Composer Franck Hueso explains the scope of his Leather trilogy, the common threads between metal and electronic music, and how iconic films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Maniac, and Street Trash, influenced his sound.
Darkwave, synth-crazed composer Franck Hueso may not have began with the intention of causing a cultural shift in the landscape of heavy music, but it’s hard to argue that his illusive alter-ego in Carpenter Brut isn’t doing just that.
Though the project has been in existence for a decade, the trajectory of Carpenter Brut really took flight with the reveal of the 2018 LP, Leather Teeth. Drawing stylistic cues from the attitude of the likes of Judas Priest, Hueso proved audacious in swapping guitars for synth, composing heavy rock with little to no guitar and only the occasional vocal performance. It was bold, brilliant disregard for the status quo and one that positioned Hueso in a class all his own.
In addition to the style points that come with effectively executing a glam metal record with primarily synth, Leather Teeth set into motion the compelling character arc of Bret Halford – an American teenager that finds himself on the losing end of unrequited love. Deadset on gaining the affection of the popular cheerleader, Halford, an introvert that excelled at science, finds that his interest is not reciprocated, but rather, the cheerleader opts for the school quarterback.
As the first third in the Leather trilogy, here is where the transformation of Halford begins and the ominous mastery of Carpenter Brut hits its stride.
In terms of the storyline, Halford attempted to use science to get the object of his desires, crafting a concoction that would win over the cheerleader – only something goes horribly wrong, leaving Halford terribly disfigured. Certain he will never get the girl of his dreams, Halford shifts directions and explores his own alter ego, becoming Leather Teeth, singer of the band Leather Patrol. Finding a sense of swagger and bravado he hadn’t known before, Halford wouldn’t get just that girl, he’d get them all.
For the second installment of the trilogy however, the decadence and debauchery of glam rock segued into a much more sinister direction with the unveiling of Leather Terror earlier this year. With Halford’s innocence now long gone, the excess of his life as a rock star is paired with his unabated quest for vengeance – intent on spilling the blood of those that disregarded him during his younger years.
The scope of the 12-track compilation in Leather Terror seamlessly shifts the story into a much more ominous direction, but more importantly manages to accomplish something particularly audacious. Carpenter Brut has arguably made one of the heaviest records of the year, apart from the thematic elements, and done so without the use of any guitars and again, very few vocal appearances. The bold artistic endeavor functions as an affront to the conventions of what’s considered heavy. Yet tracks like “Straight Outta Hell” and “Color Me Blood” make a wholly convincing argument that the game has been changed.
Through his ominous, sometimes menacing compositions, in tandem with ultra-violence the 80’s slasher aesthetic, Hueso as Carpenter Brut pays homage to an era of music, cinema and pop culture that remains hugely influential, yet often misappropriated. The mastery of Carpenter Brut is his ability to tap into such a iconic era, while offering something new to the space. Carpenter Brut is the modernization slasher cinema’s glory days and simultaneously, a daring dismissal of what we have all built as muscle memory with regards to heavy music.
The era of Leather Terror has arrived. Hueso offered his take on the trajectory of Carpenter Brut.
Your brand of synth has been compared to the likes of John Carpenter and now your music is featured in a documentary that he narrates in ‘The Rise of the Synths’ – do you find any validation in those kinds of moments?
Hueso – The documentary is very cool. The fact that I’m in it shows that we’re part of a growing music movement, or at least that enough people are interested in it that someone decided to do this kind of documentary. So yes, it feels good.
Back in 2018 when you began this three part story arc in the Leather trilogy, did you already have the entire narrative mapped out for your protagonist Bret Halford?
Hueso – Yes, I knew the twists and turns Bret would go through. At least the main story. I changed the part three of the Leather Trilogy when I was writing Leather Terror. I decided that the action would take place in the future, so that I could end the trilogy in a universe between Blade Runner and Idiocracy.
How much of Halford is actually taken from real life? Is there any personal connection between you as the artist and Bret Halford as the story’s focus?
