In an Australian exclusive, the former My Chemical Romance guitarist talks us through the close call in Sydney last October.
‘I‘m in the process of moving as I leave for tour,” offers Frank Iero when he picks up the phone. “It’s kind of nuts.” Whatever the chaos, it would pale in comparison with the scene Iero faced on October 13th last year, while on tour in Australia with his band the Patience. The former My Chemical Romance guitarist, his manager and bandmates were unloading their van outside the Twitter offices in Sydney in preparation for a performance and live chat, when they were hit from behind by a Sydney bus. The open door at the back of their van acted as something of a barrier that narrowly prevented two of them from being crushed to death, while Iero’s enormous backpack protected him from a similar fate. Now, with the guitarist/vocalist preparing to return to the road – as you read this he’ll have just completed a European tour with Taking Back Sunday; a U.S. summer jaunt supporting Deftones will follow – he opens up about the accident and its fallout, and his fear of returning to the road. Sounding weary and more reserved than the man who stood chatting happily in the Rolling Stone offices only hours before the accident, it’s clear the past few months have taken a heavy toll.
In your own words, what happened after you arrived at the Twitter offices on the 13th?
Myself, my brother-in-law Evan [Nestor, guitar], our manager Paul and our drummer Matt [Olsson] got out of the van and we went around and opened the hatch, and started to take some gear out. I grabbed my pedal board, put it down on the curb next to me, and I turned to say to them that I was just going to take out a couple of things, and as I opened my mouth to start speaking, it felt like [I got] tackled. At the moment I didn’t know what it was. I got hit under the arm and it knocked me down into the gutter and somehow I got lodged underneath what I then realised was a huge city bus. All I could see was this white and blue bumper above me, and glass just raining down, and my brother-in-law and Paul were sandwiched in between the bus bumper and the bumper of our van.
As the bus hit us it crashed into the back and then continued to plough through and drag me for I’d say about 10 feet. And then, when I started to realise what was happening, I kept thinking to myself, “He has to know he hit us, why isn’t he stopping?” When I realised he wasn’t I was like, all right, the tyre’s going to come at some point, that’s what’s next. And as I started to think where the tyre would hit me first, that’s when everything stopped. And as it stopped I could hear Paul and my brother-in-law, so I knew that they were alive. They screamed for [our publicist] to pull the van forward so that we could get free. And when they did that, my brother-in-law collapsed into the street and Paul collapsed into the back of the van, and I was able to get unloaded and crawl out from underneath the bus. Immediately the cops started to work on us in the street, we were taken to St Vincent’s Hospital and we stayed in the hospital for about two and a half weeks.
What was the extent of your injuries?
Multiple surgeries on both Paul and Evan, their legs had extensive lacerations. Paul’s were down to the bone. My brother-in-law has nerve damage in one of his legs now, and we’re hoping this last surgery might be able to rectify that, but there’s no guarantee. He had to have a nerve graft in his left leg. I had tendinitis in my shoulder and I had some pulled and torn ligaments in my foot, so I’ve been getting steroid treatment in the shoulder. Slipped discs, I got a bulged disc in my neck. We’ve been going to physical therapy three times a week and trying to strengthen ourselves to the point where we can do this again. It’s a whole lot of unfun, basically.
“All I could see was this white and blue bumper above me, and glass just raining down,” recalls Iero of the accident.
You were in the Rolling Stone office only a few hours before this took place, and you had the biggest backpack I’ve ever seen. I remember you being teased about it, but is it true that ended up saving your life?
That was the backpack that fucking saved me. I swear to God. I still have it with me, I carry it everywhere I go because I’m scared shitless not to have it. But it still has bloodstains on it from the accident. Somehow it ended up being this turtle shell that slid along the gutter. There’s like 85 straps on it, and one of those hooked onto that bumper and saved my life. No doubt in my mind.
Four months on, have you been able to process how all this has affected you?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think about it every day. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t re-live it a little bit. Some days are better than others. It’s strange to go through something like that. The only way I can really describe it is, I’m in my house right now, right? You can probably imagine that there’s a doorway and a couple of walls and maybe some stairs, and you know that because you’ve been in a house before, you’ve experienced that. But you’ve never been to my house, you don’t know what it smells like, you don’t know what the air’s like in there, you don’t know what the carpet feels like under your feet, you haven’t lived that reality. But you think you can kind of understand. And I feel like that’s the same way when we experience death through other people, people around us; we know that eventually we’re all going to die. It’s just a fact and we’re aware of it. But when you see it, and to know that eventually I’m going to have to meet that again, to meet this frailty again, is terrifying. It’s a new realisation I’ve come to, an experience that not many people have had. And that’s one of the things that is still hard to process.
In the minutes after the accident, were you able to contact your family, or did they find out through second hand sources?
I was able to get in touch with my wife at the accident site, because we were all coherent enough to know how bad it looked. They helicoptered in a doctor because no one thought that someone could survive what just transpired. And I knew how bad that looked, and I knew what was going on, and we were very worried. I could see Paul’s injuries in the aftermath of it, and I didn’t know if he would be able to keep his leg, but thank God the cops there tied a tourniquet on him immediately. But it was important that I got in touch with my wife and her family, and Paul’s wife. So I called my wife as soon as the paramedics showed up, and had to tell her that there was a big accident and you have to get in touch with certain people and let them know we’re alive right now but we’re going to hospital and this is where we’re going to be.
You cancelled the remainder of your 2016 dates, and I had read that for a while after the accident you considered quitting touring altogether. At what point did you decide to carry on?
It’s strange. I wasn’t sure if I was ready, and the act of touring kind of scares the shit out of me. But the best thing for me is, when I find something that really scares me I throw myself into it. Full on. And so, when it came time to start with Taking Back Sunday and other offers came in, I just said yes to everything.
I didn’t want to just discount ever doing this again, even though there was part of me that was like, that’s it. I think I’m done.
How strong was that urge?
Here’s the thing. I know that I’m a different person now than I was before this happened, in a lot of extreme ways. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. And that’s not to say it’s good or bad, it’s just different. I just didn’t know what to do. It got me thinking about how much of a part of me this is, it’s always been – playing music and creating has almost really defined me in a lot of ways. And to feel like that’s been taken from you is a horrible feeling. So I think maybe a part of me decided, I just want to stop on my own terms, so it’s at least a decision that I made. But I was wrestling with that for a long time. Do I do this again? Do I put my family through me being away again? Putting myself in situations where anything can happen and you’re a million miles away, how much do I need that? And then I started to just feel like, I need to try. I need to be sure if I want to do this or if I want to stay home and do something else. And the only way I’ll know is if I do it, and doing it scares the shit out of me.
Have you had to find a new guitarist while Evan recuperates?
He actually got cleared by the doctors two days ago. It never crossed my mind that we would play with anyone else, so I just thought maybe we’d try and do it as a three-piece. To play these shows and not look over and see him [would have been] heartbreaking. Now that I know he’s going to be there makes me feel a lot better.
Given that your new album Parachutes came out weeks after the crash, the timing couldn’t have been worse…
That was the saddest couple of months for me. It’s probably the most proud I’ve ever been of anything I’ve ever made, and to just kind of not give it its shot, that was horrible. And I felt like I owed it to myself and to the record to try. It’s kinda funny to have something like this happen on a record like Parachutes, where the songs are about having things happen for you instead of to you and taking those issues and using them as fuel. And maybe this is the ultimate parachute. Everything happens for a reason.
From issue #785 (April 2017), available Thursday, March 2nd.