"It's a lot of responsibility when someone asks you to participate in the writing process of a song like that, you know? So it's something I don't take lightly..."
Frank Iero has been a key member of one of the most commercially successful, beloved emo bands of the last 25 years in My Chemical Romance. But no matter his achievements with the band, Iero has a hunger to create with other people, expand his horizons, and somewhat chase that thrill of forming a new band.
That excitement, and working with longtime friends he’s never worked with before, led to the formation of L.S. Dunes, one of the coolest post-hardcore bands to surface in recent memory.
Iero plays the guitar alongside Coheed And Cambria guitarist Travis Stever in L.S. Dunes, alongside Thursday’s rhythm section - bassist Tim Payne and drummer Tucker Rule, with the band completed by Saosin and Circa Survive vocalist Anthony Green.
Since their formation last year, they performed at Riot Fest (their first-ever live performance, in actuality), toured the UK and Europe and the US, and released the brilliant debut album, Past Lives. It’s a testament to the group’s boundless creativity that the album wound up being one of the finest albums of 2022, and also dispels the myth that only bands made up of teenagers or twenty-somethings can make good, vital rock music.
Past Lives is essential - more The Shape Of Punk To Come than any emo record you want to name, the album explores punk and post-hardcore genres, with each band member freed from the expectations of their main musical groups.
Iero gets to let rip or hold the fort, as Green finds vocal melodies in the most unusual of places. Past Lives was produced by Will Yip (Turnstile, Citizen, Balance & Composure) and with the popular record producer at the helm, the album has the signature raw sound Yip gets out of bands. The production almost makes you feel like you’re in the loudest, most frenzied rehearsal room watching a seasoned post-hardcore outfit. That’s another joy of L.S. Dunes: they sound like they’ve been at it forever — and in a way, they have — but it hasn’t even been a year since they shocked the music world with lead single Permanent Rebellion.
After some cryptic teasing of the band logo and the L.S. Dunes name appearing on the Riot Fest 2022 poster led to punters speculating a possible supergroup, the five-piece dropped Permanent Rebellion in August and announced the upcoming record. Iero, who had some input into the decisions, put his trust in Fantasy Records for the rollout.
Catching up with the guitarist from a Melbourne hotel on the eve of one of two My Chemical Romance shows at Rod Laver Arena, he says, “I always feel like when you're working with a label, it has to be partnership has to be a lot of trust there. When I'm doing that kind of thing [releasing an album], I tend to relinquish a lot of that control over to somebody that maybe knows a little bit better than I do.”
Frank Iero is softly-spoken and thoughtful, and when you quiz him about the cool shit he’s been up to, the passion just pours out of him. “You know, as far as marketing and stuff like that goes, there's one thing that I feel like I do not excel at is, I'm not a good salesman when it comes to selling yourself,” he laughs. Part of that admission stems from his New Jersey upbringing, where you don’t brag about things you’re doing; you show it. Don’t look like an asshole.
L.S. Dunes wanted to keep the secret until it was the right time to share their music with the world, no matter how hard that was. “I will say this too, it definitely wouldn't have been my first choice to have our first show at a festival with, like, one song out. That's always scary,” Iero admits. But the shows were unbelievable, in a good way. “I didn't know what to expect going in, I was trying to be positive about it. But in my experience, that's not the easiest way to showcase new songs.
“I've played Riot Fest before in different incarnations. I’ve played very, very early on when people aren’t there yet. And so, I think I took solace in the fact that, like, alright, we're on kind of early, so maybe there won't be that many people there,” he continues. “It won't be that big a deal if we're playing songs that nobody's heard before. And then all of a sudden, we walked out and it was like, ‘Oh my God, there's tens of thousands of people here. This is crazy.’ But it was the best first show I've ever had with any band. It was crazy. It felt immediate. And I think if I didn't know before, I knew at that moment that we had something special.”
