My Chemical Romance Star Talks About Influences, Belleville -- and his Affinity for Malls
Frank Iero on Tour with Bandmates Following Album Release
Township native Frank Iero, 29, is one of the founding members of the rock band My Chemical Romance, which released an album late last year. Iero helped form the band with fellow Bellevillians Mikey and Gerard Way in 2001, and three years later, they released their major-label debut, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, which would eventually go platinum. Iero talks with Patch's Erel Pilo about his early musical influences, his continuing ties to the area (Iero still lives in New Jersey), and what it was like being a young, budding musician in town.
EP: First of all, congratulations on your latest release.
FI: Thank you.
EP: So what's your reaction so far as to how the album is being received? Did you have any expectations for it or was it more about the process of making the album?
FI: You know, it's crazy, like, you can go online I guess, or read reviews and things and sometimes they'll come our way but we don't try to look for them just because, you're right, it is about the process. When you get through a record-making process, especially one that's as arduous and as rewarding as this one, you know, just making it through and being happy with what you've created, it's success enough. But the live show is the kind of reaction you're very excited for and at the same time nervous about because when you're playing these songs, a lot of the time, it's the first time that some of these kids are hearing these songs, and how that can go over is it's pretty rough sometimes. There's always that period of it being very awkward, if you're on a show. Right now we're doing a bunch of radio shows and it's kind of like, they're almost like festival dates where kids just go because there's a lot of bands that are playing on the radio but they're not necessarily just fans of your band so they wouldn't know some of the new stuff that you're playing, but fortunately, knock on wood, it's been going over amazing. Some of the new songs, I really feel like they have this innate, like almost, tribal feel to them where it just moves your body and it moves deep down as opposed to like "Oh, I need to know the lyrics to this song to really get it". So some of the songs we're doing, the new songs, it's going over as if the kids have heard them for years. So it's been really, really great. I feel very fortunate for that.
EP: Cool Yeah, I would agree with that. They're kind of like party songs. There's something familiar about them.
FI: Yeah. We were just talking about the record as though it's, you know, this party at the end of the world basically.
EP: Could you talk a little bit about the creation of the album? I mean, I know you went through kind of this prolonged labor and nearly scrapped an entire album before creating this.
FI: Yeah, I think what happened was basically – I'll try to make the long story short. We did Black Parade. We toured on it for about two years. And after that, we needed to break. We were very exhausted, creatively and emotionally and just everything. So we took about 6-8 months off trying to get reacquainted with our real lives and realize why we love doing this, and I think to get re-inspired to create again. And after that, we got together and we did a song for the Watchmen soundtrack and in doing that, it really recharged the band. I think if given our way, we would have gone right into the studio right at that point, but we needed to wait a little bit longer because of schedules and things of that nature and to find a producer. So about three months later, we got in the studio, and we were still, I think, scared of what we had created with The Black Parade, and the amount, the physical toll that it took on the band. So we set up all these rules – that it wasn't going to be that record again. It wasn't going to be anything like that record. There was going to be no concept, there was going to be no characters, no over-the-top storyline and all these things. And I think in doing that we had set up all these rules and kind of started to define the record before we had actually made it. So we wrote all these songs. We wrote about 30 songs kind of confined in this box and you can't do that. We set up these barriers where if like inspiration would come in and it seemed like it was going to be outside the expectation of what the record was going to be, we'd throw those ideas away and it just wasn't a good way to be. You can't be closed off as an artist. You have to be opened up to the inspiration. And that's the way we've always done records – we've done them the way records want to be written. So at the end of that writing process, we had twenty-something songs recorded and it just didn't feel right. It didn't feel like we had taken the band to that next level. We hadn't grown. We had set out to do something and accomplished that goal but at the end of it, it wasn't the record that we wanted to put out there. It just didn't feel right as the next record.
EP: Were you ever at a point where you thought you just might not release a record?
