This week, former My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero and MCR auxiliary keyboardist James Dewees (also of the Get Up Kids, Reggie And The Full Effect) hit the road as Death Spells, opening several shows for Mindless Self Indulgence. Given MSI’s penchant for challenging their audiences’ expectations (they did call an album Alienating Our Audience, after all), Death Spells’ band of electronic miasma and unbridled ugliness should make potential attendees as uncomfortable as possible. The way Iero explains it, that very intention was seemingly built into the band’s name.
“My wife’s grandmother was having these moments where she would stop breathing for a second,” he begins, referring to the late relative. “I’d think, ‘Oh, my God, she’s passed away,’ but then she’d wake up. It was like one of these weird little spells—these weird little death spells where she would wake up and say, ‘No, I’m just really tired.’ To me, [the name invokes] these little introductions to another world and coming back from it—kind of leaving this world but not for too long, then snapping back to reality.”
Death Spells came to fruition last year when Iero and Dewees would finish in the studio working on MCR music. Iero moved into Dewees' North Hollywood apartment, located in a complex overrun with would-be rap-video starlets listening to bad hip-hop and dance music. As a response, the duo decided to create their version of beat-driven rock, an ugly, blackened synergy of mechanized thumping, overmodulated noise and samples, as well as various goth-rock, post-punk and no-wave signifiers. “Shortly after we started making a lot of noise, people started to move out of that section of the building. At one point, James went shopping for large plants and put them all in front of the windows, so if you were to look in, it would be this huge jungle setting!”
The affable Iero has always been a little perverse regarding his personal music projects. This past December, as a joke, he created a short drum-machine-and-distorted-guitar rave-up, “Xmas Sux” (listen above) and slapped it up on SoundCloud. “That was a joke I did on Twitter that got a lot of weird venom shot back at me. [imitates snotty kid.] ‘Hey, fuck you, Christmas is awesummm!’ I was like, ‘Wow! If only I would’ve done a complete song!’ I wish I could’ve recorded my kids crying in the background and actually made it better.” The first Death Spells song Iero and Dewees completed was “Choke On One Another,” a track with a marching-band cadence and a whole lot of gruesome noise thrown over the top, that had more to do with the various gear they borrowed from MCR’s studio, than trying to emulate dubstep, EDM or tired industrial rock. “We were geeking out over different keyboards and other gear we’d find in the studio and sneak home so we could fuck with things in a really small apartment,” he says, laughing. “I think it came from trying to blow up each other’s speakers!” The duo’s tracks run both a sonic and atmospheric gamut, from the aural epilepsy of “Where Are My Fucking Pills?” to the piano-based dark ambience of “End Of Life.” The diversity is another key to evolution of the duo’s working relationship. “Eventually down the road, I’d like to bring in a drummer and possibly a guitar player,” he opines. “But for right now, I think we need to figure out what Death Spells are. Right now it’s going to be Dewees controlling the brain, and me on a mike with some effects going through it. I have an order in for a three-foot neon cross. I hope it makes it in time for the first show.”
Both Iero and Dewees are going to be pretty busy in the ensuing weeks. After this brief run of dates, the duo will be pursuing other projects: Dewees will be teaming up with fellow Get Up Kids colleague Matt Pryor for a series of duo shows in May, as well as writing for the next Reggie And The Full Effect record, which is being funded via Kickstarter. If you go over to the website for the return of the Skate And Surf Festival, you’ll not only see Death Spells on the lineup, but a reconvened version of Leathermouth, the angular hardcore band Iero started in 2007. The one thing he won’t be doing is mourning the demise of My Chemical Romance. Not because he’s a jerk; he’s just too damn busy.
“It got to a certain point where it seemed like it wasn’t working anymore,” he says about the band’s decision to break up in late March. “I am Holden Caulfield-esque and don’t like to let go of things and prefer things to stay the same. And I was such a fan of the band—I never wanted it to end, even though maybe it should’ve. I would do whatever it took so it could continue to go for the greater good. Sometimes it breaks your back, but you do it for the right reasons.”
In the My Chem cover story in AP 221, Iero was unconcerned about any notion of self-sabotage of his previous band’s career. “I don’t give a shit,” he told this writer. “If I had to work at McDonald’s for the rest of my life to play shows and ride in a shitty van on tour? I’ve done it. I’ll do it again.” Now more than ever, that comment seems remarkably prescient. Having left a commercially successful band to play decidedly thorny music isn’t the kind of thing that puts food on the table. So don’t go looking for Death Spells to pull up to the front of a venue in a super-luxurious tour bus.
“I’m really interested to see what two dudes touring in a car will look like,” Iero says. “I think it’s going to be strange, scary and fun at the same time. I’ve always been a big proponent of a band setting; I’ve always liked the idea of ‘the gang.’ Now that the group has been whittled down, it’s kinda interesting to see what’s going to happen onstage.” Alt
Death Spells begin touring with Mindless Self Indulgence in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 11. New tracks and video clips can be experienced at deathspellsmusic.com