Interview with Frank Iero and Ray Toro of My Chemical Romance
– by Jacqueline Ronson
My Chemical Romance followed up their acclaimed 2006 Black Parade album last year with Danger Days: The True Lives of Fabulous Killjoys after taking some time to recalibrate their artistic direction. The record has an explosive party pop sound and has been well received critically. More importantly, the kids seem to like it.
A few dozen teenagers dressed in black loitered hours before Saturday’s show outside The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts. Presumably, they were hoping to steal a glimpse of the band members walking between the tour buses parked outside and the venue.
Inside, guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro sat down with me and a few other reporters. They told us about their love for music, the happiest moment of Frank’s life, and their ambitious plan to contaminate the world with their infectious positive energy.
Jacqueline Ronson: You guys struggled a bit coming up with a follow up to Black Parade, and scrapped an album before going on to record Danger Days. What finally sparked the process to come up with this new album?
Frank Iero: Alright, so to start even before that, the tour on the Black Parade album was so long and so daunting, that we really needed a break, we needed to take time away from doing what we were doing. So the catalyst I think for getting back to playing together was doing that song for the Watchmen [movie].
Once we started making music together again, it was like ‘Oh wow, it just feels really great, it feels really pure, we feel inspired and we want to make a record.’ But I don’t think it was the right time for us to make a record. I think we probably should of just sat around and played together for a while.
But instead we kinda just got together, got into a studio, and we started to make music and recording. And in doing that, we had this idea of what the record was going to be before the record actually told us what it was going to be. It was a pretty immature decision to get into the studio.
In the mixing process, when we were hearing it back, we were like alright well, we kinda succeeded with what we decided the record should be, but that’s not really the record that we want to live in for the next couple years.
We really just ran out of time. So we put everything on hold, and went back into a studio, and we had a couple songs we wanted [to record].
And that’s the thing too, you never want to feel like, oh, there’s four or five more songs I want to write after you’ve made a record. You want to get all of that out.
So we went back in, we started to write these songs, and I think four songs in we had hit “Sing,” and I think that that notion of ‘Oh, we’re writing a record’ was kind of out the window, we’re just making songs for us.
And that was the mindset we needed leading into a follow up for Black Parade. It took us that long to get to that point.
Something to prove
JR: When you were creating the album, did you feel like there was anything you needed to prove?
Ray Toro: There’s definitely always something to prove to ourselves. We always have to do better than the last. Write a better record, be better songwriters, be better players, be more creative, experiment. I think that’s the pressure that we put on ourselves. I guess you always want to prove…
FI: Ray, cut it out!
We tried to get out of the public eye for a while. We felt like we were in people’s faces too much, I was sick of us. I kinda felt like, at that point, do we have something to prove? Well, I think we’re a really great band, and I think that will just take care of itself when we release a record that’s really, really good.
People forgot about us, we were the underdog again. That’s a great place for this band to be. When we’re under pressure, we do really really well.
RT: Yeah, that’s totally true.
FI: It’s kind of fun to be the underdog.
JR: Was it a conscious decision to change directions musically, or was it more of a natural evolution?
FI: I think it’s a little bit of both.
It’s definitely a conscious effort to go in and do something new. I think if we stay stagnant as artists, that’s kinda like, artistic poison, you know?
But also you grow as people. It’s been four years since we recorded that last record. A lot of things happened to us as people. So we’re completely different people from then.
Old and new
JR: What elements of your old style did you incorporate into your new album?
FI: I think what carries through is an overwhelming love for melody.
I think we’ve learned early on that there’s no egos. Early on, when you start a band, it’s like, ‘Oh I have this really great idea, I have this idea.’ It comes into a mishmash of things and sometimes they take away from the main melody, sometimes they add to it, sometimes it’s contrasting, and kinda hectic.
But I think when you’re in a band for a really long time you start to realize to pick your moments. That’s a maturity that the band has reached, where it’s like, I don’t have to play here. You just let it go, and let it be open, and feel that.
I’m trying to think… What has carried through?
I guess the excitement.
When I listen to the record, — I’ve stopped listening to the record now because we’re, we’re in it — but when we were making it that’s all I listened to for months and months, almost a year. I just hear these four kids being really excited about playing music and what we do and hanging out. I think that’s why it feels like a lighthearted party record. I think that that really carries though. At least I hope it does.
JR: What’s been the reception so far? Do you feel like your fans have matured with you?
RT: It definitely feels like, for a good percentage of them, it’s the kind of music that they wanted to hear, and what they needed in their life at this moment, you know? And like you said, they kind of grew with us.
