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September 2019
Feature

Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes are on a mission: "A revolution starts with a big fucking change"

Frank Carter has been through a lot, but as he returns with his Rattlesnakes for new album ‘End of Suffering’, he’s more than up for the fight.
Published: 2:00 pm, May 03, 2019Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes are on a mission: "A revolution starts with a big fucking change"

Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes are a band of big change. At the start of 2015, they simply didn't exist; by the end of 2017, they'd sold out Brixton Academy - but they were far from settled.

2018 saw their Summer Of Snakes take things even further, sharing stadiums with Foo Fighters, stages with Prophets of Rage and generally causing a big ol' ruckus wherever they went. It was all a warm-up for what comes next.

From Glastonbury to Download, their carnival of chaos has turned heads and won hearts while their fuse-lighting anthems of trust, lust and honesty have taken hold. The Rattlesnakes have grown from a band you need to see live, to the sort of band people live by.

Their debut album ‘Blossom' came out swinging, determined to prove that Frank still had the fight, energy and hunger to carry a band while ‘Modern Ruin' shimmered with the belief that The Rattlesnakes were so much more than another hardcore band. There was plenty of prove.

"We were trying to show that we were a viable option. It's tough because it's rare to get a chance in the music industry, and I've had three," offers Frank, nodding to his past in Gallows and Pure Love.

"It gets harder, it doesn't get easier. People want mystery and the minute they think they've worked you out they get bored, unless you've got great songs.

"When I was younger, the idea was that if our live performance was better than anyone else, then we would stand the test of time. There is a truth to that but really, what do you want to be remembered for; being crazy live or writing songs that make a difference?" Frank asks. The answer can be found in every moment of third album ‘End Of Suffering'.

Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes are on a mission: "A revolution starts with a big fucking change"
“What do you want to be remembered for; being crazy live or writing songs that make a difference?”
Frank Carter

The Rattlesnakes have never really had a breakout moment. There's not a song, not a live show, that's changed their trajectory. Far from a fairytale, they've pulled themselves up and built the community that surrounds them gig by gig. It means that every person matters.

"They care because we care. Your fans can see when you're giving everything to something. They see that we're not trying to rip anyone off. We certainly don't feel like it's owed to us. There's no entitlement to our band, no sense of privilege; we just work fucking hard for this."

From the outside, their journey from tattoo shops and toilet venues to main stages and academies seems staggeringly fast, "but on the inside, it was really gradual," smiles co-songwriter Dean Richardson. "The crowds just slowly got bigger. What I didn't expect was how much I'd enjoy those big shows.

"I always thought what we did was meant to be for smaller rooms, but it got more powerful, the bigger the shows got," he explains, before turning to Frank. "I don't think you did [expect it to get this big].

"I wanted it to," Frank grins. "When you start a band, you never think about the potential. You start a band because you have an immediate need to create something. Success in art is a futile thing; it's a false economy because it can all collapse at any moment."

Frank knows a thing or two about endings.

"But when this band started to work, obviously you then want it to be the biggest band in the world. I'd be a liar if I said otherwise. But we will write the songs that we want to write, always. We will write the songs that we think are important; we won't change the sound to try and tick boxes."

After a relentless few years where the band didn't stop or come up for air, they disappeared for four months: no live shows, no new music. Well, you know what they say about absence. Their return bundled all the excitement of the past few years together and focused it.

"Our fan base feels very awake for the first time," starts a beaming Frank. "They've always been incredibly supportive, but I've never seen this sort of engagement before; they're talking to me every day, and that's a really nice thing.

"I try to speak to as many people as I can. The thing I'm most excited about is the change in energy; it's been intense. I feel like we're really giving people power at a time where they feel quite helpless."

‘End Of Suffering' comes from the Buddhist translation for enlightenment.

"I love that you can take the word enlightenment, which is all about achieving the highest state of consciousness and rephrase it with these hard, savage sounding words. This album wouldn't be the same if we just called it ‘Enlightenment'. It's the end of suffering, but ultimately it's a beautiful thing. It's a really nice way of saying things can get better."

