"I'm a punk-rock renegade/A tattooed motherfucker dripping lust for a decade," sneers Frank Carter on "Kitty Sucker," a standout cut off End of Suffering, his new, third album with his solo band, the Rattlesnakes. Coming from just about anyone else, these words would fall flat like an empty boast, but from Carter, they have the ring of truth. The man is a punk-rock lifer, cutting his teeth first in the mid-Aughts with U.K. hardcore rabble-rousers Gallows before splitting in 2011 to front his own bands, Pure Love and then Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes. And he's not just a "tattooed motherfucker," he's also a tattooing motherfucker who apprenticed under renowned artist Thomas Hooper and has worked out of legendary London shop Sang Bleu.
But if there's anywhere that Carter truly excels, it's live onstage — or rather offstage, in the crowd, where you're more likely to find him at one of the Rattlesnakes' raucous, interactive shows. Whether shirtless or decked out in a white, flowery $3,000 Gucci suit, the 35-year-old Brit routinely jumps among the fans to sing, crowdsurf and, most remarkably, perform perfect headstands atop the audience.
All this might make Carter sound like some kind of punk-rock superman, and sometimes it seems like he is. But in reality, he's all too human, and not afraid to show it. End of Suffering's lyrics feel at times like open wounds. As triumphant as it is, the album was born out of personal turmoil: a painful divorce, the complications of co-parenting a young child (Carter's daughter Mercy Rose) and struggles with serious anxiety that led to canceled tours last year.
"The biggest obstacle I face at the moment is myself," wrote Carter in an open letter about his mental health that he posted on the Rattlesnakes' website in March. "I have carried [my anxiety] around with me since I was young, something I have hidden away and subconsciously protected. Because I was fearful of my anxiety I have in turn calcified it. It has grown into an uncompromising weight."
Making End of Suffering helped lift some of that weight, as does the catharsis and community of playing live. But Carter is always aware of not letting his art take over his life. "Pop, hip-hop, they turn to rock when they need to borrow a little bad attitude they might not have on their own," he says. "For me, the music that I play, I've never really allowed it to define my character. I define my character. It's like when you go out and you buy a pretty extravagant piece of clothing — you have to make sure that you wear the clothes, so the clothes don't wear you.
"It's the same whenever you're doing a performance — you got to make sure that you own that performance and you don't let it run away with you."
I HAVE TO ASK: THE CROWD HEADSTAND, HOW DO YOU STAY UPSIDE DOWN ON TOP OF PEOPLE? DO YOU PRACTICE THAT?
FRANK CARTER It's one of the mysteries in life. You just kind of hope for the best. But, luckily, though, I can do a pretty good headstand. … You lock in — it's like a rugby scrum, but vertical. I just grab the two strongest-looking people underneath me. I grab them pretty tight and then it's usually quite a core workout during the set.
ANOTHER THING THE RATTLESNAKES ARE KNOWN FOR LIVE IS THE WOMEN-ONLY CROWDSURF. WHY DID YOU START DOING THAT?
There's been this huge shift in bands speaking out when they see a girl get assaulted in a crowd. They're saying the behavior's not acceptable — and we were one of those bands. Then I realized doing that is already a failure. In order for that to happen, to bring awareness to the gig that it's not acceptable, someone had to get assaulted [first].
So what we've started doing now is being much more proactive about it. Very early on in our set, we dedicate a song just to women to crowdsurf. We explain why we've done that and the problems that girls face when they are in a pit or on the street, the gym, walking home late at night, going to a bar. We just remind men, who probably have never ever thought about it before, you know? Have never asked their girlfriends, wife, daughter, sister, about how they feel. Because men, a lot of time, we've been gifted a life of security and stability from white, patriarchal society, so we never have to think about the other side.
It doesn't matter how fucking drunk you are. It doesn't matter how energetic the music is. There's no place for that. Punk rock has always been about family. It's been a place where the underdogs could go and feel like they're part of something because quite often people that are into punk rock, they might not feel like that at home.
WHEN I SAW YOU PLAY, SOME DUMB GUY TRIED TO GET UP DURING THE WOMEN-ONLY CROWDSURF AND YOU PULLED HIM DOWN BY HIS HAIR. DOES THAT HAPPEN OFTEN?
Every now and again you get a guy who's either too drunk or he hasn't understood. But, luckily, I'm very happy to explain it to him. Actually, the other day in France, a guy just tried to climb on the stage while it was happening and two other guys just pulled him down. They told him very succinctly, "This is not your time." I was incredibly proud because that was a moment of action. That was when I realized this is working.
