Frank Carter: “Our society is dangerously narcissistic, we're not getting past the veneer”

Before the Rattlesnakes’ second album is released, their frontman talks relationships, the self and modern ruin

If you ever went to a Gallows gig before singer Frank Carter left, you would remember adrenaline, blood and anger. He would fight the audience, inviting them to punch him in the head. If they didn’t, he’d do the job himself with a microphone.

When you're in that wasteland, it makes you hungry and gives you determination to strive for a better place

Since his split from the band in 2011, Carter and his wife Sarah have moved in together and had a child. In person, he is insightful and level-headed. On stage, with new group the Rattlesnakes, it seems domesticity has done nothing to calm the beast.

“Me and Sarah were going through so much,” he says. “She’d lost her father while she was pregnant, I was angry at my career, which seemed in tatters. I just felt, if anything, it was easier for me to pour it out. But only on stage. At home, I became very different, very calm. I was aware that my wife was going through some stuff. I was aware that I now had this little baby to look after. I wanted her to grow up in a safe environment and feel that she was loved every day.”

The band’s latest album, Modern Ruin, focuses on relationships in all forms. “It’s about how devastating modern relationships can be, as well as being life-affirming,” says Carter. We caught with him before the album’s release next week.


Why did you want to do an album about relationships?

I was going through some stuff. We had this big transitional period, my wife and I, of moving home from New York. We bought a house and had done all the things that you do as an adult. You move into that territory. We had a baby.

I've found I'm best at writing when it's about situations that I know about. I'm better at writing about situations that I'm going through at the present. My wife and I were going through some problems. It just felt natural to write about it. That was all I knew, to try and write. I wasn't understanding about it.

Without a sense of self, a relationship is two confused people that think that they are better because of the other person

That sort of led me onto really looking at a lot of human relationships around me. Relationships with our parents, siblings and lovers. And then also looking at strangers. At the time, we were relentlessly bombing the fuck out of Syria and all I was seeing was this twisted view of immigration. And these refugees were the same people as me and you. They were doctors, teachers, parents, office workers. They were all just fleeing a country that was war-torn and that they had no real stake in. 

That made me look at myself and what was going on at home and in the country. Relationships just made sense to me. You look at a relationship as a war zone. And suddenly it all makes sense. That's what happened really, the record is called Modern Ruin. That, to me, is like this idea of modern relationships and how devastating they can be. But also, life-giving, affirming. Luckily for me and my wife, we've kind of come through the other side. 

No one knows what the future is going to be but it feels incredibly hopeful and positive now. We both feel like we've kind of found ourselves through it. That's what it's about. It's about 'modern ruin', which is this burden that we put on ourselves but strive for as well. It's not pretty but it's perfect.

Have relationships always been an important thing for you?

Yeah they have. I'm finding out now at 32 that the most important relationship I can have, apart from the one with my daughter, is the relationship I have with myself, which has always been a troubled one.

I've spent a lot of my life leaning on people quite heavily for emotional support. What I found in the turbulent time I had recently is actually, I didn't need anyone. I needed a strong foundation in myself. Once I found that, I was then able to be the most authentic version of me, the best version of me there is. It's a stronger one, more confident, but not obnoxious. There's no arrogance now, I just feel quite self-assured but in an empowering way. It's quite adult, it's not childish anymore. Something I've really been lacking my whole adult life. 

In that, I was able to take that to the people I love and kind of apologise for a lot of my behaviour in the past – and begin to make amends for it. Relationships have always been important. I've always prided myself on family. I've got three brothers, I come from a very large family. 

My little brother has two kids, everyone's getting married and having two kids. We're growing up but a lot of the problems stay the same. It's just the landscape that changes. It's quite important to keep track of who you are in that landscape. Suddenly a landscape can be really vibrant and lush, then the next minute it can be a bleak wasteland. You need to just constantly be reminded that you exist, in all of them. 

It's about making the most of all of those situations and trying, in your best, to appreciate each part. When you're in that wasteland, it makes you hungry. It gives you that determination and the focus to strive to find a better place. When you're in a better place, it can be very easy to just work right through it back into a wasteland. It's about understanding patience and balance and life.

It's like a positive paradox. In order to form relationships and connect with other people, you have to become independent.

Totally, that's kind of what we've been trying to understand now. A sense of self is such an important thing to have for a relationship to truly blossom. Without that, what you've got is two confused people that think that they are better because of the other person. In actuality you can only be better from within. It's important to understand that.

Are people disconnected?

