“I Thought I Would Never Play Again”: Frank Iero On His Near-Fatal Australian Tour
"As soon as the plane landed it all flooded back...It was like a week-long panic attack - I don't know how I even got through it."
It’s generally not appropriate to ask a musician about their kids right at the beginning of an interview.
For a lot of artists, family is strictly out of bounds territory — and fair enough too. But with Frank Iero, it’s different. The 37-year-old shares the story of his kids — Cherry, Lily and Miles — through his Instagram feed, to the point where his 706,000 followers feel a familial bond with them.
Every time Iero speaks to interviewers, he’s got updates at the ready. “The girls are turning nine this year, my son just turned seven…and no-one fucking listens to me,” he says with an exasperated laugh that can only come with the exhaustion of being a father of three.
“They’re amazing — they’re so smart, funny and talented. It almost makes me sick how quickly they’re growing up. I’ll give you an example — we bought this car when we found out we were expecting twin girls. Just this week that car shit the bed, so I traded it in for a new one. My wife suggested we lease the car for three years, so by the time we buy the new one the girls will have something to learn how to drive on. Even thinking about that almost made me throw up.”
Before Cherry and Lily take to the steering wheel, however, dad’s got business to attend to — namely his third studio album, Barriers. If you’re being technical, you can count this as Iero’s seventh debut album. Previous bands for Iero include Pencey Prep, Leathermouth, Death Spells, and a little-known rock outfit by the name of My Chemical Romance. For Iero’s last three albums, however, he’s been at the helm of three different solo projects: frnkiero andthe cellabration in 2014, Frank Iero and the Patience in 2016 and, now, Frank Iero and the Future Violents.
“It took me awhile,” explains Iero when it comes to the ever-changing nature of being a solo artist. “I did everything I possibly could to disguise the fact I was doing a solo thing. I don’t know what it is — maybe it’s a Jersey thing. What I will say is that I grew up in this punk-rock microcosm, and you have a real aversion to things that you deem to be too rockstar-y. Stuff that’s ‘not punk enough,’ y’know what I mean?
“I also think it’s a lot of anxiety. I never wanted to have a solo career — I never even wanted to be a frontman. It just so happened that it’s how things have gone — first with other bands, now with this.”
While the constant changing of names might be a headache for branding, Iero says that the reinvention and the skin-shedding that comes with each album cycle is something that gives him a sense of control over the circumstances in which he is making music.
“One thing I love about forming bands is that honeymoon period,” he says. “You get to name it; you get to fill out the members; you get to figure out what it’s going to sound like; you get to figure out what the artwork is gonna be. All of that shit is just so interesting to me. It’s full of possibility, and it’s creative — something that I love to be. I said to myself that if I’m gonna do this, then I’m gonna make the rules. I’m gonna change the name and reinvent it every time. It’s going to sound completely different, and it’s gonna have new people. It’s going to be fun and scary — exactly what a new band should be.”
“I never wanted to have a solo career – I never even wanted to be a frontman.”
Barriers is a sprawling, emotionally striking rock record. It’s driven by loud guitars and punchy drums, but it’s also reflective of a maturity and creative development that’s come with the evolution of Iero’s songwriting on his own, outside of the long shadow cast by his previous band.
Barriers is certainly a world away from Stomachaches, Iero’s 2014 solo debut — a thrashy, lo-fi endeavour with so much distortion layered over it that it should have been tested for radiation poisoning. “On that first album, what you’re hearing is a few different things,” says Iero.
“You’re definitely hearing me shy away from being a central focus, but you’re also hearing me fiddling my way through the whole thing — I’m essentially figuring out how to do everything by myself. It’s just me and a computer. I’m mixing as I go along. It’s all the product of me doing something that I’d never done before. Was any of it done the correct way? Fuck no! It sounded good to me, though, so I didn’t care.”
Five years removed from that first attempt to reinvent himself, Iero presents Barriers with the kind of confidence that can only come when it’s not your first rodeo. It’s a record that you can tell he believes in — every last second committed to record.
“This record is something fully realised,” he says. “It’s a full band, playing together in a room, live to tape. Nearly everything you hear on the record is the first take. There’s nothing to hide behind. There’s no ProTools — there’s not even a fucking computer in the room. It is what it is, with all of its grandeur and all of its flaws.”
Iero also points to the man behind the boards as one of the album’s major contributing factor: veteran engineer and musician Steve Albini. “I’ve been a fan of his basically ever since I found out what a producer was,” gushes Iero. “It’s like, ‘Why do I love all of these records? Oh! It’s because this guy made them!’”
Having previously worked on an EP together entitled Keep the Coffins Coming, Iero felt that Albini was always going to be the right person to bring Barriers to life.
“I wanted this record to be completed based on what’s been going on in my head,” he says. “I had this crazy experience, and I’m the only one who can tell this story. What I really needed was someone who would be able to capture what’s happening in the room — and that happened to be the best engineer that I know, Albini.”
Of course, that “crazy experience” is one of the key things that has directed the course of Iero’s enitre life in the near-three years since it happened. While touring with his band in Australia back in October of 2016, Iero was involved in an accident where a bus ran into the back of a gear van as Iero was loading in for a performance.
Although he, manager Paul Clegg and guitarist Evan Nestor all sustained injuries, there were no fatalities. Frank Iero and the Patience would not play another show for eight months, and the impact of the crash is still something that impacts Iero’s everyday life.
“Your body reacts in different ways now – I don’t feel as quickly, and my shoulder hurts a lot all the time.”
“It’s hard, man,” says Iero. “It’s different.” It’s one of the only times in the entire interview where Iero — normally bubbly, animated, excitable — really vents his inner exhaustion. There’s pain in his voice, and it’s hard not to feel it — even on a phone line on the other side of the world.
“Your body reacts in different ways now — I don’t feel as quickly, and my shoulder hurts a lot all the time. I have to play differently, and if I’m playing guitar for long periods of time then it’s especially difficult. I’m still learning how to deal with it, and it’s scary to me.”
“I had to speak to a lot of doctors last year. A few of them suggested surgery, which you would think was the obvious solution. What I’m worried about, though, is the risk of something happening in that surgery where I can never play again. Right now I can play, but I’m in pain. If something goes terribly wrong, though… it’s fucked. When the accident happened, I thought I would never play again. That feeling was fucking horrible. To be able to play now, I feel very lucky. I don’t want to tempt fate, as silly as it might seem. It’s like I’m wearing a timebomb.”
Normally, when an Australian interviewer wraps up chatting to an artist, it’s to either promote an upcoming national tour or to figure out when the next one will be. In Iero’s case, however, that’s entirely uncertain.
The reality is that we may never see Iero playing music in Australia ever again, as much as neither he nor his Australian fans want that to be true. “Last year, I had to come out to Australia for a doctor’s visit,” explains Iero.
“I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, but as soon as the plane landed it all flooded back as if it had just happened. I had a really hard time. It was like a week-long panic attack — I don’t know how I even got through it. It’s strange… I never think it’s going to be hard, and then as soon as it’s happening it’s the hardest thing in the world. I’m truly hoping that I can figure out a way to get through it. At this stage, though, I just don’t know.”
There’s a deep breath at the end of the line, and Iero concludes the interview with a newfound sense of clarity. “I’m going to try,” he says. “I’m definitely going to try. It’s all I can do.”
David James Young is an Australian writer and podcaster. David has now interviewed Frank Iero five times, and is incredibly thankful for the kindness and generosity that he has shown each time. You can reach David via his website: www.davidjamesyoung.com
With love, gratitude and thanks to Janine Morcos.
Photo Credit: Mitchell Wojcik