Death Spells: Death Is Not The End
Way before My Chemical Romance quietly adjourned in late March, guitarist Frank iero and keyboardist James Dewees were already concocting abrasive electronic music under the name Death Spells. Free from obligation, Iero now finds himself in the driver’s seat with equal parts excitement, confidence, and abject terror.
Last spring, during demo sessions for what was intended to be the follow-up album to Danger Days:The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero flew his family from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be with him. When his kids became restless with California, the doting dad acquiesced and let everyone go back to their Jersey homestead. Iero moved out of the living space and into auxiliary keyboardist James Dewees’ dodgy apartment in North Hollywood. The complex they were living in was a non-stop bacchanal of shawties-in-waiting hoping to get a chance to do some work twerking in some rapper’s video- and the music constantly blaring reflected that.
“When the days in the studio were getting shorter, we started hanging out back at the apartment with all this weird dance music being played around us,” says Iero.”James and I would go for long walks and talk about what kind of music we’d like to make for fun, and it pretty much started from there.”
So Iero and Dewees filled up their new pad with plenty of synthesizers, hard drives, software, and effects borrowed from MCR’s studio and proceeded to create their take on electronic music- a dark, over-modulated, cathartic pulse with Iero out in front, shrieking his throat raw or intoning like the creepy villain from The Silence Of The Lambs. As Death Spells, the duo have created a different beast altogether, avoiding trendy dubstep wobbling, tired electronic-flecked metalcore and faux feel-good rave fodder for some seriously ugly and mechanized post-punk you could listen to while dancing, moshing, or vandalizing a police station. They liked the noises they were making, so Iero and Dewees signed on as an opening act for a week of shows supporting Mindless Self Indulgence in early April. But shortly before Death Spells’ live debut, My Chemical Romance announced they were going their separate ways, leaving behind a bunch of songs Iero describes as “almost another Conventional Weapons situation except there wasn’t anything finished, just things in demo form.” Coincidence?
Not really. Iero is adamant the pursuit of Death Spells had nothing to do with MCR deciding to adjourn. He rolls his eyes at some of the most ridiculous rumors circulating about the band’s break, especially the one positing the members are regrouping under a different name to get off of Warner Bros. ( a fallacy popular with fans and self-aggrandizing British music-mag editors who don’t understand the term “first right of refusal”). Having just arrived back from a redeye flight from Los Angeles, Iero is jet-lagged but excited to talk about his future, reflect upon MCR’s legacy, and address all the uncertainty anyone would feel when hitting the reset button on his or her career. “Be it immaturity, throwing caution to the wind or just being punk rock, we didn’t give a fuck about what anyone else thought”, he says about his former band’s decision to retire. “Unless we were happy with it, we weren’t going to do what we didn’t want to do. We played it by our own rules, for better or for worse. That’s how we started it, that’s how we ran it and that’s how we ended it.”
Being responsible for some of the more unlikely aspects of certain My Chemical romance songs , the fractured hardcore of Leathermouth and now Death Spells’ raw-nerve scree, do you think fans and critics expect a certain thing from you?
FRANK IERO: I feel comfortable in awkwardness. [Laughs.] I think for some reason, people need to define, expect and pigeonhole things. This past week, I was talking to a few people about doing things for different outlets like movies and TV. A lot of them were like, “So you do this kind of thing? “ And I said, “Well, let me play you some stuff. “ And then the response was like, “Wow, Really? You do this, too?” I like catching people off-guard. I think people expect a certain thing from me and it’s not necessarily what I’m like at all. But I like that, as well; I like that people expect a certain thing from me, but very rarely get it. [Laughs.]
Currently, there are a ton of subgenres in electronic music. What was the overarching concept with Death Spells that you agreed upon?
I think [James and I] were rebelling against what we were creating in the studio- the day job- and the night shift were these two dudes who still wanted to be making music 24/7. What came out was the seediness of the area we were living in, the ability to get really loud and dirty but not get kicked out of the apartment and to get as grimy as humanly possible. There was no expectation as to what it was going to turn into. James would ask, “Hey, this is pretty grimy. Does this move you?” And I’d listen to it and go, “Yeah, I can totally curse over this for three minutes.” [Laughs.]
