Frank Iero: ‘DIY is where the revolution begins’
Frank Iero has done a little bit of everything in the music industry. Perhaps best known as the rhythm guitarist for My Chemical Romance, he’s also fronted bands like LeATHERMOUTH and Death Spells, and worked on original material for soundtracks. Before all of that, he was a member of Pencey Prep, perhaps one of the paradigm examples of contemporary garage punk.
In December, Iero set up shop with B.CALM PRESS, releasing an EP of covers called for jamia… Earlier this month, Iero took some time via e-mail to share the B.CALM origin story and his thoughts on DIY with Velociriot.
Velociriot: I know you’ve talked about this before, but what is B.CALM? Where did the inspiration for it come from? Where did the name come from?
Frank Iero: B.CALM is an entity under which I can release the different things that I make. Instead of finding a label and a publisher and a merch company and a fine art distributor, etc, etc, for all of my different outlets, I just decided to start my own thing, from which I can independently release certain projects under one umbrella. So far we have done music and merchandise and I would like to expand that into the other mediums I feel creative in, but it’s an extremely small operation and a lot of work.
The name B.CALM stems from the nature of the company I wanted to make. It’s intimate and pure, very hands on and personal to me. A place where I can release the things that I hold dear, a sanctuary for my art. It’s an acronym of sorts…possibly more of a letter jumble. I wanted the name to really mean something so used my children’s initials, LB CB MA, and formed a statement I needed to hear.
V: B.CALM seems like it has been a pretty personal project for you – do you see it continuing to be a place for personal pieces, like for jamia…?
FI: Yes absolutely. I’m not saying I will never release things that I make anywhere else, but I wanted a place to have absolute control to do the things I’ve always wanted to do, the way I wanted to do them. I think of B.CALM as a home base of sorts. There are no ulterior motives or big schemes, just a love of the craft and a place to be as crazy as I want to be.
V: How are your experiences working with B.CALM different than your experiences working with major or independent labels? Is it different from just releasing your stuff on SoundCloud?
FI: Well every label is different, but it’s a very different thing doing it all yourself. It’s fun, terrifying, difficult and exciting all at the same time. It provides a great satisfaction when things work out the way you wanted them to… but on the flip side there is also a horrible feeling of loneliness and fear when you need help and you turn around and realize you’re the only one there. But I am lucky to have an amazing wife and friends that help out wherever and whenever they can and ultimately I just have to realize it’s all for fun and the love of creating, otherwise what’s the point?
V: Your career has always highlighted your work ethic, and you’ve done a lot of do-it-yourself projects. What’s the draw in DIY for you?
FI: I don’t know, I’m a masochist probably. Haha. I guess I like getting my hands dirty. I have always been a fan of the do it yourself thing, ever since I was young. You start a band, you raid the copy shop, and you make do with the materials at your disposal. It’s inspiring, it teaches you problem solving skills and a good work ethic and ultimately, it means more. For me I enjoy the process…every step is important. The things I create are a part of me, and I like to be there every step of the way…falling all over myself. Fucking things up as I go along. My favorite parts end up being the mistakes.
V: Do you think DIY is important to the punk scene? Have you seen it grow in the community?
FI: I do, I think if it weren’t for the DIY ethics nothing would ever change. What you have to understand is, as disheartening as the thought may be, our world is run by business and all businesses have to make money. that means labels, distributors, publishers, hospitals, schools, government; you name it, it’s all about the bottom line. Yes, making ‘great art’ is wonderful and when ‘great art’ makes a profit everyone benefits and the world can change…(yes I believe great art can change the world). But if that ‘great art’ doesn’t sell, someone at the company is going to tell you and everyone else that your ‘art’ isn’t that ‘great’ and 99% of the time they will move on. It’s the nature of the beast, it’s not fair…but art and life seldom are.
Our creative world these days, especially the music industry, is set up to fail. We have a business that is losing money rapidly and the bossman is scared. ‘Don’t take any risks, play it safe, because we cannot afford to lose any more than we already are in this economy.’ So the same things are green lit over and over, more polished, more sexually explicit, dumb it down even more than last year, different packages of the same shit. Big money won’t take a chance on something new until it proves itself, because no one wants to be the guy or girl who lost their ass on some out of left field artist. But you see there is the problem..the only thing that can truly change the industry, or the world for that matter, is something truly new and inspiring. A hail Mary. Something so undeniably risky it ignites the world’s imagination. So, here we lie, dying in a vicious cycle. And this happens every 15-20 years or so.
