Exclusive: Frank Iero and the Future Violents Break Down BARRIERS With New Album
To a certain demographic of people who were even a little bit spooky in the 2000s, a pop-punk emo rock band from New Jersey called My Chemical Romance played a very vital part in our youth. I was eighteen years old when I first heard them; my college campus in West Virginia had a TV station called MTVU that was specifically geared for music videos to play to college kids, and I remember every single time I passed a common area television it seemed like the video for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” was in rotation. Of course, being me, I was immediately drawn in by five misfit kids talking about horror movies, comic books and all manners of weird shit in their songs and interviews.
The band formed shortly after 9/11 to make a statement for the frightened, disconnected youth of America, and they did much more than that; within a few years they were more than a household name, they were arguably the frontrunning band for the entire alternative pop music scene, playing sold-out shows in massive venues all over the world. Their videos played to a certain creepy aesthetic, with the band members often wearing eyeliner, horror t-shirts, and using eerie imagery in videos like “Vampires Will Never Hurt Us” and “Helena”. The band’s third album, The Black Parade, was literally everywhere, providing a soundtrack for outsiders, ‘the broken, the beaten and the damned’ according to the lyrics of the title track. The band staged fake funerals as part of their live show, wearing skeleton facepaint and macabre costumes, singing about everything from ghosts, assassins, Mickey-and-Mallory type romances, zombies (who can forget their track “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville”, a tribute to George Romero as well as a haunting ballad about doomed lovers during the zombie outbreak?) and mortality. Their music was featured in the soundtrack of genre films like Underworld, Watchmen, House of Wax and the TV show Teen Wolf. Fans felt a kinship with the band members; they were awkward nerds like the rest of us, relatable in all of their endearing dysfunction. Through it all they kept their weird outsider aesthetic, and after the doom-and-gloom goth masterpiece that was The Black Parade (seriously, it’s been called the “Bohemian Rhapsody for teenagers” in terms of rock-opera epics by music critics), they released a fourth album that centered on a futuristic dystopian society with plenty of creepy imagery (the villains were called Draculoids and wore rubber vampire masks, led by comic book icon Grant Morrison) and Mad Max/Tank Girl influence. Frank Iero’s character was even named Fun Ghoul, using a rubber Frankenstein mask as his disguise when fighting the bad guys. Despite all the fun they appeared to be having, though, the band members never seemed quite at ease with the huge amount of fame and attention they received, and spoke publicly about issues such as depression, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, self-harm and more that were triggered by their massive success. Shortly after touring to promote their fourth album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, the band broke up with no warning, just a succinct ‘thanks and much love’ statement on their website. Millions of horrified fans demanded answers, begged for reunions, or insisted that it must be a temporary split. But now, six years after the break, the band members all have remained friends and posted public support for each other’s projects, but they’re all quite busy with other pursuits and have no real interest in pursuing a reunion at this time. Frontman Gerard Way has spearheaded something of an art empire under both Dark Horse and DC Comics with both his bestselling and Eisner-winning series The Umbrella Academy (now a smash-hit original series on Netflix) and his own DC Comics label imprint Young Animals, which is lending a platform to many new and exciting artists and writers. His brother Mikey Way joined Electric Century, who released their debut album in 2017, and toured briefly before settling down with his new wife and daughter (with a second child on the way). Ray Toro has been busy working on various projects, including collaborating with Gerard, and spending time with his family. And then there’s Frank Iero.
Formerly the rhythm guitarist of My Chemical Romance, Frank Iero has always been a hell of a cool guy. A vegetarian with a deep love for animals (he has a whole pack of rescue dogs at his house in Jersey), a devoted husband and hands-on father, a gay rights activist, a staunch supporter of independent music and businesses, and a horror lover, Frank is someone that every fan can relate to. He is warm, personable, funny, and intelligent, with a deep passion for his home state and a strong work ethic that’s kept him making music nonstop since the age of eleven. After the split of MCR, Frank wasted no time launching into solo projects, from a Cure cover band called The Love Cats to multiple side projects with various musician friends of his. He released tracks regularly through his social media, and after a few years of that he settled down for a full-length album called Stomachaches. With each release, his band name changed, from Frank Iero and the Cellabration to Frank Iero and the Patience, and the latest incarnation is Frank Iero and the Future Violents. One might assume that this change has been due to the fact that each incarnation has featured a different lineup; the current involves Evan Nestor (an amazing musician as well as Frank’s brother-in-law) on guitar, Tucker Rule (Thursday) on drums, Matt Armstrong (Murder by Death) on bass and Kayleigh Goldsworthy (Dave Haus and the Mermaid) on keyboards and multiple other instruments. Their debut album Barriers is set to drop on May 31, but they are currently on tour in support of Taking Back Sunday and the first single, “Young and Doomed”, recently dropped to give listeners a taste of what to expect.