Yeah, I think everybody is. What we're building and continuing to build as a society is dangerously narcissistic and so entirely focused on the self but in a way where we're not getting past the veneer. When that starts cracking, that's when you see the raw material. That's what is most beautiful to me. When you truly get down to the core of an object, or the core of a person, you see that raw state. That's what's important.

I think we're so keen to be a character. Everyone just has this avatar online. I've had one. I've had the stage persona. What always baffles me is people send me messages on Instagram. They're like 'man you seem so down to earth, you play with your kids'. I'm like, what do you think I'm going to be doing? Wake her up with an elbow drive from the top rope of her crib, spitting and screaming at her? She's my child, she's the love of my life. She makes me smile. She makes me a better person.

I'm a dad. There's a huge amount of softness that comes from becoming a father. More importantly, that's just my life. I'm aggressive on stage because I'm transported to a place. When I read those lyrics, when I know what line is next, it puts me immediately in the place where I go to. That's where the delivery comes from.

Humans are incredibly multi-faceted; we are all like diamonds

The worry I have now is that there is a serious substance and consideration that goes into that delivery from me. Now what we're seeing online is delivery first with no substance. People are delivering a character. There's no history to it. They're actually making it up as they're going along. It's just really dangerous. You meet some of these people in real life and you expect them to be a certain way. I'm guilty of it too.

When they deliver, it's a bit disappointing. I think they find that with me as well. They meet me and want me to kick their head in. Disconnection is rife in society. It's funny because we've never been so connected. Social network has never been as prevalent. People are constantly on their phones, look around.

It seems like there is a requirement to create an identity. But when we actually take the time to observe ourselves, it’s considered self-absorbed or selfish.

What really scares me at the moment is like you said, this fear of being selfish. Because you're going to get called out. Actually, it's an important trait to have. You need to have a moment of that just to check yourself. To say, this is what I need. 

What people are doing now, they're pouring their fears and anxieties online to an open audience and then getting a mass critique. More often than not, it's from people that are sharing the same anxieties and fears. So what they're getting back is adoration. That perpetuates it. They're getting positive reassurance and feedback from their anxieties and fears. 

If I post a picture of me saying, oh I look so sad. Loads of people are going to tell me that I'm not. But actually, I am still fucking sad. Then you realise that life is just mathematics. It's become numbers. All they care about is how a post of you in your underwear is going to get a load of likes. It's the same for me, if I post a picture of me with my shirt off it gets the numbers. If I post a picture of me chilling, people don't care. That's reality.

We're in a dangerous place now where our reality is getting twisted. I'm scared for my kid... I'm hoping that by the time she grows up, technology is dead and buried.

But, you can't change it. We have to understand as humans that we cannot control the uncontrollable. Even ourselves, we can be uncontrollable. The more you can relax with that... It's the old parable of the oak and the willow. The willow bends in the winds. The oak stands stern and it breaks. A gust of wind will bend the willow but snap an oak tree in half. I'm trying to be the willow now.

People should appreciate that identities aren't fixed. You are one person with your kid and another on stage.

Humans are incredibly multi-faceted. We are all like diamonds. It just depends which side is driving. You just have to respect it as they're all you.

Anger and love remain persistent themes in your songwriting. When you had your kid, did you find it harder to channel anger on stage.

No. If anything, I found it easier. All the things I was writing about and thinking about mattered, more than they ever could for me. When we wrote 'Blossom' my wife had literally just had our baby. 

We were going through so much stuff. We'd just become parents, she'd lost her father while she was pregnant. I was angry at the state of the world, I was angry at my job, my career, which seemed to be in tatters. I felt incredibly irresponsible. I was about to start another band, I don't have any security, so yeah I just felt, if anything, it was easier for me to pour it out. But only on stage.

At home, I became very different, very calm. I was aware that my wife was going through some stuff. I was aware that I now had this little baby that I had to look after. The one thing I wanted was for her to grow up in a safe environment. I just wanted her to feel that she was loved every day, constantly.  That's all she gets from her mum and I.

Like all adult parents, we've had fights and stuff. But we never fight in front of our kid. We are always able to take it in the next room, or just park it for long enough. 

It's funny, we shot a video for our new single. I'm like hanging upside down in this weird abyss and screaming. I'm covered in body paint and look mental. I showed it to my daughter right before she went to bed one night. 

My kid's watching it and bobbing along, she's like two, and Sarah's like, 'should you be showing her this right before she goes to bed?' I'm like, it's fine. Then my kid just laughs and says, daddy's silly, then walks off. She doesn't know what a monster is. She's not scared of anything. She'd only be scared if you say it's a monster.