Earlier this month, Issues announced their return to the hard-rock scene with their forthcoming album, Beautiful Oblivion. From the brilliant and bold debut single “Tapping Out” to the recently released and fashionably iconic “Drink About It,” the Atlanta band are pulling out all the stops to create an authentic, stylistic package for the next era of Issues. Frontman Tyler Carter sat down with AP to discuss his role as an LGBTQ artist in rock ’n’ roll and how the band’s newfound confidence allowed them to fully embrace their latest stylistic freedoms. 

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It feels like you guys have stepped up Issues as a whole both musically and visually, and it’s especially evident in the latest video for “Drink About It.” How important was it to involve music, art and fashion to create this entire stylistic package for the next era of Issues?

TYLER CARTER: A lot has happened in the last three years. It all happened naturally. We’ve been growing and paying attention to a lot more in the world of pop culture. It happened kind of easily. I had a vision of what I wanted these videos to be like and what I wanted the art package to be like, the style I wanted to shoot for. It wasn’t hard to come up with, and it wasn’t hard to find the right people to bring it to life.

In the last three years, we set our minds outside of just rock ’n’ roll or just metal and being able to see what’s going on in pop culture and be a part of that. Rock ’n’ roll played a big role in what has bread pop culture these days. Being part of the LGBT is a huge factor. LGBT run pop culture. I’ve had a lot of very awesome people to look up to and take notes from. Fashion is definitely a huge part of it. Fashion is much like music. It’s an expression of a lot of things we feel inside and the way we interpret ourselves and what we see ourselves as on the outside. How we want to characterize our music is much like how we want to characterize our appearance.

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Were there any nerves presenting these new artistic freedoms to the public?

Definitely a lot of nerves. I won’t say we were scared because we’re fearless in the sense of we try a bunch of things. We don’t typically like to follow a curriculum. We like to be able to do what we want. But there were definitely concerns and nerves on whether people would like what we did or [if it would] work.

We definitely are like, “Who cares if people don’t like it and we don’t have a career further than this? It’s fine.” At least the last thing we did was make a masterpiece that we are very proud of and that we feel represents us and who we are and what we are as a band. But if people do like it, then we feel like we could have a very healthy, long-lasting career because this record is indeed our best work. So definitely some nerves, but we’re very confident. We’re very proud of it and very confident. 

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You’re very open about your sexuality, and you’re a big supporter of the LGBTQ community. I think fans really appreciate how open and honest you are about yourself, especially in today’s world where there are people that frown upon the idea of wearing your true self on your sleeve. In your opinion, from your own experiences, what has it been like being an LGBTQ artist in the music industry? Do you feel like the expectations are different?

It’s hard in some senses because there are a lot of very queer artists that are a lot more flamboyant or a lot more nonbinary than I am that I feel that have it way worse. It depends on what music community you belong to or what demographic you’re aiming for. I find it especially challenging in my world because rock ’n’ roll has a big array of not-so-opened-minded people. We play a lot of what we call dad rock festivals. It’s hard to say that now that we’re getting older, and we’re becoming dad rock people. [Laughs.]

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We play these festivals where there may not be as many accepting people and not so many open-minded people. You might have middle-American, blue-collar folks that are very conservative. They do heavy rock and hard rock, but they’re not used to seeing a genderqueer, gay frontman in a metal band. That’s where I pose a challenge sometimes. Sometimes I get onstage, and I’m not thinking like, “OK, go up there and be your full gay self.” Sometimes it’s like, “I just really want to bring a super-incredible performance,” and I just so happen to be a gay frontman of a rock band. Then there are other times where I feel like, “You know what? Today I’m feeling especially queer and especially proud, and no matter where I’m at, these people need to see who I am.” There are so many different sides to me and my personality. So yeah, sometimes it can be a challenge because you don’t know how people are going to react or accept you.

