Frank Iero: “I’d like to think my confidence has grown exponentially as an artist, but you still have those moments of self-doubt”

Frank Iero talks the art of songwriting, his solo band The Future Violents, and brilliant new EP Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place.

Frank Iero: “I’d like to think my confidence has grown exponentially as an artist, but you still have those moments of self-doubt”
Emily Carter

Just call out my name,’ yells Frank Iero as the epic, life-affirming Record Ender comes to a close, ‘because I swear you mean the whole world to me.’ As far as goodbyes go, it really couldn’t be more perfect. Because not only does the song close the book on his brilliant new EP, Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place, it also seemingly marks the end of his time with his “dream line-up” of a band: The Future Violents (or, on this new release rather, The Future Violence).

Frank originally recruited the group – Evan Nestor (guitar/backing vocals), Matt Armstrong (bass), Tucker Rule (drums) and Kayleigh Goldsworthy (keys/mandolin/violin) – for 2018’s excellent and wonderfully ambitious third ‘solo’ album, Barriers. And, such was the power of these musicians all getting in a room together, their creativity spilled out into songs beyond that 14-song full-length. With coronavirus providing them more time to finish things up and get the material to producer/engineer/mixer Steve Evetts, these songs – three originals and a beautiful cover of R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion – are finally seeing the light of day.

Speaking to Kerrang! today, Frank is absolutely stoked with the whole thing. About what’s going on in the outside world beyond music, though? Well…

“Urgh! It’s very surreal,” he groans of politics and pandemics. “There’s such turmoil happening. It’s strange because we don’t really leave the house, we don’t associate with other people. My kids are doing the home-schooling thing and we’re very involved with that, and we see immediate, very close family. And we don’t turn on the news very much and watch TV, but whenever I do it seems like there’s another unbelievable thing happening that just doesn’t make any goddamn sense! It’s overwhelming, because in your little bubble it almost feels like none of this is actually happening. I look outside my door in the wilderness that I live in (laughs) and nothing is happening. But you turn on the TV and it’s fear and upheaval, and it feels like we’ve all lost common sense, commonality, and that humanity that is so important…”

Nevertheless, in his spare time spent away from teaching his kids and avoiding the terrible goings on in the outside world, Frank has found lockdown relatively productive, all things considered.

“Things will come in – like 10 things will come in at once, and then all of a sudden nothing will happen,” he explains. “I feel creative in the respect of working with people that I haven’t gotten to play with and doing that in a remote setting – which is strange, and it’s definitely a different muscle set that I’m working. But it’s still creative, and that’s really fun. As far as just writing for my own stuff and coming from my own perspective, that’s where things get hard. It’s strange, and I don’t feel like I have a unique perspective on what’s going on; I feel like we’re all going through the same thing. That’s a bit disconnected. I like when projects come in and they have a direction or a set of rules, or if I’m writing from a different perspective, or in conjunction with someone else – I think that’s where the creative juice starts to flow.”

Here, Frank opens up about Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place, his love for the process of songwriting, and how his solo era has shaped him as an artist…

How did Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place come about in relation to Barriers?
“What I love about this EP is that it kind of bookends the entire time spent in The Future Violents world. It begins very early on with the idea to start playing with Kayleigh and Tucker and Matt – and Evan, of course. The first recording is from the BBC, Live At Maida Vale, where we did the cover of Losing My Religion with Kayleigh. That was done on a Patience tour, and I really think that that recording was the spark of The Future Violents. And the rest of the songs were recorded in the Steve Albini session – unfinished until the lockdown and the pandemic happened. And it’s funny: the song Record Ender is the last song that we recorded in the Albini session, and that was finished up remotely in lockdown with Steve Evetts. And I’m really happy with it – I feel like it gives you a broader understanding of that band and the scope of what we were writing, and I think that even though it’s connected to Barriers in a big way, it’s also able to stand on its own two feet.”

Is it a product of COVID that this EP has been released – might there have been a different scenario in which the songs just would have gotten lost or unused?
“It’s possible… I don’t know! It might have been a starting block for an entirely new band or record, or it maybe would have just sat on the shelf somewhere. It’s hard to say what would have happened if we were on the road or doing other things. The lockdown is of course a hard thing to deal with and there are so many people out there suffering with COVID, but I feel like the one positive that we had out of 2020 and all the bullshit that’s been going on is that there’s been some really great art made and released from that time. And so yeah, this is a product of that: I was able to actually have the time to work on those songs, and get them to a place where they needed to be.”

