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Frank Carter doesn’t remember headlining June’s Download Pilot. He can recall everything around it: unexpectedly getting the call asking if The Rattlesnakes would play (“A video chat popped up with everyone on it – I thought something really bad had happened”). He remembers rehearsing, getting there, feeling charged-up, celebrating afterwards. He knew that, having had it taken away from him for almost two years, “I was going to enjoy every fucking second of it.” But when it comes to what actually happened during the gig? Not a sausage.
“I just went full red mist,” he says. “I went into it so confident. I was like, ‘I’ve got this, I'm about to show these fuckers what's up. I'm back.’ And I don't remember any of it. Literally, [it’s] blacked out.
“I went into creature mode and just fucking did what I do. When I was in the dressing room afterwards everyone was saying, ‘That was fucking great.’ I just went, ‘Okay, good… Did I kill anyone?’”
Neither Frank nor guitarist and wingman Dean Richardson might be able to tell you what they did onstage that night, but they both know what happened. It wasn’t by accident that The Rattlesnakes were picked to headline the Friday, either. Where Saturday saw a magnificent display from Enter Shikari that balanced dazzling spectacle and energetic release with an enormous heart, and Bullet For My Valentine’s longstanding expertise as arena smashers closed things on Sunday, 15 months without seeing a band meant the first night needed something more visceral. More violent. More Frank.
“That was probably the greatest headline festival slot we could have had as our first one,” he laughs. “I knew it was gonna be great. I think they wanted someone who’d, after all that time, give people a slap. And not just a metaphorical one: I was like, ‘I might actually have to go down there and headbutt people.’”
He didn’t. But one thing Dean does remember is realising quite what a blunt instrument his band actually are. Moreover, that anything played by The Rattlesnakes is going to bite like one, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
“I thought it was our music that made us like that live,” he says. “And then we played some of the slightly softer-leaning ones, and I saw how we were delivering it. I realised, ‘Oh… we're the headbutt.’”
Even The Rattlesnakes’ new album, Sticky, a record Frank says was purposefully written to be “fun”, comes at you hard. It is fun – joyous, even – but it’s fun like getting knocked about in a pit, or doing something wildly irresponsible. Dean points to the rough and tumble of his days as a rugby player to comparison. Frank also says he realises now, with hindsight, quite how dark and aggressive it actually is at times.
And in all of this, not being able to play live made The Rattlesnakes realise how much they need to play live. Because no matter what you try to fill that hole with, for Frank and Dean, becoming that person, that “creature”, is actually a very necessary part of being a human being.
“Fun is what was taken away from us,” says Frank. “We lost mosh-pits. We lost clubs, we lost the chance to dance. I never knew how much I literally needed all of that stuff.
“I physically need it.”
Today, we join Frank and Dean in Rose Of Mercy, the East London tattoo studio owned by the singer. In the front of the shop, an agreeable mix of Metallica and Led Zeppelin blast out, as Dean shows off his new My Town tattoo, inked in honour of the first single from Sticky, for Kerrang!’s camera.
The song is a good example of what Frank means when he says he leaned into a sense of fun while writing the album, but that there’s something less pleasant underneath. Surging along on an energetic pulse and raucous, shout-along chorus, lyrically it’s dark, dealing with what he calls the “degradation” he saw over lockdown, and how people were all “sinking” without being able to come together to talk about what was happening in a caring way. When it’s remarked that even the word ‘Sticky’ brings to mind both something colourful and crazy, but also something unpleasant you want to wash off, Frank nods in agreement. “Unpleasant fun.”
“I definitely saw the collective mental health take a turn for the worse,” he says. “I was like, ‘How do I comment on this, while I'm also being affected by it?’ I don't know if I'm ever the right spokesperson, but I just had to find the words and talk about it. Watching it while you're in it, for me, it felt like the safest place to talk about it. A lot of time I write about things after they've happened – I was experiencing this as it was all happening.
“I was like, ‘Man, what do I miss? What do I need? What, like… what is happening? How do I actually just fucking see that happen?’ I think that's why I was so desperately trying to make it a fun record, because it was not a fucking fun time.
“I often look for what's missing in my life, and that's what I'm writing about, and fun was definitely gone,” Frank continues. “Everyone was down, there was all this dread. We're really dragging the lake to try to fucking find any joy in life. And that’s what I told people: it’s a fun record. But then the other day I listened to and I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, what the hell? Where is it?’ Maybe I just confused fun with energy, because it is fast and it's unrelenting and it's aggressive as fuck in places. It’s probably the most aggressive record we've ever made.”
The pandemic also provided some perspective to problems Frank was having in his life, as it did to everyone. But though it made any issues look smaller, he soon found it also didn’t solve them.
“All of those problems that we had suddenly felt really paltry in comparison to what was going on,” he says. “And yet I was still fucking single. I was like, ‘Well, this still hurts. This is still a problem in my fucking life that I'm having to deal with every day. I can't get this shit right, you know?' How are you supposed to be on the dating app when you're in a global pandemic? And I’m co-parenting as well, which is hard, because you might have different views on what is and isn't acceptable on where to take your daughter or not.”
Though the pandemic didn’t happen in a vacuum, the isolation and loneliness it instilled did make people feel as though they were living in one. Without human contact on a basic level, the worries and fears and dark thoughts have more of a chance to oscillate in the head, rather than being defused. It’s hard to have a Blitz spirit when you’re not allowed to find strength in numbers. Instead, weeds grow, and seeds of distrust have been allowed to blossom through separation, even though everyone’s been under the same weight. “People’s mental health,” sighs Frank, “has taken a fucking battering.”
