As someone who has spent a significant portion of his adult life touring the world, Frank Iero knows the importance of music that can bring with it a sense of grounding and peace.
These can be records that bring your travel anxiety down; they can be the records that remind you of home, what you’re travelling back to. They can be the records that remind you of why you love being on the go; they can be the records that enhance your focus while you’re in transit.
Sitting opposite me in a Melbourne hotel, during his first trip to Australia in over five years, the American musician smiles when thinking of his latest record – Past Lives with supergroup L.S. Dunes – being this specific sonic haven for others.
“In my experience and in my world, they’re the records that bring a sense of peace,” he says. “They’re like a comfortable blanket. I love this record so much, I want it to be that for other people.”
Past Lives, which was released in November, is a striking collection of music that treads the line between contemporary and nostalgic; the carefree and the cathartic.
An exploration of dynamic post-hardcore and punk influences that have threaded their way throughout band sessions that Iero recalls as some of his most creatively inspiring and nurturing experiences, Past Lives is the meeting point of five distinct musical identities, converging over a shared love for music itself, in creating something fresh and new.
L.S. Dunes, who only made their debut as a live band at Riot Fest in 2022, comprises genre-defining musical pedigrees. Of course, Iero, with his unmistakable talents honed over decades spent performing with My Chemical Romance (as well as his various side and solo projects); the band also features Travis Stever (Coheed and Cambria), Tim Payne and Tucker Rule (Thursday), and Anthony Green (Saosin, Circa Survive).
Though the opportunity was likely there for the band to rely on familiar sonic routes with this new project, L.S. Dunes opted to take the path less travelled – pushing themselves outside their comfort zones in creating this new and diverse album of work.
To speak with Iero about his relationship to the music on Past Lives and the impact of the record, he puts it rather simply, “I have a very hard time saying no to things that sound fun.”
“Things just end up falling in my lap, just like this band.” he laughs.
“I didn’t actively go out and search for this band. It just presented itself. That’s my secret, that’s all I do.”
“I’ve always felt that I’m not so much creating these things, as much as I am being a conduit for the universe to channel it through me. In order to continue to create and to create in different settings, different bands and genres, you need to be an open source. Have these experiences and influences go through you; the universe will tell you where you need to be, what you need to do. You need to be open to listening to those signs.”
The passion for artistic freedom sits at the core of the L.S. Dunes project, and it’s in the constant encouragement from every member of the band, that makes Iero light up.
When the byproduct of being successful in a field to be able to create your art as your profession, is having to deal with an industry fraught with instability, it can be hard to remain focused and engaged. But as Iero talks about the L.S. Dunes dynamic, it’s evident that this project has become more than just a band formed out of the pandemic.
It has been a project that has lit a new fire beneath him, as a lover and follower of music itself.
“Within this band, the five individuals are very open,” he explains.
“It’s fucking scary just how accepting of challenges and supportive everyone is of everyone else doing what they do, and how they do it. Going back and revising. Serving the sound is always paramount, and it’s so rare.”
“We’ve all been around the block quite a few times and I think that we’ve all learned that shit doesn’t mean anything if the song’s not good.”
The freedom that can be heard throughout Past Lives correlates directly to the experience of recording the album. Made during a time where musicians were being told they would never be able to tour again, make music again; that they’d never be able to harness that connection between listener and artist, Past Lives is a statement of survival. Moreover, it’s proof that art will always thrive.
It’s also a testament to the dynamic of the group that, though the members’ previous projects are inevitably going to be a drawcard for new listeners, Past Lives is a record that can stand strong and independent of such definitive catalogues of music.
Perhaps it’s part of the reason Iero speaks about Past Lives with such pride. But more than that, it’s evident that the experiences he has shared with L.S. Dunes already, in just a short period of time together, have given him some of the most fulfilling ones yet in all his years of being a musician.
“I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I started my first band at 11, I did my first show at 13. So it’s like…how do you keep it fresh?” he ponders. “There’s only really 12 notes, but infinite possibilities!”
“It would be very easy for us to rehash the things that we had done 20 years ago. Sometimes, records and songs are only as special as those people in the room. It’s a very unique thing to have, these five people in that room, playing together. That’s why Coheed sounds the way Coheed sounds; why Thursday sounds the way Thursday does. It’s why My Chem sounds like My Chem. And it’s the same with L.S. Dunes. You can’t create that with anyone else.”
At the time of our chat, Iero is approaching the midway point of the long anticipated My Chemical Romance Australian tour – one that had been postponed and rescheduled, almost to the point where it felt like it may not eventuate at all, thanks to the pandemic.
The shows have been an opportunity for Iero to reconnect with Australian fans, and the response has been unsurprisingly, mega. However at the same time, Iero continues to write; his focus is definitely buzzed and energetic when it comes to the sophomore L.S. Dunes project, already underway.
Concepts of the unknown and the freedom to play with musical form are ones that have driven Iero’s artistry for a long time – this hunger for something new that pushes his creativity has been integral to the formation of his sound over the years.
Music can’t simply be a formulaic process, finding the beating heart at the centre of each composition is key.
“I’ve been in bands before, where you write together and then you get out on the road and you’re like, “Oh fuck, I never wanna play with these people again,” and that’s fine too!” Iero laughs.
“Not every relationship is going to end in marriage. These dudes though, I like them a lot! We’re gonna stay married for a little while, we’re going steady.”
“I can tab out what Greg Ginn plays in Black Flag. I can tab out the things that Thurston Moore plays in Sonic Youth,” Iero continues. “[But] him playing those parts is different to me playing those parts. It’s going to feel totally different. It’s about the soul behind it.”