Rather than focusing on that destination , the band felt it was important to "acknowledge the battle and the journey."

"'Blossom' was just about sadness and not knowing what to do with it. ‘Modern Ruin' was about ruin, destruction and nihilism. ‘The End Of Suffering' is about hope, it really is. It's about knowing nothing is forever and that things don't have to stay bad. It's also about the immense amount of energy that sometimes is needed to change those bad situations," promises Frank.

The Rattlesnakes' third record takes that big open space they've carved out for themselves and gets vulnerable within it. It doesn't sound like a band writing stadium rock songs in a bid to take the next, next step. It's never a deliberate soundtrack to a chaotic live show.

Instead ‘End Of Suffering' goes further. It digs deeper. A rich, considered burst of colour, command and care, it sees Frank tell the story of his past two years.

"It's not just me that's been having a hard time, everyone in the world is. It's a difficult time, but personally, I went through a lot of change that I wasn't prepared for. I made a lot of mistakes, kept repeating some of those mistakes, and I just caused a lot of fucking pain and suffering to myself and a lot of people around me.

"It took a lot of energy to drag myself out of that, and it wouldn't have been possible without the group of people around me, like Dean. He kept me alive."

What started as a solo project has turned into something a lot more collaborative over the past few years. Dean and Frank are now partners in crime, best friends and lifelines.

"We're coming into the spring of our relationship, we've made it through the winter, and now everything is, no pun intended, starting to blossom," starts Frank.

"We've definitely done the list of all the things that you shouldn't do though. Let's move in together, let's get a studio together, let's get a flat right next to it."

"It's like we're trying to test it. What else can we do to put even more pressure on?" adds Dean.

"We were worried because we'd written all of our previous albums in my studio at home in Hertfordshire. When I got divorced, I lost that studio."

The unknown was scary; they started trying to write in hotel rooms before they found the studio they're sat in today.

"We realised as long as he's there with the guitar and I'm there with my voice, we can write a song."

They cleared everyone else out and started writing.

"Once we learned we could be around each other all the time, it's just chill," continues Frank. "We're closer, talking a lot more and writing all the time. For the first time we have confidence in each other to say no, so our critique of the songs has been exact and very brutal whereas before, a few have slipped through the net.

"People are so scared of saying no because they don't want to embarrass themselves or offend anyone else. We have no problem challenging each other on really difficult things. If you don't have someone like that in your life, you can relive a lot of your bad behaviour, and that trickles out in songwriting as well.

"Once you become relaxed in a relationship with someone then, that's where the true honesty can come out."

There were moments when Dean had to ask Frank if he was ok because he could tell there'd been a change.

"There was a defeat in me for a long time. I'd given up on a lot of things, but the one thing I'd given up on the most was hating myself. I'd just accepted it. I'd stopped fighting. The past few years have been a transition, and the album is about that transition. It's about that journey that you have from the dark place into, hopefully, the light.

"It is fucking painful, and it's really savage, and at times it feels like it's never going to end, but it does. It will get better. Ultimately, it's a redemption album. It's about how, at your very worst, you wanna give up but you really fucking shouldn't because life is a wonderful thing, innit?"

"It's funny," he continues. "There have also been moments of pure beauty and joy. My daughter, she's getting older, and she's really coming into herself. She's four, and she's got a proper personality. She's hilarious to speak to; she sings all the fucking songs now," which is dangerous.

"I got called into nursery the other day because she was swearing, and she blamed me! She said, ‘Daddy's songs have swear words in'."

There's still a lot of love on the record, but it is not always beautiful because, "it's not, is it?" muses Frank. "Love is an amazing, powerful emotion, but it can ruin people's lives. It's not always the way it's portrayed in the movies. We think it's the end game; we think we need to find someone to love because that's what we're lacking, but the reality is, if you find the wrong person, it's dangerous.

