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Frank Iero and The Homeless Gospel Choir In Conversation

Jake Richardson sits down with the ex-My Chemical Romance guitarist and the man behind The Homeless Gospel Choir to talk friendship and collaborations.

Frank Iero and The Homeless Gospel Choir (the musical alias of Derek Zanetti) are touring the UK and Europe until October 20, having recently released an awesome song together called Crazy. The friends have spent the past few years playing shows, sharing ideas and cementing a bond based on punk rock and a desire to create a safe space for their fans.

We chatted with Frank and Derek backstage at the Manchester Academy and discussed the origins of their friendship, the meaning of ‘punk’, and what they want to accomplish with their music.

Frank, can you remember the first time you heard Derek’s songs?

Frank Iero: “I can! Chris No. 2 of Anti-Flag emailed me and said, ‘I’ve just produced this record and I think you’ll totally dig it!’ It was The Homeless Gospel Choir’s second album, I Used To Be So Young. I remember being in my basement – I think I was working on [debut solo album] Stomachaches at the time – and I downloaded the record and fucking loved it straight away. The first frnkiero andthe cellabration tour was with Taking Back Sunday and The Used, and when we were riding around in the van on that tour, I Used To Be So Young was one of the staples of the van rides. I remember thinking, ‘If we get to a point where we can do a headlining tour, we should definitely do something with this guy,’ and I think I called Derek a week after that.”

Listen to the The Homeless Gospel Choir’s 2014 album, I Used To Be So Young.

What was it like the first time you met? Did you hit it off straight away?

Frank: “It was love at first sight!”

Derek Zanetti: “Totally. I had no idea who Frank was before we met, and I’m sure Frank had no idea who I was, either. Chris said to me one night, ‘I want you to meet my friend, Frank. Why don’t you grab him a record and a handful of T-shirts, take them out to the show, and we’ll make a new friend!’ So we went to a bar and had a couple of pints together and then watched Frank play, and I was absolutely mystified by it. To see him playing this aggressive, angry punk music really impressed me. Frank’s music is right up my alley: very heartfelt, very honest, very bare lyrics performed in a fast, aggressive way – it’s exactly what my vibe is. We just connected straight away and stayed in touch.” 

And shortly after you were playing shows together, right?

Derek: “Yes! Our first show together was at Webster Hall [in New York City]. It was at the beginning of a tour we did with Modern Chemistry in February of 2015.”

Frank: “Oh yeah, in that basement! We met in September 2014, and then a few months later that first show happened. On that U.S. tour we rode in a bandwagon together, and D just became another part of the cellabration!”

Derek: “I was the unofficial sixth member!”

Frank: “Yeah! So I thought to myself, ‘Derek is like the sixth member of the band, but we’re headed to Europe now and it doesn’t feel right that he’s not coming.’ So, I asked him if he’d come with us, he said yes, and then we decided to make a video on our phones to announce it. Literally two minutes after I asked Derek to come, we made a video of me asking him to come! That video essentially became the contract!”

Derek: “It was super meta. We were having the conversation and Frank says, ‘Hey man, what are you doing the next couple of months?’ And I replied, ‘I dunno… sitting in my house and feeling weird.’ And he goes, ‘Do you want to come to Europe and feel weird with me instead?’ That was how it happened!”

Above: frnkiero andthe cellabration’s Joyriding.

Derek made quite an impression on that debut European tour and won a lot of news fans – why do you think Frank’s fans have connected with The Homeless Gospel Choir?

Derek: “I don’t know if I have an answer for that…”

Frank: “This is what I think: I’m really lucky to have the kind of kids coming to my shows that I do – they can smell bullshit a mile away. And to see someone with so much raw talent and being so genuine onstage, it was so beautiful and empowering to them that they immediately got it. They knew where he was coming from, what he was doing and they just wanted him to be a part of this whole gang that we have.”

It’s an interesting pairing, because you both make ‘punk’ music, but sonically it’s quite different…

Frank: “Punk is about having a specific point of view and doing it yourself and for the right reasons, and not giving a shit about what’s cool. It’s being yourself and not giving a fuck, but then at the same time giving a fuck about what you’re doing.”

Derek: “Punk is not caring about what other people think of you, but really caring about what you think of you. Like Frank said earlier, punk kids can tell a bullshitter from a mile away. We don’t have to have amps and stretchy black jeans to be a punk band. If I started a barbershop quartet, it’d be the most punk fucking thing you’d ever heard!”

Let’s talk about the song you’ve just put out together, Crazy, which features on The Homeless Gospel Choir’s new album – how did that collaboration come about?

Derek: “We were backstage in Idaho on our second U.S. tour together, and we had a conversation about mental health. At the time I’d had a fall-out with some friends, and Frank said, ‘That really sucks – I’m sorry to hear about that.’ And I was like, ‘I feel like I’m going crazy all the time. All these people are expecting things of me and I don’t know who to turn to.’ I was having a hard time coming to terms with my own mental health, so I wanted to write this song to give other people hope and courage, and let them know that they’re not alone. We can ask for the help we need and work on it together – we’ll still be crazy, but we’ll be crazy together.”

Continues below…

Above: The official video for The Homeless Gospel Choir’s Crazy.

Frank: “When you become friends with artists, you tend to show each other ideas and bounce stuff back and forth and be like, ‘I’ve got this idea – is it cool?’ When I’m asking these questions, I want to know if I’m out of my mind, and all you need sometimes is a friend to say, ‘Man, you should fucking do that,’ or at the same time be like…”

Derek: “That’s shit!”

Frank: “Yeah! That’s how me and Derek work together: we don’t tell each other what to write, but we give each other confidence. We say, ‘That shit there – that shit that you’re scared of – that’s the fucking jam!’

Derek: “I can remember sending Frank dozens of voice memos of me playing the guitar, and he’d tell me what was good and what he thought I should scrap, and we just went back and forth about it for a good bit. The collaboration was very organic and very natural.”

You’re touring the UK and Europe at the moment – what are you wanting fans to take away from these shows?

Derek: “I have a very specific agenda when I go up there – I want to make sure kids know that this scene is here for them. Punk rock is a tool, a weapon, a gift and a blessing. We get to participate in it equitably – no matter your skin colour, gender, sexuality or religion, this is a place for you to be free. If there’s one place in the whole fucking universe where you get to be yourself and not be ashamed, it’s a fucking punk show. I want to let kids know that this is a safe space for them, and there’s no bullying, homophobia, bigotry, sexism or racism. It’s very important for me that at every show there’s a call to action to let kids know that this is an inclusive space.”

Frank: “Absolutely. In this day and age, with everything that’s going on in the world – all this craziness and asinine hatred – the main goal of artists in general is to remind people what it is to be human. The most powerful tools we have are love and acceptance, and if we can have everybody coming to our shows and feel like they belong and feel safe, and remind them that they should go out and spread that feeling, then I think we did our jobs.”

Frank Iero And The Patience’s new EP, Keep The Coffins Coming, and The Homeless Gospel Choir’s new album, Presents: Normal, are both out now.

Frank and Derek are touring the UK and Europe together now until October 20.

@JakeRichardso17

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