Walking out of his dressing room into a graffiti covered hallway, Frank Iero turns and asks for a marker pen. One is quickly found, handed over and he’s drawing on the wall without a moments hesitation. A few minutes later he steps back, glances at his handiwork and starts down the stairs. Amidst the band names, the dates and the inside jokes that adorn the backstage walls of Nottingham’s Recuse Rooms now resides an unhappy ghost with a halo and the message of ‘School Sux’.
There’s still a childlike urge to create, to leave a mark, flowing through the veins of Frank Iero and from the one-shot scratch of his debut album ‘Stomachaches’ to the unintended poignancy of his onstage, “Thank you for being here and being yourselves,” that he delivers a few hours later, it’s an outlet that resonates.
“It’s about creating an experience, creating a memory together and having fun,” starts Frank. “It’s about seeing how ridiculous and how young we can be for as long as possible because, trust me, I feel it these days,” he continues. He’s sat on a couch with a blocked mobile phone to one side and a paper cup of manuka honey and lemon tea in front of him. His band, FrnkIero andthe Cellabration, is ten days into their first UK headline tour and it’s a comfortable sell-out. “The reaction has been amazing,” he enthuses. “It’s hard to even explain the feeling you get when you walk out on stage to people that know the words and you feel like the music has effected them in a certain way. There’s a sense of love and appreciation of music that I feel is missing in a lot of places, which is refreshing.”
"I never wanted to be the focus of attention. I was really happy being the guitar playing on the side."
Today Frank Iero is pulling triple duty. Two acoustic in-stores precede a beautifully fraught full-band show. It’s a full on day for someone still adjusting to the spotlight. “I never wanted to be the focus of attention. I was really happy being the guitar playing on the side, now even more so,” he laughs. As the in-store audience line up to meet him a few hours later, nerves and excitement in equal measure, Frank extends his hand to greet each and every person without a hint of nerves.
“When you have the opportunity to play your music to people, I like to do it just in a room with a couple of us. I think it’s really fun so when those chances arise, I try and jump on them,” he pauses briefly before admitting. “Sometimes I do that too much and find myself singing eight songs at nine in the morning but I’m trying my best to do everything I would like to do.” It's these one-on-one encounters that have provided Frank with one of several lessons he’s learnt since beginning his newest project.
“The thing I’ve found when we do these in-stores is, you say hello to people, you extend your hand to say, ‘Hey, thank you’ and they look at your hand. It’s weird, they either put a record or their phone into it and I just want to shake their hand because this is our first impression. We’re meeting each other as human beings and that experience seems lost. They don’t know how to react and that’s crazy to me. I’d like to bring that back, like fuck your phone dude, let's just have a conversation and say hello. We’re just people.” It’s become something of a campaign for him; it's why he spends so much time shaking the hands of strangers, embracing that moment and his live show is an amplification of that wish.
“I hope people take away a feeling of acceptance. As a kid, if you felt like you didn’t belong anywhere else, you went to a rock show and found like-minded people and felt safe. I hope we can create that for somebody, that for 45 minutes they can be themselves and not worry about what anybody else thinks of you.”
"When I’m not satisfied creatively, I’m not the person I want to be, so I need to find that happy medium."
Having made their live debut a little over seven months ago, their time on stage still boasts a learning curve the band are still navigating. “When I made the record I was done when I finished it,” he says. “I didn’t expect to play it for anybody, so the hard part was letting go of that. This was the first time I wrote songs, recorded them and then had to figure out how to do them live. When you bring in a new band, you can either look at the record as bible or you can take it and interpret it in a new way and I feel like that’s the best way to do it. That’s what keeps it fun and interesting for me creatively, that we’re still figuring it out. It changes every night which is great.”
“What I am conscious of, is trying to live in the moment,” Frank continues. “I don’t know if I ever had much time to do that before. It’s hard though, I’m very wary of patting yourself on the back. I have a section of my attic full of plaques and lots of bins full of bullshit. I keep everything and I’m sure one day I’ll go through it or maybe my kids will. I hope they enjoy it but for me, I’ve always just liked being in bands and doing things. With having kids, you realise that life is just this series of moments. If you’re lucky, you get to catch a couple of them and you get to hold onto them for just a little bit longer. Sometimes, just for a second you step back from that mic, look around, take a deep breath and laugh. That’s all you really need.”
“I think I’m getting more comfortable,” he adds, in regards to his newfound position as a frontman. He soon turns back to questioning himself though. “Am I? No. I’m just getting used to it, that’s what it is. I don’t know if I’ll ever get comfortable with it, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully enjoy it. It’s dependent on the night. Seriously, that was the thing at the beginning. I’d made all these plans to not do this anymore and then all of a sudden I was doing it. I sat down with my wife and said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this’. She told me, ‘You’ve got to just try it. You’ll never know unless you do it'. If the first tour wasn't fun, I would have stopped,” he admits. The months of subsequent touring and plans through to September now speak for themselves but life on the road still comes with its challenges.
“There’s those moments when you get calls from home and you hear about the things you missed and that’s really rough,” he admits. “So far, the good has outweighed the bad and that’s all you can really ask for. When I stop having fun and I feel like I need to go home, I’m going home and that’s okay. I’ve found that as much as I like to keep my creative side separate from what I call my 'real life', they’re way more interconnected than I thought. When I’m not satisfied creatively, I’m not the person I want to be, so I need to find that happy medium.”
"I don’t know if I want to do this forever, but I want to do it for right now and that’s enough for me."
A summer run with Against Me! and slots at Reading and Leeds festivals beckon and, despite a handful of tour offers beyond that, Frank muses, “maybe fall would be better for creating.” With a band around him, it’s a prospect that he’s excited by. “I’ve got a lot of songs stuck in my head, I don’t know if they want to come out just yet but there’s a few kicking around that would be fun. I feel like I play well with others, sitting in a room with my friends and making music would be really cool and there’s a couple of things that I’d really like to do that aren’t music related,” he plots, that youthful ghost-drawing spark glistening in his eye.
“The thing that I love to do the most, aside from be with my family, is also the thing that terrifies me so much and it’s horrible,” explains Frank. “I love being on stage, I love playing but the minutes leading up to that are sheer terror, they’re hell. I hate it. I don’t know what it is, to be honest. I think the stomach issues I have,” he says, referencing the medical problems that inspired his solo debut, “I’m sure a lot of it’s up here in my fucked-up brain. I carry around this satchel of medication and that’s just to get on stage, but once I’m there I’m fine.” Frank finds himself in a vicious cycle, the art he creates to escape his problems, amplify his problems. “Isn’t that weird?” he asks. “It’s really strange. I’d probably be alright with just making stuff in my basement but then that demon would come out and say, ‘you have to share it with everyone.’ You’d never know what people really think. But hey, not everyone gets to do what we do. I don’t know if I’m necessarily cut out for it but I’m doing it the best I can.”
“I don’t mean to play the person that hates everything,” he starts “I really do enjoy making things and seeing it affect people and I’d like to say thank you to all the people that make it worth it, I’ll try my best to keep doing it.” Perhaps the extended hand and that fleeting moment of eye contact is as important to Frank as it is to the wide-eyed bundle of starstruck disbelief that stand before him every night. “I don’t know if I want to do this forever,” he concludes, “but I want to do it for right now and that’s enough for me.”
Frank Iero's debut album 'stomachaches' is out now via Hassle Records.