We did a lot of festivals recently, and I was wearing makeup or I had my fingernails painted, but I’m still the same hard frontman I’ve always been. It was June. It was Pride month. I was feeling really blessed and really proud of my community, and I wanted to represent that. I think some people have it harder than me because some people are a lot more extreme than me. Some people are nonbinary. Some people are trans. Some people are very flamboyant in their style and fashion. It’s really brave of them. I think you should be who you are, but I won’t act like I have it the worst. Even though it’s a challenge for me sometimes, there are people out there who represent so much harder and deserve so much more praise, but they definitely have much more of a challenge than what I do.

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Some people have these ideas of what a rock band should sound like and what they should look like. You all are already challenging these mindsets with this expectation-defying album and embracing new stylistic freedoms. How do you hope to use your platform to continue to break down these barriers?

It sounds cliche, but we want to encourage people to be themselves and be true to who they are. At the end of the day, you spend your whole life trying to fit the norm or trying to dress and do the things we’re taught that we’re supposed to do in life. You’re born, you grow up, you play sports, man meets woman, they have kids, the kids go to college…There’s such a stigma around the golden rule—and that’s beautiful if that’s natural and what makes you happy. Don’t get me wrong. I love my domesticated life. I love being able to come home and walk my dog and cut the grass and do things that make me feel normal. When I say normal, I mean not a musician who’s constantly away from home and living in this fast life. My domesticated life is with my male fiance, and I’m very proud of that.

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I think a lot of people spend their whole life trying to fit whatever stigma or whatever they’re taught for their life to be, and I want to encourage people to be authentic to what they feel their path in life is. I think everyone should experience life. If you’re supposed to go to college, if you're not supposed to go to college, if you’re supposed to travel the world, if you're supposed to stay in a small town and live your best small-town life…whatever you’re supposed to do, just make sure it’s authentic to who you are, and it’s what you want to do. If it’s not what you want to do anymore, then be able to have the freedom to try the next thing. Life is so short. If we spend even a year in the wrong shoes, then we’re wasting a lifetime of happiness it feels like.

It feels like in the time between Headspace and now, you’ve really stepped into a whole new level of confidence. What has the journey been like to finally be able to express your inner self and be who you want to be through your art?

There are so many different sides of me, who I am, the type of music I like, the type of artist I wanna be, the style I wanna sing. I have such a passion for music, but sometimes I would get discouraged like, “Is this what I should be doing with my career? What is gonna bring me success? What do people like to hear in my voice to think, ‘That’s the Tyler Carter I like most.’”

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I got way too caught up in that for a long time. I was getting nervous because things were slowing down for the band. Paying the bills became a greater challenge than I ever imagined. That took a toll on my creative side. I was constantly battling which version of me should I be for my career and my success. Once I let those walls down, stopped worrying so much on that and started focusing on making authentic music and being authentic to myself and seeing where that goes for better or worse, that’s when we really started to notice ourselves glowing personally and in music.

It’s tough when you’re taking a whole year off to make a new album or taking two years to try and rebrand your band because of the big changes we’ve gone through. We can’t make money when we’re on a hiatus and trying to be creative. But trying to be creative when you’re broke is fucking horrifying. You get discouraged and sad and worried about what you’re gonna do next year.

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We were lucky enough to have several outlets of ways to make ends meet. We have a label that really believes in us and the vision of this album, who helped us a little bit with the financial side. That kept us afloat so we could get through it. Now that we’re starting to put out authentic music and we’ve found who we are and people are hearing that—it’s all the better because the success is real. It feels real to us because it wasn’t fake. It wasn’t manufactured. It makes you double proud when you know you were really feeling yourself and people are feeling that too. Now it’s real, organic shit. It makes you twice as proud.

What’s next for Issues?

We’re really excited for the next single. I think it’s going to blow a lot of people’s minds. It’s called “Flexin,” and we’re shooting a music video next week. It’s gonna be pretty fun. I think it’s gonna be a really fun, lighthearted song. I think it’s definitely going to be polarizing and take a lot of people by surprise. It’s the most Issues version of Issues we’ve ever done. 

Beautiful Oblivion drops via Rise Records Oct. 4. You can purchase your preorder here.