Frank Iero’s New Romance: FrnkIero andthe Cellabration

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Frank Iero, formerly of My Chemical Romance, was so bummed about Soundwave 2016 being cancelled (and his new band’s slot along with it) that he decided to come to Australia and do two free all-ages acoustic shows because, why not! We sat down for a quick chat about what Frank is up to these days.

Words by Meeghan Oliver  Photographs by Justin Borucki

In August 2014, Frank Iero, under the moniker FrnkIero andthe Cellabration, released an album that was never meant to see the light of day, let alone get a full release. Recorded at home in his New Jersey basement, the songs were more an expression of Iero’s daily life and something he did to kill time while he spent his days with his family.

“I had these songs and I wanted to record them and, I don’t know, hide them away somewhere until a long time had passed and I could show my kids and go, ‘Oh hey, look what I made,’ and have them listen to them,” says Iero. “Suddenly I’m in this moment where I became aware that people are going to hear what I’m creating and so I had this decision [to make]. Do I want people to hear them? I thought about it for a long time. I was like, ‘Oh shit, what have I done!’

“I kept coming up with all these new songs so it just kind of had to happen. It was a lot different to My Chem and what I was used to. The songs are different; the whole process and feel is different, but I’m happier.”

Inked: Are there plans for more records and tours as FrnkIero andthe Cellabration?

Frank Iero: Definitely! Stomachaches is that kind of record. You feel like you’re listening in on the songs, so it made sense to do it myself and to use the shortcomings, to use those tools, and record at home. The next record is totally different; the songs and the vibe are so different because it needs to sound like its own thing. I’m collaborating more and that helps too. I wanted the first record to sound raw and frail and that’s how I recorded it. I sent it out to labels and most of them came back to me and asked where I wanted to record it and I was like, no that’s it. With the next record it will have more power to it. I’m in a different headspace, I know what I want to release with this one so my approach has changed a little. I still think people don’t know what to expect. I think they expect my music to be what it was [with My Chemical Romance] but it’s not. It’s going to be weird, but [Laughs] that’s how it goes.

You’ve come to do an acoustic set after Soundwave cancelled. How different is that for you and how well do you think your songs translate to acoustic?
Frank Iero: 
Everyone says that if you can’t play a song on an acoustic, if it doesn’t translate well, then it’s not a good song. It should be able to stand up on its own but, here’s the thing, I no longer think that way. Playing acoustic shows you get self-conscious about that kind of thing but there are certain times where I think a tonality is more important, or just as important, as structure of the song. In the past couple of years I’ve realised how cool that is. I’ve done songs where I’m playing around with just one note and how I can stretch that and where I can take it to, but then you get to an acoustic show and it’s like [I realise] there’s no way I can play that acoustically. So I have to figure out a way to play it and I like that challenge. For a long time I didn’t want to play the song “Weighted” because it’s an exercise in quiet and loud and without that dynamic shift afforded to an electric guitar with pedals and distortion, there was no change. I didn’t feel strong enough about playing it to give it justice, but it’s in the set and we play it and so far it’s being received okay.  It’s weird, I never wanted to be the acoustic singer-songwriter guy but the older I get the more it interests me. It makes you think about the songs that you have written and it makes you think about the songs that you are going to write.

You can’t hide…
Frank Iero: 
No, it’s so naked! A year and a half ago, before touring with these songs, I never would have had the confidence to do this [play an intimate acoustic show], but I’m really digging it. I like the small shows. I really wanted to play at a festival to introduce us to Australia because I love seeing new bands at festivals and I guess everyone got that vibe too so when Soundwave was cancelled. I was really bummed but I still wanted to tour. I didn’t want kids who had already bought a ticket to the festival to have to pay more to see a show so I thought if I came [to Australia] and did a couple of intimate acoustic sets I could make them free and still be able to play and introduce my new stuff. We were really lucky to work with Utopia Records and Eureka Rebellion to make the shows possible.

You’ve played on the biggest stages in the world – countless festival headline slots to super intimate (and packed) acoustic Utopia Records shows. Where is your favourite place to play, or is this one of those cliché questions you’re going to answer with all of them?Frank Iero: [Laughs] Yes. All of them. It’s pretty cool though. Hey, I’m very lucky. I like them all. My friends and I kind of have a home base sort of thing. It’s a place called Starland in Sayreville, New Jersey. I’ve played at Starland with every project I’ve ever been in and it’s really fun to do that. There’s a record store in Jersey too called Vintage Vinyl and when My Chem records came out we would play there and do in-stores. It’s nice to play at local venues. There used to be a place called Maxwell’s – with somewhere like 150 capacity – where I could just show up and play when I wanted to. Places that have that kind of vibe, where, no matter what you could go see an amazing show – those are the best venues but they’re too rare.

You were 11 when you started playing in bands; how old were you when you first got tattooed?
Frank Iero: 
On my 18th birthday I got a Jack O’Lantern on my back. I think I waited about a month before I started filling up my body. I love art. I really love tattoos because it’s so personal and permanent and expressive. I’m getting tattooed while in Melbourne which I’m really looking forward to. It’s my first one done in Australia. I sent a rough sketch of what I wanted and Mez Afram at Eureka Rebellion is going to tattoo me after my gig. Australia is awesome!

Do you have a personal favourite; most people seem to have a few they favour a little more than the rest?
Frank Iero: [Laughs] You know, I do! It’s hard though; I have a lot of really awesome tattoos done by some absolutely amazing artists. One of my best is a portrait of my grandfather done by Kat Von D that still looks like it was done last month. But I think in a way the worst ones are my favourites. The ones where you’re like, ‘Oh man, you had no business getting that!’ I have this friend Jeremy, we call him Worm, he came to one of the MCR shows we were playing and he’s like; I want you to tattoo a Boozy and I also want a Wu Tang symbol on me. So I did the Wu Tang symbol and it says worm in it and he did one on me [Iero rolls up his jeans to reveal a pretty bad tattoo of his name, Frank, inked across his knee]. It makes no sense to have done it but it means something to me! I’ll always remember that night and it is hands-down one of my favourite pieces.

Speaking of Boozy, as we were hanging out waiting to talk today a fan came up and asked you to sketch a Boozy for her to get tattooed on her.
Frank Iero: 
That happens often. Inevitably it makes me very nervous, you know, you don’t want to fuck that up. Even though today I just sketched on paper and some tattoo artist out there is going to put it on her forever, there’s a very small crew that have Boozy tattoos done by me. They’re brutal man [Laughs] but I guess that’s what it’s supposed to be! I hope her Boozy tattoo turned out awesome. I really enjoy the collaboration with fans … I think it’s really cool. I’ve been collaborating on paintings and artworks that people have sent me. It came about in one of those cool, universal ways. A lot of these really talented people were giving me paintings and stuff at concerts and I started to feel really bad about not being able to give them anything back. Plus it was getting to the stage where if you came to my house to have coffee you’d be like, ‘Dude all of these paintings are about you!’ [Laughs] You would be like ‘You’re fucking nuts!’ And if I brought my kids up around that it would [have been] too weird so I couldn’t keep them. But I couldn’t throw them away either, so I had the idea to take it to the next level and the only way I could think to do that was to enjoy their artwork, [and] then, if I’m inspired by it, add to it. I’ve given three away to people who were on various tours who really liked them and I still have two. What I’d like to do is maybe auction them off and donate the money to charity but I have to contact the artists and make sure they’re ok with that first, and second, that the money we’d get goes to the charity of their choice.

FrnkIero andthe Cellabration’s album Stomachaches is out now through Vagrant Records.