Frank Carter and Dean Richardson open up about the making of their latest album – the complex, beautiful and intense ‘Dark Rainbow’, set for release on January 26 via International Death Cult.
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Nine years into their extravagant journey, Frank Carter and Dean Richardson feel like they have landed on exactly what it means to be a Rattlesnake. Even though that journey has seen the pair climb the pillars of British rock like it is second nature, becoming festival headliners and arena-ready heroes along the way, it’s right now that they feel the most comfortable, confident and clear in what all of this has been in pursuit of.
“There’s a difference between confidence and bravery,” Frank explains. “Once you stop thinking about what we should be doing, you then just do it. What comes out of that is this authentic identity that we have been steadily crafting around making records and living our lives. And with this record, I’m prouder of it than anything we have done before. It definitely does what we intended, which was to give ourselves that really strong identity moving forward. An authentic identity about who we are as a rock band.”
That record is ‘Dark Rainbow’, a collection of songs only possible with patience and pacing. As much about bringing together what Frank calls “gifts for the future” from across previous record creations as it is a realisation of what it means to not let anything stand in the way of what makes you who and what you are, it is the most realised version of the band to date. A personal, passionate and beautifully positioned canvas of experimentation, expression and euphoria that only comes from questioning every aspect of yourself.
“It felt, at its core, a bit like making the first record [2015’s ‘Blossom’], just in the sense of going, ‘Do we love that song?’, rather than, ‘Can we do that song?’,” Dean adds. “I’m pretty proud of how little that has crept in. We’ve allowed ourselves to grow and change, but with this one, it didn’t even feel [the latter question] was in the room. It wasn’t part of the conversation. That only comes from us being different people to who we were 2 or 5 or even 8 years ago. There’s a confidence and a freedom that maybe hasn’t been there before.”
Now, Frank and Dean are sitting down with Rock Sound to discuss how looking inwards and learning to love themselves helped produce one of the shiniest diamonds in their collection.
From skin-shredding punk to shimmering indie, thoughtful ballads to pit-spinning anthems, you never know quite what to expect from a Rattlesnakes record. And in many ways, ‘Dark Rainbow’ feels like a culmination of everything they have delivered so far whilst sounding nothing like their previous work at the same time. Much of that comes from having built up such an array of unique and unusual ideas from their never-ending creative sessions. Rather than scrapping anything that may not fit the mission statement of the time, the pair would put whatever was left over in a safe place to marinate and mature.
“It never feels like we are going back to music or lyrics,” Frank explains. “When you find those bits, they feel like something that’s landed out of space – you don’t know what it is, but you know you’ve got to protect it. It’s too precious a thing right now, so put it somewhere safe. Maybe we will check on it every other week and ensure it’s still alive. So then when we get to the time to record and all those future moments suddenly start making sense, it’s just incredible. It’s one of the most special and exciting moments as an artist. It is why I wake up and do what I do. You don’t get to choose it, but when you’re there, and it happens, there’s nothing like it.”
That’s how you end up with the post-punk plods of ‘Brambles’ and white-hot licks of ‘Honey’ alongside the spine-tingling patience of ‘Sun Bright Golden Happening’ and glorious self-aware balladry of ‘Man Of The Hour’. Different textures and tones all glisten with the same love for exploration, revelling in the pursuit of the authentic. And it’s important to note that this isn’t just a record full of songs that were crafted in the past. It’s a matter of finally being the right time to incorporate those previous feelings into what is fresh in the mind.
“What I love is that you’re writing music to find something new about yourself,” Dean nods. “That drive to make something new never goes away, which is always special but can be counterproductive to making a record, especially when it is already overwhelming to open the cupboard and see all of the things you have already collected. But within it, it allowed us to get quite abstract and instinctive within the pulling together of things. It’s a case of not putting any walls around ourselves. The world can do that and sometimes you can let that in, but a lot of it is in your own mind. You have to combat that.”
Over the years, the Rattlesnakes has become more of a gang than just a band. And with any gang, you must understand precisely why it exists to be a part of it. That sentiment feels all the more relevant when Frank and Dean explain that everybody associated with the pair of them and joined them in this adventure has allowed a record like ‘Dark Rainbow’ to happen.
There’s the rest of the band, first and foremost. Bassist Tom “Tank” Barclay and drummer Gareth Grover have delivered the sort of soulful and sensitive performances these songs needed, and keyboardist Elliot Russell even assisted with engineering the guitars on top of adding the quivering dread that only his array of synths could add. There’s executive producer Cam Blackwood, who sat alongside Dean and pushed them further into the swamp as well as stopping them from taking a brilliant song too far. There’s Frank’s vocal coach, Lorna Blackwood too , who helped him harness the power of his voice even more than ever before. That commitment resulted in fresh tears over vocal takes not because of their content but because Frank couldn’t believe it was him.
From mixing to mastering, management to design, the pair realise what a tight-knit and understanding group they have assembled over the years. They also realise that they wouldn’t be able to create in this way if it wasn’t for every one of them.
“This mix of people comes down to whether we can feel ourselves around someone,” Dean explains. “You can’t just think who the best at this job is because there are loads of people in the world who would be suitable. It’s more a case of who can be in this room and not see us go off course. It feels like an organic thing in how it has all formed. It’s very fluid.”
