Frank Iero has never approached a new song under the impression that “what the world needs right now is for me to tell it what to do”. Instead, both his 2019 album Barriers and its new companion EP Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place see Iero and his band The Future Violents “directing what I do in such a way that it's meant to inspire and incite emotions."
"The world needs to be a different place once your art has been released,” Iero tells Louder, speaking to us from his home in New Jersey. “That doesn’t mean a grand scale Beyoncé type thing, it could be two people hearing it, being inspired then going off and doing their own thing. But there needs to be a ripple.”
The Future Violents is the third iteration of Frank’s expansive post-My Chemical Romance solo project. With The Cellabration he released 2014’s Stomachaches, an intimate basement punk debut written without an audience in mind. “It was the same as writing in a diary, talking to a therapist or screaming into a pillow – you’re hearing something that's not supposed to be heard”, he says now.
“Barriers is the complete 180 of that. We’re out to reach as many people as possible and try to affect the world on a very grassroots, personal level.”
Following a bus crash that almost cost Iero, his brother-in-law and bandmate Evan Nestor and their manager their lives, with Barriers The Future Violents set out to “break the mould of things that we've done in the past.”
From opener A New Day’s Coming – a hopeful anthem of change that started life as a lullaby for his kids – to the snarling thrash of Police Police with its bloodcurdling scream of 'no more silence while children scream, locked in cages built overseas', the record was about directing fear, pain, anger and fury into something constructive.
“You have to," says Iero. "Otherwise it will destroy you.”
Follow-up EP Heaven Is A Place… is a condensed, alternative version of Barriers, but comes with the same sprawling message of change. Released at a time where it felt like America was on the brink of civil war, Sewerwolf – “a blues story set in the mind of the most evil, baddest motherfucker around; it’s what should be playing on the jukebox when The Terminator comes and steals that guy's boots” – comes with the choral pledge 'My love will break these chains built from pain, they can't hold me down'. Given the circumstances, it feels political.
“Isn’t it crazy that the idea that love can conquer hate is a political statement?” Iero asks us. “How is that not just common sense?”
We're talking the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration and Iero is very hopeful about his presidency. “Well, we can’t get any worse. Even if they handed the pen to Miles (Iero, Frank’s eight-year-old son) and said ‘do your best’, I think it’d be better than what’s come before. I’m excited for the semblance of some leadership, especially given the circumstances where it’s dangerous to just breathe air. I’m hopeful for environmental policies, I’m hopeful for a living wage being given to people equally, that would be a fantastic thing.”
But the release of There Is A Heaven… wasn’t tied into any of these real-world events. Written alongside the rest of Barriers, it's been over a year in the making. “We just had the time to finish those songs," he says. "It felt really good to have it come out now though. As far as a grand plan scheme, I don’t really work that way. I’m very much George Costanza in Seinfeld, bringing the giant suitcase because I dress by feel. If I feel like doing something one month, then that’s what I’m doing.”
In recent years, Iero has finally released the debut album from his electro-hardcore Death Spells project, while records from his other bands Leathermouth and Pencey Prep have been released on vinyl. Not only does a vinyl copy of an album “feel more real, because I can go make a CDR in my room,” but Iero is hopeful that “people will get an opportunity to hear these records that were maybe a little bit before their time.
"It gives people that are fans of other things I’ve done a little more insight and understanding. There’s possibly more stuff on the way as well, but it has to make sense to be released.” though Iero is reluctant to tell us what or when. “I'm excited about that future, but it's nice to complete the past before moving on.”
Each of Iero’s solo records has taken on different shapes and colours, but he doesn’t know where he wants to take it next – despite his lockdown being surprisingly productive. “I love being in the room with people and reacting to them immediately, so it's been difficult for me to do Zoom meetings about a fucking part that would take two seconds to change if you were in the room together. That gets frustrating, but I do enjoy working with people that maybe I wouldn't have had the opportunity to, if it was not for everybody working remotely. That's been really fun and definitely opened a lot of doors for me creatively. But as far as the next Frank Iero record, I have some stuff, I just don't know what it's gonna be yet.”
Despite our prodding, Iero remains tight-lipped about future projects. “There's nothing I can break for you right now. I will say this though, at the moment I'm working on between four and five different projects which is awesome but it's all spec.
"We're gonna do this thing, have fun with it and see where it goes. Will it ever see the light of day – who knows? Maybe not, but then maybe also everything will happen at the same fucking time and that'll be really stressful. I just don't know, I’m afraid. I do know I'm keeping fairly busy, much to my wife's chagrin.”
It’s not what he had planned for 2020, but that’s the same for everyone. Originally worried about balancing solo commitments with a global My Chemical Romance reunion tour, Iero cleared his 2020 schedule. “I shut everything else down. I knew My Chem was going to be touring the whole of last year, so I said no to everything new and put everything else on the back burner.” When Covid-19 delayed their return, it left Frank at home with nothing to do. There was a moment of fear – “holy shit, I may never do anything ever again” – but he admits that happens every time he’s faced with a break. ”It was instilled in me with my Dad. He was a musician doing session work and was always worried the work would dry up. You start to worry that you should have a secure back-up plan.
“I never know what the fuck I'm going to be doing next. It's a constant worry cycle with me and then all of a sudden, a song comes to me or a project comes up,” says Iero. “I guess the realisation is that this is just what I do, I make things. The art world is very unstable but I’ve got to the point where I shouldn’t have to worry too much about what’s coming down the pipe because it’s as simple as me inventing it.”
As the conversation draws to a close, we can't let the opportunity to ask Iero about last year’s most exciting news pass us by. So, does he ever go and visit the baby Snapping Turtles he rescued? “I drive by that pond on a daily basis. Every time I do, I slow down to like four miles an hour looking for signs of the turtles, but I haven't seen them again.
"I do have this fantasy that one day, I will be driving and there's gonna be nine snapping turtles crossing the road, with traffic all backed up and I'll be like, ‘That's my turtles, fucking up everybody's day’”.
Frank Iero's new EP Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place is out now via UNFD