Frank Iero Reflects on “Barriers,” Growing Up and Making Mistakes: “The Universe Has a Way of Figuring Things Out”
Photos & Interview: Shannon Shumaker
With an ever-changing lineup of musicians and a new band name accompanying each release, rebirth and reinvention are a common theme among Frank Iero’s three solo albums. From 2014’s Stomachaches, which Iero admits initially wasn’t meant to be released, to 2016’s emotional release, Parachutes, which arrived just weeks after the band was involved in a life-threatening traffic accident, each album serves as a snapshot of Iero’s life - something born out of necessity and a desire to create. Now on Barriers, his third solo release with his new band, the Future Violents, those needs haven’t changed, but Iero’s outlook on life has.
Like the two albums that came before it, Barriers wasn’t something that Iero planned on writing or releasing. As he puts it, it was an opportunity that he just couldn’t pass up when the now-members of the Future Violents (previous collaborator Evan Nestor on guitar and backing vocals, Murder By Death’s Matt Armstrong on bass, Thursday’s Tucker Rule on drums and Kayleigh Goldsworthy on piano, organ and violin) suddenly became available. The resulting twelve songs, recorded to tape with Steve Albini, are easily Iero’s most dynamic, honest and fearless work to-date. The reason? Because he wasn’t afraid to make mistakes.
It’s all in the name; Barriers is all about breaking down walls and taking risks, and that’s reflected directly in the sonic landscape and lyrical content of the album. From the hopeful opener, “A New Day’s Coming” and the dark anthem, “Young and Doomed” all the way to the sorrowful “24k Lush” and explosive “Moto Pop,” Barriers showcases an immense amount of growth from Iero, who even admits that the album is his favorite of the three so far. And lyrically, there’s plenty to unpack on the album, whether you’re sixteen and think you know it all, in your mid-twenties and unsure of what you’re doing, or like Iero, in your thirties and finally realizing that you don’t have it all figured out - and that’s okay.
The Prelude Press: You’re out on the road right now in support of your new album, Barriers. Now that it has been out for a little bit and you and fans have had the chance to digest it, what are some of your favorite things about the album?
Frank Iero: I think one of my favorite things is just playing with the people in this band. It’s so rewarding to play with this caliber of musicians, just people that I’ve looked up to for a long time and wanted to be in a band with for a while. And then you know, you work tirelessly on the songs and then finally get to kind of unleash them into the world. To play songs that you wrote together, play them live together, is a wonderful thing.
That actually sounds simple, but the first few records, I didn't get to do that, you know what I mean? Like, I wrote something on my own, for or the first one. I had my friend, Jarrod Alexander, play some live drums on it. But we didn't tour together, so it was like, teaching those songs to new people. And then for Parachutes, that was me, my brother in law, Evan, and our drummer at the time, Matt, but we didn't have a bass player, we didn’t have a full band. So again, we had to teach a newcomer to play the songs. So it always felt like you didn't get to play it with the people there that wrote it and recorded it. So finally, I get to do that, and it feels so wonderful, so powerful. Like, the songs just feel so powerful.
And it’s an actual band now, and not just you.
Exactly, exactly. And how boring [laughs].
What do you think they were able to bring to the record during the writing process? I’m sure they had some input as well.
Oh absolutely. You know, everyone in this band is a very accomplished, talented musician. So, there was no slouch, it was just impressive, impressive. I just always felt like, I've always gotten better as a player when I've gotten put in a room with people that are better than me. You kind of force yourself to reach a new level. And that’s how it went. You know, being in the room, recording together simultaneously, recording live to tape at Electric, it was just everything that this record needed. Because you get this - and not in like a bad way - but it’s almost like one-upping. You’re impressed by somebody and you’re inspired so you want to keep doing that for other people, and it forces you to play at a higher level.
That makes a lot of sense. I think in any art form, if you are challenged or if you have people inspiring you, you’re going to work a lot harder.
I totally agree. On this record too, there’s songs on this record, like “The Host” and “Ode To Destruction” that started with elements of aggression or riffs that Evan brought to the table and “24k Lush” is something that started with Matt. So that’s a new thing too, to have these outside influences come in and we work on them together and make it a full band recording which is really awesome.
