Frank Carter: “The impending doom was always in me… I was like, ‘Sh*t, I gotta find something to smile about here!’”
Frank Carter hasn’t been this stationary since he was a teenager. As probably the most commanding and explosive punk frontman of his generation, being ‘onstage Frank’ is almost something he needs to keep himself balanced. A year of pandemic has, therefore, seen him and Rattlesnakes guitarist Dean Richardson taking off more time than they would normally choose to. And while both admit that in time they discovered this has been in some way beneficial – true time off in which they can properly recalibrate – it’s also not been without its challenges.
But then, such has been the case for everyone. And that’s the basis of The Rattlesnakes’ killer new single My Town. In it, Frank talks of seeing the rot slowly setting in around us, as our shared mental health begins to erode, while the video – made by Dean at his YUCK design studio – is a hyperreal model of any English town where rubbish is starting to pile up: something’s wrong, but everyone pretends it’s all fine. And as if the Rattlesnakes’ return needed to get even more boisterous, IDLES frontman Joe Talbot arrives halfway through to add his own rantings.
Even without a stage, then, Frank and Dean are still incendiary. Here, they reveal all about the last year, the new tune, and why they need a good run up to get back on tour. For everyone’s safety…
What are you saying with My Town?
Frank: “I think the idea behind the song is just to take a proper look at the collective mental health of the world. Early indicators usually have a space and an atmosphere, and there’s an energy in and around that space where you can begin to see how people are really feeling. I think what was key for me is I was trying to understand how sometimes we’re so close to the problem that we can’t actually see what’s happening. You see it around you before you see it in yourself. The metaphor is that everybody’s mental health, I think, at certain stages throughout this lockdown, has been collectively in the gutter. And I was I was pitching that as, like, you see that in your town, you start seeing the slow degradation, rubbish being left on the streets, or graffiti going up, or broken windows, and you can see it creeping in. But you’re still living there and you still feel good within yourself, you still feel like you’re not affected by that, but you naturally are. So I think that’s where we’re trying to go.”
It’s got Joe from IDLES on it singing ‘You let your dog shit in the street.’ How did that come about?
Frank: “We’re friends, and I think we’d wanted to do something for a long time. I’ve been fans of IDLES for years and years, and I know that they love us and Gallows. So we just knew it would happen at some point. When it came to this song, it’s not necessarily about anger, but it needed an aggressive front to it. So we thought, ‘What’s better than having one very angry man?’ When we wrote My Town, we thought, ‘There’s a window here in the song that could be good for someone to get on and just trample through it.’ And that’s kind of what we asked him to do. I’m pretty sure the only advice I gave him was, ‘more unhinged’. So yeah, that’s what you got. An unhinged Joe Talbot, rampaging through his town.”
You don’t often see the ‘hinged’ Joe Talbot…
Frank: “Ha! Well, this is the thing: I do. Joe sees the hinged Frank Carter, and I see the hinged Joe Talbot. So for us, we can switch it on and off when we want, but I think also when you’ve got me going, ‘More unhinged!’ that’s when he knows he needs to really push it further.”
Joe Talbot performing at Glastonbury with IDLES in 2019
Has it been important for you to be able to keep busy doing music during lockdown?
Dean: “I think for me, it was vital. I feel like heading into Christmas everyone realised, actually, this wasn’t going to all end with 2020, and I feel like January and February for a lot of people were probably the some of the hardest months of this whole process. And that is just kind of coincidentally where it landed. We were holed up in the studio, so I feel really, really grateful that we had somewhere we could go within the rules of the set-up and make music and be creative. Those were probably some of the hardest months of everyone’s journey through this, mental health-wise. I felt everyday kind of dry. I think that I probably posted on my socials most days, just sort of like, ‘Thank God like that we can still do this.’ Because it’s taken us off tour for… I don’t even want to know how long it’s been now. I know it’s over a year.”
Frank: “For me, since I was like, 16, this is the longest I’ve been in one place. It’s nuts, man. So I think, to mirror Dean’s statement, it literally saved me, multiple times, from very dark place. And we just put all of that into the songs. So while it’s a serious listen in parts, we were also desperately trying to have fun at any point, because the world suddenly felt more serious than it ever had in the past. When there was no impending doom in the past, the impending doom was always me. So I was always looking really introspectively to try and get to the deep and the dark and the problems, because I thought that was my fucking role in the world. And then suddenly, the world is deep and dark, and I was like, ‘Shit, I gotta fucking find something to smile about here! This is crazy!’ And now I think that has been one of the best things to come out of this for Rattlesnakes, because we found a way to write serious records that are fun. And that is probably the greatest lease of life you can ever have, to remind yourself to live every day properly. Granted, there’s a lot of lines about dogs shitting in the street, but it’s still hopeful.”
