[INTERVIEW] with Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes chose some small venues for the 'End Of Suffering' tour. It's All Indie caught up with Frank on the second night of the tour. The first gig was in Oxford.

So how was Oxford last night?
It was amazing, it was really amazing.  Obviously it was night one of the tour and we’ve been off for 4 months so it was pretty overwhelming to be honest and I think as much as I thought I was prepared I physically wasn’t quite ready but it went really, really well.

That’s what the first few gigs are for though and I imagine it must be quite special playing such a small venue because you’re so used now to massive venues.
Yeah but we grew up in small venues, these are the venues that we cut our teeth on and so the whole idea behind this tour was to get back into the smaller rooms to play our new songs for the first time. To really share them with the fans who have the most energy, you can take new songs to a big place and fill it with loads of fans but there’s still a pocket down the front that’s like the most dedicated, the most rabid. They need the music! This was it’s like everyone here really wants to be here, they really fought to get tickets.

These shows sold out so quickly these are the people who’ve waited for those tickets to come up as opposed to those people who’ve just decided to go along with their mates because there are still tickets available.
Exactly, like it’s just a night out. So that’s the whole point of this and to be honest to have that last night, and the reaction to some of the new songs, was phenomenal.

How many songs do you play from the new album?
I think we’re playing between 4 and 5 depending on the night and how it’s sort of feeling.  We’re still working out where they go.

So the only one people will have heard is “Crowbar”?
Yes and that went down so well last night we played it twice!

I really hope you do that again.
We played it back to back, it was funny!

When I first heard that, I though oh this is a really nice song but when I listened to the lyrics I thought oh that’s a little bit down but when I read the lyrics properly I thought actually it’s empowerment.
It’s exactly that and the whole album is like, on a first glance it can be quite brutal, or quite bleak. It’s about a particularly bad couple of years of my life which just ended recently. What I hope people leave with is that’s it’s a hopeful record, it’s about having hope and knowing that whether you’re living through sun or sorrow it all passes and there’s something new tomorrow and we don’t know what that’s gonna be. It’s the hope of knowing that as long as you can take what you need from your present moment then that’s really all you can ask for in life. Because the past is gone. You can’t be changing it and the future is completely unknown. We can make all the plans we want but even if we follow those plans step by step, when we get there the situation might feel very differently.

It’s having the confidence to know that now is temporary isn’t it?

That’s quite a grown-up thing to learn.
Yeah it is, that’s taken me a long time and I’ve finally come to term with that now and I’m trying to instil that knowledge in young people now because where you are young everything feels permanent.

It’s all so dramatic isn’t it?
It is and nothing feels temporary, days feel like they go on for years.

It feels like you’re the only one as well.
Exactly, you feel like this immense sense of loneliness and if you’re going through something that is painful it feels like it will never end. I’m trying to show that I’m living proof that it does end and there is a better place, you just need to be patient and try and understand that sometimes it’s going to hurt along the way.

So you’re in a better place now?
I’m in a better place yeah, it’s tough because life changes all the time, constantly. I’m in the best place I’ve been for a long time which is all I can ask for right now.

I want to ask you about the album but there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to ask you. I’ve seen you many times, I saw you crowd surf over the Reading Festival crowd and disappear out of the tent! Something you always say is this is a safe environment for women, you wanna crowd surf this is the time for you to do it.  And it’s becoming more spoken about the fact that women are not always safe at gigs. Young girls are getting molested, pushed around but they don’t have that voice to actually do anything about it. I don’t know what the answer is to that and I know that’s something that concerns you.
Yeah greatly.