"That's what the first song on the album is about. ‘Why A Butterfly Can't Love A Spider' is about that toxic love a lot of people find themselves in, and they cannot escape from it. There is a lot of love on the record, the good parts, the exciting parts and the terrifying parts where you need to check yourself, and I tried to write about it all honestly."

Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes are on a mission: "A revolution starts with a big fucking change"
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes are on a mission: "A revolution starts with a big fucking change"
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes are on a mission: "A revolution starts with a big fucking change"
“I feel like we're really giving people power at a time where they feel quite helpless”
Frank Carter

Frank Carter has an open-door policy with this band; the music is for whoever wants it, and it's always offered something. Despite the much bigger audience, ‘End Of Suffering' doesn't shy away from that connection. Instead, it's emboldened it.

"I used to just write deep in the labyrinth of metaphor," says Frank. "I wanted to find interesting ways to say what I was trying to say,, but this time around, I just fucking said it. ‘Hey, guess what? You can do this, and you won't die.'. This is the most honest look I've ever taken at myself."

It's why the record sounds the way it does.

"We tried to be restrained at times," offers Dean. "We talked a lot about giving space to what we were saying. Our instinct is to try and deliver everything at full, but often you won't hear it as well. If you just pull it back a little bit, there's more space for everything. You can hear what Frank's actually saying, and it's not a sonic onslaught."

Instead of being attacked by the record, ‘End of Suffering' has an ebb and a flow.

"It's more immersive. You can feel yourself inside it," starts Dean, as Frank reasons: "That's how all the best records are. They are records that allow you to live and breathe within them, rather than trying to force it down your fucking throat."

In the studio, they made sure that no two things were ever doing the same thing. It gives the record this dynamic swing.

"It's this wall of sound that envelopes you and that you feel safe within while you're also having to do this enormous amount of internal searching. It's like here's this safety blanket, good luck!"

"I'm beyond proud of this record," continues Frank. "Lyrically, it's my best work for definite, and I've given a performance that I could only have dreamt of giving a few years ago."

As an introduction to the band, Frank would usually flip between ‘Blossom' and ‘Modern Ruin' depending on how he was feeling that day.

"Now, I'd just give them this album because it sums up perfectly who we are."

Those first two Rattlesnakes' albums were defined by anger.

"I would just explode, and you can hear that. My anger was always directed at other people. [But on ‘End Of Suffering'] the anger is there but it's much more internal."

The other day someone spoke to Frank about their love of ‘Thunder', ‘Paradise' and how he questions war in society. They wanted to know if there are themes like that on this new album.

"No," came the answer. "It's about the war against myself. There is no way to sugar coat that. It's still about war; it's just a lot more personal. The second you start trying to hide behind metaphors, it takes all of the power away."

Owning up to your own mistakes it tough. Putting them across an album for all to see, that's something else entirely.

"There was a lot of consideration about what went in lyrically; it's not naive, I've tried not to be ignorant. I have a responsibility, I have a platform, I've always tried to use my platform to ask different questions, you know? To find the words for situations that other people cannot find the words for.

"I've always tried to selfishly help myself but also help other people at the same time because there a lot of other people out there in the same situation as me but they can't tear themselves open the same way that I do. I consider myself an explorer. I properly go into myself and take it as far as I can, while leaving enough so I can come back."

‘End of Suffering' is a diary of the last two years: all the questions, all the doubt, all the discovery.

"It's very honest in ways I've never been before. Hopefully, people can see the transition of it. I'm in quite a good place now, and there were a lot of times where I didn't think that'd ever be possible."

The most hopeless moment on ‘End of Suffering' is ‘Angel Wings'. If the record is a journey, that song is the start.

"That was the lowest point for sure," starts Frank, before wrestling with himself about how to explain it and how much he wants to give away. "I was in a really bad place, and I was struggling with coming to terms with who I was, and I couldn't make sense of it at all. I kept making the same mistake, which was quite a serious chemical dependency that crept up on me out of nowhere. I've never taken drugs really in my life."