I’d assume the music sounds the way it does because you’re in a crap neighborhood, there’s all this bad music and annoying people at top volume in the building and you miss your family. But knowing Dewees, he’s like the post-emo Tony Robbins, where, “Dude! Everything is good!”
Absolutely. He is the silver lining embodied. He’d be baking stuff-cakes, soft pretzels-and bring it to the studio and make everybody happy. His demeanor is always jovial, but it’s in his musical sensibilities where he gets dark. I’m kind of the yin to his yang: He wanted Death Spells not to be his usual project. He was making music that was speaking to my dark side, and it started to work in a way we hadn’t expected to. With Reggie and the Full Effect, he wrote those parts and I just played guitar. When he was playing in Leathermouth, that stuff was written and recorded before he came in. When it came to My Chem, it was different. So Death Spells is the first time we gave birth to something.
What are plans for Spell-binding recordings? Because your name is obviously on MCR’s Warner Bros. contract, I’d assume the label gets first dibs on Death Spells material.
Yeah. I’m in legal limbo with a couple of things, right now. I’m curious to see what’s going to happen. We had plans on releasing some things, but I was told that is not the best idea right now. A few months ago, I put up [online] that Christmas song and that Ronettes cover (“Be My Baby” ), just to put them up and see what happens. And then I got the phone call. [Laughs.] We’ll see what happens after this article comes out and whether or not Death Spells have a home or are free agents. But I’m ready to get more stuff out there, more than just one muddled-and-muted- song on SoundCloud.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I always saw you as the biggest cheerleader in My Chem. You’re kind of like a shark: Sharks don’t sleep; they have to keep moving. It seems like you’re always doing something musical or working on other unnamed projects.
You’re right. I’m a huge fan of music in general. I buy new music constantly; I seek out and listen to new music; I create it- whether it’s good or not- and need for it to be out there. I like to have things that I make not just heard by myself, whether I’m 100- percent proud of it or not. I need it to live and breathe out there. And sometimes it’s my own downfall. I was very much a proponent of keeping things going [in MCR]. Sometimes you bend over until your back breaks to keep things moving because you believe in it so much. In order for me to survive, I need to live outside the My Chem walls for a little while. I think that goes for everybody in the band: You reach a point in your life when you realize, “Shit, we’re not getting younger, even if we don’t act that way.” And there are things on the bucket list you don’t want to forget about. We’re all living our lives right now. Just going off and crossing off your list is healthy for everybody.
Was it a situation of ‘Kill the band,save the friendships?
Yeah. Listen, those guys will always have a piece of my heart.I love those guys to death.I grew up with them at my side. They are all my big brothers,and sometimes-to a fault-I will go out of my way to try to impress them or go out of my way to seek their approval on things. I have such a love for them. Second to my children,the band is the thing I am most proud of in my life. It will always hold a dear place in my heart. But I see where things needed to end in order for us to be the people we needed to be. A this point in our lives, it wasn’t in the cards. It’s hard to let go,but I know we ended it for the right reasons. Not only am I excited for my future, I can’t wait to see what those guys are going to do next.
Being a psychic cheerleader can be exhausting.
You give everything because you think it’s the right thing to do, and sometimes you’re forcing it for yourself. But I’ve always been a big proponent of “If you love doing it, well then fucking do it.” So that’s what I do. I love [playing and making music], so I’m going to do it.
What’s interesting to me is that you’re a full-on doting father and loving husband, but then you have the capability to make some crazy antisocial music. And since you’re kind of hitting reset on your career, how do you make this kind of decidedly non- commercial music and still provide for your family? How do you reconcile that?
I am a totally miserable fuck when I am not creating. I know deep down that in order for me to be the best father I want to be- the dude that my kids want to be around- I need to be creating. I can’t help it. If I’m not creatively fulfilled, I just crumble as a person. My wife understands that- she knew that from the beginning. But there are so many things that are new to me that I want to try. Things that make me think, “ I’d like to try my hand at that,” or “Man, I could totally fuck that shit up!”. Right now, I have nothing but dreams to fulfill- and that’s a scary and exciting and confusing and amazing time right now.
So then, Pencey Prep reunion this fall?
Ha![Laughs.] Move forward, man!