Between Love And Hate: Frank Carter Interviewed
“Awesome, awesome. That’s the best thing I think anyone’s said to me all year, thank you very much!” cackles Frank Carter when I tell him that there’s a song on his new record which reminds me of fellow ginger legend - Elton John. “Elton has always been a hero of mine, I think he’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time. I’m basically always trying to write a song that’s as good as ‘Benny & The Jets’” (a song Frank directly references on new track ‘Little Devil’).
For those readers who only remember Frank Carter from back in his bloodsoaked, NME-invading days as the face of British hardcore heroes Gallows, this comparison may come as something of a surprise. But to anyone who has followed Frank’s evolution as a solo performer over the last five years it seems a perfectly natural transition. This is an icon who outgrew the trappings of punk years ago and now with ‘End Of Suffering’ (his third release with backing/flanking band, the Rattlesnakes) is starting to measure himself up against some true titans.
“David Bowie, there’s a lot of Bowie in this, there’s a lot of Kurt Cobain. There’s Dave Grohl as a frontman, Florence Welch, PJ Harvey…” as he reels off a pantheon of all-time great performers whose impact reaches far outside their genre, you realise how small the dreams of most artists seem by comparison. “All of these people, the way they express themselves is effortless because they’re just being themselves, they’re allowing themselves the room to just create and not worry about the world.”
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This idea of staying true to yourself when acting larger than life is central to Frank’s incendiary style of performance, as for him “it’s always about being the bravest, most confident and sometimes most extreme version of myself in that space.”
The opportunity to be himself but bigger, to escape the compromises of being in a band and let his inner self shine through unadulterated, is exactly what led him to perform under his own name in the first place; although he quickly realised that the spark of collaboration could still be harnessed under his new guise.
“(Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes) was my vessel in the sense that I basically didn’t have anywhere to hide with it,” he explains. “In my previous bands I always felt like I’d done a lot of the work, so this time round I wanted the recognition, you know? For people to know that Frank is an artist in his own right. But I quickly realised that I would be nothing without Dean (Richardson, guitarist, co-writer and leader of the Rattlesnakes). We have the best connection. When we’re on, both of us, it’s relentless.”
Though Dean might be to The Rattlesnakes what Warren Ellis is to the Bad Seeds, Frank Carter is unabashedly the Nick Cave of proceedings. His voice and presence are the concrete that binds ‘End of Suffering’ together, his inner life providing the source from which its songs are drawn.
But the core pursuit of the solo artist – inflating yet retaining your personality, can often mean exposing the bad along with the good. When an artist is as open about their mental health struggles as Frank, this can result in some bruisingly honest material. ‘End of Suffering’ finds him frequently confronting the toxic ‘stiff upper lip’ mindset of British masculinity, most memorably on showstopper ‘Anxiety’, a stigma-shattering anthem that directly addresses an illness that can blight any life, no matter how blessed it might appear.
“I’m not the first person to suffer from anxiety and I won’t be the last, you know?” he reasons when asked about how such a personal song can sound so universal, “A lot of people, they’re not really as good with words as I am, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to… fucking… express myself poetically. So for me it’s always been about trying to find the correct way to say the things that I’m feeling and quite often I’m able to find a succinct and beautiful way of saying something that can often be quite sorrowful or hard to digest, and I think people just really appreciate that.”
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“I’ve spent a long time over the past couple of years living with my ups and my downs, highs and lows… Love and hate, basically,” he muses. “What I’ve realised is that they’re all integral to your character, yeah? Gallows was a band that was solely based around hatred and the misery of the world. Pure Love was about trying to find the hope in that, the love and connection. While both of those things are incredibly important, you cannot allow yourself to be defined by only one of them.”
So just what is the project that bears Frank Carter’s own name about then? “Balance,” comes the instant reply, “It’s about understanding that life is full of hate and love, but it’s also full of loads of moments that are just nothing, that exist in order to take the next steps, you know? Rattlesnakes is about the honesty, accepting all of that, the good and the bad, but making sure that you’re not defined by either.”
Somewhat poetically, End Of Suffering ends with the voice of Frank’s young daughter, marking her early debut as a featured artist. But would her old man ever discourage her from following him into a career flecked with pitfalls?
“No. I mean, the life of a performer is a wonderful thing!” he laughs, then his voice turns serious as he recalls his own struggles in the spotlight, “What I know now is that we have to do more to protect young artists, there’s just not enough support in place.
“You go from having nothing and wanting to make art so desperately, to having money and access to drugs and alcohol that’s free all the time. Suddenly you’re surrounded by a tonne of people that want you and your attention, and it’s fucking really overwhelming. And no-one really prepares you for it, it’s like you’re handed the keys to a fucking armoury and told to find something to play with!”
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“So yeah, by all means if my daughter wants to perform she can,” he resumes, “I mean she’s already a performer. She’s an amazing singer, an amazing dancer, she’s four years old and she’s killing it already. She writes songs all the time, they’re just all about poo, you know? She can do whatever she wants and I will support her in that until the very end.”
“Naturally I can’t be there for all of that, but I’ll do whatever is in my power to make sure that at least, whatever situation she gets into, she feels unconditional love and support from me, because I think that’s all people need really.”
Though he might not have ended the suffering in his life for good, Frank Carter certainly seems to have found a certain balance through treasuring the good moments and exploring the bad ones honestly. “I’m very, very blessed, and I’ve never thought that before,” he admits, “It’s such a fucking disgustingly privileged and entitled place to be, being someone who is as lucky as I am and then feel sad about it, you know?”
“So I’m trying my best to bring myself out of that and put myself in a better place because, I think no-one ever really deserves to feel bad.”
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'End Of Suffering' will be released on May 3rd. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes headline the Fender Stage at the Great Escape on May 10th.
Words: Josh Gray
Photography: Danny Payne
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