Frnkiero Andthe Cellabration: The Tragician’s Apprentice
Frank Iero is weird. Like, really fucking weird. But like salt on caramel or a good Tim Burton flick, Iero is the best kind of weird a person could hope to be. Ahead of his first trip Down Under since ditching My Chemical Romance in ’13, BLUNT caught up with the artisan of eccentricity to figure out just what goes on inside that punk-impelled mind of his.
What’s your go-to remedy for a stomachache? If you’re anything like the most of us, chances are you drown your sorrows in Buscopan, steam it out with a lava shower, or when worse comes to worse, spend the entire day slowly dying in bed and wondering why Satan hath reckoned such affliction on thine withered soul. For noise punk nonconformist Frank Iero, on the other hand, there was only one cure that could ail his gastronomic catastrophes. That cure lay waiting, hung high on a guitar rack and gathering dust from the Danger Days, yearning for another round of sonic extirpation.
Retreating to a ‘studio’ he’d propped up in his basement, Iero spent the most of his 2012 onwards scattered away in secrecy. The mission at hand was a caustic demo-esque solo album, but washed up in a series of band breakups and side projects, it wasn’t until the later months of 2014 that we finally got our hands on Stomachaches. It’s surprising that we did at all, though, because Iero never actually intended to release it. Despite its enormous following and universal acclaim, the LP began as nothing more than Iero’s personal outlet of catharsis – when he eventually decided to share it with the world, he was adamant it hit shelves in its raw, untouched state.
And thus, almost 18 months since the album was released, Iero is mind-blown at how far Stomachaches has taken him.
“It’s strange because for the most part, I wrote and recorded the album by myself,” he says. “I had some studio help with the drums, but for most of it, it was just me in my basement, y’know, making things; making sounds, and figuring it out as I went along. I didn’t think that the record was ever going to touch anyone else’s ears – maybe some family and very close friends – but now all of a sudden, we’re going on tour, we’re putting a band together to bring this record to life.”
That band – as much as your phone’s autocorrect will want to enter rage mode over it – is Frnkiero Andthe Cellabration, a cataclysmic congregation composed of Iero (duh) on lead vox and rhythm, Evan Nestor (also Iero’s brother-in-law and frontman of Science) on backing vox and lead, Rob Hughes (former guitarist of Iero’s guttural side project Leathermouth) slapping the bass, and Matt Olsson behind the kit. They’re the ones spreading Stomachaches* around the world, but as anyone who’s seen the quartet in action will verify, what you hear when Iero is sweating it out onstage is worlds apart from what you heard come of Iero sweating it out in the studio. And there’s good reason for that.
“It didn’t seem right to take that record and be like, ‘Alright, this is our bible. This is what we’re going to play every single night.’ It’s not that kind of a record,” our protagonist enthuses. “The record is meant to be molded. It was a moment in time that I wanted to capture – it’s a very broken moment in time, and I was fine with that! That’s what I wanted the record to sound like. But when it comes to the live show, how do you recreate that moment? You can’t. It’s impossible. So the idea of doing that went out the window right away. I knew that I needed musicians I could trust – talented players that I could connect with on a level where I felt comfortable giving them free reign of something that was very close to my heart. That’s exactly what I did, and now that band has grown and evolved so much. I feel like the record is so completely different to what the band is now – it’s almost like a companion piece.”
“It was a moment in time that I wanted to capture – it’s a very broken moment in time,
and I was fine with that! That’s what I wanted the record to sound like.”
One thing that’s often lost when translating the spirit of a solo project to the language of a full band is the intimate personality that an artist imbues into their records. That personality isn’t lost with Frnkiero Andthe Cellabration, but rather distended, each of Iero’s counterparts adding their own element of personality into the live show. It isn’t in the slightest bit surprising, given Iero’s saga-like history with playing in an overstocked record crate’s worth of bands. Starting at age 11 (we shit you not, eleven), Iero lent his instrumental intensity to a myriad of local punk bands in the New Jersey circuit, eventually fronting cult-followed emocore quintet Pencey Prep. That, as we all know, led to our hero’s discovery by then-labelmates My Chemical Romance.
Although MCR wasn’t one of his own inwrought creations, 2007 offshoot Leathermouth was, and when both of those hit the bricks, Iero turned his eye to the wonderful world of clusterfucktronica with Death Spells. Now repping hard with The Cellabration, it’s clear to see that Iero has a knack for planting new seeds and watching them flourish. And when it came time to harvest FIATC, the experience allowed Iero to roam free without worry.
