“I’m always coming up with something, whether it’s just a song for me, a song to release, or a song to make my kids laugh. It’s just your brain is always working in that capacity,” says Frank Iero, lead vocalist and songwriter of Frnkiero and the Cellabration. From the New Jersey-based Pencey Prep to the internationally-renowned My Chemical Romance, Frank Iero has enjoyed an extensive career of chart-topping hits and multi-platinum albums since 2002. When it comes to his artistry—whether it’s the hardcore-punk of LeATHERMØUTH or the electronic-inspired vibe of Death Spells—Frank has proved he’s a musician of many faces. Now he’s back with his latest project, Frnkiero andthe Cellabration and their 2014 debut album, Stomachaches. Fusing a retro, stripped-down sound with introspective lyrics that feels as intimate as it does intrusive; but to let Frank tell it, that’s exactly the point. In an exclusive interview, Frank Iero spoke with Music Existence about everything from Stomachaches and the upcoming multinational tour, to the pressures of being a front man and those Pet Cemetery-inspired selfies.
ME: You’ve been a part of multiple projects in the past: Pencey Prep, LeATHERMØUTH, Death Spells and My Chemical Romance. Each band has had their own unique background story, so what’s the story behind the name FrnkIero andthe Cellabration?
Frank: Well, “FrnkIero” because that’s my name, “andthe Cellabration” came about because I wanted to signify that it wasn’t just me and an acoustic guitar. I wanted people to be well aware that it was a full band for this project. And looking at some of my favorite artists like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, I started to think of names I liked, names that signified certain themes, so when I looked up the definition of celebration I thought, ‘oh this is perfect. This is the exact opposite of what I could bring to the party.’ I thought if I named the band this, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing and it’ll make the people forget that I wasn’t as seasoned a front man as I wanted to be.
ME: I’m curious about the way in which the band’s name is stylized. The cell in Cellabration is C-e-l-l like a blood cell as oppose to the c-e-l-e-bration of how it’s typically spelled.
Frank: Yeah, that’s the thing. It ended up getting ridiculous. It was almost like it became a parody of itself. The cell, I wanted to invoke that feeling of life, the building blocks of life. There was also a band in the 70’s called The Celebrations and I kind of wanted to make the name my own. I’d noticed that no one had misspelled it like this so I was like, “oh, alright, this is perfect.” And also, it’s hard to type in Google search and find anything but what we’re doing which is nice.
ME: The story is you began recording Stomachaches during a bout of intense intestinal issues as an outlet of sorts. Musicians are always working on music, so was it ever your intention to release these songs as an album?
Frank: As a musician you’re constantly just working on things whether it’s making up jingles in your head or playing with other people. I’ve never been a fan of jamming. It’s always… weird. Sometimes you’ll find a musical soul mate and you feed off each other and it’s really fun to do, but that whole, “Hey, we should get together and jam,” and I’m like, “Fuck that!” Just the whole idea of that sounds so shitty to me. I just don’t work that way. I like to have more of a structure in mind, but I’m always coming up with something whether it’s just a song for me, a song to release, or a song to make my kids laugh. It’s just your brain is always working in that capacity. As far as this record though, I think it was more of I just needed to do this in order to reclaim my life back, especially my creative life. I felt like the stuff I was going through really zapped my creative power, and as an artist, you define yourself by what you create. When that’s taken from you it’s like your self-worth goes down. I needed to get that power back, so I don’t think I really thought about releasing it or having anybody hear it. Really it was just for me; an exercise in getting back in a style, and if anything, maybe I’d post some stuff on Soundcloud, but I never thought I was making a record. I think that was a good thing and a bad thing and for me. I was able to channel some things I normally wouldn’t have, knowing that other people were going to hear. I was able to be a bit more cut throat, maybe a bit more honest and say things that I normally wouldn’t have. And that ties into the release of [the record] and why it was such a scary time, but for the most part, I’m happy that it happened that way.
ME: At what moment did you decide to release this album and make The Cellabration a reality?