So I mean, it’s kind of in the name - Barriers is all about breaking down walls and challenging yourself and doing shit that scares you, so did you have any goals when you first started working on the album, or anything that you wanted to try that you hadn’t before?
Yeah, I think a lot of it. I think sometimes, you grow as an artist and you almost put yourself in this box, or people expect you to be put in this box. I think on this record, maybe even more so than any other that I've ever done, I felt like there were no rules, and I could kind of chase the things that I've always wanted to chase, you know? To write a song like “A New Day’s Coming” or to work on a song like “Six Feet Down Under,” these are styles and feels that I've always enjoyed, loved and wished I could put forth with my own spin on it, but just maybe always felt a little self-conscious or felt like, “Well, you know, people think I should be doing this other thing. Maybe I should just only stick to what I know or what I've done.” So that was a huge thing too, to break down that barrier, and to feel like, “You know what? I can do anything I want to do.” And sometimes, just attempting it and failing is rewarding, you know? But this time around, I think we really did push that envelope and succeeded every time.
Well I will say that having listened to the album a few times, it’s easily the most wide range of sounds you’ve done so far, too.
Thank you, I appreciate that. I think that was the thing too, working with Steve and knowing what to expect with him. Like, I knew that we were going to be able to chase the tones on this record, and not really have to worry about, “Oh no, we have this song that’s kind of half written, we’re going into the studio, we're going to need a lot of time for that.” I knew what the song needed to sound like, I knew what I need to say in it, so the time was really spent on finding the correct sonic landscape for it.
Lyrically, one of the things that resonated with me is, when you’re a teenager or even in your early twenties, you have this mentality of “Oh, I’ll have my shit figured out by the time I’m this age,” and this album is very honest and real, and it’s obvious that you’re still figuring shit out. So how do you feel that you’ve grown with the writing of the album?
That’s a very good question. And that’s the thing, when you’re a teenager, you feel like, “Oh, no, I got this all figured out, I'm good, don't worry about it.” And then, around twenty-one in the real world you're finally like, “Oh, cool, I get to use all this stuff that I know because I know everything so well.” And then at twenty-five, you go crazy, because it's not that way, you know? And then by thirty, you’re like, “Nah, nah I got it figured out now.” And then you start to go crazy a little bit again and you finally realize by your mid-thirties, it's like, “Hey, guess what, I don't know anything, I'm still learning, and that's cool. I'm fine with that.”
I think that that realization that like, our parents didn't have it figured out, either… You’re told to believe that grown-ups have it figured out. You can feel safe now. If you knew then what you know now, you would never feel safe. So to be an adult now, and realize that I’m still learning, I don’t have it all figured out and that’s okay, I think that’s the most comfortable I’ve ever been. It’s okay to not know and to still continuously want to learn. I think that’s when you run into problems, too, even in an artistic sense, is when you’re like, “Oh, nah man, I’ve taken lessons, I’ve played in bands, I’ve sold records, I’m good, I know what I’m doing…” It’s like, fuck you, no you don’t. [laughs]. Once you think you’re done learning, that’s when you die - it’s over, it’s dead.
And you get lazy, and nothing changes.
So, branching off of that, I know it’s probably night and day, but how have your goals for your music - or life in general - changed since you first started playing in bands to where you are now?
Oh man. Recently, like, in the past three years, I realized how important my time is. And happiness. You know, I used to subscribe to that no regrets thing, and I don’t think that that's realistic. I think it's actually kind of asinine. I think that you should have regrets. I think that living life without regrets is actually not living at all. I think you should get hurt and you should hurt other people, and you should feel sorry about that. You should know what kind of weight words carry, and your actions, and that's the way that you grow as a person.
But you know, I also had this thing in me where I was very much a people pleaser, trying to make everyone happy. I think that as I've grown, I realized that you can't do that, because when you do that, you're you're definitely not happy, and you’ve definitely not made everyone else happy. No one is happy at that point. So you do the best that you can, and ultimately, you have to do what makes your soul feel good, you know? So if you can sleep well at night, then you're doing a pretty good job.