“It’s strange for people to understand when I say that it feels like old hats, because I’ve done it so much,” he says. “I did touring Leathermouth, I did touring with Reggie & The Full Effect – I’ve always been a fan of that infancy of bands. There’s something about that, like, starting a new project and figuring out what it is; making that with your friends, naming it, and just seeing where it goes. Sometimes I’ve done that and I’ve lost interest after getting to a certain stage, and sometimes I’ve stuck with it. It’s always just felt like the right thing to do, and I mean, here’s the thing: you can’t start a project and jump straight into the deep end. It doesn’t feel real if you go, ‘Oh hey, fans of my old project. We’re a new band and we’re playing Madison Square Garden!’ You build it the way you know how to build it, and you hope that it grows into something.”
For even the most prolific of musicians, building a new project from scratch after putting an established one on the firing line is a horrific prospect. There’s a level of spontaneity around every other corner, comparable only to the shitty jumpscares in a 3D horror movie reboot. Rather than fear it, though (the spontaneity, that is – literally no-one falls for the jumpscares), the most reliant way to succeed in jumping from project to project is to embrace the unpredictability; live in the moment.
“I try really hard to do that,” Iero discloses. “It’s weird; I feel like sometimes I’m overthinking things a lot, and throwing myself into these certain projects that are, like, the most terrifying experiences I could ever set up for myself. And maybe that’s why I do it, y’know what I mean? If you’re gonna feel safe all the time, then you’re never gonna grow, you’re never gonna expand. And so I tend to do things that just scare the shit out of me.”
Case in point: Death Spells. What little music the duo (James Dewees comprising the other 1/2) did release was incredible, no doubt, but it was also fucking terrifying. Its abrasiveness one of its calling points, Stomachaches likely drew the same response from a handful or two of curious newcomers. Even going back to Leathermouth and even further to Pencey Prep, all of Iero’s music has been at least a little conceptually left-of-field. It begs the question – does he seek to stray from normality’s path in a bid to stun as many as possible, or is just the case of an intensely eccentric mind?
“I don’t know if [the unconventionality] is intentional; maybe I’m just a little bit weird,” he laughs. “I think in this day and age, we tend to discount imperfections. We look to go and clean everything up, but sometimes it’s okay take that curtain back a little bit and show these artists, show their imperfections. I want to do that – it means more to me. There’s a certain power in frailty that maybe we don’t always give credit to.”
“If you’re gonna feel safe all the time, then you’re never gonna grow, you’re never gonna expand.
And so I tend to do things that just scare the shit out of me.”
A father to three aged five (daughters Cherry and Lily) and three (son Miles) respectively, Iero is no stranger to the
occasional bout of childlike whimsicality. Never one to shy away from making his musical endeavours a family operation, Cherry and Lily even co-wrote and performed on what is arguably Iero’s best single to date, and all three of his kids have performed live with The Cellabration. After all, when your music is about as unique as it gets, there’s no inspiration as incandescently potent as the natural source of imagination itself.
“There are these moments where you realise the inherent weirdness of kids,” Iero rhapsodises. “Y’know what I’m taking about? Before they go to school, when they’re watching TV, stuff like that – there’s just this weirdness that comes to them; it’s so fucking strange, and you know that it comes from deep down inside them. It just erupts, like a volcano of weirdness, and those are my favourite moments. And if you don’t nurture it, you can miss it. It can get knocked out, and that’s horrible.”
Speaking of horrible (and awkward topic shifts), this year will mark the second since Iero last dropped a full-length. We can only hope that a new LP is edging on the horizon, but in the meantime, there’s one thing we know for sure – whatever Frnkiero Andthe Cellabration do next, it’ll be a far cry from Stomachaches.
“Oh, it’s gonna be different; it’s totally gotta be different! Everything is different,” Iero asserts. “That was just a moment in time; just a snapshot of where I was at that moment. And it was pure because… I… That was it. It was just me. Nobody else was going to hear it – at least I thought – and it was just, y’know, selfish. And now, the world is different; my world is different. I’ve been exposed to this project as something else. It’s not just a private affair anymore, and I know that if I write more songs and record them, people are going to hear them.
“There’s a label involved and there’s a future for those songs, and that was not what I wanted for that first record. And that’s cool. It happened the way I wanted it to happen, and now the next record is going to be totally different, and I’m okay with that. I couldn’t do another Stomachaches. I couldn’t. So now, writing with this in mind… It’s really interesting, man! I know people are gonna hear it, so it’s like – you still have to write it for yourself, but other people are going to be listening and interpreting. Do you want to give them clues? Do you want to fuck with them? What do you want to do? I have so many more opportunities to affect people, and that’s so awesome!”
Frnkiero Andthe Cellabration
Free Acoustic Shows
Thursday January 28 – Utopia Records, Sydney (AA)
Friday January 29 – Eureka Rebellion, Melbourne (AA)
* – thank fuck for capitalisation and italics, hey?