There used to be a notion in punk-rock circles that even aspiring to success was somehow ‘selling out’ – wanting to reach a wider audience was akin to selling your artistic soul and credibility.
This is not an issue that worries Frank Carter. He’s aiming for the biggest stages as possible for his music, and forthcoming third album End of Suffering looks like taking him and his band, The Rattlesnakes, to the next level.
But that doesn’t mean he’s compromising the in-your-face assault of his sound.
‘It’s light years away from the second one – we’re very proud of it,’ he tells The Guide.
The title comes from a Buddhist mantra that got under his skin while he was working on new material.
‘I haven’t suddenly found Buddhism, but I was in LA and going through a transition in my life and met a young artist there who was focusing on putting mantras into his work. It was one of those phrases that stuck with me and really resonated with me time and time again while I was travelling.
‘And then when I came around to making this album it was just THE title, it was there from the start – there was nothing else I could call it. I was painting it on the walls of my studio, I was writing it down everywhere, I was obsessed with this term.
‘When you read this term, at first glance it sounds so savage and brutal, but it’s actually about finding enlightenment and I think that’s a really beautiful thing. So when you go back and read it after you understand that, it’s not about misery, it’s not about pain.
‘And that’s what the album is – it’s a hard listen, in places it‘s quite harrowing and can be quite difficult, but all the best music should be challenging, in my mind.
‘There are moments of celebration in there, but ultimately it’s about the journey, and that’s what life always should be. The problem I think some people have is that they stop, they just give up.
‘I’m very keen to explain to everybody that no matter how dark the road seems at the time, this is not the place where you lay down. You don’t know what the road holds tomorrow.’
The album, due out in May, is basically the last two years of Frank’s life.
Its lead off single Crowbar is described in its accompanying press release as ‘a sonic Molotov cocktail of a track delivered with the anarchic zeal of the gilets-jaunes rioters.’ If its 141 seconds are a fair representation of what's to come, fans of harder-edged rock are in for a treat.
With Cam Blackwood (best known for producing the likes of George Ezra and Jack Savoretti) at the helm and legendary mixer Alan Moulder (who has worked with everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Queens Of The Stone Age) this is the band’s tilt at the big leagues.
They hooked up with Cam after Frank’s writing partner, band guitarist Dean Richardson met him on a night out and they clicked.
‘We’ve always wanted to [work with Cam], but didn’t think we’d get to because he’s a superstar producer,’ says Frank. ‘Dean met him out one night and they had a good night
‘And then it turned out, he messaged us and said: “I’m a big fan of the band – I’d love the opportunity…” We said: “Well guess what, surprise! We love you too, so let’s do this.”
‘He brought to so much out of us that we didn’t even know was in there. He is, I think, one of the great producers of our time.
‘The legacy of the work that the people who have worked on this album have is incredible. It’s all of my favourite bands, basically. Then to sit there in his studio with our music and to hear it sounding as good as those bands is a real moment where you think: damn, we’re getting this right! I’m so proud of what we’ve made.’
Expanding on the album's themes he says: ‘There are moments of beauty and there are moments of sorrow, but what’s important to remember is that we’re not allowed to be defined by those moments, either good or bad, we are all of those things and life encompasses all of those things.
‘What you have to realise is, and I’m talking to myself when I say this, those things will come and go, and ultimately it will all pass, and what you’re left with is right now, this moment – this moment talking to you is the only moment that matters because it’s the only moment I truly have control over. I don’t have any control of what’s happened and what will happen in the future - I can make plans, but who knows what will happen on the way to those?
‘And that’s what the album is about, about understanding that when you’re young life can seem so overwhelming and heavy, but when you bring it all down to one constant moving moment, it’s actually really simple. Everything unobtainable and stressful lifts from you and you can walk in freedom.’
They also roped in Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello to play on new song, Tyrant Lizard King.
It turns out Frank and Tom go back – his old band Gallows supported Rage a few times.
‘He’s just a friend,’ Frank laughs, still sounding unsure as to how this punk from Hemel Hempstead has ended up pals with the acclaimed American guitarist. ‘It’s a weird life, innit?
‘We were always friendly, but I tried not to stay in touch, mainly because I was too scared – it’s Tom Morello, you know?’
But when Tom and his new band Prophets of Rage were playing Resurrection Fest in Spain last summer, the guitarist spotted Frank in the moshpit and called him up on to the stage to sing with them.
‘The next thing I know is I’m being lifted on stage. He tells me that if I don’t know the words to the next song we’re not friends any more – go check the next song on the setlist, and it’s [Rage Against the Machine classic and unlikely UK Christmas number one] Killing in The Name Of. I’ve known the words to this song since I was 10 years old – let’s do it!’
‘I did it and stage-dived back into the crowd and afterwards we didn’t see each other – I was sort of hiding, thinking I was in so much trouble.
‘But he messaged me and said: “I’m working on a new album, I’d love to send you some stuff”. I said: “100 per cent, anything you need, but I’m in the studio too working on an album and I’d love you to write on it.”
‘We sent him a song and he did something really gnarly. It’s hectic – what he recorded on it is insane. It sounds like Godzilla breathing fire and I love it, which is what you get from Tom when you say: “Do whatever you want.”’
While the UK tour for second album Modern Ruin climaxed with a sell-out show at the 5,000 capacity Brixton Academy, they’ve opted for a low-key return to the clubs for this short run of dates.
‘We’ve only got two albums out so far and we’ve been selling out places like Brixton already – with the next album we should be feasibly selling out Brixton very quickly and that’s when you start looking at much bigger venues.
‘This is about galvanising the fans we have at the minute – this is who we are, we love playing big shows, we love playing small shows, we just love playing shows!
‘We want to give people the opportunity to see this new music and our old music in the best light possible – intimately at first and then we’ll blow it up on to those big stages.
‘Ultimately what needs to be known, is that these songs on the new album, they were written for big stages.’
For any fans who are worried this means they’re losing their edge, they’re not about to start sounding like Bon Jovi.
‘We didn’t write stadium rock music at all, but we wrote the songs with the intention that we would get bigger and we want to play them to more people. There’s no denying we want to make this the biggest in the world.’
For those lucky enough to get tickets to these shows, Frank is torn between wanting to show off the new material with not wanting to let the proverbial cat out of the bag this far ahead of the May release.
‘I want to play five or six new songs, the manager’s adamant we cannot play more than three. They’re like: “You cannot give more than three away”, and I get it, I do understand. In the world we live in nothing is sacred and everything is instantaneous - it’ll be on YouTube before we’re even at the next gig.
‘But then I’ve never really been very good with authority anyway...’
‘We also have to be aware that while we know and love the songs it will be the first time everyone else gets to hear them. So when we play those songs it really changes the energy in the room. We have to think about first and foremost about what the show needs.’
Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes are at The Wedgewood Rooms on Friday, February 8, doors 7.30pm. Go to wedgewood-rooms.co.uk.