.
Also, at the same time, everything needs to be chased: even bad ideas are good ideas. (Laughs) I hate people that try to stunt you creatively. I don’t know if it stems from a jealousy thing or what, but the people that are like, “Oh, that’s not very good” or “that sounds like this.” Trying to put a bullet in an idea’s head before it even gets fully formed. Fuck those people! Those are the people that I stay very, very far away from.
I think it teaches you to have a thick skin while also still trying to have a thin skin. It’s very hard to be able to be creative, and take in the world so that you can interpret and create. At the same time, when you create you have to release it and you have to have this thick facade because people are going to try to hurt you. (Laughs) So, yeah, there’s a lot of lessons that you learn. We could talk for hours about that! (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Well, let’s talk about the album, Barriers, which has been out for roughly two months now. Have you been enjoying people’s reactions to it and their interpretations of the songs?
Frank Iero – It’s amazing! Every time you play a new show, play a different city, people sing along to the new songs just as much as they’re singing along to the old songs. They’re telling you how they’ve spent some time with the record and it really helped them, or it’s one of those things where it’s a record that’s speaking to them on a different level now—and it’s how crazy the universe all aligns and you’re speaking about their life. Those are great things! I feel that way about records, you know? To be that for someone else is a dream come true.
You go through these weird stages, like this record. Then you’re kind of in purgatory where you can’t really talk about it, because no one knows about it yet ‘cause it’s not out, so you have this little secret. It’s a strange little time: you’re excited about it, but at the same time it’s almost an agitation because all you want to do is play these songs. Then finally you get to the point where it’s like, “Oh my god, this song is starting to get noticed.” In that last moment, in that eleventh hour, you’re like, “Oh no, what if I’m crazy?” (Laughs) “All this stuff that I made, that I thought was so fantastic, it’s about to be released. What if I’m nuts and it’s terrible and no one gets it?” Then you realize, well, who cares? (Laughs) You can’t pull the plug now! It doesn’t matter if anyone gets it, you did it because you had to do it.
When it gets released, people either love it or hate it. You hope that doesn’t matter as long as you get a reaction, that people aren’t indifferent to it. Right now I’m riding an amazing wave, a pretty good high. People really like it and I really like it, I’m really proud of it. I’m enjoying playing my new songs for people.
Cryptic Rock – It’s an awesome album, and you have a really great band with you. Truthfully, the things that are being said online are only positive.
Frank Iero – It’s funny, as a writer or an artist, we can see a thousand wonderful things, and then we find that one bad one. You’re searching for it, you’re always searching for it. You find that one bad one, and even if it doesn’t make sense it’s the only one you remember. (Laughs) You know what I mean? Like “there’s too many cheese puffs on this record.” What does that mean? (Laughs)
It’s a barb, and it kind of goes back to the things that I’ve learned by being an artist. You have to have this thin skin in order to create, because you’re like an antennae for the universe—you have to take things in. All the love and hate, and negativity and positivity around us, it all seeps into us and we create from that. In order to create you have to have a thin skin, but in order to put it out there—you can’t just turn that off. It’s impossible to do that! So, you’re going to get hurt. I’ve come to the realization that that’s okay. You can’t let it affect the way you create or your ability to create—that would be a disservice to the world.
Cryptic Rock – That is painfully true. That said, there are a lot of wonderfully insightful and hard-hitting lyrics throughout the album, and often times they are ironically upbeat in their melancholia. Is that oxymoronic nature characteristic of where your head was at when writing this record or is it more representative of you as a person?
Frank Iero – I think that’s representative of me as a person. I like that dichotomy of finding beauty in the things that people would consider a flaw. There is no perfection, so that’s what’s so perfect— things that are messed up in their own way. It’s unique, and that’s what I find to be beautiful. I don’t want things that there’s a million of, and that’s why I think people are so fascinating. It troubles me that we want to emulate this idea of perfection or try to be like anyone else. The perfect thing is to be yourself: there’s no one else like that!
Songs are like people: they should feel human, they should feel flawed. The things that I write about are this kind of flawed happiness—I find that in those things. Everybody always tells me, “Your songs are so depressing. Why do you just write depressing songs?” (Laughs) I don’t! I think they’re positive. When people say to me, “This record is finally a positive record,” I think, “Oh, I finally nailed it! Thank you!” (Laughs) I thought I was writing all these happy songs all this time. That’s just kind of who I am and where I write from. I like to try to be a little bit witty and a little tongue-in-cheek about things, and I like to find the light in the dark.