By you highlighting it that’s great. A band I know were playing in London a few months ago and they stopped the gig when they saw some girls in trouble. Another band said to me they didn’t know if they’d be brave enough to do that.
Oh you absolutely have to be brave enough to do that. We have a platform and we have a responsibility, not only to the fans but to ourselves and to our families. If I saw that in the street I’d step in. If I see that at my gig I’m 100%, unreservedly going to stop and make sure that everybody’s okay. Unfortunately I’m ultimately like, that kind of ends me with me, the buck stops with me at my gigs. It’s my name, that’s why we’re here , there’s crew, there’s staff, there’s everybody around  but if a fan is having a bad time  and they’ve come to see me  and so they wouldn’t be having that  bad time  if it wasn’t for me ultimately. I have an opportunity to change that and make sure that they have a better time so if you’re in a band and you see someone having a bad time you have a responsibility to yourself and to that person to stop it and change it and it doesn’t take much. Like bravery doesn’t even come into it. I’m not been brave I’m just being fair. It’s the right thing to do. We’ve stopped many gigs because we’ve seen people, men and women, in trouble, it’s not always about assaults, sometimes people can fall over and can’t get up. Sometimes people can’t breathe. It’s about understanding that we’re all in this together and ultimately it’s about having a good time. We come because we love music and we want to be entertained, we want to be free from the pain and suffering we feel in our daily lives. The boredom, the monotony, the anxiety or whatever we’re going through we need a break from that for a moment and the way to do that is to come to a gig. What a tragedy if you come to a gig and you have a worse night than you would at home.

And that stays with you.
That’s why we started this. We spoke to people and there was a girl on tour who was singing every single word at one of my gigs and I could see that she wanted to stage dive and she didn’t all night. At the end of the gig I asked her, I said “you know every fucking word, you’ve been singing more  passionately than all the men in the audience  and I could see you  kept wanting to pull yourself  on the stage  so why didn’t you? That was your moment” and she said “honestly I’m scared that if I do that I’m going to get assaulted” and I was like oh my god, fuck!

And I bet that was something that would never have occurred to you?
Never because why would it?  I’m a white, middle class male. I’m been firmly entrenched in a patriarchal society for the entirely of my life, I’ve never even questioned that it existed because I’ve never been affected by anything like that. That doesn’t happen to me. I can dive in a crowd and no-one will touch me like that. It became then something that was quite sinister and insiduous and it really made be quite upset to be honest and I realised that I had to do something. That in conjunction with having a daughter and seeing the differences in the ways that people coach her and treat her. She’s 4 and even people that have her best interests at heart and care about her still treat her differently to her male counterparts and I was thinking well this is already like a problem to me.  I was down the park once with her and she wanted to play football with this little boy and the little boy’s dad took the ball off him and said “football’s a man’s game” and I took the ball off him and was like “no, football’s for everyone” and rolled it to my daughter. He said “it’s my ball” and I said “she’ll have it back in a minute”! This was my little girl. We’re not gonna teach her that this is … maybe I didn’t deal with that situation the way I should of but I was so enraged. Like who the fuck do you think you are to tell my daughter she can’t play football. She’s probably a better footballer than your son cos she’s engaged and honestly she was so stoked. They were playing and I was like “right, you and me are gonna have a chat” and we sat on a bench and I was trying to  explain the fucking complications of the patriarchy to him and at the end of it he was just like “I just wanted to play football with my son down the park”!! I didn’t mean to do that but it’s like stepping in when you feel like you can and so like for me what really hit home was thinking fuck if she’s been treated differently now when she’s 4 what's going to happen in the future!  I have an opportunity now, if you want to think about change you really should think about it in decades so I now have a decade in order to exact some change so that when she’s 14 she should be able to go to gigs, rock gigs particularly because that’s the field that I’m in  and I’ve got now 10 years of talking to  potentially hundreds of thousands of  people and saying what I feel  about the quality and safe space for everybody. It’s not just for women  it’s for everybody. So that will seep slowly into the minds of people and they’ll start thinking about their actions. The real key problem here is anonymity and accountability cos it’s so easy for people to just disappear into a crowd.
And it’s so hard to raise the fact that it’s been done. If something happens there’s the ‘did that really happen to me’! Surely that can’t have happened to me’. Then is happens again and it’s ‘it did happen to me, what do I do’. You can’t shout, there’s no point, you can’t raise your hand, you’re a little girl. And then this person disappears into the crowd.
And you’re left then with the trauma that is entirely your own.  And you have to re-live that pain and that suffering and the confusion of ‘why am I not able to just stand in the crowd and exist.