Frank: I don’t know if there was a definitive moment so much as there came a time when I was doing Death Spells and we [James Dewees and I] were doing a little bit of a tour and my good friend Matt was like, “Hey, James is going to be doing things with Reggie [and the Full Effect]. Are you doing anything else?” I told him I was just doing stuff on my own. He asked to hear it, played it for some people, and they started getting interested in the project. That’s when I realized that this was more than just my home recording; it was a project at that point. When the label started to get interested in it, it was kind of funny to me because when I met Wayne he just got it. He wanted it to be what it was and not something different. Some people get interested in things because of other projects that you’ve done and have these grandiose plans or ulterior motives and that wasn’t the case with this. It was more, “Hey, I don’t know what else you’re up to, but this is something I really like, so let’s do something together if you want.” That’s when I decided to put a band together to see what the songs felt like live.
ME: Were you hesitant of the reaction of long-term fans and critics? I mean, despite the numerous projects you’ve been a part of, there’s always the inevitable few who would compare your solo works to your past projects. How did you initially handle that?
Frank: It was troubling to relinquish the control of these songs first and foremost because I hadn’t intended on doing that. Once I came to grips with that, it was kind of like opening a diary and giving it to strangers. I’ve done so many different projects that sound so different, so I feel it’s now common that people understand one project is not tied to the next. Then again, you get the laziness of, “Oh, this person just did this, so this project sounds like that,” and that’s unfortunate, but you can’t escape that. You just kind of have to keep your head down and hope that people investigate more.
ME: But it seems as if you’ve gotten people’s attention with Stomachaches, especially the sound of it. There’s a very retro feel to it, The Clash meets Seattle 90’s grunge but then there’s also a bit of Brit-pop a la The Blur. That’s a pretty impressive mash up of sounds there. What really inspired the sound of songs that would eventually become Stomachaches?
Frank: I drew upon a lot of influence from my youth. I wouldn’t necessarily include Brit pop because I think there are certain acts that I’m a fan of but I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of Brit pop. Especially because growing up, it was so far removed from the things that I had at my fingertips. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get away from that 90’s sound because that’s when I was really growing up and finding out about music. I do agree with the retro feel because I went about it in a very scaled-down sort of way and I wanted the record to feel like you were listening in on it as opposed to listening to it. My intentions with regards to recording and writing these songs were I wanted to capture these moments in time. I didn’t want to fuck with them. I didn’t want to sit down and be like, “Ok, standard song writing will be: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge then double chorus out.” That’s your formula. But if a song came to me and it was A section, B section, C section, A section, D section that’s the way it was and at least it made some sort of sense and I wanted to keep it as that. And there’s a lot of times on the record where you’ll hear first takes or scratch-takes on the songs because some of my favorite things about records that I love are those mistakes, those moment in time, that human element. This goes back to the songs not really ever being considered to be a record or put out for release, it was just documentation for me of the times that I was going through so you basically have this personal timeline of what was happening. The songs just came in waves and so you’d have this song has a 90’s feel or this has an old blues progression feel, and I never thought to myself, ‘Oh, I need a song like this,’ it was more like, ‘Oh, this is what’s in my head today so let’s just record it.’
ME: You’re a musician of multiple faces and artistically you always seem to be evolving, so how do you usually approach a project? Are you usually someone who puts music to words already written or do you let the music speak to you first?
Frank: I think it depends on the project because certain projects will present themselves in a different way. For instance, when I work with James [Dewees] on Death Spells, we start with sounds, so the music comes first. Since our schedules are so hectic we would just email ideas back and forth and sometimes it would be nonsensical vocal melodies or rhythms and that would either spark different noise elements or vocal parts. When it came to this project it was just whatever came to my head. Right now, I think what my love affair with this project is that nothing came to this record that wasn’t form my heart. There wasn’t any outside influences on this. It’s a scary undertaking but very rewarding at the same time.
ME: You said previously that giving away this project was like letting someone read pages of your diary. The lyrics of your singles – “Weighted” and “Joyriding” feel very introspective. Man-in-the mirror sort of feeling. Then there’s the video—blood pumping beats, heart-ripping, funerals, selfies and intestinal double dutch: what is the story behind your music videos for “Weighted” and “Joyriding”? How did you approach the videos towards these two particular songs?