FI: Yeah. Well, that's the thing too. It was a very weird point in our careers. We had never had this where we were unhappy with it, but everybody else around us was really excited about it. And I don't know if they were really excited about it because it was so good or if it was just exciting to hear new material out of the band. And it was good. It was good enough, kind of thing. And we felt that. Like oh wow, this is good enough but it's not our best so if we put this out there and it does whatever it does are we going to feel fulfilled? That was the big question. So should we just not put it out? These were definitely things that were being talked about like kinda we'd call each other like in the middle of the night, kind of thing, and be like 'I don't know. Should we not do this? I don't know.' So at the end of that process when we were kind of listening back, and we had a couple ideas for songs that we wanted to write, we didn't want to shut off that creative process. You never want to end the record and feel like you've still got more to say. We decided to find a studio that would be open, and a friend of ours at the label contacted Rob Cavallo, who we did the last record with, and he was free, and he was in the process actually of building his home studio and had just done a record there and everything sounded pretty good. So he said, 'Why don't you guys come in, do a couple of songs? You know, just hang out and see what happens.' And because of that, you know we didn't think we were writing a record or writing songs for the record, because the record was supposedly done. You know, we just went in there and we had no rules it wasn't like oh we can't do this or we can't do that or we can't put this in the song because whatever. It was let's just write. And at that point we wrote 'Na Na', we wrote 'Vampire Money', we wrote 'Planetary Go', and then we wrote 'Sing'. We got four songs in, and we were like, whoa, hold on a second. This is the record. This is the record we want to release. This is the next level, basically. So we threw everything away that we did and started fresh, and continued to write, and some ideas or melodies from the last record came back in. We reevaluated them when we wrote the songs but for the most part, it's completely new.
EP: So it really took you making that first album to make Danger Days.
FI: Absolutely. That's why it wasn't such a daunting task, because you know. After you do like a year in the studio and then somebody's like, alright throw all that away and start a new record, you don't want to kill yourself. But I think getting to those four songs initially, that's what gave us the energy to do it.
EP: Cool. Well, I'm going to switch gears a little bit because I want to talk about New Jersey.
EP: You still live in New Jersey, is that right?
FI: I do.
EP: But the rest of the band lives in LA now, is that correct?
FI: Yeah, for the most part. I think Gerard [Way] and Mikey[Way] are definitely out there. Ray is kind of living bi-coastal right now, but they're pretty much stationed out in LA. I think it's the weather that won them over.
EP: And for you, why did you decide to stay in New Jersey? Is it because of your family or is it something about New Jersey?
FI: It's everything. It's such a huge part of me, you know. It's where I grew up. My family's there. I'm now raising kids there. I don't know. Everything about it. I mean, I [expletive] despise the winter, you know what I mean? I love everything about it, I really do. I wish there wasn't so much traffic sometimes but I can deal with that.
I don't think I've ever been to a place that I could see myself living in more than New Jersey. It's just a part of me.
EP: So does it still feel like home to you? I mean, you've traveled the world and I'm sure you've spent a lot of time in LA…
FI: Yeah, that's the thing. You travel and you see a lot of places and I'm always comparing them to home, kind of thing. That's the greatest thing I think about New Jersey is that no matter which direction you want to go, like if you travel within an hour, you're going to hit a farm, a city, a beach a mountain. There's everything. It's one of those things where you can go to a new place and it's cool for a little while, but I always want to go home. That's why we share kinship with different places. Like when I go to Tokyo, we love being in Tokyo, because that's like a big mall and New Jersey is just surrounded in malls, and so like anytime we're on tour too and we feel a little bit homesick, we always just drive a detour to the mall. We just find the mall in that city and then we go there to like Walmart or something like that. Something about that commerce reminds us of home. So we like that a lot.
EP: That's funny. Could you talk a little about the early punk scene that you were a part of in New Jersey. You started playing very young. How old were you and what attracted you to it I'm wondering?