But after an on-tour ear injury kept causing him to experience vertigo, Frank started worrying about his upcoming flight to Australia.

"I was panicked about the pressure of a long haul flight. I was terrified that I'd have a serious bout of vertigo on the plane where I couldn't escape, so I was given prescription meds, and then the rest is history basically.

"I wouldn't take them all the time, but I would take them the way that you're not supposed to. That combined with severe self-loathing, severe self-hatred and severe self-doubt was just a fucking perfect storm. Luckily, like with all storms, it passed. I got fucking wet and struck by lightning a few times, but I didn't drown, which is good.

"It's a particularly bleak moment on the record, but there is more after it. You have to understand that the entire record was written after that song. Here is a moment in my life where I did not believe I could go any further and then we went as far as you can go.

"All the way through the record, there are moments of hope, and that is what life is. You don't just suddenly get to a state where everything's fucking better. It's about using those moments of hope to carry yourself through and to know that there is a better place, there is always a better place ahead."

Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes are on a mission: "A revolution starts with a big fucking change"
"I made a lot of mistakes, and I caused a lot of fucking pain and suffering"
Frank Carter

Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes know those better places don't always come easy. You have to fight, work and struggle for them. It's why they're determined to encourage their audience to be better. Despite the ever-growing size, the band never feel out of control.

"There's no pressure, just excitement now," says Frank. "You hope your band gets bigger, you hope your audience grows, and more people are listening to what you're saying, but we've only ever been able to do that through being honest with ourselves, who we are and what we want to write about.

"We kept doing that, and now more people are coming, and they're paying attention. There's more responsibility, but it's not something we've ever been scared of. That's what we're best at. Give us people, and we will be fucking clear with them about how we think it's best to live our lives, which is open and honest while questioning the bad parts of yourself and trying to change them."

The Rattlesnakes are for anyone, but they've really connected with a young, male audience thanks to Frank's openness about mental health, self-acceptance and self-exploration online.

"It's scary to think they don't have a lot of other artists that are talking about it," begins Dean, before Frank explains: "I'm excited and proud that I have the opportunity to do that for people. I hope more young male artists spend more time focusing on themselves, questioning their actions and their behaviours and I hope we continue to give space to female artists to talk about the same situations as well.

"At the minute, it can feel like we're in direct competition because the patriarchy is beginning to feel like it's lost a leg, it's down on one knee and with that comes a scary amount of defensiveness. We need everyone to be on a similar page.

"Bell Hooks wrote an amazing book, The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity and Love. I would suggest everyone reads it but ultimately she's saying that there's this idea that men are helpless and can't be helped, but really we are all needed, we are all important but what men need is a lot of help.

"We need more help than we admit. We need to be taught how to love and how to nurture, more than we need space to fight and rage. For me, what I'm sharing online now is a lot more considered, and I'm trying to remove the violence from what I put out into the world.

"I've said it before onstage, that there's a lot of strength in vulnerability, but maybe I wasn't acting upon that until now. Now I'm actively trying to change the energy I put out into the world and show people you can be strong, and it can mean different things. You don't have to measure strength in how much damage you can cause.

"A lot of times men are measured by their threat level. I really want to change that. Being a strong alpha male who can hunt and hurt is glamourised and celebrated, but it's 2019. I want us to be measured on the good we can do in the world."

The Rattlesnakes have made it a point in their shows to promote a safe and respectful environment, too.

"What I want more than anything is for people to come to our shows and feel like family," says Frank. "I want people to be among the crowd and know that everyone there is with them, I want them to know there's not a single person there who has a problem with you.

"It doesn't matter how you look, what you wear, what music you listen to, what your sexual preference is. Your race, your religion, your age; it doesn't fucking matter. You're here because you like our band, and we love you.

"We just want you to enjoy these songs. We want these songs to make a difference to your life so you can go and be better humans. Ultimately a revolution starts with a big fucking change, and that's what we're trying to do." 

Taken from the March issue of Upset. Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes' album 'End of Suffering' is out now.

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