I Travelled Through All of Europe to Have Frank Carter Tattoo Me
We had a long talk about art, love, and loss.
Photos by Karol Grygoruk
This article originally appeared on Noisey Poland
We sat opposite each other, and he asked me what tattoo I wanted to have. "Rattlesnakes Dagger" was my answer. "Right here, on my forearm.'
"Perfect," he approved and asked me: "Is this your first tattoo? Listen, it's going to hurt, if at some point you feel that you need a break, just tell me. Here, there are no heroes. OK?"
"Sure, let’s do it," I said with a big dose of enthusiasm. And thus began my interview with Frank Carter, during one of the coolest Mondays of my entire my life.
I’ve listened to Carter’s songs since the times when he was ripping off his throat in Gallows, punk rock quintet from the UK. After that there was a time for calmer and more melodic Pure Love, when it seemed that the charismatic redhead had finally found happiness, having beaten those slumbering demons inside him.
Their debut album Blossom which he recorded with the Rattlesnakes, showed, however, that the pain and the anger had returned, and with them came the frontman I saw many years ago: furious, uncompromising, the unstoppable force, a fucking juggernaut. It was a flawless return. I decided that it was my duty to go and get to know him personally.
So I got on a plane for a few hours directly to London, for the very first time. Having landed, I had a very clear destination: the legendary tattoo studio Sang Bleu, where Frank Carter performs his ink magic (whenever he is not busy jumping around the stage, ripping his vocal chords). I had only a few hours, as I had to venture back to Warsaw on the very same day, luckily it was not an issue for him. Frank turned out to be not only a super likeable guy, but also a massively talented and incredibly fast tattooing artist. Here's our coversation.
NOISEY: What was your childhood like, how do you remember it?
Frank Carter: My childhood was great. I grew up here in England in a little town called Hemel Hempstead, which is now where I live, and back in the day used to live together with my mum, dad, and three younger brothers. I’m the oldest of four. My dad – before he started working in the computer industry – was a DJ, so we had a lot of music at home. And my mom was an Irish dancing teacher, so it’s kind of weird fucking mixture in the house and I can do a little jig, but I’m not going to [laughs]. It was typical suburbs childhood: I played football with my brothers at weekends and stuff.
Then my parents split up, and when you are a teen you start going out and find new music – and I’ve always loved music – but when I was 16 I truly discovered punk rock. And suddenly I just wanted to beat the fuck out of everybody, just being a punk rock kid.
Where you popular in school?
Popular? I think ordinary, like any other. I had a good group of friends; I still speak to a lot of them. I got bullied a bit, cause I was little and redhead, like a ginger small kid – it’s like being a big fucking target to be hit.
Did you use to engage in fights?
I’ve never started them, just tried to finish them. There is a saying: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. You know what I mean? I was not scared to fight.
What came first in your life, music or drawing art?
I don’t know, actually, because I’ve been around music from the beginning, but I felt in love with drawing at a very young age. When I was super young it was all I wanted to do. I remember telling my dad once that I wanted to be a graphic designer when I get older, even though I did not know what graphics was – I asked him: “Dad, what is graphics?” and he said, "Pictures and images" – “Hell, I want to be a graphic designer.” I was 4 or 5 then. Later when I grew up I went to college to study art, but I felt I was not learning anything so I dropped out to become a tattooer.
Is there something you like to tattoo the most?
Not really. It’s about being creative. I just like making things, music or art or whatever it be. When I was younger I spent literally days drawing, days on one design trying to get it right, and I was constantly fucking it up. You always try to make yourself better, to find a balance. I studied a lot of old stuff, tattoos from the 50s. That’s what I was looking for, because they are already nearly 70 years old and it’s still looking awesome.
How did your musical journey start?
I just wanted to be in a band. I never thought I would make a career out of it – it was all about having fun. But it just turned out that I’d got really lucky. My first band was called “All Night Drive”, I was sixteen back then. I did not play any instruments so guys gave me a choice: If you want to be in a band you got to be a front man. And was like “alright”. I still cannot play any instruments, I can play a few chords on the guitar, I wish I could play more but I spent my spare time on how to tattoo. My brother Steph plays guitar.
What was your biggest inspirations back then?
Everything from Black Flag to Madness, Descendents… I just loved all music that was good.
And then Gallows happened.
What are the Gallows now for you? What do you make of it?
I'm not listening to any of their songs…
Really? You didn’t listen to Desolation Sounds?
Fuck no. I listened to them when my brother was in the band, but when he left I was like “I’m over it.” I had a lot going on, too busy to focus to worry about what they are doing. But we're still friends, kind of.
I read that you thought of leaving the band several times, what was the main reason?
I just did not feel ready to be where we were at that time. We were really young. I was 20, and all of a sudden we signed this monumental record deal. We had tons of money…
You should be happy.
Yes, should be, and I was happy for those reasons. But then everybody started interviewing us, manipulating my words. I was constantly reading things about myself that I did not fucking say. I mean, what the fuck? I just could not deal with this anymore. That’s why I wanted to quit the first time. Besides, I was doing a lot of tattoos and earning a lot of money off that. You know, just before the signing of this contract the band did not bring any financial benefit, and I was faced with the fact that I must spend four months on tour.
And the second time, I just did not like the music they wanted to make. Easy as that. After Grey Britain we had to figure out what we would do next, and everything what the guys were sending me was not my band.
Do you miss your old songs from Gallows?
Sure, I wrote these records.