Gerard Way’s comic-book connection
JR: The other interviewers and I, before you got here, were talking about how this venue is seated. How does that change the show for you?
FI: I have absolutely no idea.
RT: We’re gonna find out!
FI: It’s the first time we’ve ever played a seated venue like this.
RT: We’ve done outdoor amphitheaters that have a little bit of floor. It’s gonna be weird. I don’t know. We definitely walked in and were like ‘hey, this is kind of weird.’
FI: I might pull up a seat and sit down as well.
RT: I have a feeling… I’m sure kids will find a way to move out there.
JR: You guys went to Comic-Con a while ago, did that inspire the show? I’m hearing that this tour is very colourful. [Ed.’s note: MCR singer Gerard Way wrote a comic book series for Dark Horse Comics* (ed.’s note: thanks to commenter for alerting us to this; we originall had it as DC) called The Umbrella Academy.]
FI: I think we just lived in a monochrome world for a really long time. It was nice to break out of that a little bit. Comicon is just fun because we’re nerds.
JR: What do you guys do right before you go on stage?
FI: We try to get at least an hour alone, where we just kind of get ready, warm up a little bit. Then maybe five to 10 minutes before we go one we kinda get into this group huddle, laugh at how ridiculous everything has been during the day, how amazing our lives are, tell each other we love him, and wish everybody good luck and say ‘have fun.’ Then we go out on stage and do it.
The Future of MCR
JR: Does My Chemical Romance have aspirations for world domination?
FI: Uh, I think world contamination…
RT: Yeah, I like that better.
FI: I don’t think so.
RT: Yeah, world domination, no.
We love touring the world. When we first started the band we’d never think we’d get to some of the countries that we’ve been to. On Black Parade we hit some incredible places, and I think next year we’ll probably start hitting some of those areas again.
That the crazy thing, you know, when you hit those countries, places say like Vietnam, places in South America, Chile, we played in Korea. You play in those places like once or twice, and you can always go back to them and play an amazing show. That feels good.
There’s no overarching plan, there’s no scientist behind the scenes. It does feel good to go to places where you feel so far from home, and then there’s a large group of kids that make you feel at home.
JR: Can you describe your attraction to music, and has that changed over time?
RT: I gotta say, especially lately, music is the best drug. It keeps me up all night, it keeps me going, it’s incredible. I love writing music, I love playing music with these guys, it’s the best time. I think it’s actually grown. Just like [Frank] said earlier, we’ve all grown as people, as musicians. I just feel like for all of us, I feel so much more confident as a musician and as a person because of this band. It’s pretty amazing.
FI: When you’re lucky enough to get to do what we do, and you really become witness to how universal the language of music is, your attraction has to go up.
It’s insane, you go to a place where we don’t speak the same language but they’re singing along to these songs that we wrote in our basements. These kids that you though you would never meet care about these songs almost as much as you do. But it’s in a completely different way. It affects them in their daily life. I can’t even fathom to understand what their life is like.
If it helps somebody in some way, that’s an amazing gift. It’s very, very precious. The songs, they take on a life of their own. It’s really amazing.
JR: If you agree that this new album is a new chapter in the My Chemical Romance saga, what’s the chapter about?
FI: I think it’s about, one, growing up and being ok with that. Two, finding out how to have a good time again. This may sound weird, but I think it’s easy to be a tortured artist. I think it’s easy to spawn creativity out of pain and suffering.
But it’s very hard to create something out of just sheer happiness and having a good time. When life is good, that’s when your art usually goes to shit. That’s why people usually drink themselves into an early grave and they’re considered geniuses.
The world we live in right now, we don’t need any more sadness. I think that we live in that enough that we don’t need that in our fantasy. At least for us, this chapter of My Chem is… brighter horizons, you know? Things are pretty damn good.
I was talking to Gerard [Way], we had about eight days off and I went home, we were just talking through text and whatever. I was hanging out with my daughters, and I actually just started to cry. Just sitting there, and I actually had a tear and I was like, oh man, I am so happy right now. This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I didn’t know how to handle it because I never thought it would be that way.
We were just talking, and we were like, “Things are really, really great, and I can’t wait to get back on the road.” Of course I miss my kids more than anything, but I know when they grow up they’re gonna be like, “Look what my dad did, look at what he was doing. He did all this stuff, and he did it cause he loved it and he did it for us.”
And we were just like, “Let’s get back on the road and fuck shit up.” And I was like, “I’m in.”
More My Chemical Romance photos: