Carpenter Brut: "I thought it would be cool to make a metal album without guitars"

Carpenter Brut Leather Terror album cover
(Image credit: Universal Music)

Carpenter Brut has a real name. You can Google it. For now, though, he’s just Carpenter Brut. He’s 45 years old, French, and overly apologetic about his English (it’s fine). Most importantly, he has a penchant for big beats. That’s all you need to know. 

“People know my real name because, one day, a journalist told people,” he says, over a Zoom call with no video. “It wasn’t my choice. The rules from the beginning were that Carpenter Brut needed to be secret – people just had to focus on the music, the story and the visual. You don’t know the face of the CEO of Nike, but you know the brand. That’s enough.”

Carpenter’s sharp – he’ll trail off mid-sentence to translate a word he’s unsure of, thinking ahead. Quicker than a DeLorean at 88mph. He has to be. Since forming 10 years ago, he’s gathered increasing momentum. Releasing three ordinal EPs (reissued as an LP, Trilogy) between 2012 and 2015, he swiftly established his ‘thing’: garish, Justice–style rhythms and John Carpenter synth lines, flecked with guitar that’s heavy enough to crawl onto the Hellfest lineup. Carpenter Brut’s first ‘proper’ full-length, Leather Teeth, arrived in 2018. It was a half-hour thrill-ride that chiselled his face – so just a blob, then? – into the Mount Rushmore of the subgenre now dubbed synthwave, alongside Perturbator and Gost. The trilogy format is what Carpenter Brut honed his craft with, and on Leather Teeth, he started another.

“Trilogies in cinema are always cool,” he explains. “Sometimes you have a bad second or third movie, like with RoboCop. But Star Wars? Back To The Future? It’s a cool format for albums, because you can write songs differently. You have this palette of vibes, so that you can write a love song; then you have the angry songs for when the character grows up.”

The ‘character’ he’s referring to isn’t just a throwaway line – he’s talking about a protagonist he’s actually created for his Leather triptych, for three movies that don’t even exist. You keeping up? On Leather Teeth, he established a schlocky, video nasty-esque narrative centred around a fictional science student from 1987 named Bret Halford. He’s bullied and he can’t get the girl, so he creates a potion to control his peers. The experiment disfigures his face, so he tries his hand at being a heavy metal singer. In Leather Terror, he gets stabby. The plot’s thinner than cigarette paper, but that’s half of the fun. Carpenter’s already come up with ideas for the third, closing chapter of the Leather series. 

“The story is just as stupid as every other Z-movie,” he admits. “I’m not writing a new Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Bret’s locked in a [walk-in freezer] at the end of Leather Terror, like in The Shining. He’s frozen, then there’s a power outage on the next album, and he’s defrosted hundreds of years later. He wants to take revenge on the descendants of those who bullied him when he was young.” 

When describing sound, Carpenter doesn’t grab musical reference points as normal musicians do. Apart from suggesting the next instalment will be a little more industrial, he’s drawing up a proper, thematic thread. He’s talking sci-fi adventures – everything from Blade Runner to Idiocracy. And with that giddiness, he’s forgotten to promote his current record. Off he goes, years into the future, already plotting Bret Halford’s fate centuries away. Leather Terror is worth reining him in for, though. It’s a denser, more metal approach to synthesised music than his previous outings, but with one notable difference: there’s not a guitar in sight. 

“Queen used to write ‘No synthesisers!’ on the back of their albums,” says Carpenter. “And then in the 80s, it was a big trend to use synths. I thought it would be cool to invert that and make a metal album without guitar. For the strongest riffs, I added, like, 10 synths and mixed them as if they were guitars; if you think the album is loud and powerful enough only with synth, I guess the job is done. I’m trying to… not break the rules, but add some new ones.”

Instrumentally, Leather Terror achieves its goal. It’s a hefty old thing, and that’s before you even take the guest appearances into account. Carpenter initially planned to take 2020 off, but when the world shut down, he pounced. “Everybody was bored at home, so pretty much all the people I asked were available,” he laughs. “I always liked Tribulation. We have common friends, so I asked Johannes [Andersson, Tribulation’s vocalist] if he wanted to do something. He answered, ‘What the fuck is Carpenter Brut?’ Ha!”

