From the doorway of Smith Street Tattoos in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, Gallows frontman Frank Carter, 25, looks like any other young tattoo artist as he sits at a desk and traces a drawing of a six-shooter and a rose onto a transparent yellow sheet of paper. His signature fiery red hair is tucked under a snug black baseball cap, which matches his jeans and sweatshirt. For the past few days, he’s come to this shop, which is owned by local masters Bert Krak, Steve Boltz, and Eli Quinters, to tattoo a few friends and earn a few bucks.
Not that Carter necessarily needs the money. Gallows sell loads of tickets and T-shirts, and they were paid over $1.8 million to sign a four-album deal with Warner Bros., which will release their second record, Grey Britain. So, why is the wiry vocalist spending his vacation time designing tattoos on a sunny spring day while reggae music throbs from a back stereo?
“This is my idea of vacation,” says Carter, revealing just a hint of contempt. “Tattooing is what I love to do, and the band is never gonna last for 10 or 15 years. So, I’ve been coming in here to learn from watching these guys, who are experts. Eventually, I’d like to open a shop in my small hometown, near London— because I may look okay onstage, but I’m not all punk rock and cocaine. I’m Diet Coke. I’m as simple as you get, man. I want a quiet life with a girlfriend and a puppy and I’ll be a happy man.”
It’s hard to believe Carter isn’t fucking with us, but after a long pause and a short stare down it’s obvious that he’s for real. There’s a stark contrast between the plain-clothed Carter and the crazed and shirtless 5´7? Gallows vocalist who, during shows, has been known to hang upside down from light rigs, jump from 15-foot PA stacks, and get in punch-ups with hecklers. Those two sides of Carter make Gallows one of the most exciting bands in decades, while simultaneously threatening to put an abrupt end to the group.
“I’m a completely different personality on and off the stage, but the way I am during a show isn’t an act,” Carter insists while tracing an image of a prosthetic limb onto the yellow paper. “It’s just a part of me that’s sitting there ready when I need it, which is when we play shows. Then, I lose my mind a little bit.” By “lose my mind,” Carter really means that he goes wall-crawling mad. A Gallows concert is a demolition derby with no rules, created by Carter, his brother and guitarist Steph, guitarist Laurent “Lags” Barnard, bassist Stuart Gili-Ross, and drummer Lee Barratt. And while the musicians are clearly inspired by vintage punk and modern hardcore, they’re equally fueled by the lack of excitement and sincerity they see all around them.
“I really don’t fucking want to hear another kid singing about another fucking party he went to and how much fun it is being young because, frankly, it’s not that much fun,” grouses Frank. “It’s fun when you’re about 14, then life gets really shitty. You grow up, you’re a fucking adult all of a sudden, and everything fucking sucks. That’s why I think my band is important. We’re not trying to make out that we’re anything but exactly what we are, which is a bunch of very angry young individuals.”
In the four years since Gallows formed in the town of Hemel Hempstead, England, the band has developed a reputation for volatility and unpredictability. The birth of Gallows was preceded by years of Frank and Steph jamming in basements with various musicians after Steph was given a guitar at age 13. At first, they followed groups like Pennywise. Then, when they were in their mid-teens, their parents separated, and the brothers embraced angrier, more underground bands. “What do you do when you discover the two people who you thought would never, ever have a problem on the planet suddenly decide they can’t be with each other anymore?” asks Steph, 24, talking on his cell from Watford, England. “The whole perfect, happy family thing is not a happy family anymore. That really took a toll on Frank and I.”
In 2004, when Steph left for college, Frank formed Gallows with his three current bandmates, whom he knew from the local scene, and another guitarist who later left the group. Frank left several times too, first to focus on tattooing, and again the day the band entered the studio to record their debut album, Orchestra of Wolves. Gallows auditioned other vocalists, but none fit the mold, so Frank decided to return. “I think when the band tried out a lot of other people, he realized no one’s ever going to be able to fill his shoes in the band,” Steph says. “And he also realized how much he actually needed the band himself.” Once finished, Orchestra of Wolves gushed with attitude, addressing social dystopia and personal pain with the blunt force of a sledgehammer. The album came out in 2006 on tiny indie label In at the Deep End, received universal praise, and was rereleased by Epitaph in 2007. Since they wanted two guitarists live, Gallows recruited Steph, who had just completed college, to fill in on tour until they found a permanent replacement. They never did. As energized and enjoyable as their songs are, Gallows went supernova because of the power, passion, and danger of their concerts. Whether performing in tiny clubs or stadiums, they left the crowd slamming, banging their heads, and eyeing the exits, wondering what the fuck was going to happen next and if they’d have to make a quick escape.