into the snake pit
In February, FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES will play their biggest UK headline shows to date. The singer can’t wait…
“Confidence is the key to playing on stages this size,” admits Frank when he looks ahead to the boards he will be treading in 2020, which includes London’s 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace. “When I was young, I had a different type of confidence: it was much more aggressive, and I used to feel like I could win the fight against any crowd purely from fury. That will get you so far, but you start to realise that if you don’t believe in yourself you’re going to lose the fight, no matter how much blood you spill. When we started getting to play bigger shows I realised, ‘Okay, this isn’t a fight anymore, I don’t need to batter these people into submission, they want to be entertained.’ So I’d go out with the attitude, like, ‘We’re a young band, you may not know us, but we’re important, and we’re going to give you the best gig of your life.’
“We played with twenty one pilots, and their fans really, really care about that band, so I looked at it like it was a huge opportunity to go out and win over a lot of fans who’ll be dedicated if we can charm them. And it worked: we just did a tour of Europe, playing to 1,500 fans in cities such as Paris and Amsterdam, and we went out afterwards and people said, ‘I saw you with my favourite band, twenty one pilots, and we had to see you again.’
“You always want to be the biggest band you can be, and I genuinely believe now that this is what I’m here to do, to speak to people in words that they maybe can’t find for themselves. Give me a stage now, and I’ll make it my own.”
there screeching like roadkill. I just thought, ‘Fuck this!’ I threw the microphone down, climbed out of the venue window, and left. People thought it was part of the show, but in reality, it was just too stressful for me. I remember sitting on the sidewalk, broken, thinking, ‘I want to go home.’”
What no-one but the singer realised at the time was that ‘Frank Carter’ was a construct, a heavily-tattooed, hard-as-nails, fearless and utterly uncompromising persona created by 22-year-old Chris Carter, a thoughtful, polite, introspective, artistic young man who’d fallen in love with punk rock around the same time that his parents separated.
“I made this brand new person,” Frank admits. “Frank is my middle name, and I started using it when I moved away from my hometown and started tattooing and playing in bands. All of a sudden, Frank could be the person I couldn‘t be. But then I was also dragging along remnants of this human being called Chris, who was terrified. I sometimes wonder what happened to that guy, because he never really got a look in. Every time he tried to pop up, I shoved him back down, like, ‘Get in your box!’ But that was me, the real me.
“There were times with Gallows where I didn’t know what was going on. I’d just be a mess of emotions, like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t handle this, I’m not good enough for this…’ My anxiety was out of control. But I never spoke about it, and I hid it for years and years, because I thought vulnerability was weakness, because that’s what society had told me. I was supposed to be a fucking man, whatever that means. Be strong, be tough, be a gladiator, be a warrior, be a soldier. Certainly don’t cry. Certainly don’t tell people what’s wrong with you. You’re taught that you have to be the alpha, to go out and dominate everyone else, and if you do that, by society’s standards, we’ll make life easier for you. So there’s me, 5’7”, 60lbs, trying to go out and dominate the world. I was doing a pretty good job of it sometimes, but inside not believing a single word I was saying.
“And it’s hard, because as a performer, that anxiety, that insecurity, is compounded by the industry. Onstage, I’d give people the spectacle – I’d explode, with blood and fury. After gigs people would look at me like, ‘Mate, you need to slow down.’ I could see that in their eyes. But instead they’d just say, ‘That was a great gig,’ and we’d roll on to the next one. I could never say what I needed to say. I could never say, ‘Can you help me?’ I was beating the fuck out of myself in the hope that someone might intervene. But no-one ever did.”
In July 2011, two years on from the release of Gallows’ second album Grey Britain – the most extraordinary and vital British punk album of the 21st century – Frank walked away disillusioned and depressed from the band he’d helped form. That same summer, he moved to New York and formed Pure Love with former The Hope Conspiracy/suicide File guitarist Jim Carroll. The group’s debut album, Anthems, was released in February 2013, but exactly one year later, on February 7, 2014, Frank announced that the duo were putting Pure Love “into the phantom zone”, on an indefinite hiatus. The singer moved back to England with his pregnant wife, determined to focus on his tattoo business and his art.