Cryptic Rock – A lot of people can relate to that, and that’s something that is easy to latch onto about Barriers. Now, realizing that choosing a favorite song would likely be impossible, do you have a lyric on the collection that really resonates with you at the moment?
Frank Iero – There’s a line in “Moto Pop” that goes “You may hear my words, but you may never really know / ‘Cause these scars are my own and I earned every one.” We hear an artist’s song or we see them on TV, on the radio or the internet or whatever, but you never really know somebody. All of these things that define us—we can be as open and honest as possible in interviews, but these experiences, these hardships and scars that you’ve had along the way, they’re so important and they define who you become. Every little thing that we experiences affects the person that we end up being.
I don’t think that people are as easily classified or can be dumbed down to just, “Oh, I know that person. I don’t have to actually get to know that person and know their life to know their story, what’s going on in their head, and where they come from.” We do that too much now—even down to, “Define your record or your music style.” Well, it’s more than that. Just listen to a fucking song! Get to know someone or their art before trying to dismiss it by just being like, “Just give me a CliffsNotes version so I don’t have to fucking understand.” That really pisses me off.
Cryptic Rock – Right. Forget thinking for yourself, just listening for yourself has become too difficult. Alright, prepare yourself, here comes the requisite My Chemical Romance question. Over the past 2-3 years it feels like My Chem has grown vastly in popularity among kids who are too young to remember when you were actively recording new music and touring. Have you also noticed this rise in popularity?
Frank Iero – (Laughs) Yeah. Isn’t that funny? It’s true, it’s strange. The band has gotten bigger than it ever was. I’ve been touring for the past couple years, since the band has been deceased. It’s funny to see every tour younger kids coming out, and the crowd growing and evolving and changing—and these kids finding out about this band.
It’s interesting to me because I grew up that way. I remember getting mix tapes from older friends or siblings of friends, and having bands like Jawbreaker on there. Jawbreaker was done by the time I had gotten those records. The Misfits, of course. Gorilla Biscuits. Of course, a lot of these bands now are coming back and playing, and I’m getting to see them which is fantastic. I remember growing up and being like, “All my favorite bands are dead.” (Laughs)
To be that for someone else, that feels really amazing; that feels like the music that you made is timeless and it’s carrying on. That’s all you ever want as an artist is to have your art outlive you. That’s an amazing thing! That’s the point: to create something that isn’t just inanimate; it’s growing, evolving, changing, living and breathing. It has its own life: it doesn’t need you anymore. That’s a fucking beautiful thing.
Cryptic Rock – It is definitely the dream for a band to outlive themselves like that. Okay, last question. At Cryptic Rock, we cover music as well as movies, particularly Horror and Science Fiction films. Are you a fan of either genre and, if so, do you have any favorite Horror and/or Sci-Fi films?
Frank Iero – My dad and I bonded a lot over old Universal monster Horror and Hammer flicks. Anything Vincent Price—that was my dad’s favorite and it became my favorite. As far as Sci-Fi stuff, Alien (1979), of course, and Blade Runner (1982). I find those to be just classic and my favorites. That’s my Horror and Sci-Fi trinity: Vincent Price, Blade Runner, and I need a third, shit. Frankenstein (1931). (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Have you seen any Horror or Sci-Fi more recently?
Frank Iero – Well, the last movie I went to go see I saw Midsommar (2019). That was great! I liked it better than I liked Hereditary (2018). Hereditary was troubling: it made my brain hurt for three days; my personality was off. (Laughs) I think he’s a fantastic filmmaker. I liked The Witch (2015) a lot and I liked Midsommar a lot.
As far as newer stuff, the newer shit that’s like the possession one and The Conjuring (2013), I think they’re all dog shit to be honest. Those are not my favorite types of movies: I think they’re super low brow and I don’t find them to be enjoyable. The Annabelle movies and all that stuff I just thought was terrible.
I’m trying to think of recent ones that I thought were really, really interesting. It Follows (2014) I thought was really interesting. That was the last movie that I thought was something new, you know? I enjoyed the latest Blade Runner 2049 (2017). I really, really enjoyed that, and I thought it was fucking gorgeous. Those were the last two that I really, really loved.