“We're still seeing the trail of destruction,” he adds. “Things happen, and the impact is immediate, but the devastation is cancerous. It grows. Usually, human connection and social interaction are the things that help dissipate that, because you talk and you communicate. Whether you're talking about trauma, whether this has happened to you or not, you're around people that make you laugh and feel better and lighter about life. None of that existed. In order to have any of those moments, you had to really reach out to people and say, ‘Do you want to get on the phone and have a laugh?’ And the hardest thing to do when you're down is to have the energy to reach out and say, ‘I need to fucking talk.’”
Unlike so many, both Frank and Dean were able to lean into distraction. When life stopped for the first lockdown in March last year, Frank had just signed the lease on his tattoo shop (“The fucking worst timing ever”). Even with this almost comical bad luck, things could have been worse. As owner of video production company YUCK, Dean focused on work and getting married, while Frank got busy moving to London, sorting out shop stuff, painting, and “all the other projects I can do”.
“I've never just been a musician,” he explains. “I've always been an artist, or a tattooer, or a writer, or a painter, or whatever. All that time that we had off when I couldn't go anywhere I was making more than I ever have. Which is a beautiful thing.”
Without a calendar, however, there was a lack of deadline, meaning a lack of creative pressure, meaning a lack of direction around which to anchor things…
“The thing about calendars is that gives you direction; you always kind of roughly know the path that you have to navigate,” says Frank. “Suddenly with so much time to be able to focus on new projects, those projects just exploded in my face, in a way where it was a really beautiful moment of experimentation and exploration, but there's no direction, so there's no control. All of a sudden I had this really bizarre amount of chaos in my life that also meant that I was writing, but we were directionless. Even the album for a little while was directionless.”
Even with, according to Dean, 30-odd songs written it was weird, because there was almost no reason to stop working on them.
“All our life was built around touring, everything you did was about doing it in a gap before the next tour,” he says. “After we realised that there was genuinely no end to this, it was just like, ‘Do you want to go back in the studio?’ We had no real limitations to our time, and eventually you feel like you're in more of an abyss.”
Neither man wanted to release the album unless there were gigs to go with it. Plenty of bands have done that, but it is not for them. “What’s a car that doesn’t move?” asks Frank. “Is a bird that doesn’t fly a bird? Is a band that doesn’t play still a band?”
The effect this has had on Sticky is that every song bursts with creativity as much as it wrestles you to the ground – whether you call that ‘fun’, ‘aggressive’, ‘uncaged’, or simply ‘excited’. And the range of guest spots – IDLES’ Joe Talbot, Cassyette, Lynks and Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie – only underline just where The Rattlesnakes can go while still being a right-hook.
“We don't really have a sound; it isn't metal, it's not punk. We can call ourselves a punk band, we can call ourselves as a rock band, but we do a bit of everything,” says Frank. “But whatever it is, it comes at you full force.”
Frank says that, between writing and recording Sticky and now, he’s “turned a corner” with it. He knows what it is now. But the time it’s taken to arrive, time without being able to be the “creature” of onstage, has also seen Frank turn a corner with himself.
Both he and Dean reveal that the time off was needed in one sense – as has been the case for most bands working on such a level – but the singer also says they were “allergic” to the break as well. Dean, meanwhile, admits that having found himself unable to just sit on his arse, he’ll “probably never retire”. When the world began to open up again and music began to have road under its wheels for the first time in 15 months, they both ran to it without thinking. And for Frank, it snapped something into place that hadn’t been sitting quite right for a long time.
“I was like, yeah, that's what I do. That's who I am. And I've not always thought like that,” he admits. “It took a global pandemic for me to realise that I’m pretty good at fucking singing. Was it wearing thin? No, I just never connected to it. I always felt like an imposter.”
“Who knows. Why is anyone unhappy? It's such a deep question. In Gallows, it happened so fast. In Pure Love, I was trying to do something that nobody really wanted me to do, so the connection there was [that] people fought against it, which is quite fun. I had to go out and actually convince people that it was good. And then with Rattlesnakes, I was just doing it for myself, but it wasn't supposed to be anything more than one tour and 10 songs. But now, the minute we saw a path back to music, we were just on it. We were hacking through the jungle, like, ‘Get us to that,’ because that is our purpose.”
Sticky is almost here. In November, The Rattlesnakes will hit the road properly for the first time in two years. Dean is so jazzed for it he wants to just “get in a van, go to the smallest venues in the country” right now. But they’re actually going to some of the biggest venues in the country, in a bus, and they need to wait a bit longer. Because now there is structure and there is an anchor, Frank needs to get ready to meet himself again.
“I'd happily take the whole of October off just to get my head right for November,” he admits. “I really can't afford to like go into that in the wrong way. The show’s just too powerful.
“I'm coming out with a new perspective definitely a new appreciation of life. I'm really hungry to get back out there and properly show the world who the fuck Frank Carter is.”
And who is that?
“Fuck knows! The jury’s still out (laughs). It’s also not for me to decide. All I can all I can give is like is go out and be me – to the fullest extent me. I get told randomly [what people think], I see reviews, but I never listen. Because to know me, you have to be me.”
If you saw The Rattlesnakes at Download Pilot, or their adrenalised secret set at Reading, you’ll have some idea who Frank Carter 2021 is. As ever, the man onstage was a wide-eyed berserker who can terrify and spread love in equal measure, riling you up and exciting you and scaring you with his vein-popping presence to make you really feel something. After 18 months of the mundane and the negative and the fearful, of life with the volume turned down, it is exactly the headbutt you need to start unpacking and processing it all.
Now that he knows where he belongs, he’s even more deadly than ever.
“You take the very fucking thing that you're here to do, and you make sure that no-one can do it for two years… and you’ll feel like you’re in prison,” he explains.
“This is gonna be Rattlesnakes out of prison.”
Sticky is released on October 15 via International Death Cult.
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