DIY is where the revolution begins. Because greatness starts with being so goddamned crazy no one else in their right mind will help you, so you have to do it all by yourself. It’s how punk rock began, tattooing, street art, the fucking internet, you name it. Anything the mainstream has adopted, monetized, and bled dry over the years at one point in time started in someone’s basement. And that last statement sounds bleak as fuhk, I know, but it’s not all bad. Some amazing things have happened because of that. DIY has changed the psyche of the mainstream, of course it also means you have a billion or so dickbags wearing bedazzled tattoo flash on their jeans…but well you can’t win ‘em all I suppose.
V: DIY can mean a lot of things to different people – with B.CALM, you’ve released vinyls, whereas a lot of bands have taken to recording their music on their own and releasing it on sites like Bandcamp. What does DIY mean for you, as an artist?
FI: DIY to me just means doing it yourself on your own terms. I love the recording process. I enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing the songs and performing them… maybe even a bit more. And in today’s technological world it is a lot easier to have a home studio or a laptop and a microphone and be able to record a whole record in your bedroom. I for one feel blessed to be creating in a time where that is attainable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t record in an actual studio and still do it yourself, it’s all about the mindset and having your hands in the project at all times. The procedure of recording everything yourself allows you to make mistakes and learn from them. This will change you as an artist and as a player, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to all musicians at one point or another. I independently funded ‘for jamia…’ I created the art, I performed everything on it, recorded it and mixed it. I only turned the songs over to have them mastered and pressed. And when the records were returned to me I hand packaged, numbered and mailed all 400 to those who purchased them.
As far as releasing your material I believe that is up to the artist. No one should be able to tell you what to do with your art. If you want to put it up for free on a site like SoundCloud, as I’ve done in the past, or if you wanna put it on 8track and sell it through mail-order for a thousand bucks a song, that is your prerogative as the creator, and whatever you deem appropriate for you art is correct in my mind. DIY doesn’t have to mean give it away for cheap or free, that doesn’t change the do it yourself operation in my opinion, nor does the location of recording or sale.
I chose to press vinyl for my recent release because I have always wanted to release my own 45 and also because of the statement I feel vinyl has. For me I am a fan of the ritual. It takes more effort to put the vinyl on, and therefore demands more of you attention. I didn’t want ‘for jamia…’ to just be in the background, I wanted it to be an intimate conversation. I wanted the listener to be a part of it. You take the record out, lay it down, drop the needle and listen. Converse. Switch sides, hear a response, it should be an experience. Vinyl has more gravity than digital for me. However I am not oblivious to the world in which we live. I knew in order to have it reach more ears digital had to be widely available. But for me it was always about giving my wife the vinyl.
V: What effect does DIY have on the scene, given the recent trends of releasing music digitally?
FI: I think consumption of music digitally has really opened the doors and the reach for DIY artists. Before it was all about limited hand made releases, but now you have websites facilitating the worldwide distribution of independent artists, and I think that’s a great thing. Even though I have always been and will always be a fan of the artwork and packaging, I’m glad more independent artists will be able to see their work reach a wider audience. It’s much easier to fund your own batshit crazy projects these days, especially without the overhead of a physical release, and I think we’re going to see more and more artists doing what they want on their own.
V: It seems like DIY has become increasingly trendy – do you feel that it’s been commodified in any way? Do you think it will continue to grow as it has?
FI: I think DIY may be the new buzz word, but the trend of going back to basics in my opinion, is because of value. Doing it yourself brings the intimacy and care back to your art. Plus no one can tell you what to do, you’re your own boss, and that’s a special place to be as an artist. I’d like to think it’s also starting to make people realize there is a person and a soul behind the art and not just a product. But commodified? I don’t know. That seems to have a negative connotation, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with selling the things you create. Inventors and artists deserve to make a living and be paid well for what they do, I don’t see anything wrong with that.
People for some reason feel like if you’re able to download music easily or steal an artists whole discography in seconds that somehow you should, that it’s justified. That’s bullshit. The time taken to create and invent should be valued, respected, and revered…especially from independent artists.