26 Jan INTERVIEW — Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes on Dark Rainbow, old songs and inclusivity
A few days before Christmas, we’ve met with Dean Richardson from Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes to talk about « Dark Rainbow ». An interview that derived from its subject, in a parisian hotel with walls covered with naked women pictures, where we talked inclusivity and discriminations in the music industry.
SOB: Can you tell me more about “Dark Rainbows”, your new album?
Dean : We’re in that unusual way, because it’s been done for a little while but we’re not playing shows. So there’s this big window where you start putting things on line and maybe you do some interviews, but it’s a little bit like the calm before the storm. When you’re making it, you get really immersed in the project and all your thoughts are like “is this good? Do I like it?” Then you move on and you start wondering if people are gonna like it. And when you get to the shows, you can finally find out. We get some feedback, but when you see your friends and family they’re like “how is it going?”, and it does feel a little bit like… There’s people online that hate the songs and there’s always more people that love them, but it’s all coming on a screen, it doesn’t feel very reel. So I guess I just feel a little bit angsty, but I’m also excited.
SOB: You’ve been playing some intimate shows, have you got some feedback there already ?
Dean: Yeah, the problem with those is that we’re not playing the songs how people are used to hearing them. But that’s been great, the feedback on those has been amazing. That’s the first chance you get to see a human being and then afterwards they’ll say they loved the song… We’re slowly tipping our toe in it. Those shows felt really special to do, we’ve wanted to do that for years. It’s just been this idea, I’m not sure why now. We could have done it a few years ago. But when it was mentioned this time we were like “Let’s do it”.
SOB: It kind of feels natural with the sound of the album, because it’s quieter
Dean: Yeah, maybe that’s probably a factor. There’s a lot more piano on it. But when we first did them we only had one song out so it was not like we were gonna perform loads of the new stuff. But I think that’s because we spent a lot more time in that quieter, more delicate sound, and it was like “Let’s go, let’s do that live”. Cause in a lot of ways you feel more exposed, the noise is a little bit of a shield and we’re very comfortable with it, that’s what we’ve been doing for years. I think it’s probably because we came out of this recording process and we had a little more confidence so we were like “Let’s do it front of you!”. (laugh)
SOB: And why the sudden change in sound, why the need to go quieter?
Dean: I think a lot of the stuff, I’m sure everyone is tired of talking about it, but I think the pandemic played an important part in it. Whatever you do in life, it happened to everyone. I think it makes sense, if you listen to our first three albums, there’s this kind of journey towards rock more than hardcore punk where we started. And it was a little bit like natural how that happened, that wasn’t a decision. Then in the pandemic, we sort of made this record that was so punk and so fast again, it’s like the outlaw. We love that album, but if you put “Dark Rainbow” after our third album, it makes a bit more sense. I think we sort of reacted to the “no live shows”, no energy really, it was all sort of negative energy. So “Sticky” was the exception and we kind of carried on this path, where we’re just chasing the music we love. We put the more challenging ones out, to kind of set the tone and get people engaged. We see it as a rock record. It’s quieter, but it’s still a loud impactful record, and I think our fans will love it. It’s just that “Sticky” kind of make it seems like we’re dancing around a bit.
SOB: With “Sticky”, you needed to get this energy out from the pandemic and now you need to calm down!
Dean: Yeah that’s it, I think we really did! We were really missing it. Because before the pandemic, we got to the point, or at least I had, where I love touring, but touring I’ve done it for ten years or something. I wasn’t going home from tour like “get me back out!”. I love the shows, but touring is a hard thing to do as you get older or whatever. Then they took that from us and we stopped doing it. And I was like “oh God I’m missing it!” like I don’t know where to put all this energy if it’s not on tour. So yeah, I think that’s what came out on the record. Again, we didn’t sit down with “Sticky” and said “let’s do the fastest record we ever made”, but it just happened. A lot of the way we approach writing is like that, when we have an idea, which one are we excited about. I think with music you have to be the most excited first, if you’re asking someone else to come and join you on that. People do release music like that, but sadly it doesn’t do well… This is just a saying but I think that when we are on tour, when we are leaving a more full life, I guess what we’re looking for is something that’s not 300 bpm.
SOB: On this record, there are songs that you wouldn’t share before. Can you explain it?
Dean: Yeah, we’ve always done this thing. On the first album, we wrote a song called Wild Flowers, that we saved for the next album. And then on the next album. Basically there was always one that felt like at the time it didn’t fit with the other songs. But then over time, more of them appeared. We have this place that I call “The graveyard” and on this record, we changed it to “The garden” and we were like “they’re not dead, they just haven’t found their”… Once we called it “the garden”, we were like “they just don’t have a home yet”. We were more opened to them coming back into the folder, and we were kind of more confident in ourselves that we could revisit and rework them. That used to be something that we didn’t find easy. Once a song was written, it felt hard to give it a second chance. Some of these songs are like version 15 and some are version 1, it really depended on the song. But some of the lyrics on the last song called Dark Rainbow predates all of the lyrics, maybe even the band! There was something reflective going on, bringing these old ones together. But it didn’t feel wrong, it felt very fulfilling. It felt a bit like “look forward, not back”. And I’m glad mostly that they found a home, because we listened to them between the album and we were like “ugh, that’s a good song, it should be on a record!”.