At the Dallas show on March 31, I was treated to the rare honor of getting to hang out on the tour bus with the band and listen to a few unreleased tracks from the album as a preview before the show. Produced by the legendary Steve Albini (who has worked with everyone from Sonic Youth and The Breeders to The Stooges, Mogwai, The Pixies, and PJ Harvey) in Chicago, the album has a dirty, gritty punk feel that would be right at home on a handlettered mixtape from the 80s passed from one leather jacket pocket to another. The album sounds like it should be played in a dirty basement where your head barely clears the ceiling and there’s a grimy unisex sticker-covered toilet. Iero’s vocals weave in and out of undeniably catchy riffs and chords that you can’t help but bob your head to, and the inclusion of unconventional instruments into punk music (violins, keyboards, and even a vibraphone were all reportedly used) gives Barriers a sound that, well, smashes just those. The first single ‘Young and Doomed’ is a perfect choice for the introduction to the band, as the lyrics are just the right amount of emotional without being overboard (and amazing lines like “Give me all the love you have / I need it more than air in my lungs”). There is a genuine, very deep emotional thread running through this album, and it’s apparent when you see the band together that their camaraderie as well as combined years of experience have woven an intriguing tapestry indeed. According to Nestor, the album was recorded live in the studio rather than tracking each instrument separately and then layering them in post; he said they all just put on headphones and played their own part as if it was a live show, and some of the happy accidents that occurred (such as whines of feedback or unpredicted slides) stayed in the final mix. Part of this technique was undoubtedly due to working with Albini, whose iconoclastic approach to recording and anti-establishment attitude toward the neutering and homogenization of the music industry has been his talking point for decades now.
When the band takes the stage, the crowd roars; many of the audience are in My Chemical Romance shirts, a few in Thursday shirts for Tucker, but what they are about to hear is nothing like either of those bands. Nestor is a whirlwind onstage, shredding, little more than a massive cloud of hair and flying fingers on his strings. Rule whales on the drums, face tight with concentration, and Armstrong’s bass line is a grinding grounding element to the whole shebang. Iero is a presence to be reckoned with; years of being onstage have lent themselves to great showmanship, but there’s nothing flashy here. No face paint, no costumes. The band wear hoodies and jeans and t-shirts because this music isn’t to be tarted up or played for theatrics, and they waste no time getting down to business. Ripping through a set list that includes past hits such as “No Fun Club”, “Dear Percocet”, “Joyriding”, and “BFF” (a fun sing-along originally meant for Frank’s twin daughters), the band play the recently released “Young and Doomed” but no other material from the new album, keeping it under tight-lipped lock and key until closer to the release next month. The audience bounces and sings along through almost the entire set, with Iero engaging in very little banter between songs and preferring to keep the energy level sky-high without missing a beat. Trading off guitars to keep the signature sound fresh and raw, Frank Iero and the Future Violents tear through nearly 45 minutes of material and end with their hit “Oceans”, leaving the audience screaming for more as they file graciously offstage.
For those looking for a reincarnation of their emo youth, this ain’t it; Frank Iero’s newest project is far from rehashing any old tricks, and the release of Barriers will show fans just how versatile a songwriter he is. With such a talented lineup, intensely personal lyrics and undeniably fun merchandise (including themed colored vinyl releases, tongue-in-cheek t-shirts, the softest hoodie I’ve ever bought at a show, and ‘Young and Doomed’ released on cassette tape as a single to really drive home that grassroots punk rock vision), next month’s album drop is sure to have people playing air guitar and singing along in their bedrooms and blasting it out their rolled-down car windows all summer long. One can’t help but wonder what’ll be next on the to-do list for the ever-enterprising Frank Iero, but one thing’s for sure; his “No Fun Club” is anything but.
Barriers is set to be released on May 31, 2019 through Unified Music Group, and can be preordered here. All photos on this article copyright Amanda Rebholz.