The Cover Story

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes: “I’m looking forward to being the band that we’ve always wanted to be”

Good things come to those who wait. For Frank Carter and Dean Richardson, it’s taken the best part of a decade to find the true meaning of The Rattlesnakes, and that deep, human connection between themselves and their art. New album Dark Rainbow is the first fruit of this next era, but as we find out, they’re only just getting started…

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes: “I’m looking forward to being the band that we’ve always wanted to be”
Nick Ruskell
Paul Harries

During his train journey into London to meet Kerrang!, Frank Carter had a realisation. Chugging his way into Camden Town and the stylish offices of The Rattlesnakes’ management, it occurred to him that this cold, wet winter’s day marked 15 months since he got sober.

Over lockdown, the increased lack of connection the times engendered came down hard on the singer. Today, the word he has for the period is “brutal”. While The Rattlesnakes’ last album, 2021’s explosive Sticky was a determined brawl of a record – going harder than they had done for a while to try to feel something again in response to the disconnection of COVID – it didn’t plug the gap. Instead, bad habits began to sidle up to him.

“I've watched a TED Talk about addiction, talking about how the opposite of connection is addiction. And sadly, for me, that's what happened,” he says today. “I got so lost in coping mechanisms that I barely recognised myself.”

Eventually, Frank woke up and realised his indulgences weren’t healthy, and they weren’t helping, either. And so, he sought treatment, and began seeing a therapist, something his Rattlesnake comrade, guitarist Dean Richardson, has also extolled the virtues of. Frank had previously tried this avenue when he wanted to untangle a few things, but didn’t get much from the sessions. This time, though, it actually did something.

“I was in therapy before, but it wasn't effective until I was sober,” he says, leaning back in a sofa. “As soon as I was sober, my therapy became effective. My communication got better. Everything around me got better.”

A year and change on, Frank and Dean are with us today to talk about The Rattlesnakes’ fifth album, Dark Rainbow. Having spent all yesterday filming the video for Self Love – a process that involved arriving at the film studio at an hour of the morning that would make a farmer laugh, and staying until far after bedtime, getting covered in body make-up and having it slowly fade to reveal their tattoos in between – both are exhausted, but still twinkle with hungry energy.

“Yesterday was mental,” Frank smiles, running a hand through his growing mullet. “I’m exhausted, but I think I've been more excited about this tour coming up than any I've ever done. And I don't say that, ever, but this feels different. I'm looking forward to being the band that we've always wanted to be. We're really putting the effort in with every aspect of it, on a really detailed level, thinking about how this is going to shape the shows, the setlists…”

“We spent ages picking out drapes for the stage,” laughs Dean. “There’s like a whole book of them to pick from. We’ve been so picky about it, getting the right one to match.”

“We’ve gone with ‘slate’, if you were wondering,” nods Frank. “It fits best with the album.”

That is, a record with earthy tones and shadowy corners, but from which vibrant colours push through – new shoots at winter’s end. One of the best things about getting sober, Frank says, is that you get your feelings back. One of the bad things?

“You get your feelings back,” he says with a half smile. “I wouldn't say it's easier to process the world, but you can process the world. Ultimately, a coping mechanism is a force or is a means to escape. And I'm not trying to escape anything now. I'm enjoying my life for the first time on level that's so different to me. It's great.”

Sober, sharper and sparking with pride in a record unlike any he and Dean have made in the past, this is Frank Carter 2024. You’ve never heard him like this before.

Slate does indeed match Dark Rainbow’s moody temperature. If the more measured touches and Queens Of The Stone Age-ish vibes are a departure from Sticky, that’s intentional, just as Sticky itself was intentional in its full-pelt energy.

Both men point out that they’ve always been headed in such a direction – “If you imagine this came after [2019 album] End Of Suffering, I'm not sure it would feel like such a change, it would feel more like we've carried on,” says Dean – and it’s worth noting that Frank has long had more colours in his palette than simply bruised purple. But they’ve not been used quite so thoroughly or as articulately as this. And though he’s never been backward in coming forward with what’s on his mind, there’s a marked change in tone here.

