Frank Iero is a huge fan of film director Tim Burton, so you can only imagine how ridiculously stoked the My Chemical Romance guitarist was when he was asked to contribute to the soundtrack-companion album for the remake of Burton’s first film, Frankenweenie. Iero’s track, “This Song Is A Curse,” feels like a collision of film composer maestro Danny Elfman’s aesthetics with Suicidal Tendencies’ bona fide punk classic “Institutionalized.” In June, Iero corralled MCR auxiliary players Jarrod Alexander (drums) and James Dewees (keyboards), producer/engineer Doug McKean and MCR guitarist Ray Toro (as co-producer) to record the song which appears on the iTunes edition of Frankenweenie Unleashed! (Music Inspired By The Motion Picture).
Jason Pettigrew caught up with Iero to discuss the roots of the project, the pursuit of new avenues and the dish on the new MCR album. (Spoiler alert: Iero knows how it will turn out as much as you know exactly what’s going to happen to you on, say, October 17. Is that arbitrary enough for you?)
How did you get involved with the soundtrack?
Hmmm… I guess I kinda muscled my way into it. [Laughs.] Disney does these "inspired by" soundtracks and they originally approached My Chem to contribute. They were having a screening over at [their studios] and they said, “If you’re interested in doing something, come out and see the movie and see if you’re inspired to write a song.” Lauren [Valencia, MCR manager] knew I was a big fan of Burton’s, so she asked me if I wanted to go. I said, "I don’t know about the soundtrack thing, but I definitely want to see the movie." [Laughs.] When I finally saw it, I loved it: I thought it was his best in years. I think it might rival The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is one of my favorites. So I saw it, loved it, but didn’t really think about the soundtrack.
I didn’t think about the soundtrack until... maybe the next day or the day after? I was feeding the girls breakfast one morning and sometimes you make up songs to get your kids to eat. So I was humming a melody, and I thought, "Hmm, that’s kinda cool," and I started to think about the movie I’d just seen. Later, I approached [MCR], told them I went to see this thing and that I wrote this song if they want to do it. They were like, “Well, we’ll see. We’re doing the record now," and it kinda went to the back burner. I didn’t approach it again for a few months until the deadline was coming up. I approached the guys again and they said we didn’t have the time to do it. And I was like "Do you mind if I do?" I approached [the soundtrack producers] and asked if I could do the track. They got back to me over the weekend and the following week, I went into the studio and knocked it out.
"This Song Is A Curse" is a mix of widescreen film production with excitable punk angst. Were those elements you distilled from the movie?
Yeah, kinda. The approach I took to the song was the sentiment of the original concept of the movie: the kid loses his dog and doesn’t want to let go. I wanted to take a J.D. Salinger approach to the story of Frankenstein: It’s not so much about playing God as much as it is holding onto the past and not being able to let it go. The more you do that, the more you fuck everything up. Other than the line about science, I drew everything else from my own life. I don’t know how you can’t while writing music. I get those Holden Caulfield tendencies where I see things the way they are, then I finally get used to them and then everything changes and it makes me want to kill myself. [Laughs.]
Maybe you and I should start a support group. I’ve always perceived your role in MCR as the one-two-fuck-you punk-rock guy. But I remember you blogging about how you wrote the tuba part for "Dead!" from The Black Parade and wisecracking something like, "That was totally my idea, you got a problem with that?" Do you see "Curse" as some kind of jumping-off point for you to pursue similar kinds of projects outside the realm of MCR?
It’s something the members have all talked about. We like being cinematic with our records. We’ve always been fascinated with how music conveys emotions and then how that works within the images in a movie. But really, I just love making music, and I love writing songs. I’m constantly coming up with things, and if there’s an outlet I can be creative in, I’ll take it. Last week, I was in a studio in New Jersey that’s owned by a friend of mine. I just went over to hang out, but we ended up having a couple of beers and doing a song. It was the first time I ever did something where I played everything. I’m going back into the studio to finish the track, maybe record another one. I’m also thinking about putting up a website where I can just put stuff out. It’s an idea that’s still in its infancy, so I still don’t know what it is. I love making music in My Chem, but sometimes our timelines are... very long. [Laughs.] I just want to do something I can put out quickly before I overanalyze it—which is funny, because I’m in a band with four guys who overanalyze everything. [Laughs.]
Hypothetical situation: Somebody throws you a briefcase full of money and tells you, "Make a record. You’re recording in seven hours." How do you think it would sound?
Oh, man... I don’t know. I think it would be very disjointed, as everything I’ve been writing has been all over the place. As a fan, I like working with big production techniques and making recordings that I can add to in my imagination. It’s funny: "This Song Is A Curse" was the first thing we finished at the studio we built to record the next My Chem record, so that’s kinda cool. I’m happy we’re experimenting with things in that space. The new My Chem record isn’t going to sound anything like "Curse," but it’s actually cool you can make that kind of noise in it. [Laughs.] That was the first time I, by myself, ever did something with someone—Doug McKean—who knew how to record things. I like being forced to work within limitations.
On a side note, does your proto-screamo band Leathermouth belong to history?
If we had talked several weeks ago, I would’ve said yes. I was originally brought into that band with the other guys. Then they found religion, then things got messed up between us. Not friendship-wise; they didn’t want to be a part of Leathermouth anymore. I guess they thought I’d taken it too far...
Ahh, the men in black…
[Laughs.] So I had to go recruit people to go on this crazy journey with me to play XO [the band’s debut album] live for people. I thought, "Damnit, if I wanted to do something on my own, I would’ve done that. I wanted this to be a band. I guess this is over because it’s not a band anymore." There’s still part of me that would hate not doing that band again. There’s something brewing, but I don’t know what it is. I really wanted that band to go on longer, but Jesus had other plans. [Laughs.]
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask: What can you tell me about the new MCR record?
Ohhhh, man! What can I tell you? There are a lot of songs written. Some of them are recorded decently, but its not near completion by any means. It’s taken a lot of effort for us to wrap our heads around it. I could tell you everything about the record right now, and I guarantee that all of it would change tomorrow. [Extended pause.] Really, all I can say is that it’s elaborate. It’s fucking elaborate.
That should make listeners’ toes curl a little.
Yeah. There’s a bit of bleakness to it, I must say.
For a guy who has a wonderful wife, great kids and a tight group of friends, what do you have to be bleak about?
Maybe that’s how I stay happy in all these other venues: I don’t bring it home. [Laughs.] You take music away from me, and you’ll be hearing about me on the news! alt