Exactly and the next time you go you’re going to go to the back for a start, you’re not going to go near the front.
Exactly, and we’re trying to change that systematically, every gig  and provide a safe space in one song  for women only to crowd surf  where they can be treated with respect  and then there’s the knowledge that okay, I’ve had one positive experience, the taboo is broken, the fear is broken, I can do this and I won’t get assaulted.  And that’s not the case at every gig, it won’t be. But what will happen is if you’ve gone to a Rattlesnakes’ gig with your friends and 2 or 3 of you have crowd surfed (and there’s a safety in numbers)  and an empowerment where you all suddenly understand that this is fucking important to me! I care about this and I want the freedom to do this. And that’s what it’s ultimately about. It’s about the different values of freedom in genders and that has to end and that’s what we have to stop. Everyone should be free to enjoy a gig in any way they want. It’s a very complicated, multi-layered problem but it starts with is the fact that like no-one should feel isolated at a gig and have a problem that they have to take home on their own. And actually, although what you said is true to an extent, I have the best view in the house and I’m very aware of what’s happening and I can see. I’m very engaged with our fans on a level  where I don’t think they even recognise a lot of the time so, to your readers/listeners whatever, if you have a problem at our gig all you have to do is  raise your hand because  honestly if you’re stood  in a crowd with your hand up  like, can I talk,  then someone is going to go something’s not right here! Are you okay? And it’s not usually me, usually we see that stuff before it becomes a problem and can step in before it becomes out of control but I don’t always see it.

That’s good to hear and everything does change when you have children doesn’t it and you start to look much further ahead.
Yeah drastically, it’s all about what they’re inheriting, you become, for the first time in your life, truly (well not entirely) you start understanding what it is to be selfless and as much as I’m quite a selfish person for the first time there’s an awareness of it. So for now it’s about what she’s inheriting and for me it’s about things I can definitely change. I can change the feel of rock that she’ll inherit so that when she’s 14 if she wants to go to a gig  and stage dive (she probably won’t because her dad’s a rockstar and she’ll be like “I listen to dance music”) but the hope is that she has a landscape that is different and you know what my real hope it that it doesn’t even have to be a conversation about  it, it just exists. That’s the goal. For it to not be talked about anymore because it doesn’t happen. That’s what we’re trying for and 10 years is really optimistic but 20 I think is really doable. I’ve got definitely 20 more years in me.

I think you’ve definitely got more that that. If I can see you at Reading in 25 /30 years still crowd surfing  over and disappearing out the back  that would be amazing!

So the album, how does the writing work do you start with the lyrics and then the music comes from Dean and the band?
Well just Dean really. I write lyrics on my own and he writes music on his own and then we get together over a cup of tea and he will just play for me, everything he’s got back to back and something will strike that I will like, usually the first thing he plays. We’re very in tune so I’ll just start rolling slowly through the lyrics I have in my head and on my phone until I find a rhythm of what works and the songs happen. Usually when we’re writing and suffering we reserve Tuesdays. We have a studio that we share, he has a design studio upstairs I have an art studio downstairs and we’ve got a little lounge area where we write music so on Tuesdays we kick everyone else out of the studios and it’s just our building for the day. We have a cup of tea and he would just play and I would sing and we had a goal of getting one song every week and some weeks we got 1 song. Other days we got 3 or 4 so we did really well.

How difficult was it for you to choose what songs go on the album?
It was a fucking nightmare, really hard.

Is that choice yours, completely yours?
Yeah, it is, ultimately it comes down to what Dean and I want. We have like a record label, it’s our own, and we have a label services company and a management team and a producer and everyone has their own idea of what their favourite song it and wants to make sure that’s on the album. Some just aren’t right, once you start hearing the album as a body of work some are just like moody, dark. If you think about it in colours they’ll be like blacks and purples and deep reds and others are fucking fluorescent pink and it’s just like they’re beautiful and they work really well together but we’ve got 80% purples and velvets and soft colours and then we’ve got 2 that are fucking luminescent! What the hell do we do with them! Maybe it’s just not their time and that happens multiple times, ‘Wild Flowers’ was one of our first songs from the 2nd album. We wrote that at the same time we wrote  ‘Blossom’ (first album)  but we knew it was too much, very poppy, let’s hold it and we’ll put it on  album 2. On album 2 there was a song  that we wrote that was just wildly out there and in the end  it just disappeared, we knew it wasn’t the right time  and even with this there was a song we wrote in the studio  and everyone was super- excited, the newest version of Rattlesnakes and I was like “it’s not going to make the cut, sorry guys” and they were like “why are you doing this!” I have a vision and lyrically the content might not be right. We had a very important message for ‘End Of Suffering’ to convey and it was important to me that we didn’t tread on that.