SOB: So they’ve blossomed now, they’re not dead
Dean: yeah, exactly! The graveyard is gone now, it’s a garden and they’ve blossomed, that’s a perfect metaphor.
SOB: You’re very vocal against discriminations in the lyrics and on stage, can you tell me why it’s so important to you as a band to be vocal about it?
Dean: We were talking about it recently. I think that all the music we were drawn to, as teenagers, when you first really get that bond, was cause you felt like you didn’t belong. You didn’t feel comfortable, safe, even less confident, nothing fulfilled you as being part of the mainstream. And so you go looking in life for somewhere to belong, and metal, hardcore, punk, rock… Rock actually, less so, which I think is why we are more vocal about it, but specifically hardcore punk and metal, they’re all there saying “everyone belongs here”.
I’m feeling emotional about, because that’s the first time then that we felt that, and so that’s why we started bands. You went to these shows and you feel like you belong for the first time. So then when you end up on stage in these shows, you’re just a tribute to your favourite bands. And your band becomes something. It does feel almost unintentional, like, we didn’t start pop acts, we didn’t think it could ever be our job, so when you do, you just think “this is what it needs to be”. I guess with all that is happening, we became a lot more aware of whether people do feel like they belong.
And so being from the UK, the strongest sense we got, was like despite what it might feel like being a woman in the UK now, women at our show, they did not feel safe. And they would say that to us. Some of our fans can be on the wrong side of things ! So it’s that thing that progress is being made… I mean we can’t do a huge amount, but we can say our shows, that’s what the point is here. To me, that’s the point of all that alternative music is. It’s not gonna get to number 1, but the more we can do that… I’m sure you’ve seen us on stage and females in our mosh pits. It’s the most fulfilling part of the show to know that, even if it’s just that song, or one show, it feels like we’re continuing what helped us so much basically. Hopefully, it has some ripple effects on other bands.
Someone linked me a story of a band saying “they’re stealing your idea this is your thing” and I was like “no, this is great news!”. I know that these stuff went viral on social media and I was like “Great!”. I do feel the more we become a rock band and are playing with rock bands, it feels more dated, the rockstar energy, male stuff. It just feels louder again. In punk specifically, it doesn’t feel like the traditional male thing who’s got the bigger voice in the room. It’s still mostly men on stage, but even that is changing. But i don’t know, when you’re stepping into a rock space it feels like it needs to be done.
On one hand, a man going shirtless in the mosh pit, it’s almost common. But when it’s a woman, it’s shocking, but actually it feels so powerful!
SOB: About that, we’ve been wondering, because you’re playing Hellfest Festival. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the management, audience and bands have been heavily criticized lately, mainly because of things related to violence against women… So do you get a say in festivals you play?
Dean: So initially, we just get told what offers are coming. The initial thing is often about logistics and business, but occasionally these stuff comes out onto our plates. Usually, that comes to us, not our team, which is interesting. No one contacts our booking agents and says “have you seen that stuff?”, it comes to me and Frank. And by this point, we’re announced and we’re in a contract. Not saying that’s easier before that.
I think it’s a complicated thing to navigate as a band, specifically because this is more in rock and the bigger rock stuff where people don’t seem to care as much. But you have a few options. You pull out. We’ve done that. We said we don’t feel comfortable sharing the stage with them, but it’s usually when it’s their show. When you’re sharing a stage with lots of bands you don’t know, it’s more complicated. You feel a sense of having an opportunity to change the environment, as in that show, we can go on that stage and do a mosh pit that’s inclusive, and do something that will change the mood a bit. And the person going after then has to deal with that.
When it gets much more complicated, it’s if any of the accusations are with the festival or the organizers. Because it’s one thing disagreeing whether they should book someone, it’s very different working with that person. So yeah, I’ll look into that. I really believe that if people are making a point to talk about these things, we don’t get to just do an inclusive mosh pit and not be held to the standards that we’re trying to create. I would much rather know.
The one little thing we did, and I’m happy to talk about that actually, was that guy James Maynard, he had a lot of accusations. His reaction to it was the problem we had. We didn’t care if he did it or not, we will never know. But I tend to think that if there are a lot of people coming together, then what are the chances? Lots of noise doesn’t feel right. But his reaction was a bit like he laughed if off, and I was like it should never be funny. The only thing you need to say is “This isn’t acceptable here. These things happened, I don’t want that in my festival”.
When you bring people together, people are gonna be people, you can’t control everyone. But you get to control what you say, how you feel about what happened, and you get to care. It’s like “do you boycott or do you try to get in and change things from the inside?”. It’s a really difficult question in life, and I’m not sure there’s a good answer. What is more impactful, what difference can you make? Sometimes, it’s more powerful to refuse an offer. But most people don’t even know we refused this show before, so maybe it could have been more impactful to play and say on stage “so have you guys heard about that?”
SOB: Will you be playing other festivals in France?
Dean: Well, I know we’ve asked to play Rock en Seine, we’d love to, I love Rock en Seine! Because Hellfest is a very heavy lineup, but we’re more excited to be in a more rock and indie lineup, specifically with the new album, and Rock en Seine is great for that, so hopefully! I think I saw a spreadsheet…