Frank Carter is some kind of rock legend. Not in the rock n roll hall of fame with Led Zeppelin kinda legend. But an alternative national treasure, nevertheless. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ gig at Brixton Academy at the tail end of 2017 was a balls-out rock show with a social conscience, with Frank as ringmaster and star turn and would-be-messiah, and The Rattlesnakes laying down the blistering, face-melting soundtrack. Despite the punk foundations, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes hit you viscerally and intellectually, twin barrels, head and spleen. The music is fierce rock that defies you not to move, but meanwhile they have deconstructed the gig; its star confident to abandon the stage and perform in the audience or on top of them, from the mixer, up in the circle, on a balcony then diving off it. Roam is where the heart is, badoom tish.
Originally the lead singer in Gallows, a hardcore punk band that included his brother Steph (now of Ghost Riders in the Sky and West Herts College), Frank Carter quit in 2011 due to creative differences – what he now calls a toxic situation. Frank created a new act, Pure Love, which struggled to gain traction, and in 2015 formed Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes. The band released albums Blossom in 2015 and Modern Ruin in 2017, two very different records written in an eight-month blast. The band has toured relentlessly, cementing and building on Frank’s iconic status, and will begin work soon on a third LP. Also a tattoo artist, Frank once got a tattoo while on stage. Tattooing is what he does work-wise when not venting into a microphone, mostly located at Sang Bleu studio in Dalston, east London.
You watch Frank Carter in gig mode, small with bleached yellow (or pink or purple) hair; exceedingly tattooed and fizzing with energy – and you think, where does it come from? And then you chat to Frank: it’s a wet Wednesday and he’s in his flat in Hertfordshire watching the rain, and he’s quiet and considered. And of course he is – because he couldn’t live as the spectacle full-time, he’d be dead, and he couldn’t write those songs without a contemplative side. So we talked about multiple personas and female crowdsurfing and how he chooses stage clothes… and this is what was said:
DISORDER: How do you psych yourself up, get into the stage persona?
FRANK CARTER: We all have a lot of characters depending who we’re talking to. But I didn’t’ realise til recently that I just click my fingers and I’m there. Like, I have no real warm-up. I had a friend who’d never really seen me play and they were hanging out before Brixton. He said to me, it’s mental that you were kinda half singing along to a Drake song and then you walked out on stage and you sang for an hour and a half. Well yeah: ten years!
Brixton felt like a deconstruction of the rock show, was that the intention?
My crew stepped in. A lot of the time I’ll say to them, I need a hundred foot cable, and they’ll go, alright, and put it on stage. And then I’ll take it in the pit and it snaps and they’ll be like, for fuck’s sake, why are you doing this to us? So this time they said, this is the biggest tour you’re going to do, we know what you’re like, so we’re going to give you a wireless microphone, and we’re gonna give you a podium at the desk, and we’re gonna facilitate it for you. They took lessons from touring with me in the last three years and seeing what I would do naturally and then made it a moment in the set, rather than slapdash. I understand the importance of being on stage, but I’ve always been about being in amongst the people. I grew up playing floorshows, being face-to-face with them. Until it gets dangerous I’m gonna find ways to put myself right there amongst everybody.
Shall we look forward to seeing you on a trapeze or blasted out of a cannon?
Yeah, where’s my big fucking bubble that I can climb in and roll around on the crowd [like Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne], exactly! Walking in a great basketball. It’s awesome. You wanna go to a show and for it to be a spectacle. You don’t want to go and listen to a version of the song that’s maybe a bit scrappier than the record. You wanna hear the song live, you wanna feel it and feel excited, but you wanna be blown away. You wanna see something that makes you go, oh my god I cannot believe they did that.
Can you still go to gigs as a punter or is it “research”?
I went to see Nick Cave last year at the O2 [former Millennium Dome]. I’ve seen him quite a lot and it was the best. Because his attitude to his delivery had changed completely. It was so intimate. He used to be quite aggressive, passively, towards the crowd. There was always a division. This was the first time where he was amongst it. And in such a loving embrace that no-one could escape him. Felt like you were being consumed by him. That changed everything for me. Here was this guy who by all accounts shouldn’t be playing the O2: his hits are violent love epics. Yet he did it with such grace and elegance. Honestly, it was the best show I’ve ever seen. It was so powerful. It gave me hope.
Do you do vocal exercises?
No, my warm-up now is to sing Goosebumps by Travis Scott. Put the playlist on, and I’ll sing along to it. And that’s as good a warm-up for me as anything. I’ve had no real coaching. I had a few lessons when I was in New York seven years ago. But it puts me in a weird headspace trying to do that warm up. It’s not relaxed; it feels like effort, like homework. So singing along to Drake or Post Malone, that’s more for me.