“The introspection and the brooding happens when you go inwards,” he says. “When you have that sort of time, for [yourself], you make time for self-awareness, you know, naturally going inward and properly having a look at who you are.

“I was going into a place of connection with myself, deeper than I ever have. I was creating space for myself to actually go inwards and be with myself, and to connect with each other as well because there was a growing divide between us… Fuck, I’ve got to be careful what I say or that’ll be the headline (laughs).

“We’d tried to connect through Sticky, and it was an effort. But with this, it felt effortless to me, like every time we got in the studio, new things were happening.”

“I was going into a place of connection with myself, deeper than I ever have”

Frank Carter

Among these new things is a sense of fragility. As Frank says, the introspection and going genuinely deep within is part of it, but there’s also something upfront and naked at play as well. In the quiet, there’s a distinct boldness where often chaos and noise might have filled the empty space.

“I think it's specifically because we've also been doing quiet shows,” reckons Dean, referring to the band’s scaled down run of dates last year. “What you realise is that you can hide a lot behind noise and chaos, and that’s great, but at those shows you can’t do that. Whether it's just a vocal and a piano, or guitar, you are so vulnerable when you play like that.

“It's taken us a lot more work and almost emotional strength to even go and do that. I think maybe that would be the opposite if you spend your whole life doing that. But for us, coming from the sort of loudness and the chaos [we usually have] onstage, it's required a huge amount from us.”

True enough. But such was the vibe in which The Rattlesnakes were working, they found that not only were they coming up with new stuff right now, but they were finding a home for bits of ideas that hadn’t previously shown where they might fit.

“I think people think there's a big thing going on between us: ‘Shall we be this or that?’” chuckles Dean. “I don't think we have that much control!”

“Often we have these moments where we write a song, or a little moment of a song, and they don't feel like they’re from now, that time, it feels like it's from the future,” says Frank. “To me, it's so funny that a lot of the press have picked up on that and ask about using ‘old’ songs. I have to say yes, because it’s a technicality. But really what’s happened with these songs is, we've caught up with them.”

They just need time to, ahem, blossom…

“Your words, not mine! But yes!”

“Self Love was recorded for Sticky but just didn't feel right,” offers Dean by way of example. “We were forcing it to sound like the rest of Sticky. And then we gave it some space and came back to it, and it was effortless for this record.”

“Someone asked me what the first lyric I wrote for this record was, and it predates the whole of Sticky,” adds Frank. “It was it was written in 2019, I think. But it just fit here.”

Dean sums this process up as not “resurrecting” old stuff that’s ready to go, but “changing how we perceive” an older idea. Turns out our crap blossom joke a minute ago wasn’t entirely wrong, either.

“We shouldn't call [the ideas] songs as well, because they're not: they’re seeds,” says Frank. “Everything that we make, we're gonna put them into a garden and let them grow, give them time. It changed the whole idea of what we're doing and what our band’s about.”

Indeed, though Dean is right to say some of these sounds have always popped up in The Rattlesnakes’ music, through forward movement and exploration, it has offered a new perspective on what they’re about. There’s still a throughline connecting now to then, but it’s tuned to a different frequency. Hearing this, Frank nods in agreement.

“‘Frequency’ is a nice word. I like that,” he says. “How we feel we've elevated ourselves, what's been going on between us – that feels like a proper understanding of it. We've given ourselves more space, took a lot of time on every aspect of it, in the creation of the art, in the thinking, in the writing, in the edit, in the critique…

“And there’s been the analysis along the way of, ‘What does this mean to us?’ That changes all the fucking time as well. That's the nature of art, really. One day I wake up and I know exactly what it all means. And the next day I see something that I've written fucking three years ago and I’ll be like, ‘Fuck, how did I know?! It's been here all along.’”

