Gallows interview

3 07 2009

Here’s a reprint of my Gallows cover story for AU.

Gallows

Misery Loves Company

Words by Edwin McFee

As Gallows return to the fray bigger, better and ballsier than ever before, we sit down with frontman Frank Carter to dissect their new album ‘Grey Britain’ and talk bloodshed, bad tempers and being spokesmen for the next generation.

“Great Britain is fucking dead…”  ‘Crucifucks,’ Gallows, ’09.

 “For the past three years we’ve been such a cartoon band in the press,” spits Hertfordshire-based hardcore punk Frank Carter. “Everything they thought we were-we weren’t. Everything they made us out to be was wrong. This time around it’s all about the music. The press have had three years of us getting in fights, spitting and having tattoos and I think the general public is bored with it all now. They know we’ve got tattoos, they know sometimes our shows can get a bit raucous and there is plenty of blood, sweat and tears, but now people want to genuinely hear the music and see if there’s substance behind the style and the fact of the matter is that there is. We’ve always been about playing live and living and dying by our music and now we’ve got a really solid record behind us that we’re all extremely proud of.”

If Frank sounds more than a little fucked off, then he has every right to. You see, ever since his band arrived on the scene a handful of years ago with their debut ‘Orchestra of Wolves’ it seems that the five-pieces’ collection of tattoos and craving for chaos has fired more people’s imaginations than their ballsy brand of sonic smackdowns that former WWE superstar Stone Cold Steven Austin himself would be proud of. But that’s all about to change once their sophomore effort ‘Grey Britain’ hits the shelves.

“This record attacks everyone. It’s anti-authority, anti-religion, anti-government-it’s anti-life really. It’s mainly anti-apathy though. I want to try and break the idea that you can’t make a difference. I’m speaking to the kids of the world and trying to tell them that they can change things if they want to. A lot of the younger generation feel worthless and feel like they can’t make a difference but in actual fact they are the future for all of us.”

It’s quite surreal talking about educating children with a man who’s become notorious for busting himself open (albeit unwittingly) at gigs and who can often find himself strangled by his own hatred, but even the most pig headed right wing bigot would admit that he’s talking sense on tracks like ‘London is the Reason’ and anti binge drinking anthem ‘I Dread the Night.’

“It’s time for a change,” offers Frank, warming to the subject. “Whenever anything falls to its lowest point, that’s when the power is really up for grabs and that’s when it can go back to the people. When you’re put in a situation that is just horrendous, they can take the power back and I think that’s what needs to happen and I’m not talking about a revolution of riots-I’m taking about a revolution of fresh education and to help people dream again and start having aspirations. I want listeners to know they can do something with their lives-whatever you want to do-you can do it. Everyone goes through that bad spell of being a fuckin’ raucous teenager, getting fucked up, going down to the park. When you first find girls or boys it’s fuckin’ exciting, but really, the problem is that parents aren’t teaching their children that it’s ok to go through that but to find yourself while you’re doing it.”

“Take that 13 year old kid who became a dad recently,” he continues. “He needs to realise he’s got nothing to offer that child. He may think he can look after it but he can’t because he can’t even look after himself. At that age you can’t even legally get a job, so how can you expect to look after a family when you can’t even work. Parents now are teaching kids that it’s better to claim the dole and benefits than it is to go out and earn a living and that’s really got to change. We have to try and impress on these kids the value of a hard day’s work. It’s difficult for me because I’m in a position where I’m doing what I love to do. When I’m not in the band I try to tattoo as much as possible but that’s still a very easy job compared to most. I worked hard to get there though. These days, the only time now where I feel like I’ve done a hard day’s work is when I’m out in my garden with my brothers. We built a fence last summer because the old one was haggard and we rebuilt it by hand and we really felt like we did something good and I think we need to instill that sense of pride in one’s work to the next generation. We need to make children contribute to society or else there’s not going to be a society anymore. I just want them to have pride in themselves.”

 

And this renewed sense of pride is a theme that runs through ‘Grey Britain’ like the River Thames. The lyrics may be grim and cover a range of topics like the hypocrisy of religion (‘The Great Forgiver’) and politics (‘Black Eyes’) but there’s an over-whelming feeling of catharsis too. A feeling that if we all turn off Jeremy Kyle for half an hour and do something with our lives, then we can achieve something positive. In short, ‘Grey Britain’ is possibly the greatest punk rock record of our generation.