Frank: Writing the songs was the end all. The goal was to get them out, recorded and that was it. So when it came time that we were going to do this record, there was a label and the label wanted to do a video, I was like, “Whoa! Shit, I’m done!” I’ve said everything I’ve wanted to say about this topic or this song. I don’t feel the need to go back and go through every line and give you a visual representation of what that song means or that line means. There’s two approaches to a video: you can drive that point home and make them a visual art piece that’s tied in so tightly to the song you can’t deviate from it, or you can take that opportunity and now you have capital, so now you can start a new art project and it has nothing to do with that song except the song is the soundtrack to the project. That’s where I went with this. Sometimes the music plays more of a part of that, but I think for “Weighted” that video could have been for any song; “Joyriding’s” video is more tied into the song because the song is about the feeling of internalizing everyone else’s disappointment whether it’s your fault or not. It’s about experiencing how let down everyone is and swallowing that whole and trying to keep it all in and telling everybody that you’re ok when you’re probably not. The idea of the video is bloodletting, where everything starts out fine and you take all you can and it runs off the rails. So that video couldn’t have been done for any other song. For “Weighted”, I just wanted to make Goonies meet Pet Cemetery, and someone’s giving me money to do that so it’s awesome.
Hands down my favorite part of “Weighted” had to be when you were snapping selfies.
All credit for that particular scene goes to John Carlucci. When I was told I could do a video, I immediately had an idea, I wrote the video treatment, and I was told you couldn’t do that. So I wrote the one we eventually made, and when they said yes, I knew who needed to make this. I called up John from Ghost + Crow [Films] and we did everything in our power to do it together. I don’t think there’s any way I could have done that video with anyone else other than John and Brandon [LaGanke] and Tate [Steinsiek], that kid is just ridiculously talented and out of his mind as well. So that’s what you get when you take four people with terrible senses of humor and put them in a room. That’s what comes out.
ME: In a pervious response, you stated how you didn’t have any strong intentions of releasing these songs as a record. Now that time has passed from these basement-session to you preparing for a tour, has the meaning or themes of the album changed for you at all? Do you find yourself discovering new things about your own work?
Frank: I don’t know if the themes of the songs themselves have changed. I think it’s very much a full record because I’m drawing upon experiences from my youth, from things that I’ve either experienced myself or watched other people go through, but the songs have definitely evolved. This is the first time I’ve ever done a project where I wrote the songs, recorded them and then had to figure out how to play them in a live setting with a band. I’ve always just started a band or been with a group of people, playing songs as loud as you can, letting those songs evolve, and then recording them. Usually you play them for people first and then you record them but this was completely backwards. It was like, “Ok, well, this is how it’s recorded. People have heard them first, so do you recreate that in a live setting as best as you can? Or do these songs now evolve and change now that you’ve brought different people in and now you’re playing them live?” That’s what usually happens. The songs take on a life of their own. It’s a beautiful thing if you let it happen so I’ve tried to approach these songs as a totally different animal now and it’s not so much that I’m going out and playing a record, you’re going out and the songs are getting to live again in a different range and that’s kind of fun.
ME: To piggy back off of that answer, what have you gained from the experience of The Cellabration?
Frank: I think its catharsis. Maybe a sense of a level of confidence, it’s a new undertaking, a new adventure. I feel like that’s a circle question. What experiences have you gained? You’ve gained from experience of what life is made of, trials and tribulations and you hope that the good outweigh the bad. I feel like that question is like asking why did you choose to make music? I didn’t have a choice. It was just one of those things I was going to do no matter what. It’s just so far, I’ve been fortunate enough to do it full time.
ME: Your tour will kick off in Mexico City and continue throughout the States and Canada before crossing over to Europe, what do you hope fans will get out of this experience? Of seeing this side of your artistic capabilities, of something that is 100% your own creation?
