Frank Iero never aspired to be a solo artist. The former My Chemical Romance guitarist imagined his 2014 release, Stomachaches (credited to frnkiero andthe cellabration), would be a one-off. But with a new album, Barriers, on its way this month, Iero’s now produced three consecutive solo LPs.
“It is now my main priority, but at the same time it is still such a surprise that it became it,” he says. “Truly never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that that’s what I would be doing. It’s kind of crazy how things work.”
Iero’s second LP, Parachutes, arrived in 2016 with support from backing band the Patience. Yet another band, the Future Violents, joins him on Barriers. Comprising Iero’s brother in law and regular collaborator Evan Nestor as well as Matt Armstrong (ex-Murder by Death), Tucker Rule (Thursday) and folk musician Kayleigh Goldsworthy, it’s a dream lineup for Iero.
“This has been almost 20 years in the making,” he says. “I met Tucker and Matt Armstrong around ’99-2000 and I thought, ‘Oh wow, wouldn’t it be so much fun and so inspiring to be able to start a band with those guys.’ And all this time later I’m finally getting to do that.”
Iero played in My Chemical Romance for more than a decade, appearing on each of the band’s four LPs, and in 2009 he made an album fronting the hardcore band Leathermouth. Solo records might be his priority, but he relishes the creative possibilities of the band dynamic.
“For the majority of them they’re based around rock’n’roll, but I think that’s just because that’s what I grew up having a passion for, but I’m very wary of ever repeating myself,” he says. “I think that’s when things would get to be a bit of a chore. I don’t find that to be very inspiring or challenging and I think that would detract from why I do it.”
The title of Iero’s new record is a nod to the limitations we commonly impose on ourselves as a form of protection or out of fear. Contrastingly, Iero says fear plays a big part in convincing him to commit to a creative project.
“I feel like that’s when you find out the most amazing stuff about yourself. That challenge of, ‘That scares me. That puts me so far out of my comfort zone I don’t think I’ll be able to succeed in doing that.’ That’s the good stuff. When you find that, that’s when you’ve got to go for it.”
Steve Albini recorded and mixed the album. Albini’s reputation as a recording engineer precedes him, having worked with Pixies, Fugazi, Cloud Nothings, Screaming Females and innumerable others over the last three decades. He’s known as a somewhat unconventional operator who encourages a raw production method.
“He’s amazing, but he’s very unique,” Iero says. “He will be the first one to correct you and tell you, ‘I am not a producer, I am a sound engineer.’ He does not want that role of production. He captures the sound in the room.”
Albini was the only person in the studio with Iero and the Future Violents during the recording of Barriers – no assistants or other engineers, just Albini positioning the mics and manning the desk.
“We did 17 songs in 15 days, recorded and mixed,” Iero says. “Recorded live to two inch tape. That’s a breakneck speed. You can’t do that with somebody that’s not at the top of their game.”
True to his intention to be a recording engineer and not a producer, Albini is a wealth of technical knowledge but reluctant to voice an opinion on arrangements or songwriting.
“I’m thankful for that because he forced me to be in the position of producing this record, which is not something I thought I would be doing,” Iero says. “He’ll tell you: no one knows your band better than you and so you should be able to answer the question, ‘Is this right? Is this how it’s supposed to sound?’”
Iero first teamed up with Albini on the 2017 EP, Keep the Coffins Coming, which taught him what to expect from the working relationship and allowed him to prepare for the Barriers sessions accordingly.
“I knew that I had a genius at the helm and I could go on and chase the tones and the sounds that I was hearing in my head. I also knew that I had four very, very accomplished musicians working with me and I didn’t have to worry about micromanaging how they were playing things.
“I knew what these songs needed to sound like and knew what I needed to give and how to direct everything. It just so happened that everybody around me is a genius and made my ideas sound really, really good.”
Barriers, the new record from Frank Iero And The Future Violents, is out now via UNFD.