“This album is pretty much exactly what we wanted,” states the singer. “We’ve always been fighting against ourselves but now we want to offer something to people and prove that there’s more to punk rock other than venom. Like look at children now-they are the next wave of prime ministers and police and priests and teachers and you kinda think-what good do they have to look at in the world. There’s nothing there. That’s going to make for a very bleak outlook. If they don’t have something to live for, what can they then offer their children? Hopefully we can provide the alternative.”

The theme of ‘Grey Britain’ is a pretty simple one. It’s Frank Carter saying “the world is fucked and so am I.” However, with lyrics which bathe in images of Union Jacks, does he worry his songs might be misinterpreted? As a way of explaining the point, AU tells the singer that Iron Maiden’s cover for their single ‘the Trooper’ (a tune based on the Crimea War during the 19 century that features a red coated Eddie on the sleeve holding a Union Jack) was adopted by loyalist paramilitaries in this country. They even went as far a painting Derek Riggs’ image on a wall in the Maze prison, thereby totally missing the point of the song and high-jacking the image for their own purposes. Does he worry that the BNP or, on the flipside, anti-British factions may do something similar?

“You’re completely right-I am worried about that. I was very careful when I came to writing the album because I didn’t want it to be adopted by the wrong crowd of people,” admits the singer. “For example-the lyric ‘Great Britain is fucking dead’ is just a line about how I feel and about how a lot of other people feel. It’s not hard to see that the world is fucked but I don’t want anyone twisting my words. I’m not singing for anyone other than myself and the generation of children that are coming now because everything is in their hands.”

As well as a marked musical change (more on that later) Frank has also made a conscious decision to alter his lyrics too. Gone (well, for the most part) are the crude curse words of ‘Orchestra of Wolves’ and obvious as a high-waisted trouser joke round Simon Cowell’s gaff imagery and in its place is a more restrained, yet still utterly pissed off prose.

“I’ve still got the anger in me, but it’s more refined and focused this time around. Beforehand we were quite a messy band and on the last album I was always behind everyone else. The music was always written and I was usually late with my lyrics, but this time I got to sit down and consider the whole concept and idea behind the record. I got to be offensive and completely attack it. I think the lyrics are slightly more intelligent and ten times angrier than the first one. I’ve toned down a lot of the swearing (even though that’s just how I speak) because when I was writing the songs I just didn’t need it. The hatred and the bile was there without using any fucking swear words. Every word I needed was equally disgusting without cursing and in a way they had more venom to it.”

 

To say that ‘Grey Britain’ is an ambitious record is like saying Vannesa Feltz enjoys the odd snack every now and again. The slab of wax is complex (it features a 33 piece string section) catchy (‘I Dread the Night’ is the best Murder City Devils song the band never wrote) and controversial (Gallows perform acoustically on ‘the Vulture Act I’). But perhaps most surprisingly though, it’s a (gasp) concept record. So will the band be breaking out the capes and keyboards for their up-coming tour?

“Fuck off,” he laughs. “God I hate that word ‘concept album’ but you know what? That’s exactly what we were trying to do with the story and ideas behind it. More importantly we just wanted to make the record we’ve always wanted to make. As kids we grew up reading rock magazines and went to Reading and other festivals and followed groups on tour and we were in our own little band that never got anywhere and then this dream of ours happened and it’s happened so fast. We’ve toured the world so many times off the back of a record that was really a compete mistake. To be given this opportunity and be given the last great record deal of probably the rest of time [author’s note-the band signed to Warners for a reported £1 000 000] we all felt like if we didn’t use it wisely and live up to our full potential by doing every single thing we wanted to do, we would’ve felt like we’d robbed ourselves. We got to work with Garth Richardson and Andy Wallace-just complete rock legends and we even got to work at Abbey Road studios-one of the most important recording studios in the world. We did everything live and everything about this record is real. We wanted to hark back to an era when everything was simpler and just go-let’s fucking do it.”

For all of his bravado, Frank is admittedly shitting himself over ‘the Vulture Act I’ however. When we tell him that we think the song (which sees him actually sing for the first time) works really well, he seems visibly relieved.

