In our previous cover story with Frank Iero (AP 370), he talked about how the trauma of a near-death experience in Australia completely unshackled his creativity. Upon reflection, the guitarist vowed that life was too short and fear runs too long to impede whatever aesthetic decisions he had previously buried (sub)consciously.
Here Iero tells us about how both aesthetics, fate and the luck of the music business came together to create the Future Violents’ two records, Barriers and the new EP, Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place, both released on UNFD. From extracting himself from a major label and forming a new band (longtime foil Evan Nestor, bassist Matt Armstrong, drummer Tucker Rule and secret-weapon multi-instrumentalist Kayleigh Goldsworthy) who would help him realize his vision, Iero acknowledges that what he does to himself may very well be worse than the dice roll fate brings. Which explains why, after the release of the new EP, you might not be hearing from him for a while.
The Future Violents is where you are right now artistically. What’s the significance of the new EP, Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place? Is it similar to Keep The Coffins Coming, your corollary to Parachutes? Or is it a stop-gap release until you’re ready to follow up Barriers?
I think a lot of this is a natural progression of how things are meant to be. One of the tracks is a BBC Live At Maida Vale recording that happened while touring with the Patience. It was right after the accident, and it took us a long time to get back up onstage. Then it was time for us to do touring on Parachutes. We had to do a tour with Dave Hause And The Mermaid. The first stop was in Brooklyn. I remember walking into that venue, and Dave [Hause] And The Mermaid were setting up. It was great seeing Dave again because I’ve known him forever. It was the first time meeting his brother, Tim. Kevin Conroy wasn’t playing that tour, but Dave Hidalgo was—who I love—and that was my first time meeting Kayleigh. I think what people didn’t know but are finding out and now know is that Kayleigh is an incredible musician and songwriter. She knows how to play fucking everything and anything. She brings a lot to the table.
At that time, I was thinking, “She’s so cool, and she’s so talented.” We would geek out over different songs that we loved. It’s weird: You meet people along the way, and you think, “That is real. That person has it. I want to make music with that person. I want to play with that person.” You have these connections, and immediately Kayleigh was one of them.
I remember the final date of that tour together in the States: We had played in San Francisco at some church thing. We had been talking all the time about how she played mandolin, and we both loved R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” We wanted to do a cover of it. So that night after the show, we went to a stairwell, and I read the lyrics on my phone, and she played it, and we recorded just a demo version of it. I loved it. I sent it to her. I would listen to it all the time and think, “Wouldn’t it be cool to record this one day or maybe in a live setting, but whatever…”
So we were tied to a European leg of the tour: I think Dave was wanting to tour over there, as well. Immediately I was like, “OK, let’s do a leg of this tour with Dave Hause And The Mermaid over there” because our fans love the combination of our bands together. It’s great to tour with Dave and the guys. But really, if I had to be 100% honest, it was because I just wanted Kayleigh to be around again. [Laughs.] So I was thinking in my head, “For the next formation of this band, I’ve got to get Kayleigh.”
So that was what we did. On that leg of the tour, we had been offered to go into BBC Maida Vale and do a live session, which is always really interesting to do and exciting but also nerve-wracking. I’m always one to do the thing that scares the heck out of me the most. If an opportunity arises that seems totally batshit crazy or scary as hell, that’s where I’m going.
So I know we’re going to Maida Vale. And I say, “OK, I want to go in there, and I want to do a Beatles cover.” [Laughs.] Because why would you fucking do that? The first time we did a cellabration session there, it was on Thanksgiving. And I remember having Thanksgiving dinner in the cafeteria, and in the cafeteria at Maida Vale, there’s this giant print of the Beatles getting food at the cafeteria. You look up and there’s John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney] getting food. It’s mind-blowing. If you think about the history of the sessions there, it’s crazy. So that was one of those memories in the back of my head that planted a seed. “The next time we’re here, we’ve got to do a Beatles cover. Because it’s scary and horrible and you should never do that. But that’s what we’ve gotta do.”
[The BBC] said that we had to do, I think, four songs. So I wanted to do two songs from Parachutes, [and] I want to do this Beatles cover of “Helter Skelter.” But also, Kayleigh was on the tour. And I thought, “This is the opportunity. This is like free studio time. Get in here. We need to do ‘Losing My Religion.’” So that week before and after shows, we would get in the back lounge of the bus and go over an arrangement for “Losing My Religion” and recorded that song there at that time. So for me, that was like the fledgling version of the Future Violents. It had Evan, of course, and Kayleigh and myself and then Matt Olsson, who played in the Patience and the cellabration. So that song was included on this.
The rest of the songs are [ones] we had left from the Barriers sessions. We wrote 17 songs, and there are 14 on Barriers. Usually that was troubling to me because, for me, I like a 12-song record. I would love to be the type of guy that does a 10-song record. I think 10 songs are the perfect number of songs on a record. But I’ve always been a 12-song guy. A dozen songs feel like you’re done.
So we had 17 going in. First off, [producer/engineer Steve] Albini was like, “There’s no fucking way you’re doing 17 songs in 15 days of recording. What are you, crazy? You’re out of your mind.” And I’m like, “Naww, I really think we can do it. You know, we’re really good!” [Laughs.] We cut this shit, you know? And it was a fucking harrowing process. I think there’s a photo that was taken by a girl from the studio when we finished the record. And I look like a drowned rat. [Laughs.] I look so exhausted and done. It was very, very hard for me to think that we were going to finish this record. Because with Steve, it was the whole package: He was recording it, engineering it and mixing it at the end.
Here’s the thing to understand going into Barriers. Basically what happened was we signed to Wayne Pighini. We signed to Workhorse. After the cellabration record cycle, Vagrant [Records] was bought by BMG. And they dropped virtually every band that were on Wayne’s label, and then Wayne got the boot from the label. They dissolved his imprint. He went to work for a management company. I thought I was being dropped at that point, but they decided to keep a handful of bands from that side of the world. They kept us and La Dispute, I believe. The rest, I think, were dropped. I was nervous about that because I didn’t know anybody over at BMG, and this is like, “Oh, great. Now I’m on a major label, basically.” And that’s not where I wanted to be. Then we made a record that I loved.
So when I asked to be released from BMG, they were kind enough to let me go. There were some kind people there at that label. I had to fund the recording of Barriers because we didn’t have a label. So all the preproduction, all the recording of it came out of pocket from personal funds. When we were in the studio with Steve Albini, I couldn’t afford to extend the process.
I was working on spec at that point, and I was nervous that we weren’t going to hit our deadline of what I had paid for. So at this point, I’m in the studio making this record and [being] like, “Oh, my God, we’re not going to finish.” But we did. We ended up finishing. The only thing that we didn’t finish was really the mix. So we did a rough mix on the last three. It was hard for me to cut down the tracklisting. Because I felt like all the songs that we had written for this record deserved to be heard. I felt like they all worked together.
I whittled it down to 14. I normally wish it could have been 12 just because that number means something to me. We had “Record Ender,” “Violence” and a song called “Sewerwolf” that still existed in an overall mix form. So when we had this idea come up that we could release the songs from that session and then couple them with the cover of “Losing My Religion,” I went back to Steve Evetts—who I had worked with on Parachutes, who is an incredible bass player, incredible engineer, incredible mixer, a great producer. He’s just a fucking powerhouse. But I love working with him on mixes. He knows what I want to hear without me getting hoarse about discussing it. So I sent him over the tracks, and he remixed and finally mixed those last three songs.
Currently as we speak, is this EP everything that the Future Violents have recorded?
Yes. These would be the final recordings of the Violents. What’s also fun is the cover of the EP. In the photo is my father-in-law and his sister, and the photo was taken by his mother, Ruth, who is the woman on the cover of the Death Spells record. You can see her taking the photo of herself in the mirror, which I’m pretty sure is like the first selfie ever taken. [Laughs.] She was a nurse in the World War.
That familiar motif. Family still really looming large in your life.
Always. Always, always, always, always.
You can read the full interview in issue 389, the Frank Iero Oral History.