Frank: Well when you put it that way, it puts a lot of pressure on me. I think they’re going to get to experience the songs and band in a way that they wouldn’t be able to from the record. I think the types of venues we’re playing at really drives the point home, that feeling of listening in on the record as opposed to listening to it. I also think because the band has only been alive since September of last year they [the fans] have only seen us evolving, so hopefully they’ll see the band growing as a whole and it wont be the same as it was last year and it’s not going to be the same as it will be a year from now. I think that’s the beauty of it. It’s a special time for any of these tours. They [the fans] will definitely experience the record as a whole and being reinvented and there will definitely be other songs in there as well because doing a headlining spot with one record you got to think how to fill up the set
ME: Throughout the years you’ve experienced much, being part of some pretty impressive bands, top-charting albums, marriage and fatherhood and now this tour. If the Frank Iero of today could say anything to the Frank Iero who was just started out in this industry, what would you say to him?
Frank: I would say that all the clichés are true. You see all this stuff and think that’s fucking ridiculous! There’s just no way! That’s such a cliché who would do that? And then you realize oh shit! Everyone does that. That sucks.
ME: Do you think your past self would take your present self’s advice?
Frank: Well, I think when you see your future self coming to give you advice, you have to, right? That’s an experience where you’re like, “holy fucking shit. I better listen.”
ME: Last but not least, what should we expect from you in the near future?
Frank: Nothing is set in stone. I don’t know what to expect and that’s kind of the great thing about this. There’s a lot of things I want to do, a lot of things I want to accomplish, a lot of things I’m working on, but the future is a mystery to me. I keep doing what I like, and I don’t know how, but crazy, amazing opportunities sometimes arrive and I do my best to live up to them. Whenever that may be we’ll see what that is.
Frnkiero andthe Cellabration Tour Dates
- 02/14 – Mexico City, MX @ La Sala
- 02/18 – New York, NY @ The Studio at Webster Hall
- 02/19 – Cambridge, MA @ The Middle East Upstairs
- 02/20 – Albany, NY @ The Hollow Bar + Kitchen
- 02/21 – Buffalo, NY @ The Waiting Room
- 02/24 – Montreal, QC @ Le Ritz PBD
- 02/25 – Toronto, ON @ Hard Luck
- 02/26 – Millvale, PA @ Mr. Small’s Theatre
- 02/27 – Cleveland Heights, OH @ Grog Shop
- 02/28 – Detroit, MI @ The Magic Stick
- 03/01 – Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s Rock Club
- 03/03 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
- 03/04 – Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews
- 03/05 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre
- 03/06 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court Gallery
- 03/07 – Boise, ID @ Shredder
- 03/10 – Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
- 03/12 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
- 03/13 – Anaheim, CA @ Chain Reaction
- 03/14 – West Hollywood, CA @ Troubadour
- 03/16 – Scottsdale, AZ @ Pub Rock Live
- 03/18 – San Antonio, TX @ 210 Kapone’s
- 03/20 – Grand Prairie, TX @ South By So What?! Festival
- 03/22 – Houston, TX @ The House of Blues
- 03/24 – Jacksonville, FL @ Jack Rabbits
- 03/25 – Orlando, FL @ The Social
- 03/26 – Tallahassee, FL @ Pug’s Live
- 03/27 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
- 03/28 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
- 03/30 – Vienna, VA @ Jammin’ Java
- 03/31 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Barbary
- 04/01 – Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus
- 04/02 – Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes
- 04/16 – Manchester, UK @ Academy 3
- 04/17 – Leeds, UK @ Key Club
- 04/19 – Glasgow, UK @ King Tut’s
- 04/20 – Newcastle, UK @ Academy 2
- 04/22 – Cardiff, UK @ The Globe
- 04/23 – Brighton, UK @ Haunt
- 04/24 – Oxford, UK @Academy 2
- 04/25 – Bristol, UK @Hit the Deck Festival
- 04/26 – Nottingham, UK @Hit the Deck Festival
- 04/28 – London, UK @ Underworld
- 04/29 – Portsmouth, UK @ Wedgewood Rooms
- 05/01 – Belgium Groezrock Festival
- 05/03 – Hamburg Rock Cafe
- 05/04 – Berline Kantine Am Berghain
- 05/05 – Cologn MTC
- 05/06 – Amsterdam Melkweg
- 05/07 – Paris Backstage
- 05/08 – Lyon Longlive Rockfest
- 05/10 – London, UK @Underworld
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