“Among all this darkness and horrible things happening are these moments of absolute beauty”

Frank Carter

As much as Frank and Dean know what this means to them, they also want it to mean whatever it might to the listener as well. Explanations are broad rather than specific, context, rather than instruction. When discussing the meaning of the title and idly saying we have an idea of what it means, Frank raises an eyebrow and invites us to share. “Go on…”

The shades of grey of life.

“Yeah? I like that…”

Are we on the right path?

“It's interesting,” he replies, “because everybody has a different idea. And I never liked pinning it down too much. Because everyone's interpretation of the title ultimately is what the record is. Someone said a nice thing a little while ago, when they said it’s the tension between happiness and sadness. I thought that was really beautiful. It's just like a really beautiful way of summing up what it is for me.”

Right, but what would you say?

“When we talk about a rainbow, right, you think about it as this bright, sunny, beautiful thing," comes the response. "It adorns the walls of kids’ rooms, it's a champion for equality, it's about being yourself, and it comes naturally with this brightness, tenderness and innocence. And in reality, you cannot have one without storms, without rain. Without darkness, you don't get it. The rainbow is what happens between the light and the dark. And the dark rainbow for us was my idea about that brooding. It's peace in a moment. And you need to find and cherish those moments because there's a lot of fucking bleakness in the world at the minute. But among all this darkness and horrible things happening are these moments of absolute beauty.”

If all this seems like a new Frank, it sort of is, but it’s also simply part of growing older and wiser, and your view of the world winding along with it. At 39, as Frank is, you are not the same person as you were when you were 18. If you were, you’d probably need to ask some very searching questions as to why.

The first time this writer encountered him, it was at a Gallows show over 15 years ago, at the 100 Club in London, during which he chased a man who’d thrown a drink over his guitarist brother Steph out onto Oxford Street. With The Rattlesnakes, the wide-eyed, screaming energy remains, but controlled and detonated appropriately, with a level of joy and release and genuine catharsis to it, one that has a euphoria in its tail. But as The Rattlesnakes continue to explore and experiment and look for the music they haven’t made yet, the wildman energy has naturally become something that’s just one element, rather than the basis.

“It's unsustainable,” Frank says of being purely an angry young man as you cruise towards the big 4-0. “I don't care who you are, it's unsustainable, because nothing lasts forever. So you can either grow and you can evolve and you can blossom. Or you can burn your fucking candle down into oblivion. And both are actually fine, if that's what you want to do. Go for it. But be the purest sense of that version of you, and burn it down.

“What I wish people would recognise is that we constantly evolve,” he continues. “We’re like fucking Dragon Ball Z. I'm pissed off that people can be like, ‘This was when you were best.’ Mate, Blossom was early stages. We've gone Super Saiyan four times already!”

This confidence, and this assuredness in the art that he and Dean make, is one thing that hasn’t changed. Frank’s proud of Dark Rainbow, just as he has been proud of everything they’ve done, because they’re all snapshots of a moment. Like he says, that moment doesn’t last forever, but that’s because you’re moving inexorably on to the next one. You just have to grab it when it comes, whatever shape it takes.

“At this point, the band and this album are fucking beautiful,” he beams. “It's the most introspective and the bravest stuff we’ve done. Five more years of sobriety and, I don't know, a regime with yoga and 10k runs every day? Maybe I'll start kicking the shit out of people again. But who knows? I never thought we’d make a record like this, but I’m so proud that we have.”

How, then, do you think people see Frank Carter these days? Long pause…

“How I think they see me and how I'd like them to see me are very different,” he eventually ventures. “I'd like to be seen as a human. I don't think we do that very well, any of us. I think sometimes people just see me as like an artist. And maybe they see me as a confused one. But I'm not. Some people say all artists are confused. I don't think they are. I definitely don't feel like a confused artist. I feel like I have a pretty fucking razor-sharp focus at the minute. And I'm lucky, because I don't live in a razor-thin landscape.”

And how do you see Frank Carter these days? An even longer pause…

“Like I’m getting there,” he smiles. “Like I’m getting there.”

Dark Rainbow is released January 26 via International Death Cult / AWAL

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