With there being a delay between writing these songs and now having them completely finished, did hearing those final versions give you any fresh perspective on the music you’d created?
“Yeah, it’s fun to go back into something that you started – and this was maybe a year prior. You can come in with fresh ears and a fresh perspective, and be able to re-edit or re-work some of those things. I do feel like songs and just art in general are, like, loves that we need in our lives; sometimes you meet a person and it’s like, ‘Oh man, this works! This could be something really special…’ but you just meet at the wrong time, and it’s like, ‘We’re perfect for each other but not right now!’ I feel like that happens a lot with songs, and I feel very fortunate to be able to go back and be like, ‘Alright, I wasn’t ready for you then, but I think I am now.’ Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it ends with divorce and you wish you’d never met that song (laughs).”

What is EP opener Violence about?
“Violence is about, I guess, the thin line between being infatuated and in love, and maybe also being in just a very tumultuous and vile and toxic relationship. Sometimes the lines get blurred between, ‘What is affection? What is violence? What is good for you? And what is ruining everything that’s good about your soul?’”

And what about Sewerwolf? Lyrically it’s pretty intense – what kind of headspace were you in when you wrote it?
“It’s funny, I remember specifically writing that song. The way that The Future Violents worked, because we were all so split up, is that we would all travel in for a brick of time – it would be like a week, or a week-and-a-half, where people would just stay at my house, and we would write. We did four or five sessions like that [for Barriers], and this one stemmed from Tucker getting there a little bit early one day, and he and I were just messing around, kinda jamming. And I picked up a Baritone guitar and it felt silly, and kinda a little bone-headed (laughs), to just be like, ‘What’s the craziest, heaviest, most hardcore metal thing we could do right now?’ We were just having fun with it.

"So it started as a joke, but the more that we played it, the more it was just so fun to play. We would finish the song and all just laugh, you know?! And it started to become less of a joke, and more just a song. And it was like, ‘You know what, can we pull this off?!’ Originally I thought, ‘What if we just wrote a song like this and gave it to somebody that we think can pull it off?’ And in that headspace, I started to think about who I could see singing it – and immediately I thought of a Phil Anselmo, or a Glenn Danzig. That’s where my headspace was, and then I thought, ‘Well, if they could pull it off, and I love what they do, maybe I could try? What if I put myself in their shoes?’ And so I just started to write lyrics from that perspective, and that vibe. And that’s what came out! The idea was to record it just because we had the time to and thought it was really fun, and the more I listened to it I just loved it. It was like, ‘I don’t wanna give this to anybody’ (laughs).”

You have these moments of total and utter heaviness, but you also have really beautiful moments – both within this EP, and your music in general. Is there a side of things that you enjoy more? Or maybe even think you’re better at?
“I mean, everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, and that’s the beauty of humanity: we’re all good at different things, and all so varied and strange in our own ways. But as far as music and art is concerned, I’m a fan of the art form, you know? I like all different types of music – there’s certain stuff that’s not my cup of tea, and stuff that I just don’t want to hear, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means it’s not made for me. So I try to find the talent or the appreciation behind everything, and I do feel like it all has a place. I love so many different styles of music, and I feel like, ‘If I enjoy it, why not try to make it?’ And so I do (laughs). Sometimes it fits together on a record and sometimes it just doesn’t, but I’m a firm believer that you have to chase everything as a songwriter. Even if it sucks, if it’s silly, if it’s stupid, it’s awful… just see it to the end. And if it’s embarrassing and terrible and you hate it, never show it to anybody – but still, just chase it. I’m a big believer in the process, and things can show you what not to do. It works that muscle, and it’s all valid.”

The EP closes with the absolutely awesome Record Ender – where did that one come from?
“I feel like when writing in a band setting, you tend to have these songs that come about, and they have a connection with another song – like a sibling. And that song came about around the same time that 24k Lush came about. I knew that it would be hard for them to co-exist on a single record, and part of me wondered if Barriers was going to be a double record, because we didn’t want to stop writing. I really feel like the writing process for Barriers only ended because we ran out of time and the recording was starting; I don’t think we ended it because we were actually done, or that we had nothing else to say. But when it was apparent to me that we were just going to do a single record, I knew that one of them had to go, and that was a really hard decision because I really love both of those songs.

“That song in particular came about with Matt starting on just a loop pedal, and that sound that you hear that fades in – that’s really what he started messing with in my basement that day, and he came up with the intro and first baseline. I just started playing along with him, and it started to take shape immediately. It was one of those where everybody in the room knew what that song was going to be and where it could go; it was so apparent what that song was. And what I really love about that song as well is the first line – ‘It’s only raining on my side of town’ – I took that because that ‘It’s only raining’ line is actually a line that my friend John Maguire put on a shirt for our first band ever. We made like three or four shirts in my mom’s basement (laughs) and it was this picture that he had taken and at the bottom it said, ‘It’s only raining,’ and at the top it said the name of the band. I always loved that line, and it reminded me of those days, writing songs in my mom’s basement with my friends, and making DIY shirts and stuff like that. I love that it was the last song recorded with this band, and it kinda harkens back to the first band I ever had.”

