Death Spells vs the fruit wizards

Frank Iero and James Dewees return with Death Spells, and they’re making a helluva racket.

Death Spells is alive. It’s loud and dirty and known to shock. The duo’s debut subverts all expectations. The music crunches and pounds over muffled vocals, the crispness to the pair’s work is thrown in a blender with an added distortion for good effect. It’s creepy at times, but then it’s also got dark dance anthems woven through its fabric. Sounds great, huh?

It’s this ball of electronic fury that brings Frank Iero and James Dewees to UK shores for their first proper tour with music out there, where after years of being the tricksters, they’re about to find the tables turned. “People had no idea what to expect,” recalls Frank, on their support slots years ago. “It was a lot of puzzlement and bewilderment, which was awesome. This is actually the first show where people are coming to see us and they know what to expect. Before it was like, ‘Aw, this’ll be this huge trick that we play on people!’ and now it’s like I feel like the trick’s on me.”

Luckily, there was no trick. Death Spells took to the stage at Broadcast in Glasgow that evening, a cacophony of shadows and glitches, and seized their new era by its throat. ‘Nothing Above, Nothing Below’ had a few weeks out there before the tour, and the uptake has been startling for the pair. “I didn’t expect as many people to connect with it,” admits Frank. “It’s weird. I thought it would take a lot longer to find the weirdos that understood what we were doing. We’ve been lucky. I don’t know, they could just be fucking with me!”

“There’s kids with tomatoes outside,” jokes James. “They’ll start chucking fruit.”

“Fruit wizards,” laughs Frank. “That would be amazing. This is all just a ruse to get us out of hiding so they can knock us out? My favourite thing about people is when they don’t understand something so hard that they get angry. That’s my favourite reaction.”

"I thought it would take a lot longer to find the weirdos."

It’s a reaction they revelled in when Death Spells first greeted the world. “We had it a couple of years ago when we started. People got really angry about it,” says Frank, though James acknowledges: “They just don’t know what it is. If you think about kids that are coming from all of our previous music that we do, coming to this is probably like ‘What the fuck? Like what? No. NO.’”

Death Spells are combative in their nature. It’s where they began. “Initially it was our form of assault on what was going on around us, you know?” explains Frank. “Slowly but surely that turned into something different. It was originally to combat – that was our ammunition against everything.”

James lived in an apartment by the studio where they were working on the new My Chemical Romance album that never was, with the costs of flying back to the other coast at weekends becoming too much. So he started to create. “I’d be at the apartment hanging out and I started making crazy music. And then Frank moved in. I was playing this crazy music and I was like, ‘You should fucking scream on this’. He did, and seriously it was great, thinking, ‘Aw, this is just brutal, people aren’t going to know what the hell to think’, and then we just kept going.”

They got back to their own coast and decided, ‘Let’s do this.’ “We had a Twitter page and an Instagram,” laughs James, “so that made it real.” And so, their project became a band.

Between them now they have enough projects for a solid festival purely of them, at least. It’s almost addictive launching something new. “What appeals to me about the new band thing is this new beginning where you get to name it and figure out what the aesthetic is,” muses Frank. “The world is wide open. You can sound like anything. You can be anything. There are no rules at that point, and that’s fucking great.”

“It’s the freedom of creativity,” continues James. “You don’t have to be cornered into: Oh, we’re a pop band. Okay, but what I want to have a little more distortion on this song? Nah, you can’t, because we’re a pop band and we write pop music. It’s fun to do things that challenge you creatively.”

Death Spells aren’t just learning, they’re saying a lot. From the literal approach to death (‘end of life’), to the lengths people will go to for their fix (‘pills’) and a song about coming from an abusive household and taking the power away from the abuser in the end (‘fantastic bastards’), they’re giving voice to plenty in their own unique way.

This is a project that was in one sense never meant to be. It started with snatches of intensity around other bands, it was laid to rest for a few years, but now Death Spells is indeed very much alive in its infectious and unruly glory. But what is the spirit of the duo? “I think it’s anti-preconceived notions,” says Frank. “How we’re told to live. How we’re told to interpret.

“Sometimes we run so fast at this ‘other’ that we destroy what’s in our path and I think, for me, listening back to these songs, it’s the direct opposite of that. If there was no next, if the path is what you’re here to enjoy and what you have to live with, how would you do that? Why stamp out the ugliness of what’s here? Let’s work on making this something that’s beautiful and just enjoy that dirtiness.”

Death Spells’ album ‘Nothing Above, Nothing Below’ is out now.