But you come on dressed for a show…
When I put my show clothes on, that was always the big moment. I never did that in Gallows, just used to go on in jeans and T-shirt, whatever I was wearing. And there was no switch. With Rattlesnakes, very early on, I needed a moment that separates all this. So I bought a Gucci suit, which I thought was the most ridiculous thing I could do. It’s a pale floral suit, but it became like armour. I would literally put this suit on and feel like 10,000 pounds worth of Gucci. It wasn’t worth that much. But it felt amazing. And that became my battle wear. The minute I put that suit on I was in that mode, ready to play a rock n roll show. I don’t think, personally, that I want to be a rock star 24/7. Rock stars are fucking obnoxious, egotistical… psychopaths, y’know? So it’s important to remove myself from that when I’m walking my dog or taking my daughter to the park.
Those trousers with the officer stripe, where’d they come from?
The Kooples. I was wearing them [at Brixton] and a shirt by Burberry. I wear Vivienne Westwood when I can. I like trying to support British-based designers. I’d just bought a really nice pair of trainers, from Gucci, and they were red, white and black. And I found these trousers and they had a white stripe and a red stripe, so I bought two pairs. And that was me: done.
Any younger designers excite you?
I love Claire Barrow, she’s incredible. And then there’s a designer called Patrick Church, who’s been reappropriating Hermes bags and Louis Vuitton, and he’s painting these quite haunting but beautiful but gaudy portraits of almost genderless figures. And it’s pretty bold, pretty powerful. And the last one is a young guy who’s got a factory out in Catford now; he’s called Ryan Hawaii, sort of school chic, reminds me of when I was a kid. He’s made this beautiful pair of white denim jeans that’s got these holes with flames in the eyes. I just desperately want them cos I’d look really good in them. They’re my shouts at the minute.
New artists that are exciting you?
I love Demob Happy [who supported Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes tour of Europe in March ‘18]. They’re one of my favourite bands at the minute. They’re really real. They’re writing about interesting things. And they’ve got really really strong rock songs to back it up. They’ve been around a little while and they’re just about to get the break they deserve; I hope they are. Outside of that, I just listen to Suicide Boys most of the time. Pretty much.
Any specific tracks that inspire you?
Been listening to Problems by 6lack, which is really powerful. That definitely put things in perspective for me. I’ve been listening to that Stoney album by Post Malone on repeat for months. And there’s a song by Demob Happy called Be Your Man, the first one off their new record; shows their song writing prowess properly.
What about new material?
I’ve got loads of lyrics. Dean [Richardson, lead Rattlesnake and Frank’s co-writer] has loads of riffs. And he hasn’t played me any of them. So until we sit down together and we’ve got time – we got nothing. By the end of Modern Ruin we were both pretty burned out. We wrote 40 songs in a year. But April is my birthday. And his birthday is May. So, try to get away last week of April, first week of May and see what happens. The plan [for album three] has always been end of this year. But as we haven’t even started, I can’t say. When we do start something we’re fast. We’re prolific. End of the year would be perfect for me. But I’ll settle for the spring ; I’ll settle for a birthday release.
How often are you a tattooist?
I tattoo all the time, literally all the time. I work as much as I can really. It’s always been something that I’ve loved and that I’m good at. I also just have to work; I like to create and I like to make things. Tattooing is the most instantaneous version of that, the thing that gives me the most immediate gratification. I can meet a person, draw something for them, tattoo them and they can pay me [laughs], and then we sortof go our separate ways. But I’m connected to that person forever. It’s very different from the feeling I get on stage where I’m connected to 5,000 people for an hour. The tattoo process is much more intimate.
What do you take from being on stage in front of 5,000 people?
It depends on the energy that’s in front of me. It depends on the energy that’s in me at the time. It can be really cathartic, it can be absolutely explosively wonderful, or it can be pretty damaging. I’ve realised only recently, very recently, tail end of last year , that a lot of the nihilism and danger that was present in our shows when we started out was a form of [self-] abuse. I would get up and I would rage and I would vent. And that’s quite a dangerous place for artists to be, because you get trapped into believing that’s what people want, and then you stop thinking what’s it doing to yourself. You’ve only got so much blood…
Your rage took on a life of its own?
Exactly. You become this pained version of yourself that feeds off that [rage]. You can almost do that sub-consciously, and you walk on stage and you feel powerful, you feel confident, you’ve got this energy that you never had before. As human beings we’re multi-faceted. We have many, many faces. With rock n roll, with excess, with energy – depending on who’s got the wheel it can be a cruise or it can be 90 fucking miles an hour round a hair pin turn. Or worse.
How did you take the “therapy” out of the stage performance?
I haven’t. Therapy in itself is a management, it’s a process that goes on and on and on, because there are always new things that trigger new pain, but I didn’t know that until the end of last year. Genuinely. I was ignoring the toll it was taking on my mental and physical health. As a youth I was just aware that if I didn’t do it, I would let people down. And then there’s the weird juxtaposition of the masculinity of being that testosterone-filled, aggressive pugilist – that’s how I was described, constantly – but actually I’m an artist that wants to write some sad songs every now and again [laughs], cos I can’t understand how to process it any other way.