“So you do the best that you can, and ultimately, you have to do what makes your soul feel good…”
That doesn’t mean you’re not making any mistakes.
No, you’re still making tons of mistakes [laughs]. Because we’re human and we have to, and that’s fine. That’s kind of what’s so intriguing and beautiful about us. But yeah, it’s about just spending your time wisely, and spending it with people that you care about.
Is there anything that you wish you could say to your past self?
Oh man, yeah. If I could just let my past self know, like, “Listen, don’t worry so much, it’s going to be okay.” I think I would have had so much more fun. I was definitely - and I still am - always a worrier. Like, oh my gosh, is this gonna work out? I need to know the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing and plan so far ahead that you didn't really enjoy the moment you were in. And I think that's my biggest thing. I wish I had enjoyed it more.
And then the next day you think about it and you’re like, “God, what the hell was I thinking?”
I know. I think that’s the thing - ultimately the universe does kind of figure it out. I had this discussion recently with a friend, and I do think it's kind of true, that the universe has like this roadmap - these signs - right? And artists are the only ones that can really see them. It’s not like we're these amazing creative beings, it's just that we see the things that nobody else sees, and we create from that. You know what I mean? And that’s not saying that you can't just ignore it and deviate from that path, but the universe has a way of figuring things out, and I think that if we were to just kind of be a little bit more calm and feel more comfortable in our own skin, we could enjoy it a little bit more.
You’ve mentioned before that you kind of never expected to do one solo record and now you’re at a third one. I assume that you didn’t plan to write it, and it kind of just happened?
Yeah. No, that’s exactly what happened. It’s weird, you know I wrote the first record not thinking anyone was ever going to hear it. It was really just for me to just have. I was dead set that I was going to do something completely different than music. I was like, “Alright, I did music, I did it with a band, I did everything I ever wanted to do, I’m gonna try something new.” But I just had these songs in my head, so I was going to keep track of them, so that when I become like sixty years old, I can show my kids that I wrote a record. Then someone heard it and passed it along, and before I knew it, there was interest in it, and blah, blah, blah life happened.
Now I’m on my third one, and I think it’s the best one. I don’t know, it’s weird. Again, this does branch off of what we were talking about. Life happens, and the universe kind of just tells you what you should be doing. You can listen to that or not. I’m pretty ecstatic that I did. I don’t know what else I’d do. I’ve done this for my entire life, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, is write songs and have people sing along and play shows. Ever since I was literally six or seven years old, that was my dream. I started my first band when I was eleven, played my first show at thirteen, went on my first tour at seventeen, and now I’m gonna be thirty-eight, so I guess this is it. I guess this is what I’m supposed to do.
“Life happens, and the universe kind of just tells you what you should be doing. You can listen to that or not. I’m pretty ecstatic that I did.”
Yeah, there’s no going back now. I’ve talked to a few people about it, and it’s funny because any musician will say the same thing that it’s shitty and stressful and there are some days where you really want to quit, but it’s kind of like an addiction. You can’t.
Oh totally. For me it’s like breathing. You can’t not do it. You have to create because you have to create. Does it love you back? No, not all of the time, at all. And is everything that you create wonderful and fantastic? Fuck no. It’s not always easy, either, but you still have to do it. I don’t know any other way.
So even if I did, all those years ago in 2014, if I had decided, “No, I’m gonna do something different,” I’d still be writing songs. It’s in my DNA.
So I’m guessing this is a daunting question, but what’s next, then? Do you know what you want to do after this?
I don’t know. I really don’t. Sometimes I think like, a trilogy, that’s pretty good. Go out on that. But you know, who knows what other opportunities will present themselves. I didn’t think I was gonna write another record after Parachutes and the accident happened three years ago, and I was like, “You know what, I can’t do this anymore - I don’t know how to do this anymore.” And then all of these musicians that I wanted to work with for twenty years were free and wanted to make a record, and how am I going to say no to that opportunity? I can’t.
So, what do I think is going to come next? Probably another opportunity that I can’t say no to. [laughs]. Who knows.