Cause for Cellabration! Frank Iero on Fans and Going Solo

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“He’s gonna be here until he’s met every single one of these people.” As I stand behind Frank Iero’s merch table, awkwardly cradling my tripods and trying not to lose my balance amidst piles of tee-shirts and posters, his tour manager breaks the news to me with an apologetic grin: Though the frontman had kindly offered to answer questions between autographs, he can’t grant a sit-down interview until he’s individually greeted each of his fans. I gladly agree to wait—he’s been signing since the venue doors opened, and in the days of expensive VIP meet-and-greets and entitled rock stars, his level of dedication to fans is remarkable.

Similarly remarkable is the speed at which Iero started releasing music again: Following the disintegration of My Chemical Romance in 2013, Frank went solo, writing and recording new material under the moniker “frnkiero andthe cellabration”. The project has been touring nonstop since the release of the full-length “Stomachaches” in August 2014, their brand of no-holds-barred punk rock sprinkled with softer melancholy moments appealing to audiences that may not have been familiar with MCR.

Once he had shaken the hand of his last admirer, Frank sat down with me at The Stone Pony (in his home state of New Jersey) to discuss his relationship with fans, his decision to become a solo artist, and his affinity for pizza bagels.

Can you give me the history of frnkiero andthe cellabration? How did the project come together?

It started as just a couple of songs that I wrote in my basement, and I just did it for myself. Then a friend of mine asked what I’d been up to, and I played him some of the songs, and he convinced me to play with some other people. And before I knew it, I got an offer from a label, from people that I felt like really got it and wanted to put it out, and then I was like, “I gotta put a band together to actually play the songs!” So that’s how it started.

Were you writing solo material whilst still in My Chemical Romance or did it all come after?

No, yeah, it was all after that. There might have been like a melody here or there, like little riff things, but they were never gonna be My Chem songs. They were just stuff that I messed around with. But I think the intro and first chord progression for “[She’s the] Prettiest Girl [at the Party and She Can Prove it with a Solid Right Hook]”—that’s been around for a little while, but I didn’t think it was a song, I just thought it was something that I liked the sound of… it just kind of had that “fifties” vibe that they were looking for. And “Stage Four [Fear of Trying]” existed in a way different state, and I didn’t like it at all. Then I ended up being asked by a friend of mine to do his podcast, and he was like “Oh it’d be really great if you’d play a song” and I was like “I don’t have any songs!” So I wrote it the night before, and it turned into that.

Did any of the guitar parts come from parts that you wrote for My Chemical Romance but were eventually discarded?

Well, I think my role in that band was very different. I liked very much to dance in between the guitar melodies and the vocal melody. I really like playing off of the vocal melody when I’m not singing, so if I wasn’t the singer, that’s how I would play. But since I have to sing in this, I think the guitars end up being a lot different, you know? And also, when I would write with My Chem, if I wrote like rhythmic parts to a song, I would never consider the vocals important—they’d come after. Whereas with this, I had to kind of think about, “Alright, I’m gonna need to put lyrics to this”, or “I’m gonna have to sing and play at the same time”.

Considering that as you write.

Yeah, it’s a lot different from that perspective.

How was the transition from your roots as a Jersey punk, to a theatrical rock star in My Chemical Romance, and now back to making straight-up punk music?

See, here’s the thing—even before My Chem decided to stop, I had done Leathermouth, and then I was doing Death Spells as the band broke up. I always like starting new bands. So it’s always been something that I’ve found fun to do. It didn’t feel like “Oh no, I’m starting this new thing”—it felt like, this is just what I do, you know? So I guess I felt at home in that respect.

Had you ever considered being a solo artist when you first started making music or is it something you’ve just come to later?

Nooo. No, never. God no. [laughs]

How did you come to that decision?

Reluctantly [laughs]. I came to that decision because I had written all the songs and I played everything myself, and I thought, “Well, I can manufacture a band and pretend that this is a group of people and it’s called… ‘whatever the hell’”, you know, but I felt like that’s kind of a lie, you know what I mean? I’m not a big fan of bands that are like, “Here, we’re this band, but that guy does everything”. It’s like, well, you’re not really a band, you know? You might be friends… [laughs] but I don’t know. I don’t wanna lie about where I came from. And honestly, I thought really long and hard about, “Maybe I could get someone to sing this stuff and then I could start a band”, but it didn’t work out that way.

And you also had that fame from MCR, so fans might have come to your new band’s shows just to see you.

But that’s weird. Sometimes that stuff’s almost like a car accident—people just wanna see the aftermath, and not because they necessarily enjoy your project. But I think now that the record’s been out and we’ve been doing this for a little while, we have actual fans of this project. I never thought about that though, it wasn’t ever like “Oh, this’ll be my solo project so that My Chem kids will come”. That was very… not on my mind [laughs].

Yeah, I feel like that would’ve been inauthentic.

It would’ve been really weird, yeah.

How have the fan interactions been?

Great! I mean, some are really great, some are… incredibly awkward [laughs]. But that’s with anybody. I like when people interact with you on just a human basis. I find a nice interaction, a nice conversation, more enjoyable than just a put-on, or a photo. I’d much rather just talk to you about your day than anything else. But you know, some people like doing that, some people just wanna get a photo and a signature and get the hell out [laughs].