What was the catalyst for self-awareness?
Obviously being a father is one of the biggest changes you can have. I don’t want to get into it too much, but things with my wife broke down. I shoulder a lot of the responsibility for that, and it’s been hard to process. I always believed: that was us. But [as] my personal life [was] becoming more fragile… my career [was] stronger than ever before. I have an understanding of it now that I didn’t have when I was 21. I can see more the traps and the pitfalls along the way. With every step we take it feels like my career is really blossoming and burgeoning, and one step further away from the persona I’d spent my entire life creating. And that was when I needed to take a long, hard look at myself.
Any advice to yourself at 21, or a 21-year-old starting in music today?
Definitely! A lot of people think it’s representation, a good manager. But what you need more than anything is belief in your art. You need your work to be better than anybody else’s. And the only way you do that is to stop worrying about money, stop worrying about how you’re gonna live. You just work and you graft and you sacrifice. And once your art is there and it’s pure and it’s real, then you’ll have ten managers wanting to work with you, because ultimately all people want is to connect with something real.
What put your career on a strong footing?
Gallows was the first thing that broke for me. That was the beginning of a lot of the problems because whenever you’re a young kid and you’re suddenly thrown a load of money and a load of publicity you’re completely and utterly unprepared. I just wasn’t ready for it. And six years later, when I started to close down that channel, it was becoming quite toxic – I started a second band called Pure Love – that was when I really started learning. When I was in Gallows I had all the cards but I didn’t know what game I was playing. In Pure Love, I understood the game but I got the worst hand imaginable. We played really well but we were never gonna win. With Rattlesnakes I understand the game and been dealt a really good hand. It’s up to us to play it properly.
Why the women-only crowdsurf during the song Modern Ruin?
I always try to look out for people, cos I’m a bit of an underdog myself, and keep people safe in our moshpits and at our shows. But I never thought to ask why only men crowdsurf. One day this girl had been at the front row the whole gig, singing every fucking word louder than anyone else there, and she came up to me afterwards and we had a photo and I said, why didn’t you crowdsurf cos you were right there, you could have just jumped up and dived in? And she was like, I’m intimidated, if I do that, I’m gonna get groped, and I don’t want to get groped, I want to enjoy the show. It fucking bummed me out so much. I can’t have that. I love crowdsurfing. That’s fucking bullshit. And the only way I could really do [anything about it] was to use that energy and the atmosphere of a live gig to talk to my peers, who are mostly men, and to say – this is what’s going to happen, this song is for the girls, you’re going to treat them with the respect they deserve. And then we started moving it earlier and earlier in our set, kindof as a statement of intent: you’re going to treat all the women here with respect. If you don’t, you’re gonna get kicked out and you’ll be banned from all of our shows forever because you’re a fucking piece of shit. And actually, people responded to it really really well. Men responded to it really well. They were like, yes, fuck, why would I do that? Girls have been really, really positive. I’m doing everything in my power to move things forward. Cos when my daughter is 18 or 16, I don’t want her to go to a gig and be scared. How fucking sad is that? Her dad’s a fucking rock star. I don’t want her to ever worry about her wellbeing or her safety at a gig. That would break my heart.
How far have you had to go to intervene?
I’ve definitely grabbed men. Literally just dragged them out by their hair. Usually I don’t even get to them. If I get to them there’s a real problem. Because normally they scarper before they see me get off the stage. Or security’s removed them. Or they’re being booed by 2,000 people so they do a walk of shame out the back of the venue. You’d be amazed at what I can spot at a show, considering the carnage that’s in front of me. Normally, some girl’s having a bad time and she’s shouting at a dude and I ask what’s going on. And you’d be amazed at how quiet a venue can get when you stop the music and ask someone a question. [All] I can do is try to be a better role model to young men. And then girls know we’re on their side so feel safe, but men know that if you come to my gig and you’re a dickhead you’re going to get treated like one.
Courtney Love talked about crowdsurfing at a Hole gig and someone put a finger in…
That happened to me in Bournemouth last spring. I was climbing back on stage and this dude jammed his finger up my arse. And I turned around and grabbed him by the throat and just, like, saw red, pinned him up against the wall. And he was just laughing. And I felt so fucking violated, like, what do I even do now? Do I batter the cunt? But then, what does it look like? Like I turned round and started beating the shit out of a fan. I explained to him, really calmly, you just sexually assaulted me. Ya cunt. You’re gonna leave this gig now. And you’re never going to come to another gig again. But yeah, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a female artist diving in the crowd. It’s fucking mental, man.
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes play Victoria Park on June 1, 2018 and support Foo Fighters at the London Stadium on June 22, 2018.
Photography by Ed Mason
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