It’s been a big year for French synthwave artist Franck Hueso and his Carpenter Brut project. He’s toured the globe at what seems like a constant pace, and released the divisive but outstanding Leather Teeth, which can sound as much like Sébastien Tellier as it does metal or dark synthwave.
I caught up with Hueso while he was somewhere between suburban DC and New York while opening for Ministry on several American tour dates. (If you can, I highly recommend you see Carpenter Brut live. Metal guitarist — nay, a shredder —Adrien Grousset and drummer Florent Marcadet join him for what is a visceral and compelling experience.)
In our email exchange, the man — whose music has been in Hotline Miami 2 and The Crew — and I tackled Leather Teeth quite a bit. He discusses why he made the album he did and what he thinks of fan response to his escalation of creative risk-taking since the album’s February release. We also touched on his tour milestones, the state of synthwave, and what the future holds for Carpenter Brut.
Vehlinggo: How did you approach writing and recording this album and why did you make different choices this time around?
Carpenter Brut: I don’t like to do the same thing all the time, and I wanted to lighten up my music a little, make it a little more “synthwave” and avoid racing for violence. I wasn’t in that state of mind.
In my new opus, Leather Teeth, the main character is still a young student in love, and not yet the serial killer he will become in the second part of the trilogy. Even if he has tantrums as in “Monday Hunt” or “Hairspray Hurricane,” he is still convinced that he can conquer Kendra, the cheerleader. So it seemed difficult to me, given the history, to write something musically violent.
Building off that, what does this album mean to you?
I tried to change the color of Carpenter Brut a little bit — see how I could get by doing something a little more rock, lighter. I already knew that the second album would be darker and more violent. I like to have fun with contrasts — and I know this new album didn’t please those who wanted “Turbo Killer” or “Le Perv “on a loop.
Nevertheless, it is an album that I appreciate, because it was composed and recorded in a rather complicated period for Carpenter Brut and I am happy with the result, despite all the constraints.
What were your primary influences for Leather Teeth? I don’t specifically mean bands or artists — you could have been influenced by your geography, your life circumstances, your fans, and so forth, in addition to musicians or even films.
Judas Priest, and the glam rock of the ‘80s. I wanted to pay tribute to this period, which remains the coolest and most fun of heavy metal. I didn’t go any further than that.
“I tried to change the color of Carpenter Brut a little bit.”
The record has been out for several months. What’s your opinion on the response to the album? Anything unexpected?
The reception, in my point of view, is mixed, but the album sold almost as well as the trilogy released three years ago. So it seems to be more of a personal feeling than a reality. Early fans are divided between those who understand and appreciate the evolution and those who would have preferred me to do the same songs again and thus who find this album unremarkable.
In the end, I’m in the same position as any artist who releases a new album. Nothing new in that. The English metal press — Metal Hammer, Kerrang, etc. — is starting to take an interest in my case, which is a very good thing, because England is still the cradle of absolutely everything in music. So if you catch their eye, it’s a pretty good sign.
“England is still the cradle of absolutely everything in music.”
You played Coachella earlier this year. Can you tell us about that experience? You might be the first — certainly one of the first — synthwave acts to do this.
Of course, it always looks good on a resume to play there. I don’t know if Kavinsky, for example, played it or not, but otherwise it makes me the first or one of the first bands in this style to actually play it. So that’s nice. On the other hand, the reality is that we played in front of 200 people, because everyone had gone to see The Weeknd, and I obviously can’t compete with him. Haha. (Editor’s Note: Further research shows that Kavinsky played Coachella in 2008. Nevertheless, the presence of synthwavers or those like Kavinsky, who are tangentially synthwave, is a rarity.)
Anyway, it also allowed me to see Jean-Michel Jarre and to be amazed by his light and visual show. So not everything is negative. Haha.
Interesting question. I learned that I could do 100 dates and 100,000 km in one year without dying of fatigue, which is quite reassuring. I have a disastrous carbon footprint, however.
I met a lot of people at our shows ready to have fun — who dress up, who sing and dance — despite a shitty global general atmosphere, where all extremes get in the way to impose their retrograde and stupid visions. All is probably not lost.
What do you think of the state of synthwave in 2018? And what future is there for the genre?
I don’t know about that. There are lots of bands, but few tour like we do — like Perturbator, Dance With The Dead, or GosT. And that’s unfortunate. I don’t think this style is destined to be played in a bar or little clubs, but it may end up in a fucking stadium — maybe not with us, but with the next generation of synthwave artists.
“… We are dangerously close to the limit..”
In any case, two things must be clearly separated: the real fans of this music and of this ‘80s era and those who are surfing on the visual or musical wave, such as Muse, for example. There will always be aficionados to play or listen to synthwave, but the general public will be fed when this trend will invade all the media, movies, fashion, etc. …For the moment it is fine, but we are dangerously close to the limit.
2019: Back to the composition of the next album for a release in 2020. 2019 will be also the release of [Seth Ickerman’s] Blood Machines, and why not do some collaborations that I declined this year because I spent my time on tour?
I think it won’t hurt to keep a low profile, just to recharge the batteries, test new sounds [and] new synths… Touring is exciting, but the basis of all this is the music I play at home, quietly.
Anyway, expect a bloody second album.