“I’m really glad you said you love it because I’m a bit nervous about it. It was a risky decision on my part.  I really wanted to do it but didn’t know if I could pull it off and the boys were like ‘definitely give it a try. If it doesn’t work we’ll let you know.’ They seemed happy with it and I feel like it works. Any other time you could say ‘oh Gallows have recorded an acoustic song’ and people would look at you and think what the fuck are you talking about-you are lying through your teeth, but in the context of this record it really works. I’m so proud of it. I don’t listen to that song and cringe and that’s all I was worried about. I didn’t want that one song to ruin the whole album and it doesn’t. It flows so perfectly and effortlessly and it doesn’t disturb the ebb at all. In my opinion we’ve always been about making brave choices though.”

At the time of our interview, Frank is just back from tearing Texas a new bum-hole at South by South West. With yet more images of the singer’s face covered in a crimson mask circulating on the web, we ask him if he’s the clumsiest man in the world, or just a clever PR guy.

“Yeah…” he laughs, slightly sheepishly. “The thing is with those shows, there’s a lot of press there and it’s really industry only and maybe a few fans, so in that respect, because it’s industry only, we go there and destroy absolutely everything-including ourselves-in an attempt to get those industry people to understand what we’re about. At the same time though, if you go on You Tube and watch us perform I can guarantee you’ll see that same fury no matter where we’re playing. It’s tops off, sweating to fuck and completely trashing everything. We’ve never dulled down what we’ve done.”

And does he worry about his band’s success? Gallows are playing somewhat roomier venues this time around…

“We don’t know how it’ll pan out. The stages will be bigger but we don’t plan on changing any time soon. I won’t let anyone put a barrier between me and the crowd. We’re all as one and you can guarantee I’ll be in the middle of them, leading the charge.”

 

Of course, with a band like Gallows, it has to be a concern that their success will inevitably cause a split in the punk community. In the past bands with similar ideals have strayed away from their roots, but we get the feeling from talking to Frank that his boys will always be ones to believe in.

“People message me on MySpace asking if it’s really me and I’m like-of course it fucking is. Who else would it be? I don’t ever want to get to a stage where we’re kept apart from the fans because the way I see it is there is no real difference between anyone. It doesn’t matter anyway, it’s not like we’re going to be around in 20years time, is it?”

A lot has been made of the band’s longevity in the past. A year or two ago, this writer interviews Lags [Gallows guitarist/songwriter] and even then he confessed he couldn’t see the band surviving the decade, so I was intrigued to hear Frank’s take on the subject.

“I’ll put it like this,” he says. “Will the Ting Tings be around in five years? I don’t fucking think so. Most modern bands don’t last that long and most modern bands don’t play at the same level we do. Other groups usually have some sort of drug to keep them going but my brother [Steph, guitar] and me are sober-so we’ve nothing to rely on which means we’ll probably be fucked in two years time, but I still wouldn’t change a thing.”

After spending time in Frank’s company, I’m rather taken aback by the similarities we both share. Apart from the cosmetic traits [we’re both heavily tattooed and we both love the Murder City Devils more than life itself] we view the world in the same way-work hard, keep your principles intact and don’t give a fuck about the people too stupid to understand.

“There’s a song on ‘Grey Britain’ called ‘the Queensbury Rules’ and on it I’m almost harking back to an era that’s completely lost,” reflects Frank, expanding on the point. “Like back to a time where if men had a problem they would sort it out by a fist fight that was governed by the local towns-people instead of talking shit behind their backs. I think things back then were a lot easier. You didn’t need to worry about biological warfare because it wasn’t fucking invented. They were too busy about worrying about the Plague and putting food on the table and working to support their families.”

As we finish up our talk, we go back to his initial outburst about the media in general misrepresenting him and writing him off as some steak headed tattooed thug. Obviously it annoys him somewhat, but if the recent April Fool’s story about him guest starring in an episode of Eastenders is anything to go by (there’s more chance of a zombie Pete Beale turning up and eating Big Mo’s brains than Frank being Barbara Windsor’s bit on the side I’m afraid) he’s willing to see the funny side.

“Yeah, that was hilarious,” he laughs. “I got so much abuse over that and I think what was worse was that people actually believed it!”

By the time you read this, ‘Grey Britain’ will be on the shelves of record shops around the world. It’s an album that sees the band finally live up to their potential and is up there with the greats. Before e bid the singer goodbye, we ask, does the impending ascension to punk rock royalty concern him?

“Not really. I’m happy with everything we’ve achieved in this band and there’s not a day goes by where I’m not thankful and humble about it,” he says finally. “I feel so proud of this band right now, man. I feel proud and blessed. Well, I don’t believe in a god, but whoever’s blessing me I’m thankful for it.”


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