Between the EP and Barriers, do you feel like you’ve done what you wanted to with The Future Violents era? You’d originally said at the beginning of this chapter that you wanted the songs to “be perceived without any kind of past notion of what the project is supposed to sound like”. Do you think you’ve achieved that?
“Yeah, I think so! I really don’t have any regrets about the writing or recording process, or the touring. I guess the only thing that I would change if I could do it all again would be to do more: if I had the foresight I would have pushed the recording back another month or two to see if we could have written six or 10 more songs, and then toured another four-to-eight months on it (laughs). And I guess that’s a good regret to have, right? That means you had a great time and you felt enriched and fulfilled by it. Ultimately, here’s the thing: you don’t have the control over people’s perceptions of the art. My job kinda ends when that song is done and gets released out into the world, and then the art starts to speak for itself. And hopefully it affects some people! But as far as control, I lose control at that moment.”

Both Barriers and Heaven Is A Place… boast a huge amount of confidence in you just embracing all these different sides and really letting go within the music. Throughout the last six/seven years, how has your confidence grown as an artist?
“It’s definitely grown – it definitely has. I’d like to think ‘exponentially’, but you still have those moments of self-doubt and self-deprecation! Every artist goes through that: you ride the high of getting it right on a song, and then all of a sudden the next song doesn’t go your way and you hate everything you’ve ever done (laughs). It’s a hard path. If you go to school and college and you want to be a lawyer, then – if you don’t make any horrendous, awful criminal mistakes – you’re going to be a lawyer forever. But as a musician and an artist, you’re judged by your last work. You could write 100 great, amazing songs, but if you put out a record that fucking sucks, that could be taken away from you real quick! It’s a strange one, and I think you have to get away from that idea that you have anything to prove to anybody else, other than yourself. And I have confidence – I can write a song! But the thing that it hinges upon is the work that I put in. I hold myself accountable, and I hold myself to a pretty high standard, and if I impress myself then I know it’s pretty good.”

Going back to the start of your solo chapter, you went into debut album stomachaches with the mindset of, ‘I’m doing this record for me.’ Now, what – or who – is your solo music for?
“Well, it’s funny… I would say up until 2020 then that holds true! I can’t, I guess, pander to anybody else – that’s a cardinal rule, and once you start doing that you’re already dead in the water. But now, because of 2020, a lot of opportunities have come in to write for other people, and that was something that I never really thought about doing before, but life has dictated what projects have come in. And I’ve found it to be a pretty intriguing and fulfilling undertaking. If nothing else it’s an exercise in how to write songs and music, and how to make people feel a certain way. With a project that just came in, they gave me an idea of, ‘This is the type of song that we want, and this is what we would like you to convey. Can you write a song like that? Oh, and by the way, you have three days!’ And it’s like, ‘Oh shit, okay!’ So you figure out how to do that: to write a song in a restricted amount of time that checks all these boxes. And hey, if it works out then they could want it and use it for something, but if not, whatever, it’s a song that I wrote. But I love the challenge of it. And that’s something that I’ll give myself, too: I’ll say to myself when I go downstairs to the studio, ‘Today I’m gonna write a song, and it’s going to have these four chords somewhere, and it’s going to sound like this.’ And then I try to attempt to do that. Sometimes those challenges that I set up for myself work, and sometimes they don’t, but somehow, some way, it gets me to something else. And I love that! I love the process: it’s frustrating as hell and it doesn’t always love you back, but it’s something that I’ve always done, and continue to love to do.”

Has writing for other people taught you anything that you will take with you into future material?
“Yeah, I think so. Different chord changes evoke different emotions, and I love playing with people that are from different backgrounds than I am, and even have different playing abilities. It makes your brain think in different ways. If you want to become a better basketball player, you should play with people that are better than you, or different from you. With anything that you want to get better at, you have to work those muscles and you have to train, and that kinda stuff throws a curveball and it makes it fun – sometimes you forget that you’re even doing work!”

Is The Future Violents/Violence era done now, or will there be more to come?
“Well, I think historically with the things that I’ve done and the trajectory of how it’s gone this does mark the end of it. But, like I said, the whole point of Barriers was to break down all those rules, and to do things that you’ve never done before! So… I don’t know (laughs). I think that if it is the end, it’s the perfect end. And I think if it’s not, then I’m very excited to play with those people again, because I think they’re fantastic musicians and even better human beings. Honestly, there was never an un-fun moment being in that band! I’ve loved touring with them, I’ve loved being around them, and we still text, I would say, 85 times a day (laughs) – just dumb stuff back and forth. We’re just really good friends, and I love every one of those people.”

Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place is out now via UNFD – listen to it below:

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