Terror zone: Inside the dark new chapter of Carpenter Brut’s album trilogy

As Franck Hueso’s incredible synthwave project Carpenter Brut prepares to drop new album Leather Terror, the artist takes us deep inside his richly-detailed and gloriously dark world…

Terror zone: Inside the dark new chapter of Carpenter Brut’s album trilogy
Paul Travers
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Back in 2018, Carpenter Brut introduced us to Bret Halford, a nerdy science student who reinvented himself as rock star Leather Teeth in order to get the girl of his dreams. That darkly shimmering album of the same name was the first part of a planned trilogy charting Bret’s descent from obsession to murder and beyond. And it’s on brand-new follow-up Leather Terror that things start to get really twisted. The whole arc was envisaged as the audio telling of an ’80s slasher flick that never was. In this imagined time capsule the scene has been set, the characters introduced. And now the bloodletting begins in earnest…

“The first album was set when Bret was younger and still in school,” explains Franck Hueso, the French auteur behind the increasingly popular one-man darksynth project Carpenter Brut. “He was a kind boy in a way, and the first album is more built around cool glam-rock kinds of songs. He grew up, though, and now he’s more adult and ready to take revenge. This is very much a darker album in every way.”

That heart of darkness is not only reflected in lyrics delivered by a talented clutch of high-profile and lesser-known guest vocalists, but it also permeates through the music of Leather Terror. Whether you call it darksynth, synthwave or some other tag, Carpenter Brut remains an entirely electronic musical entity, but Franck’s first love was always metal, and he knows how to transport that sense of aggression and heaviness to his own unique format. Listen to Leather Terror tracks like Straight Outta Hell, The Widow Maker or the chaotic closer and title-track and you’d swear that some of those killer synth riffs were made by heavily distorted guitars.

“I grew up on heavy metal and thrash and death, so it’s my comfort zone,” he says. “I know how to make the sounds when I want a strong, heavy song so it sounds as if it were a metal song. For this album it’s a kind of mix between industrial, electronic and heavy, almost black-ish metal – on the last song, at least. I don’t know, maybe it’s kind of a new genre. I don’t have enough time to think about it, but maybe the press will tell me if it’s a new kind of metal music or just another electronic album with strong synths!”

The trilogy had always been envisaged as a whole arc, and its creator says that he knows how it will end – although the details are still being filled in one album at a time. The musical and narrative details for Leather Terror were painstakingly drawn out across successive lockdowns, when Franck found that he had more time for Carpenter Brut than ever before. The pandemic didn’t affect the tone or storyline of the album, he says, but it did give him the opportunity to reach out to plenty of guest vocalists and musicians.

The impressive line-up includes the likes of former Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato, his Killer Be Killed bandmate and Converge drummer Ben Koller, Johannes Andersson of Tribulation, Ulver, Sylvaine and Parisian singer Persha. “I don’t know if they were all fans, but they had at least heard of Carpenter Brut,” says the man himself in a typically self-deprecating fashion. “I was just lucky that a lot of people were available due to a worldwide pandemic!”

In truth, Carpenter Brut has a lot of celebrity fans. Kristoffer Rygg of Ulver also appeared on the Leather Teeth album and the Norwegian experimentalists brought Franck on board to mix their recent Scary Muzak album – a John Carpenter-inspired horror-synth collection that was right up Carpenter Brut’s dark alley. Meanwhile, Greg Puciato enthused of his collaboration on the track Imaginary Fire: “I’m really proud of this one, happy to cross these musical paths… Lyrically the song is pretty to the point. Two people frustratingly trying to get rid of their fears and their made-up bullshit so they can move forward, together or separate, free of outcome.”

Franck explains that, while he is the musical director, he invites his guests to supply their own lyrics on the basis that his own (perfectly good) English isn’t quite up to scratch. Interestingly, he also reveals that another heavy music legend almost appeared on Imaginary Fire instead. “I previously asked Chino Moreno from Deftones for this one. He was working on the Deftones album so he told me he didn’t have enough time to do it, so I asked Ben Koller if he had a name in mind. I was already thinking of Greg because they were playing together in Killer Be Killed. It was a good way to get his email and – fun fact – we did the whole process with texto [the French term for texting]. No meeting, no Zoom, no FaceTime, only via texto.”

With Leather Terror having such a dark texture, you have to wonder whether the intention was to shock, like the ’80s video nasties that deliberately courted controversy back in the day…

“I think now you don't have to put blood on a cover to shock people. People are naturally shocked by everything today, but my intention is more to have fun,” Franck reveals. “Because I always saw slasher and horror movies as fun movies – you don't have to take it too seriously. I'm not a provocateur. I had some people who were shocked by the video during the live gigs [which spliced together old horror movie footage] because it was a lot of old slasher films and I grew up watching these movies. But sometimes the younger people who didn't grow up with this culture, they are a bit shocked. They say, ‘You promote the rape and murder of girls,’ and I’m like, ‘What?’ It’s complicated. You have to think about everybody when you do something – especially when you are not here to hurt anyone.”

And would Carpenter Brut one day like to see the trilogy made into a film, or is it better left to the mind’s eye?

“It might be better to let people imagine their own movie, but I guess we should start thinking about the actor,” laughs the man behind it all. “I guess Rob Halford is too old, so maybe Timothée Chalamet. It’s somewhere between a Mötley Crüe period piece and a maniac slasher, so it could be fun to make an extravaganza with backstage stories and horror. It would be good to get heavy metal and horror together in a big movie – maybe Steven Spielberg would be okay to do it.”

Now that is something we would love to see…

Carpenter Brut’s new album Leather Terror is due out on April 1

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