FI: Okay. Here's the thing my dad and my grandfather were drummers – still are and played in bands and played every weekend. I was always surrounded by that so as a young kid, that's all I ever wanted to was play shows. They would always talk about the gigs that they were playing around the dinner table. They would have their datebooks out, kind of like decide, oh I'm playing here, I'm playing there. And something about that just always intrigued me – that they were doing this for a living and that nightlife, that music scene, how much they loved playing, and that was something that was always innate in me. My dad played blues music and like a blues funk kind of thing that was music that was written by people in basements for the same kind of people kind of thing. To me, it was like his punk rock and when I got into high school, I met some friends that were into punk rock and made me mix tapes and got me into bands like the Bouncing Souls and Black Flag and stuff like that, but I always gravitated towards the New Jersey-based stuff more than the New York hardcore because it was bands that I could attain or I could see, that I could be a part of, kind of thing, and I grew up going to shows at Pipeline or Suite 1, going to basement shows in New Brunswick. If someone had a car you know, you'd go down there, but mostly a lot of the shows that were happening were happening in VFW halls. Harrison and Kearny had a lot of shows and we would just go there, the Wayne Firehouse. There were so many shows and I saw so many of, like, my favorite bands in one week. I saw Jimmy Eat World, At the Drive-In, Alkaline Trio, just all in one week. I just knew I had to be a part of it. I started my first band when I was around eleven. I played drums in that band. I've just been in bands ever since – anything to be in a band. I didn't care what I had to play or what. Just I needed to play music with people. So I started playing a lot of shows in a local punk rock band called Sector 12. We actually made it out of New Jersey a little. We played like Connecticut and the tri-state area kind of thing, and then later on I started a band called Pencey Prep, which we made it out to the Midwest and you know just like band tours and stuff like that. We put out a record and that band broke up and My Chemical Romance started. It's weird. I only met Mikey and Gerard later on. We lived a matter of miles from each other. I grew up, you know where that Mobile station [was] on Franklin and Joralemon, basically the Belleville/Nutley border, and Gerard and Mikey grew up down more near Silver Lake, but we never met in high school or anything because I went to Queen of Peace and they went to Belleville [High School], but we met later on because they were friends with the guy who ran the label that Pensie Prep was on called Eyeball Records, which was based in Kearny. I met them at parties and stuff, and they said they wanted to start a band and we had a practice space in Passaic Park near the Loop Lounge and we just brought them in kind of thing. We shared the rent, and if there was ever a show that came up, they would get us on, I would get them on, and I think we played 11 shows which I either got them or I was at or I did merch for. Then, at that point my band broke up, and I joined the band and we've been playing together and touring ever since.
EP:And the rest is history.
EP: One last question, you're in Leathermouth, and you're in a bunch of other bands too. Are you involved with them or is that on pause right now as you're getting prepped for tour?
FI: Yeah. I love playing and I love creating music. My first priority is My Chem. Writing with these guys and playing with these guys is the best thing I could ever have imagined. I've been in lots of bands, I've played with a lot of people and they are by far the most, it's like family, it really is. There's no egos. There's no nothing. It's so much fun. When we take time off, I still want to go out and experience things and it's always fun starting these little side bands and stuff like that. Probably three or four that I'm working with whenever I have some time off. Now less so because me and my wife just had kids. Leathermouth we did a record about a year ago and did a little bit of touring. Kind of got in trouble with the secret service because of one of the songs I wrote on the record so I had to stop touring on that, but we might do another record at some point. Because actually James Dewees, who plays keyboards with My Chem, plays drums in Leathermouth. So me and him will be working some stuff out in hotel rooms as we're touring, and we might do another record at some point but it's just all fun. All those bands take time off when I'm on tour with My Chem.
EP: OK, well, thank you so much Frank, again. Are you guys prepping for tour right now? Is that what you're up to?
FI: Actually, I'm on tour right now. I'm in San Jose. We start touring in Japan and Europe early next year. Then we're coming back to the states March/April, and then I think we're playing in Jersey in May – Starland Ballroom. I'm really psyched to be back.