Given Johannes screams for a band that used to play Swedish death metal, his presence on Leather Terror’s title track caps the record off on a rather abrasive note. It’s made even more raucous thanks to drums from Converge’s Ben Koller – “We recorded it at Kurt Ballou’s studio, like for a Converge album!” – and a mean streak you can’t fake. Slap in a feature from a returning guest, Ulver’s Kristoffer Rygg; silky smooth melodies courtesy of Greg Puciato, making your hips swing like Elvis on a roundabout; plus Alex Westaway from British synthwavers Gunship, Sylvaine’s Kathrine Shepard and Parisian singer Persha… and that’s quite the knees-up. 

For someone who wants to stay away from the limelight, Carpenter Brut’s gotten around. He recorded a track with Municipal Waste’s Tony Foresta for the Leather Terror sessions, which remains unreleased. Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway, Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman and Deftones’ Chino Moreno were all set to appear, too – scheduling conflicts scuppered these collaborations, but the door remains open. Because everyone wants a slice of Carpenter Brut. He’s a lifer. He lives for heavy metal. 

"My life is pretty much only to be a musician,” he says. “I don’t have a special life. I’m a son of metal, and the metal scene is one of the richest in the world. With Carpenter Brut, I gather completely different people. Metalheads, electro fans, young people, old people. With, for example, politics, they always want two different people together under a common programme – something like that. With Carpenter Brut, you get so many different people in the same place at the same moment. I’m proud of it.”

He’s not bringing about world peace with sick beats, but the sentiment rings true. At your average Brut show, you’ll see all sorts larking about. It’s a vibe comparable to industrial bands like Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly, or the dance-punk crossover whirlwind that is The Prodigy. It doesn’t matter if you’re gurning, twerking, or headbanging. Just be cool. It’s something heavy metal fans have taken to heart.

"When we play at metal festivals, there are always people who are interested,” he says. “But sometimes, because my previous EPs were a bit more ‘funny’, it could maybe seem like a joke to them. But we played at Hellfest in 2018, in the tent, and there were 10,000 people there. Just to party!”

While he teeters between metal, horror and dance by a glowstick’s breadth, Carpenter Brut gets that his stuff is perfect for shit-hot chase scenes and sci-fi splattery. But he’s not some John Carpenter wannabe, living in the shadow of horror’s moustachioed maestro. Brut’s already making steam when it comes to scoring film, albeit by accident. Seth Ickerman, the team who directed the 2016 video for Carpenter Brut’s Turbo Killer, suggested he lay down some tracks for an upcoming cosmic horror film. In return, Carpenter Brut would receive a ready-made music video. That movie became Blood Machines, released in 2020 via spooky streaming platform Shudder. 

"I never got my video clip, ha!” Carpenter exclaims. “You ask for a four-minute video clip, and they come back with a movie. But it was great. It was the first time I’d made a soundtrack on this scale. I’m just frustrated that the movie didn’t get a wider audience.”

Horror, metal, unity – he’s ‘ours’ and we’re his. He notes that Meshuggah’s new record comes out on the same day as Leather Terror: “They also have a new album that’s got a guy with a knife on the cover… but my knife’s bigger!” Metal has embraced Carpenter Brut, but the sky, space or wherever Jeff Bezos fucks off to is the limit. The appetite for 80s aesthetics has never been more voracious, thanks to TV shows like Stranger Things, plus superstars such as The Weeknd dragging up the corpse of decades gone by for one last boogie.

Carpenter Brut is an audiovisual riot. He’s popped the synthwave bubble, and with a live show that goes harder than work events at Downing Street, the crossover scope for his shtick is similar to The Prodigy. We can’t see his face, but when this is suggested, you can feel the red in his cheeks. 

“We’ll see what the future…” he trails off. Click clack click clack. Space. Click. “Holds!” 

Leather Terror is out now via Universal. Carpenter Brut tours the UK later this year

Alec Chillingworth

Alec is a longtime contributor with first-class BA Honours in English with Creative Writing, and has worked for Metal Hammer since 2014. Over the years, he's written for Noisey, Stereoboard, uDiscoverMusic, and the good ship Hammer, interviewing major bands like Slipknot, Rammstein, and Tenacious D (plus some black metal bands your cool uncle might know). He's read Ulysses thrice, and it got worse each time.