However, following the birth of the couple’s daughter, Mercy, in November 2014, Frank realised that he needed another creative outlet, one involving music again.
“I remember saying to my wife, ‘I think I need to play in a band again, do you mind?’” he recalls. “She was great about it, totally encouraging. So I took £5,000 of my savings and made the first Rattlesnakes record [2015’s Blossom] with Dean [Richardson, guitar] and Tom [Thomas Mitchener, bass] in my garage. I had wanted to give music up, but the universe had other ideas. And I’m glad. And then it just wouldn’t slow down.
“I feel lucky that I got to do Gallows and Pure Love, because it gave me not only a really good map for whatever dungeon I was going to enter, but also cheat sheets on all the bosses, a good understanding of all the traps and pitfalls that might come my way, better armour, a better sword and shield, thicker skin and better teammates. I’ve previously described it like a card game. When I was in Gallows, we got a great hand, but I didn’t understand the game I was playing. Then in Pure Love I understood the game, but I was dealt the worst hand possible. With Rattlesnakes I sat down to play my favourite game, got my opening hand and thought, ‘I can’t fucking lose.’ The minute we took control, everything changed.”
For all Frank’s passion and enthusiasm for his new band, life with the Rattlesnakes wasn’t all plain sailing. In September 2017, ahead of a scheduled European tour with Papa Roach to promote their second album, Modern Ruin, Frank announced that he required time away from the band “to focus on finding the life within myself to be able to always find a safe passage through any situation that the dark, labyrinthine confines of my mind can throw at me”.
“The past two years have been a whirlwind of intensity and high emotion for myself and my family,” his statement at the time read. “It has been both a wonderfully fulfilling and exciting place to be, and, at times, a brutally bleak landscape that I have found myself walking in, alone and terrified.
“If you are struggling with the weight of the world around you, please talk to someone,” the statement concluded. “Embarrassment breeds shame, shame breeds loneliness, and loneliness will kill you if you let it. You are not alone.”
Earlier this year, speaking to clinical psychologist Michael Friedman PHD for an article in Psychology Today magazine, Frank confessed that, at the time, his marriage was falling apart, ultimately resulting in
“WHEN I LOOK BACK ON THE ME OF 13 YEARS AGO, I JUST SEE HOW DAMAGED I WAS” FRANK CARTER
divorce, and the ensuing depression sent him “careering down the abyss”.
“I lost everything,” he admitted. “I lost all of my money. My marriage is gone. I got right to the rope a few times. The first time I got to the rope, I picked up my dog leash instead. I took the dog on a seven-hour walk, and that was enough for me to carry on most of the week. And the second time I got to the rope and put my head in it and everything.” Today, the singer admits this was a literal, not metaphorical, statement.
“The problem with depression and anxiety,” he says quietly, “is that they compound each other; they fit together perfectly. And when they do, the world gets a little bit darker again, until all of a sudden you’re in pitch darkness and you can’t see anything and you think it’s never, ever going to get better. That’s a lie, it will always get better. But it’s like everyone has a little flame, and when that is extinguished, it’s not impossible to light it again, but it’s very fucking hard, because you’re the only one who can do it. And my light nearly went out a few times. I definitely got to a point where I felt like it couldn’t get better. But I never wanted to disappear, because if I did, I wouldn’t be here now.”
As the realities of his new life sank in, Frank began to selfmedicate heavily with alcohol and prescription drugs. “If you’re an anxious person and not particularly good with dealing with your emotions, it means you want to numb yourself,” he says simply. He freely admits that writing the songs which would make up End Of Suffering was “a big part” of his healing process. ‘I don’t know who I am,’ the stark opening verse to second single Anxiety runs. ‘Everybody telling me they can’t believe I can / Feel so depressed and unimpressed / And be so stressed when I’m so blessed.’
