I was working as an usher at My Chemical Romance’s Melbourne concert as a part of their second Australian tour when a fourteen year old girl and her mother tapped me on the shoulder. The girl was smiling and had tears streaming down her face as patrons shuffled towards the exits after a memorable performance. I was expecting to be asked where they could buy merchandise, but the mother asked if there was any way her daughter could meet with the band. This is also a common enquiry, and easily dealt with through a simple ‘No.’ The girl gave me an envelope addressed to My Chemical Romance, with the underlined plea ‘Please read!’ and miniature roses taped to a corner. She asked if I could see that the letter was given to the band, should I run into them during the course of my duties. I did my best that night to pass the letter on, but to no avail. The letter sat unread in my scrapbook of ticket stubs and concert souvenirs ever since.
Then, more than a couple of years later, Frank Iero, My Chemical Romance’s guitarist, called from the chilly New York winter for an interview, and I mentioned the girl and her letter to him.
‘We have been very fortunate to have amazing people that have enjoyed our music, and some who write letters and draw pictures,’ Frank says. ‘Sometimes after shows we’ll get tons of them, or even sometimes things come in the mail. I’ve tried to read everything that I’ve ever gotten from people. It’s really nice when people feel so touched that they need to reach out in that form .’
Frank’s voice then takes on a sinister edge not previously present, like a parody of some Bond villain. ‘The most fun is getting hate mail!’
He was reluctant to go into sordid details about these letters, despite my insistence, but mentioned ‘With Leathermouth, I’ve gotten death threats!’
Leathermouth is a new band featuring Frank on lead vocals which was formed around a year ago during a break after relentless touring on the back of My Chemical Romance’s last album, The Black Parade. The music of Leathermouth is a significant departure from that of Iero’s previous band, with heavy riffs and a raw, lo-fi edge. In contrast with the rich production of some of My Chemical Romance’s work, Frank says ‘The whole record was recorded on our own, and in our basement, with nobody else around but us.’
The existing Leathermouth band members approached Frank simply for an opinion on a three song demo of their work so far. ‘As soon as I heard it, I fell in love with it,’ Frank says, and started thinking about lyrics to go with the instrumental tracks he had been played. Before long, he’d offered himself as vocalist and chief lyricist, and I noticed that the lyrics were perhaps more political than those of songs he’d performed with previous bands.
‘We didn’t set out to be a political band,’ Frank sighs. ‘But I think it is kind of impossible to talk about social issues or anything that goes on in the world today without talking about politics.’ Frank goes on to define the purpose of bands like Leathermouth. ‘What it is doing is provoking people to talk and to discuss things and have a thought process about things that maybe they haven’t thought of before. That’s really what the band is here for.’
‘It’s strange,’ Frank muses, noting how the difference between his two major projects has divided old fans. ‘We’ve gotten a lot of different feedback from different people. Some people that love My Chemical Romance hate it. Some people that love My Chemical Romance love it. A lot of people that love it, hate My Chemical Romance. It’s just one of those things. It’s very diverse, but I love that.’
Diversity, both musically and in a broader artistic sense, is something important to Frank Iero, who constantly has a number of projects overlapping. ‘First and foremost I am just a fan of music, and art in general. If I’m not playing or creating, I start to feel dead inside. That’s the way I can express myself, and get things out. Whenever an opportunity that I feel will bring out something different in my personality, something that I can add to, or just something I think I would love to be involved with, I have a hard time saying no to it. I’ve been very fortunate to be around people who inspire me, and have been willing and wanting to play with me in different capacities. I’ve been in bands since I was eleven years old, so I’ve been with quite a few different projects and played with a lot of people. It’s something that I love so much.’
Despite having played on some of the largest stages in the world, Frank admits to a certain apprehension when performing in front of large audiences, and has appreciated the return to more intimate shows that Leathermouth has presented.
‘Being in the public eye has never been my idea of a good time. In the past couple of years, when My Chem started to get a little bit more popular, a lot more people would show up at the shows. That’s when the anxiety part of me started to kick in. It’s something we never really prepared for, or even imagined would happen. Going back now, and playing with Leathermouth, and doing things while My Chem was off, we’ve been playing these smaller venues. It was fun to relearn how to connect with a smaller audience, and not have that anxiety about getting up in front of thousands of people.’
With this in mind, I wondered if the shift from the relative security of a guitarist standing behind a charismatic singer to the position of front-man would pose a problem for Frank.
‘As far as being a front man, I don’t know if I could consider myself being that, ever,’ Frank says, describing Leathermouth as a team effort which is reflected on stage. ‘There is definitely an art to being a front man and I think Gerard [Way from My Chemical Romance] encompasses that. There are certain people who were born to do that. I don’t feel like I’m one of those people. I’m just not that kind of guy. I’m very happy being in the background of things. I’m not one that feels like the public eye is where I should be. But, if need be, if somebody needs to take that role, then I can do it.’
While requests for international concerts have been frequent since the release of first album XO, Frank says that they may still be a long way off. ‘The record may be ten songs, but it’s only twenty minutes long. The press in Japan keep asking ‘When are you going to come over and do a show?’ I know for a fact that when we go to Japan, people will want to see like an hour and a half set. It’s just something they expect there. Until Leathermouth has six more records, that’s not going to be cool!’ He didn’t rule out Leathermouth appearances at festival shows, though, ‘Hopefully a festival situation will arise. I think that would be the best setting.’
Frank assured long time fans that even though he is busy with a number of projects, My Chemical Romance is still going strong. ‘We’re getting together and starting to really buckle down and write the new record and record it. We’re talking about the first week of February.’ Even though he has a lot on his plate, he says he enjoys the variety that the two bands give, and will continue indefinitely. ‘If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? That’s the moment when you have to decide to stop. But, knock on wood, we’re still having fun.’
Leathermouth’s debut album XO is out this month.
From Buzz Magazine, March 2009.