Do you ever play those songs anywhere? The songs that don’t make it onto an album or do they not fit into the setlist in the same way they didn’t fit the album?
They never really get an outing until we know where they’re going to exist. The reason is that once you’ve played a song live it’s out in the world. Technology is so advanced now that you get really good sound video recording of it and then it’s on YouTube within hours and that is the first way people are going to hear those songs.  We’re aware that a lot of that is going to happen on this tour but the whole point of it was to challenge ourselves on what we do and more importantly we’re just desperate for people to hear the album. By the time it comes out you will have heard 4 or 5 songs from it. We hope that some of those songs will connect with people and then over the  summer, that’s when they get the rest of the album (out 3rd May). That way they can take the rest of the album in and it can sit and breathe in people and it can exist in their lives for a little while, An album’s organic it has a symbiotic relation with anyone that hears it, it lives with them differently to how it lives with me because the songs will mean different things to everybody. The only way that succeeds is for people to have time and when you play a song live it has a totally different energy, sometimes it feels like a different beast to what you intended.

It’s like sometimes when I hear an album and the tracks don’t really do anything for me but then I’ll  hear them live and go back to the album  and it sounds different.
Exactly and that’s it, our manager said you cannot play new songs on this tour and I was I like we’re obviously going to! So he said okay just 2 maybe 3 and I said cool, yeah, deal and then we turned up last night and he was like there’s 5 on the setlist!  Yeah there is, sorry mate it’s too late now! But in the end he was like “great shout”!

Festivals, what’s your favourite?
My favourite festival is Reading and Leeds, it just is. It’s nostalgic. I mean we’ve played amazing festivals all over the world, Glastonbury, Download, all over Europe, America, Australia. I’m very lucky with what I do. I really believe that I got to play all those festivals because of some of the times I had at Reading when I was a kid. That was my festival to go to. I finished my GCSEs, got my results, they were good enough for my mum to buy me a ticket but that was my real education. I saw Slipknot and Rage Against The Machine, Deftones  and everyone that I loved. It lived in me I could not escape then, I was hooked. I was 16 then and it changed everything for me. All I wanted to do was be in a band  and then when I realised that I couldn’t really sing, this was a long time ago,  all I wanted to do was be a tattoo artist. And then I found my voice again thank God and I realised that I love tattooing and I love music but if I really had to do one thing for the rest of my life it would be music. Without that I feel hollow and empty.

The only trouble is with music is that’s it’s such a high but with every high there’s a low. It must be the same playing these big stages with adoring crowds?
Yeah it’s crushing, a major collapse. At the end of every tour it’s difficult to process because the highs you experience on stage, and it’s not human, it’s removed from reality  so yeah it’s hard  work. There’s songs on the album about it “when I’m high I’m in heaven  and when I’m low I’m in hell”. That’s not just about drugs we get high off any situation like pure adrenaline. Some people are addicted to going to the gym or running  and the endorphines that are released. If you injure yourself and can’t run you get incredibly depressed. It’s about this balance but the whole record I think is about understanding finally that there are ups and there are downs in your life, you cannot allow yourself to be defined by either because they don’t exist. It’s all ethereal and it all makes up this constant  which is just  life. It’s a fucking journey, you have to have both. You can’t just have a life of one because you just won’t survive. If you have a life of only ups then the minute you have a down you’re gone. If you have a life of down  you never believe there’s  an up and so you’re gone. It’s about understanding it all comes and it all goes.
It’s too easy though to think that everyone else has got it sorted. That’s it’s just you. People see others posting. amazing things, having a brilliant time and they feel like crap!
And they measure themselves. It’s terrifying to think that for the first time in my life my friendships  and status is quantified in numbers. I used to quantify that in experience but now it just boils down to data. I’m pretty sure we were warned about this in ‘The Matrix’!  But we didn’t listen!  

My daughter’s 4 and I try and keep her away from iPADS and stuff but she is completely adept at YouTube! At that age they want to learn. The world is still magic at that age, she believes in Santa and unicorns ….!!

Thanks to Frank who spoke to us ahead of the Rattlesnakes’ second gig on the tour in Portsmouth. The new album ‘End Of Suffering’ is released on 3rd May 2019.

Interview and photos by Rhona Murphy