When he was just a teenager, Frank Iero began having pangs of pain in his stomach after eating. Soon after he learned from his doctors that he has a “bacterial overgrowth of the lower intestine,” which, among many other symptoms, causes the stomach to send signals to the body that it’s in pain while it’s digesting food. The end result: a lifetime of nausea, medication, steroid treatment and stomachaches.
“I think anytime you’re dealing with pain management […], it makes everything difficult,” Iero tells me. “If you’re constantly nauseous and just not well, it kind of zaps your – especially your creative side – but it kind of zaps your whole personality. If you don’t feel well, you don’t want to do anything.”
But while the reaction of most might be to crawl under the covers, sulk and never get out of bed for the rest of eternity – and the former My Chemical Romance guitarist admits he used to fall into this spell of despair all the time as well – Iero soon found a way to channel that pain into something else.
“I found for me, being creative and writing songs or writing short stories or creating something or poetry or something like that – if it came out good, if I enjoyed it, I could kind of ride that creative high for at least a day or two. And I felt normal again,” he says. “I would have to force myself to do something productive, and then it made me forget about myself.”
Last week, Iero released his first solo album, stomachaches., a compilation of 12 songs written almost two years ago during one of his worst bouts with his digestive condition. Toward the end of 2012, the multi-instrumentalist began creating music in a makeshift studio in his basement as a means of diverting his attention away from his physical ailments. He recorded most of them in early 2013, just as My Chemical Romance was winding down. The songs, he says, were never meant to be heard by another soul other than himself, let alone to be actually released for public consumption.
After MCR finally called it quits in March 2013, Iero’s focus turned to Death Spells, a two-man project with former MCR touring keyboardist James Dewees that had been brewing for almost a year. Death Spells did some touring, and those solo songs written in the basement saw the stage every now and then just for kicks. It was around this time people started telling Iero he should think about talking to labels.
It all came together this June, when he announced his signing to Staple Records. His new solo project, frnkiero andthe cellabration, was born.
“Everything’s different,” he says. “It’s strange. With this, it was written because over the time as I felt terrible, I would go downstairs, and I would just write, you know? There wasn’t a deadline. There wasn’t a record. There wasn’t a label. No one knew I was doing anything.”
And he has every reason to “cellabrate” – it’s a real success story when you think about it. After all the push and pull, Iero has a tangible product to show for it all. The experience has definitely been “rewarding,” he tells me, despite all the physical turmoil that inspired the album.
“I think now my life has changed enough, you know, having kids and all,” he says. “I kind of wanted to show them that you can take a bad thing and turn it into something positive if you put your mind to it. And that was, for me, taking a defiant stand against it. If you’re not going to go away, then I’m at least going to get something out of you.”
The bold spirit is very characteristic of the punk rocker – one look at the music video for thecellabration’s single “.weighted.” tells you the man is not faint of heart in the least. (Spoiler alert: It gets real ugly real fast.)
But what does catch me a little off guard is the softness found in the underbelly of everything he says. He is gentler than expected, both in his tone and in his perspective toward the world. His children, for instance, repeatedly come up in our conversation. When I ask about his upcoming tour with Taking Back Sunday and The Used, his excitement to show off his new work is mixed in with some nervousness about leaving his family behind.
“I think the hardest part to come to grips with is that when you’re away for so long, it’s hard – it sounds stupid – but it’s hard to remember that life doesn’t stop at home,” he says. “Like you go away and two years later you come back, and your loved ones are older, and things have changed. They’re like strangers. It fucks with your head, you know?”
His three kids are now old enough to miss him, to say “come home.” It scares him, he says with a half-hearted chuckle.
Still, it’s something he almost needs to do, he says. His creative outlets – browsing through his personal website reveals the man’s talents rest not only in music but in poetry, photography, short stories, to name a few – are what keeps him sane. These artistic expressions are what keep him in the state of mind he needs to be in to do the things he needs to do.
“I’ve started to realize that in order for me to be the person I wanna be, the dad I wanna be, the husband I wanna be, I need to satisfy this creative side because that keeps me level. And then I can ride that level and be happy,” he says. “So that’s where I’m at. The only thing now is trying to find that happy medium.”
frnkiero andthe cellabration will perform at the Gamechanger World in Howell, NJ, on September 6. Click here for tickets.