With such an intense fanbase, do you feel like there’s a certain point where you need to draw the line between public and private information that you don’t want to share?

Well, that’s the thing too—you run into these things where… you played on a record that somebody really loves, or you’ve been on TV and they’ve seen you there, and they follow you on social media, so they get this impression that they know you intimately. And, in actuality, it’s really whatever they’ve interpreted you to be—this fantasy of what they think you are, and what you like, what you’re into. And I think when that fantasy becomes so far removed from the human quality, then it’s a bit strange. Like, for instance, I feel like when people try to say the most ridiculous thing to you, or fucked-up thing to you, in order to get a reaction, they don’t really consider you a person. That’s real strange. Then you have the ones, too, that are just way too cool for school, and they want to explain to you, “Hey, I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are!” And it’s like, well, I don’t know who you are either [laughs]. That’s the weird thing, is when people don’t understand that just as people, this is our first impression of each other, so like, right now you’ve blown it [laughs]. As far as just the first impression, as a person. Cause I didn’t know you at all until right now, and now I know that you’re kind of an asshole [laughs].

And now I don’t want to know you.

Yeah! I gotta say though, for the most part, people have been really, really amazing. It’s just like, how many people are on the Earth… six billion? Something like that? Out of six billion, at least 50% of those people suck, right? [laughs] Just like, on the law of averages. So hopefully, you meet more that suck less.

Do you ever feel pressure from those fans to be almost MCR-esque?

No, no. I can only be the person that I am… I have no desire, no energy to play a part for anybody. I’m way too old to do that. I feel like I’ve lived my life, I’ve lived 33 years, and I’ve learned certain things about myself and about the world, and I know that it’s not beneficial to anyone for me to pretend. So I’m not going to.

There’s an interesting dichotomy on “Stomachaches” between angry, fast songs and softer, slower songs—how do you navigate those two very different vibes during your live performances?

At least as a fan going to see bands, I like that shift between things. I think you kind of want to ride a set, almost like a wave—you wanna start real big and you wanna bring ‘em down and then come back up. For a show like this, we actually were gonna play “[She’s the] Prettiest [Girl at the Party and she Can Prove It with a Solid Right Hook]”, we play it almost every show. But it’s a hard song, especially if you don’t get a sound check, and you’re not familiar with the person doing the sound at a place. In order to do that song, there’s that thin line of “this could be a total disaster” if you can’t hear what’s going on. So we just thought, “Alright, we won’t do that tonight because it could go very wrong”.

Do you ever do acoustic performances?

I’ve done a couple of songs here and there. I’m not a huge fan of that—it feels very naked. My brother-in-law Evan [Nestor] and I did an acoustic session overseas at a magazine office, and it was really fun to have him be with me. We got to play off each other a bit, and I felt comfortable in that. But when it’s just me and a guitar, like… I think some songs can translate there, but with others it just doesn’t make sense. Like “Weighted” isn’t a song that I feel like could translate to an acoustic performance because it relies on that “quiet-loud”. They’re not my favorite things in the world, but they can be fun.

If you were a breed of dog, what would you be?

Um… I have no idea. [laughs]

I’m trying to think of my own and I can’t even. There are so many breeds of dogs in the world.

Maybe a pug.

I’d maybe be a labradoodle?

That’s weird!

Kind of fluffy and odd?

Yeah, I would not be a labradoodle. [laughs] Just cause of the name.

Yeah, it’s weird. No one would take you seriously.

I’d be fine with being a rescue dog. Those are the best kind.

They’re so mysterious. It’s like, where’d you come from?

Exactly, they’re exotic!

If you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Oh, pizza bagels.

Not even pizza, just the bagels?

Pizza bagels, yeah. When pizza’s on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime.

That’s true, yeah, it’s very accessible.

You were born on Halloween. Does that put more pressure on you, costume-wise, cause you’re like the Halloween dude?

No, I just like to put a lot of thought into it, and sometimes I don’t have the time to do the things I want to, but… I don’t feel pressure, I just know that they’re gonna be the best [laughs].

What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever done?

Let’s see… This year was pretty good. I was a super-cool eighties Dracula. That was pretty cool, I liked that one. They’re niche.

Speaking of costumes, which was your favorite frnkiero andthe cellabration music video? Cause I know there was one where you were playing jumprope with a kid’s organs, and one where you were covered in blood… and one with your daughters.

That was probably my favorite. That was the hardest to do, as well. Yeah, they tell you, “Don’t ever work with children or animals in film”.

Sorry, we gotta go! Hurry, one more, quick!

If you were an interviewer and this was your last question, what would it be?

[laughs]

Okay, so for a while, MCR said they wanted to save people’s lives. What’s the goal for frnkiero andthe cellabration?

For this project? I guess to turn something detrimental into something beautiful. To be fulfilled as a human being. It’s for nobody else but me. I love when people find something in it that helps them, but… that’s not my intention. And with My Chem too, I think that got blown out of proportion. What we really meant to say was that it saved us, because it meant so much to us. There was a gravity to it, there was something that felt really important. But us as individuals… we weren’t saviors. [The fans] did that. They found inspiration in the band and did it themselves.

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