You could say that Bill Carter is a driven man.
The bald-headed singer and guitarist for England’s Screaming Blue Messiahs, Carter is a weirdly compelling performer utilizing an off-the-wall mixture of fury and vulnerability as he flails mercilessly at his guitar, wails in a high-pitched manic voice and stumbles about the stage with a slightly glazed look in his eyes. While there’s nothing insular about the spontaneous combustion of the Messiahs’ music, Carter’s eccentric appearence makes it seem as if he’s truly in a world of his own.
It’s no pose. In an interview before a show last Tuesday at Bogarts in Long Beach (the group plays tonight at the Roxy), Carter was polite but withdrawn. When asked the meaning behind songs from the group’s recent album, “Gun Shy,” Carter shrugged his shoulders and laconically replied, “I dunno.”
Doesn’t Carter write the songs?
“No,” the man with the shiny dome replied, “It was someone else in my body.”
Later, Carter attempted to explain himself. “Look, it’s very difficult to relate to all that stuff. I don’t know where it comes from. It’s a real odd state of mind. It’s nothing that I can really justify. I just know if something floats. I only know if it’s working.”
Carter may not be able to explain just what his songs are about, but he’s quite lucid about what he goes through when the Messiahs perform. That far-away glint in his eye is not something he got from practicing in front of a mirror.
“Rock ‘n’ roll is like an altered state for me, really,” Carter softly explained. “It’s a totally irresponsible place that has its own reality for that hour we’re on stage. It’s got powers that only work in that environment, in that time. That’s what attracts me to it. It is like a drug, that state of mind.”
Carter seemed particularly concerned with the notion that the Messiahs, which started from the embers of the group Motor Boys Motor in 1984 and also features drummer Kenny Harris and bassist Chris Thompson, might create a morally questionable atmosphere through its performances.
“I don’t think our music is evil,” Carter stated. “I wouldn’t do it if it was evil. When we first started, the initial reaction we got with the name and the music was very intense. We literally had to be taken out of one gig because the whole place was wobbling. And I thought, ‘Hang on a minute, this isn’t right!’ I’ve had to tone things down just to keep my sanity.”
Though Carter cites influences like British pub-rockers Dr. Feelgood, the Messiahs’ sound has a distinctly American edge, with it’s Southern swamp rock shading and loping western rhythms derived from blues, country and rockabilly.
“I don’t want to make any enemies,” Carter replied, “but I think that being in America is like walking into a cartoon, a real-life cartoon. It’s as compelling as a cartoon, it’s as seductive as a cartoon, it’s as tacky as a cartoon, it’s as shallow as a cartoon. It’s just a totally alien environment to me and yet it’s fascinating.”
Fascinating in an alien way is a good description for Carter himself, and he reluctantly confirmed the impression that his world is . . . well . . . different .
“Weird things happen to me all the time, really heavy things,” Carter claimed. “The past three years have been the most traumatic years of my life. It’s all got to do with the band--we seem to bring a lot of stuff out of the woodwork.
“Sometimes I think that rock is sort of like false gods,” he said. “You shouldn’t be doing it, getting up in front of people. I think I’d rather be a policeman. Or a pilot.”