How have you coped with lockdown in general?
Frank: “It’s been a hard one for me, in the sense that I signed a lease on a tattoo shop in March of 2020 – which was probably the most tremendously awful timing they ever had in my life. But I’ll level with you: I think Rattlesnakes needed a break. I think we needed some time off the road. It’s been really difficult not knowing when it’s going to open, not knowing if we’d ever get music back. But, by the same measure, we were able to really focus on ourselves, our music, and our families, where having the sole focus being on the creation and maintenance of our support networks around us and our other jobs. Dean runs a whole design studio, and without Dean we wouldn’t have graphics, we wouldn’t have videos, we wouldn’t have album art, we wouldn’t have any of it. So, having the time off put on us, and not saying, ‘Here’s an option, do you want to take this time off now?’ I think I think we handled it really, really well.”
Dean: “After we did Ally Pally, I think we were planning to take something like three or four months off, and that felt like almost a bit of a lie. It feels weird to choose not to accept tours or whatever while it’s happening, so we never take enough time off, but now we’ve had to. But we’ve been doing this five years, isn’t it? It’s not going away anytime soon. I think we probably needed more time off than we would have taken.”
Tell us about My Town video. It’s mad-looking…
Frank: “We’ve had a lot of time doing our own things outside of music. So Dean has been working loads, I’ve been drawing loads, we’ve been with families. So our natural, true self aesthetic has been falling out. So when you talk about high-fucking-res, high-contrast images, that’s just pure video games. And that is all I’ve been trying to dump into the world, we’re gonna just inject all of this brightness and fun. But those games can still have a serious element to it, you know? They’re competitive, and they’re dangerous. But if you could sum it up in one word, it would be ‘adrenaline’. We’ve been kept in a cage for so long, so before the door’s even fucking open, we’re out!”
There’s also a lot of people pretending to be happy in it, hiding what they’re really feeling…
Dean: “The thing that I realised halfway through this is that this is the only time in most people’s living memories where we all have a completely shared experience. So, some people will experience depression in their life or anxiety, but not everyone. Whereas I think with this, there’s not a single human on this planet not affected by what’s happening with corona. And yet still with that, people will ask someone how they are, and they’ll go, ‘Yeah, I’m great. How are you?’ And it seems weird. It’s not that there’s no risk of the person on the other end not understanding, and yet, we still can’t actually speak freely. I think that was the kind of idea, that kind of glossy, uncomfortable happiness that is often not actually what you’re seeing.”
Frank: “It’s like part The Sims, part Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and part the insanity of Shutter Island. And then there’s this ‘God Mode’ element, where we’re controlling it, we’ve got the whole fucking world in our hands, but we’ve given that to someone who’s fucking off his face. Like, imagine looking up and seeing your god, and you’re like, ‘That dude has done too much. This is terrible.’ The whole idea of it is that, yeah, we’re all in this shared experience. And it is fucking rattling on at 100 miles an hour. So why would you talk about it like it? What is the right thing to do when you’re in a runaway train? I mean, one thing you could do is talk about the fact that you might come off the rails, or the other thing you could do is notice that you’re still gonna have a nice view in there at some point every now and again. To take that analogy further, for the past year, certain people are wondering when it’s going to crash, and other people are just like, ‘I’m in this now.’ So that’s where we’ve been, we’ve been just trying to focus on what we can do while we’re in this.”
With all this enforced time off and life getting quieter, how are you feeling about eventually returning to gigs again?
Frank: “We got offered some gigs in July, and we never knew whether they would happen or not. And we got offered some gigs in August, and some gigs in September. And I chose September. Yeah, you could put me on tour tomorrow, and I would have a fucking great time, but in three days, I would have been burned out because I haven’t prepared for it mentally. And I would just go probably 1,000 per cent, you know? Whereas September, I can prep. I’m working out and changing my diet. I’m drinking less. And that’s the first time in my life that I’ve never had that. I’ve never had someone go, ‘Right, we’re gonna play a gig next week,’ and felt a little flutter of anxiety. Now I’m like, ‘Hang on, what? I need a bit more warning.’ So I think while I could go on tour tomorrow, it’ll be safer for the world for me not to.”
My Town featuring IDLES’ Joe Talbot is out now
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