Anyone who has followed Frank throughout his career’s many projects and passions will know just how much he has poured out into the world, something that he is aware may have been a detriment at times. Despite the levels he has reached in the past, he admits that he has never been as honest with himself as he has on ‘Dark Rainbow’. Through a fresh lens of sobriety, he has looked back over the person he has been with an empathy and an openness that has resulted in the most vital of epiphany.
“I was not just asking myself, ‘Who am I?’ but also asking, ‘What am I?’. Not just who I want to be but what I want to be. I can sit and tear myself apart over the things I’ve done and been – the failures of my life and even the successes. Or I could understand that I’m a human being just like everybody else, and I’ve really been fucking trying. There’s a real beauty and softness in that.”
“At the end of the day, none of this matters if you don’t love yourself beyond anything else,” he continues. “I spent decades hating myself, and I was celebrated for it. I was paid for it. I would walk off stage bleeding and vomiting, and I would get patted on the back like, ‘Great job’. Now, I look back on it, and I see it as decades of self-harm and abuse. When you’re trapped in that cycle, that’s a dangerous place to live as a human being. You only have so many pints of blood, after all. To damage yourself like that is an act of betrayal and hate. To love yourself is a proper act of rebellion. That’s the most punk rock thing you can do.”
This kindness and compassion has resulted in lyrics that take us from heaven to hell in a heartbeat. Through whisky-soaked nights full of intent to numb the pain with lust to days of worry, regret and doubt. Moments of light in realising that this life is all we have and moments of darkness in remembering there were times when even that wasn’t enough. There are musings on success and the vices that come with it, alongside revelations on what it means to get everything you ever wanted and it still feel like ashes on your tongue.
Being able to write in such a way comes from the deep connection that Frank and Dean have with each other. Knowing the ins and outs of how their lives have played out and the things they have experienced has allowed them to understand what the other needs in the moment. Seeing the most raw and honest version of the person you admire and respect the most is how the best art is crafted.
“I was able to disconnect myself from the words pretty early on whilst we were making records over the last few years,” Dean explains. “We would write about pretty difficult lyrical content, but in the moment, what we could do together despite that was joyously fun. With ‘Dark Rainbow’, I have been reflecting on these words and their meaning a lot more. Because of that, the lyrics really came into my own process for the first time. I got into really understanding what was being said and the weight of that. I hoped that what I could do with it was make sure that the music was doing its job to support them. Because of that, I have been on this journey in every sense with Frank.”
THE ARTWORK AND TITLE
The cover of ‘Dark Rainbow’ depicts an incredibly ominous shed in the middle of the woods. Every panel is painted an all-consuming shade of black, illuminated by a spotlight that makes the whole set-up even more discomforting and bizarre. It’s quite the sight. Built by While She Sleeps’ guitarist Mat Welsh, it is ultimately a perfect descriptor for the universe that the album exists in. Some of us would step up to such a structure and want to explore it. Others would turn and run. We are all different and experience different emotional responses to things we come across. The important thing is that we are confident in our decisions and know why we made them. It’s about how we look at ourselves and question the people we have been, and what we see and feel as we take in the view. So, would you go through the door?
“There are days when I listen to this album, and I wouldn’t go through the door,” Frank shakes his head. “There are other days when I spend whole days inside there. There are days I’m looking out from inside, and there are days that I am looking at it from above. I even thought a lot about how the ground underneath would have changed because of its presence. I’ve always said that the album is a mirror. Whatever you need to see within yourself, this record will allow you to do that if you give it the time.”
Much the same, the idea of the title ‘Dark Rainbow’ is left up to the listener to interpret based on their own voyage. Do you see the vision of a rainbow decorated in purples, blacks and greys as a sign of despair? Destruction? Or is it a comfort that even the most beautiful things aren’t always as vibrant as they could be? For Frank, it comes down to the individual moments that everybody who allows themselves to experience the album will have. That first time they press play and the wave of emotions they feel as it enfolds them.
“This record is the deepest look at myself I have ever taken. For me, it was first about fitting in and then feeling intimidated by trying to fit in within this world. So, ultimately, it is authenticity, as is the title. That’s as vague and mysterious as I can be with it.”
Of course, the coming year will feature all the usual tropes for the band. They are set to play some massive shows in the UK in the coming months. Festival season will again rear its head, and Frank and Dean will decimate whatever field you place them in. But aside from continuing to grow in stature and size, ‘Dark Rainbow’ also feels like the beginning of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes being the band they have always wanted to be.
Such a sentiment is rarely possible for a project almost a decade into such an adventure. But because of what this record means to the pair, of what they have allowed themselves to do with it, they have a fresh outlook on what this can all mean. ‘Dark Rainbow’ will exist much longer than a record cycle simply because it instilled such huge change and clarity in those who made it. To love yourself is the most powerful thing you can do, and that power will carry these two through whatever tomorrow may bring.
“This album is already a success just in existing,” Frank smiles, something that feels like sunshine through the clouds every time you see it. “When you talk about the band’s future, I get nervously excited because I feel like we are on the precipice of something great. To have that moment when we have achieved so many things and talking about being on the edge of something completely new is fucking mad. What a gift, and I am super grateful for it. I feel really lucky to be in this band.”