Over the past three years, Epiphone.com has had a running conversation with Frank Iero, inventor of the Phant-o-matic Wilshire and co-lead guitarist with pop sensation My Chemical Romance. When MCR broke up in early 2013, Frank granted us one of his first interviews and we’ve been along for the ride as he stepped back, re-grouped, and began making music again. Frank popped in to see us during NAMM and offered Epiphone and many of our friends around the world a sneak peak at his new album Stomachaches. And of course, we sat down with Frank before the show to talk shop about guitars and the mysterious ways of the music muse.
When we last spoke with you, My Chemical Romance had disbanded and you were working on some music at a very casual pace. Now things are picking up in a big way. What’s your life like right now?
You know, it’s crazy. I feel like if we had talked maybe… 4 months ago, I would have said: ‘Ok I have some down time on my hands. I’m enjoying the free time. I’m getting ready to pick things up.’ And now it’s so hectic, I can’t even breath (laughs)! It’s kind of nuts. Which is fun. I like being busy.
Did you miss that feeling? With My Chemical Romance, you kept a very busy pace. Physically, you must have been used to that. Is it good to have that energy back?
It is welcome but it’s a very different kind of busy. Mainly because I don’t have other people to rely on. Nobody else is picking up any kind of slack. And if things fall by the wayside, it’s all on me. If things go well, it’s all on me as well.
That must be pretty energizing, too since that gives you some more opportunities to be creative.
It does. I guess the concern there–or the juggling act–is not to let the craziness of the business-side seep into the creative. Because things will come your way and sound like really great opportunities and I always say ‘yes’ if it’s something I want to do. But I never think: ‘Oh my God! How am I going to pull this off?’
So what happened in those four months? What changed your answer from ‘I’ve got some downtime’ to ‘I’ve got a new record?’
I started out–well, I didn’t think I was writing a record. I was at a point where I was kind of beside myself with the way I felt physically. I just had these horrendous stomach aches–I battle with nausea, basically. But it had gotten where it was really coming to a head. It was sucking the life out of me.
So in order to kind of like–in a defiant way–reclaim my life back, my creative life back–I forced myself to do something to get my mind off of how I was feeling. And once again–like it did when I was young–music saved me. And I just started writing constantly and going down and demo-ing and recording. Slowly but surely, I realized I had this group of songs and I guess I had written a record. It was this weird reveal to myself. The funky thing about it is there are themes I feel run through that record but it’s very diverse musically–almost to a point disjointed–because it wasn’t ever thought to be a record. I like that janky feel to it.
Is there a theme or a thread to the new songs you’re writing now?
There are certain things I’ve always been fascinated with as a writer and as a person. The power in frailty–the beauty in the things that most people find mundane. Or even the things that some people are scared of. There’s a kind of purity that I see in these things, if take the time to look at them a different way. And the other theme that I feel runs through the album is this search for calm or peace of mind. A place where you can feel like you belong. At least in my experience we’re all searching for that. It’s kind of that life journey: what does it all mean? Where is my place in all of this? Where can I feel like I have finally found my point of existence, where I can finally feel safe.
Do you feel like you’re at that point as a writer because you’ve had such a big change in your lifestyle in terms of being at home and not on the road. Do you hear a different writing voice coming through?
You know–absolutely there’s a different writing voice come through. There is something to be said about coming home and having that down time. Because, you tend to have a hard time relating to real life again. When you finally come back down to Earth, it’s difficult to find your speed, so-to-speak. So there is something about that. But I feel like when I started writing songs and they started coming out of me, I had been off the road for awhile. Anything you go through changes the way you are now. And I had a lot of huge life experiences in a short amount of time. I came home off the road and I had three children. If that doesn’t change you then there’s something wrong (laughs)! But there’s definitely something to be said for a different outlook. I can’t imagine what the next stage brings.
Tell us more about your new record.
The title of the new record is extremely literal. It’s called Stomachaches and that’s for a reason. Because I kind of felt like the spark for this creativity, the seeds of these songs, started as these horrendous stomach aches. So I could have called it “12 Songs” or “12 Stomach Aches” (laughs). They are near synonymous with each other.
Did you write most of the songs on your Epiphone Phant-o-matic?
A lot of the songs stem from me playing bass. And I don’t know why. I have no good reason.
Now you have to design an Epiphone bass.
Yes, I would like that. I feel like the foundation of the melody and chord changes were written on bass. There are a lot of bass lines driving the songs on the record. Guitar on this record was another voice. And I think that’s something that I’ve always done with guitar lines that I write. Even with my past band, My Chem, I would come in and I would ride that space between vocal and rhythms. I tried to weave in and out of supporting those melodies. That’s something I’ve always loved to do. And on this record, I feel like the guitars are at times very dirty and squashed and it’s almost like a yell coming through.
Jarod Alexander played drums and you played all the other instruments. So when you went into the studio, did you track with bass and drums?
What we did was… well, you know there’s the correct way of doing things? That was not how it went! A lot of the demo-ing was me doing all the instrumentation and programming drums. And then I brought them to him. There’s a song on the record called “Blood Infections” that is basically almost all bass. It drives the entire song. So that one I did track with bass and Jarod. But then there are some songs like “She’s the Prettiest Girl at the Party and She Can Prove It With A Solid Right Hook” where I ended up using a lot of the original demo guitars. The way I recorded them was so integral that I couldn’t recreate it. So I thought, why try to mimic something that happened just in a moment in time. Now it’s done. It’s at the pressing plant. I got the test presses before I came to Nashville.
What kind of touring do you have planned?
So far, we’re booked for the U.S. We start in September. For the most part it’s supporting Taking Back Sunday and The Used. And then I would say we’re hopefully going to the UK in November. We’ll see what happens after the holidays.
When you’re touring as support, you have a chance to surprise the audience and it’s also a very confined set. Do you like that idea? And you can go out to dinner afterwards instead of waiting until late.
I do like that! For me, I requested a support slot. I wanted to take our time and really become a band. The funny thing about making this record was that I did it by myself. So these songs will live with a band for the first time. The rehearsals for this tour are the first time I’ve had a chance to perform these songs.
Do you want to tell the bass player what parts to play?
Well funny enough, I asked friend Rob to play bass who is usually a guitar player. The bass lines were so important and so weird I thought that to get the parts played incorrectly (laughs) the way I did it, I needed to get a guitar player since I play bass like a guitar player.
This is a very personal record. Do you feel like you can tell the band to let go or do you want to try to recreate the record on stage?
You’re right. I had a very intimate experience with that record. Those were late nights with just me pining over things. These stories that I wanted to tell. As far as the stage show, in no project that I’ve ever been a part of have I wanted to recreate the record live. I feel like the live experience should be a totally different animal. It’s like book to movie. If you want to listen to the record then you have to stay home and listen to the record!