“I was playing the victim,” Frank admits. “I couldn’t understand why all this was happening to me, instead of looking at what I was doing wrong. I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of choices that were quite selfish. All the things I was choosing to do were never leading me into the light – they were pushing me further into the shadows. I felt very alone, watching people I loved distance themselves from me.
“Writing the album was pure therapy for me. In the initial creative process, when you’re working through that pain, you so have to dredge the lake properly, and when the bodies come up you have to be prepared. But then you get to give them a proper burial. That’s when it comes around full circle. Now when I sing the songs, it’s a celebration of all the things I learned: pain need not be a prison, it can be a celebration. Trauma can lead you to a better place.
“I still get down, but I’ve got a lot to live for – and a lot of people that need me. Not just my family, but people I haven’t met yet, they tell me in the street all the time. Before, I never heard them, or rather, I didn’t believe them, probably because I didn’t believe it myself. But when you start feeling happier in yourself, you can start to think, ‘Okay, maybe I’m here for a bigger reason.’ So now I’m utilising my platform to make a positive impact.”
Over the past year, this has manifested itself in different ways. In the promotional video which accompanied Anxiety, the Rattlesnakes offered fans a platform to share ways in which they combatted mental health issues, while partnering with CALM for their #abetterplaceforyouandme initiative. Frank has spoken out against the patriarchy and casual sexism, putting his words into action by insisting upon the creation of safe spaces for female fans at Rattlesnakes shows. “It’s been beautiful,” he says, “it changes the whole atmosphere at our gigs. People say to me, ‘How long are you going to do this for?’ I say, ‘Forever. Why would I stop?’ It’s about effecting positive change.”
In truth, beneath the often nihilistic imagery in his lyrics, there’s always been a quest for morality and positivity in Frank’s lyrics, dating back to his time in Gallows. The lyrics on Orchestra Of Wolves dealt with topics such as date rape and the impact of divorce in unflinching terms, but the underlying message was often, ‘We can be better than this.’
“That was it,” Frank agrees. “That’s what I’ve been pursuing ever since. How can I be a better leader? It’s taken years for me to understand the energy that I have, and how that affects people. I think people need me to lead. I never realised that that was my purpose, but now I do. So I’m not going to be a reluctant leader anymore. I’m going to fucking show everyone how to do this.”
There’s a fire in Frank’s eyes as he warms to the topic. By his own admission, he’s learning all the time, still shedding skin, still striving to do better. He’s hugely grateful for having a third tilt at the mainstream with the Rattlesnakes, and all too aware of the privileged position he finds himself in as we edge closer to 2020. At the risk of ending our conversation on a downer, we ask Frank if, with the world seemingly at his feet, whether there’s still an anxious inner voice suggesting to him that he might yet fuck this up, or whether he feels he’s laid his demons to rest. The question seems to fire him up anew.
“It’s funny you say that, because you don’t know how close you are with that mention of demon-slaying,” he says. “That’s what 2020, and our next album, is going to be about: slaying all the demons that have had a grip on us for such a long time. We’re going to do that with as much vigour and ferocity as we can. When you talk to your friends and share your problems, you realise that you’re not alone, that other people are going through shit too, sometimes on a much deeper and darker and heavier level. It puts all your pain and suffering into perspective.
“Humans are multifaceted beings, and we never stop evolving. There’s no persona for me anymore: I am Christopher Frank Carter, and all of this is me. For the first time in my life I’m trying to understand it all, and to help others make sense of themselves too. Now we march on together.” K!
“I’VE GOT A LOT TO LIVE FOR – AND A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT NEED ME” FRANK CARTER
frank carter & the rattlesnakes tour the uk in february 2020 – see the gig guide. end of suffering is out now on international death cult