Frank Iero has been thinking a lot lately about death. That’s not entirely new for him — mortality was a major theme in My Chemical Romance, where he spent more than a decade playing rhythm guitar, and it’s there in his more recent solo work, too — but it’s been especially resonant since Iero survived a life-threatening traffic accident last fall, shortly before the release of his latest album, Parachutes. MTV News recently reached the guitarist for his first interview since the crash. “I’ve never done something like this before,” he tells me. “I’ve never done anything so personal.”
Not long after My Chemical Romance called it quits in 2013, Iero released a solo debut, Stomachaches, under the moniker frnkiero andthe cellabration, which he now lovingly dubs “a makeshift home art project.” Parachutes comes with a new band name, Frank Iero and the Patience, and it’s full of diaristic post-hardcore confessions. On the unhinged power-punk anthem “Veins! Veins!! Veins!!!” and the explosive lament “Dear Percocet, I Don’t Think We Should See Each Other Anymore,” Frank struggles with the history of addiction in his family. “I have been very lucky in my life to dance around serious rock bottom,” he says. “I could fall very deep if I allowed myself to.” Another highlight on the album, “I’m a Mess,” takes an opposing tack: On the surface, it’s a song about celebrating self-destruction, but for Iero, it’s about finding pride in imperfections. The album ends with “9-6-15,” named for the date of Iero’s grandfather’s death. “The record is called Parachutes because I started thinking about life, how we’re put here without asking to be,” he says. “It’s like being pushed out of a plane. You’re plummeting toward an eventual end. Some of us fall at an alarming rate, and it’s over in the blink of an eye. Some of us are lucky enough to find people and things that bring us joy along the way that act as a parachute, slowing that ride down, and you’re able to enjoy the fall.”
On the day of the accident — October 13, 2016 — Frank Iero and the Patience were in Sydney, Australia, preparing for the last show of a short tour. They woke up, did a few interviews, and loaded into a passenger van heading to a local Twitter office to perform a few acoustic songs before their gig later in the evening. Iero; his brother-in-law and guitarist, Evan Nestor; his drummer, Matt Olsson; his manager, Paul Clegg; and his publicist were unloading at the office building when a public bus collided with them as they stood outside the vehicle.
“The amount of HD-clarity that transpired in the next few moments is engraved in my memory,” Iero tells me. “I can remember every second, every action, every sound. I had this little briefcase pedal board that I had been carrying around with me. I put that down and I turned around to say to Evan and Paul, ‘I think I’m just going to take the tuner out of here.’ I said, ‘I think’ — that’s all I got out of my mouth.” He compares the moment of impact to a particularly painful childhood sports memory: “Right before high school, a couple of friends [had] this pickup game of football. The only other kids at the park at the time were these really big high school kids who wanted to play us so they could beat the shit out of us. I remember being tackled from behind. That’s exactly what it felt like.”
After a brief moment of uncertainty, Iero realized he had been hit by a bus. “I ended up underneath the bumper of this massive vehicle,” he says. “From my vantage point, I could only see Evan, and I could hear Paul. I thought whoever I couldn’t see or hear had to be dead, and if they weren’t dead yet, then we all would be soon.”
Iero credits his survival to “an enormous rucksack” that he was wearing at the time of the crash. “There’s no doubt in my mind that it saved me,” he says. “The way I got hit, it hooked on underneath the bumper and lodged me between the curb and the bus.” The bus dragged Iero along the curb for about 10 feet before coming to a stop, at which point the band’s publicist was able to pull their van forward and release Iero, Nestor, and Clegg. “Paul collapsed into the trunk. Evan fell down onto the ground and said, ‘I can’t feel my legs!’ I got out of that rucksack, got my coat, and put it under his head and held him. That’s when I saw the puddle of blood coming from Paul’s injuries. It was the brightest red I’d ever seen. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.”
Iero describes the 10-second event as feeling like 10 minutes, a traumatic time-slowing that allowed his mind to wander to the worst places. Thankfully, a cop on a bicycle nearby witnessed the entire thing and tied a tourniquet on Clegg’s leg, likely saving his life. Iero, Nestor, and Clegg were quickly admitted to a Sydney hospital, where they’d stay for two weeks before returning to the States for further treatment.
In the weeks and months since the accident, Iero and his bandmates have replayed the event in their minds. “I keep going back to the open trunk door, how it accordioned back after the hit and gave their backs and heads room,” he says. “It broke that impact. I don’t even know what would’ve happened. It’s incredible to me that we’re all still alive. No one that witnessed the accident thought that we would be.”
Iero says he’s been working on trying to make sense of his near-death experience. “I have a hard time allowing myself to believe there is a higher power doing things behind the scenes, but I tend to think things do happen — even the shitty things — for some reason,” he says. “After an experience like that, you split off into three ways of thinking. The first is, This is our birthday. We have this second lease on life that we should not have. What is the purpose of that? Why have you been saved? What can you do with that time you weren’t supposed to have?”
The second way of looking at what happened, he says, “is less positive. When you’ve met death and you can see firsthand how fragile we all are and how truly horrific death can be, you know that this is something you’re going to have to experience again. That’s a terrifying thought, to have to live through it again. Part of you wishes that it was over.”
“The third is much weirder,” he continues. “You wonder if you didn’t survive and if all this is an imagination. Maybe this is what happens when you die — your brain keeps going and you manufacture an existence. I thought that I was crazy for a while until I spoke with Paul and Evan and we had similar feelings on it. [But] you have to snap yourself out of it. If this is existence, it’s yours now, and you have to make do.”
Frank Iero and the Patience never made it to that Sydney gig. After the accident, they canceled the rest of their tour for the year, and went home to New Jersey to contemplate their next move. “I wish I could say that it was a tragic experience that’s now a positive thing because I’m still here,” he says. “It’s funny to have written a record like Parachutes [and] to have something like this happen. You can’t write that shit.”
For now, the band is looking forward to embarking on another tour in 2017. “In time I will feel more grounded,” Iero says. “For now, I’m existing. That’s something, in that moment, that I didn’t know I would be doing.”