Permanent Rebellion came into existence when Iero discovered a chord progression he liked; the song was coming to him in ten-to-twenty-second increments, and “I was like, I think I have something here. If we have an extra five minutes, I think we should lay it down. And then I started to worry that we wouldn’t have those extra five minutes,” he chuckles, but Rule came to the rescue. “Tucker was the one that was like, 'if Frank says he's got something, we should try it.'” Good call, Tucker.
The first track on the album, 2022, is one of the most personal songs Anthony Green has ever written - in the chorus, he croons: “If I can't make it 'til 2022 / Least we'll see how long I can swim / Sometimes wish she hadn't found me on the night / I tried to disappear, all at once.” “It's a lot of responsibility when someone asks you to participate in the writing process of a song like that, you know? So it's something I don't take lightly,” Iero admits.
When Green presented the song to his bandmates in L.S. Dunes, Iero recalls asking him on a few occasions, “Are you sure you want this song out there; you don’t want to keep it to just you?” But Green was insistent, “he felt like it wasn't complete until we attempted it,” Iero says. “I think what the band brought to that song, maybe it just increased - not the importance of it, but the gravity of it. It became more of a triumphant thing than a sad thing for him. And that's the beauty of this stuff. It can be very healing. I like to think that we're trying to heal the wound a little bit.”
On the poignant It Takes Time, Iero was the person Green was writing about. In a track-by-track explanation provided to Apple Music, the singer elaborated, “I wrote this song about Frank. He was in an accident and really fucked up his wrist and hand, and he had to get surgery during the recording of the album… I don’t think he knew if he was ever going to be able to play again. So, I was thinking about him and his relationship with his instrument.” Green says that the song’s first line, “Hello? I’m not sure if you remember, we connected a long time ago” is supposed to be Iero talking to his guitar and his muse.
“Everybody had to wait for me, basically, it was really nice of them to do that,” Iero shares. He was supposed to record his parts in September 2021, but “I ended up having to push it to December. It was a very unconventional recording process. But somehow, someway, it ended up becoming one of my favourite-sounding records I've ever worked on. It's a very visceral-sounding record. And I really, really enjoy it.”
That visceral sound came from the band members channelling hardcore punk and from their producer, Will Yip, getting an almost animalistic sound on the record. Green had worked with Yip on the Circa Survive records, Violent Waves (2012), Descensus (2014), The Amulet (2017), and Two Dreams (2022), so the pair naturally felt comfortable together.
Beyond the album itself, just creating with L.S. Dunes brought Iero immense joy. “It's always fun to play with new people. Everybody in the band is a fantastic musician,” he begins. “Tim is especially one of the greatest bass players I've ever seen. I play with some really great bass players, but he's on another level; some of the choices that he makes are just… I don't even know how to describe it.
“And the way he works with Tucker, of course, is impeccable because they've had such a long history together. I've gotten to play with Tucker before, I've been lucky enough to write with him and play with him in the past. And this is just even more fun because that rhythm section is so already locked,” Iero adds. “And then, of course, Travis is such a different player than anyone I've ever gotten the opportunity to play with before. His melodic choices, the technique that he has, he's just very accomplished, you know? So for me, it presents new challenges, like: 'Alright, what do I bring to the table? Where do I push myself and do things I’ve never done before?'
“It's just a totally different experience. I think that's what excites me so much about this band and why I keep starting new bands,” he laughs. Each band is different and presents new challenges, with ups and downs along the way. “It's how you grow as a player.”
In a previous interview with Atwood Magazine, Iero said, “The New Jersey mentality is, you don’t boast about yourself, you don’t complain, you put your head down and you do the work.” That mindset is integral to Iero’s belief system and explains why he spends more time talking up his bandmates than his own abilities.
“Oh, yeah, in my head, or at least in my experiences, the people that talk about how great they are or about all these great things they did or talk like, ‘I'm a genius,’ you’re not; you're an asshole, basically,” he laughs. Of course, it’s nice to take a compliment, even if it feels a bit weird. “I don't know if I understand how to do that just yet. But you don't talk about yourself, basically. So, for me, I like the work to speak for itself.”