I IMAGINE THIS IS PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT TO YOU AS THE FATHER TO A DAUGHTER. YOUR DAUGHTER'S VOICE APPEARS ON END OF SUFFERING'S TITLE TRACK, WHICH IS A REALLY SAD SONG.
It's heartbreaking. I mean, the album is supposed to be hopeful. But that song, in particular, is at my lowest, all about my failings as a father. I'm already aware of some of them and I try my best to be the best dad I can be. Naturally, my career as an artist and musician, it keeps me away from her. I'm on a tour now where I won't see her for four weeks. That's really, really difficult to reconcile in myself.
But it has a beautiful moment at the end where what she says is — I was tickling her and she just said, "Well, it's complicated, it's complicated." I said, "What's complicated?" She laughed in my face and says, "Nothing." I was just astounded that my four-year-old daughter could sum up life so beautifully, innocently and perfectly in such a small amount of words.
ONE WAY TO INTERPRET THE SONG'S LYRICS IS THAT THE END OF YOUR SUFFERING IS HER HAPPINESS.
Yeah. I think that sometimes you have to look outside of yourself and understand why you're here. I have a huge responsibility to her, and to myself. It's hard for me because we got divorced, her mother and I, then in doing that, a lot came up in my life. I internalized a lot of my mistakes, but the reality is no matter how much I've hurt my ex or myself in the process, the one person I always focused on not hurting is my daughter.
Obviously, it's not as simple as that — no one's happiness can ever equate to yours. But it was a good point to focus on at the time for me. I needed anchors like that because I wasn't focused on anything good. I was in a really bad place.
WHAT REALLY STRUCK ME ABOUT END OF SUFFERING IS HOW HONEST THE LYRICS ARE. DO YOU FIND ANY RELIEF IN BEING THAT VULNERABLE?
It's therapeutic and it's cathartic to get it outside of you. There's definitely a freedom in doing that, but it comes with a price. It's a painful extraction process a lot of the time and, of course, you have to perform it again and again. I try to remind myself that, at that point, it's not for me. At that time, I try and flip the energy to be that example for [the fans], of having strength over your demons and allowing yourself to know that it's OK to be vulnerable. It's OK to cry. It's OK to not feel well.
I don't want it to diminish anything for any of our female fans, but particularly if you're a man — we are being guided, conditioned for hundreds of years in patriarchal societies to suppress our emotions. I think that is one of the cruelest jokes life has ever played on us. In turning us to be strong warriors, they crush down all of our weaknesses. When you repress true emotion like that, it grows inside you. Suddenly you've got a gigantic, anxious elephant in the room with you that you can't escape from.
IT'S TRUE. MEN GENERALLY DON'T LIKE TO BE SEEN AS VULNERABLE AND, UNFORTUNATELY, DON'T OFTEN ASK FOR HELP …
At all. We're terrified because we're told that if you ask for help, if you appear in any way weak or vulnerable, then you're a lesser man. In the eyes of society you're not enough. That just breeds an immense sense of insecurity, low self-worth and low self-esteem. It completely destroys your mental health. …
What I'm trying to do is remind everyone that we are all incredibly complicated people. We're usually made up of our masculine upbringing from our dad and our feminine upbringing from our mother. When we're very young, a lot of the time it is cut down quite quickly — like boys playing with Barbies. If they want to dress up like a princess, let them. Let them be the princess.
All we know of "feminine" and "masculine" is what we've been taught by society. You can't even look to gender stereotypes because they don't make any fucking sense. Look at civilization now, do you know what I mean? You can put fucking people in orbit and bring them back. We can do micro-surgeries on hearts. So how in the fuck do you think you can sit here and go, "Right. These are the feelings that you're allowed to feel, and these are the feelings that you're allowed to feel." Off you go.
SO, YOU MIGHT NOT DRESS UP LIKE A PRINCESS, BUT YOU HAVE BEEN ROCKING A PRETTY AMAZING, CONOR McGREGOR–ESQUE LEOPARD PRINT FAUX FUR JACKET. WHAT MADE YOU THINK, "I NEED THIS IN MY WARDROBE"?
It just manifested itself in my life. [Laughs] It's totally over the fucking top. But it is also incredibly beneficial because, in doing that, it drags all of the eyes onto me. They see me walking around, fucking, like, Conor McGregor ... but when I talk, I've got something to say, and that's not to diminish him — he's an incredible athlete. But what I lack for in strength, I make up for in being able to talk about things that not many other people can talk about. … And if anything, I think I've got more swagger.