Hueso – Not at all. Bret is really too sick in this head, (laughs). He’s really a fictional character, a serial killer, like the one in Maniac. The notoriety makes him completely crazy, if you add his teenage neuroses, it makes him a time bomb. So you’ll understand that this character has nothing to do with me, haha. I hope so anyway.
Between the narrative associated with the Leather trilogy and the cinematic quality of the music, has there ever been any thought to fully realizing this three act presentation as a feature film?
Hueso – It’s true that it could make a nice film. But no one would want to put a dollar into this kind of production, haha. It will remain a free movie to make in your head. In any case, imagining a story from the beginning helps me to follow a guideline that prevents me from going off in all directions. It’s not easy to stay coherent in writing if you don’t have a common thread.
Alex Westaway of Gunship, Greg Puciato, Kristoffer Rygg of Ulver, Katherine.Shepard of Sylvaine, Ben Koller of Converge, Jonka of Tribulation – your roster of contributing guests on leather Terror feels very strategic, very specific. Did you have each of these guests in mind when writing the music or did the collaboration result from circumstance?
Hueso – It happened naturally, when the opportunities presented themselves. We had already discussed with Ben Koller to do a song with him on drums. The same goes for Kris and Sylvaine. For the others, as I composed the songs, I started to imagine singers and I contacted common friends to get their contact. The covid meant that the groups were stuck at home, so they had a little more time than usual to participate in other projects. I’m not sure I would have gotten as many features if they were all on tour.
Barney Greenway of Napalm Death, Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke and Chino Morenowere all supposed to be on leather terror as well right? Do those join efforts then get pushed to Act III or did you scrap them?
Hueso – It’s going to be hard to fit them into the next album because the musical style is going to be a little different, but never say never, and aside from the story I’m thinking a lot about, I’m giving myself a lot of freedom with the music and the choice of guests. So we’ll see what the future is made of.
Perturbator, GosT, yourself all seem to be leading the charge among synth wave artists that have tapped into metal’s subculture. Whats do you feel like the parallels are between the two niche communities?
Hueso – I feel like a lot of synthwave artists are metalheads. I don’t know all of them of course, and don’t know their musical background, but a lot of them listened to it when they were younger for sure and still do. So the link is made in my opinion with this background. The desire to make a music essentially electronic where you can feel the violence and the energy of metal. The visuals, like those of Gost for example, take a lot of imagery from heavy metal or black metal. But I think the parallel stops there.
You have managed to make an incredibly heavy record in Leather Terror and done so without any guitars. That feels like an accomplishment on it’s own. Do you take any pride in being bale to execute something like that?
Hueso – Yes a little bit, but the challenge was to make a powerful album. If I had felt the need to add electric guitars because it lacked power, I would have done it. It turns out that in the end I succeeded with only synths. I remember Patrik Jensen, the guitarist of The Haunted, once said “how can it sounds so powerful without guitars” about Turbo Killer. I think that stuck in a corner of my head, haha. And it was really fun to do, I had to try it.
Though Leather Terror is the second act in a revenge slasher essentially, the album is considerably darker, more violent then its predecessor. Did the isolation of the pandemic contribute to the more sinister tone of the second act?
Hueso – Not really. Personally I loved the confinement. I know it’s not nice to say that when people have lost people to the covid, but I happened to be able to compose in peace. I think that if the anguish of the Covid had played on my composition I would have perhaps made an album more happy, to reassure myself, (laughs). The album was already planned to be dark and violent. It represents the darker side of Bret Halford. So no matter what was going on in real life, I stayed focused on my story.
Given the homage to 80’s horror that is Leather Terror – what were some for the films from the era that stuck with you and maybe had some influence on this record?
Hueso – Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Maniac, Street Trash, Maniac Cop were particularly influential for the creepy atmosphere. I love these kinds of movies that disturb the audience.It’s a bit lacking in today’s cinema and it’s a shame.
Leather Terror from Carpenter Brut is available now – HERE