Which do you prefer more, Orchestra of Wolves or Grey Britain?
I like them both, but Orchestra of Wolves is a special record for me, because we were not trying to do anything, we just wrote some songs and released it (same thing I did with Blossom). Grey Britain was more like an achievement, because record label expected us to do a pop-punk record, and what we did was something completely opposite – the unsaleable hardcore record.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but in “Juggernaut” is there a verse about the time when you were in the band? "Wrap me up in chains all soaked in petrol / Choking in the gallows like some wretched devil."
No. As most literally it’s about a man hanging in the gallows, noose around his neck, choking, trying to escape from that – that’s what literally what it means. You decide for yourselves the meaning of that.
Immediately after the Gallows there was a new band called Pure Love with a new and much lighter sound – what was the reaction of fans and your loved ones to the new Frank Carter?
My loved ones were happy because I was happy. I was doing something I love. Guys in the Gallows, they were not happy, obviously; to them it meant that our thing was over – and it was. Pure Love is no more about, but I still love that band. I’m really proud of it, and I think it’s fucking great.
And the fans?
They were split in the middle. Some of them were like, "This is fucking shit." And I was like, "OK, fair enough, that’s your opinion." There were fans that totally came along with the ride, but eventually that was not what people wanted. That is the key point of supply and demand: if no one cares it’s going to be very difficult to sell – and it was.
So like you said, back then you were happy, but your anger and sadness came back after a while. What happened?
In November 2013 we had a planned tour with Pure Love. We decided that it would be our farewell tour. At that time I was kicked out of the tattoo shop because I spent too much time playing with the band, and my wife gave birth to a baby girl. Two weeks before the first concerts, her father died very unexpectedly. That was devastating, for both of us. Our emotions were completely mixed. On one hand we felt so much excitement about our child. On the other we tried to cope with the tragedy of our family. It was a tough time for us, and I had to leave immediately on tour to sing joyful songs. I felt miserable. At the time I realized how much making music means to me – when I knew it was over.
However, it gave rise to the Rattlesnakes.
How do you remember feeling when you wrote your first new song “Loss,” after all this time?
They were mixed, my feelings. I was excited, but at the same time I felt strange to be doing it again. I was a bit nervous how it was going to be perceived, but most of all... it felt fucking happy, giving life to a new project. Although the words of the song are sad, but singing it with a new band, I felt like I was winning.
You’d been performing for sold-out concerts in front of thousands of people before, did your first appearance here in Sang Bleu made you feel nervous?
I was more stressed out before the show than any other time in my life. That day, when we played here, was the exact anniversary of the last concert that Pure Love gave. Pure coincidence. The whole studio was filled with people who came to see our debut. People were even all over the stairs at the entrance.
You were happy after the concert?
After the concert, I was drunk [laughs]. Once I was not drinking at all, but I cannot call myself straight edge – because if now you are not, it means that you've never been. But my wife taught me to enjoy everything and win control over my choices.
Can anger on stage be therapeutic?
Massively. It’s enormously cathartic for me, relaxing. I know it does not look like that. I also think it’s therapeutic for other people too.
I had previously read your quote that when you sing “Paradise” (my favourite track on the album), your head is “full of blood and everything that is wrong with this world.” Tell me, what is the message hidden in the song?
There is no hidden message, it’s pretty direct – I fucking hate suicide bombers, I think they are scum and I wish they all fucking died. I think it’s all really unfortunate that such people still do brainwash children, use them for their beliefs – that when you die in a combat, the reward awaits in heaven.
And what is your attitude towards religion? Are you for or against?
I'm not anti-religious. I think that religion is something incredible because it gives hope, and hope is a wonderful thing. Except that religion is also fucking dangerous. Most wars initiated just in the name of religion, all these fucking crusades – nothing has changed, except that now we have AK-47’s.
How was the song “Hate You” created, and who is it about?
I will never, ever tell who it is about – till the day I die. Only one person knows it, but it’s not this one from the song.
It's amazing how much the text of this song contrasts with calm music.
There are so many love songs, saying: "I love you, you're my everything," etc. So why should we not appreciate a good hate song?
As the band is called Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, are you the only constant member of the team? Are you planning to change the others in the future?
Nowadays it's very difficult to make money on selling albums. Real money you get from touring, so I'll understand if guys are going to devote to other projects. I do not plan to change them. They are my friends and amazing players, and I wouldn't want to play with anyone else, but I will not stop them. The exception is Dean Richardson (guitarist): he has to stay here with me. I will not let him go. Together we started this band, and if he leaves, there will be no more Rattlesnakes.
Do you have your favourite moment during the concert?
Let me tell you my favourite moment of the whole career. Recently we’ve played at the Reading Festival. I also celebrated with my wife the third anniversary of our wedding. At one point during the show, I turned back and saw her, my mother, and my daughter. I went up to them and took my daughter on my shoulders, and with her on my back I finished singing a song. It was my favorite moment of all time. It could not be better, in that moment, if I had to die, I would die happy.
What has changed in your life since you started this band?
A lot has changed. I’m happy again. We had a period of grieving to say goodbye to the people we miss. We’ve been through a lot, but the biggest change, however, is that I begin to succeed in playing music again. Pure Love was for me a wonderful thing, but it's hard to do something that just is not working and just cost you money.
Actually I think you answered my last question. Are you happy now?
I do not believe that in life one can be completely happy all the time – but I’m pretty fucking close to perfect right now.