Interview: Frightened Rabbit

Interview with Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit

Introduction

Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson talks goading critics, collaborating with Wilco and the inspirations behind the band’s latest album, Pedestrian Verse.

Questions and answers

Hi Scott, where are you today?

We’re in Glasgow. It was album release day here and we had an in-store performance in Fopp: a wonderful way to celebrate.

You opened your own exhibition in London too, didn’t you?

Yeah. The idea came from our management and label, and I was blown away by the execution of the whole thing. Dave Thomas was responsible for the superb artwork on this album and it was great to have that centre stage. He spent a great deal of time on making what I think is a beautiful and subtle accompaniment to the music. It really deserved to be viewed in a grander setting than a simple CD or vinyl format. We also had a video stream of the fantastic work that Hand Held Cine Club did for us on our Highlands and US tours last year.

Why did you decide to tour the Highlands?

It’s been an ambition of ours for as long as we’ve had the band. I recall seeing an Idlewild documentary years ago, in which they took to the Highlands for a tour and it looked incredible. Our experience was no different – such wild and wonderful audiences, beautiful scenery and unique towns. We had a ball and we’d love to continue taking the occasional “road less travelled” tour to see where it goes...

So Pedestrian Verse is getting some great reviews: you must be pleased!

Of course, nice reviews are… nice. But then I try to see them for what they are – an ephemeral reaction to something that will last a great deal longer than any article. I look to the fans for vindication; the reaction at a live show is the best feedback you can ever get.

A title like ‘Pedestrian Verse’ could have been an absolute gift to critics – were you ever worried you might be setting yourselves up for a fall?

That was the whole point. [The title] ‘Pedestrian Verse’ is basically goading journalists into taking it to the cleaners, but I had it in mind as a working title throughout the entire writing process and as such I think it drove me to be a better writer. I was quite conscious of not using any of the well-trod songwriting clichés, as I knew it would be ripe fodder for journalists. Only time will tell whether or not I sidestepped the slating…

Bar the title track, none of the songs from the State Hospital EP appear on the album. How come?

They didn’t fit, it’s as simple as that. We had a lot of material at the end of the writing process and we had to be brutal with what made the cut. I was glad those four songs got their chance to shine: I would have been sad had they been demoted to b-sides.

Did that EP have any bearing on the sound of Pedestrian Verse?

I guess it made us realise what kind of album Pedestrian Verse would be. It was integral to the selection process for the album tracks – this was to be a celebratory album about the emergence from darkness, rather than focusing too heavily on the darkness itself. The EP is a bit of a wallow-er, and I love it for that.

How do you feel you’ve progressed artistically since The Winter Of Mixed Drinks?

Well, we wanted to strip it back a bit from the sound that emerged on WoMD. I think we wanted there to be more space; more room to breathe. We wrote this album more collaboratively and I think that this changed the sonic landscape of the band slightly. It’s not a complete overhaul of Frightened Rabbit’s sound, but I think it is a marked improvement.

Leo Abrahams’ input as the producer was key to creating that space and developing subtlety and refinement within the songs, without losing their inherent character. I think he helped us to make a very “complete” album.

Were there any key musical reference points?

Whilst we were writing we were inspired by everything we heard: Caribou, Peter Gabriel, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Shins, Grandaddy, The Phantom Band, to name but a few...

Lyrically, where did you find inspiration this time round?

I think I tried to pull the focus away from my own life, though there is definitely some very personal material in there. Songs such as ‘Acts of Man’ and ‘State Hospital’ set the tone for the whole record in a way, using suburban/urban imagery to describe human nature and relationships. That’s something I’ve always been interested in and this album carries that tradition forward a bit, hopefully.

The first line of ‘Acts Of Man’ is pretty arresting. Did you always intend that track to be the album opener?

I actually didn’t ever intend it to be the opener: I had been intent on having ‘Acts Of Man’ and ‘State Hospital’ one after the other mid-way through the album, as I had written those songs as a pair. But when our US label guy suggested to put it at the front of the record, it made perfect sense.

Do you have a favourite song on the record?

Nitrous Gas’. It’s quite a personal one, and it takes me back to a weird time in my life. It’s good to be reminded of it, as I don’t wish to return to that mental state again.

Aidan Moffat appeared on ‘Wedding Gloves’ on the last EP. How was he to work with? He sounds like he might be a little irascible in real life…

Aidan was great to work with. We recorded his part really quickly and it was total a joy. I think his persona may be misleading… He’s one of the nicest people I’ve encountered in music. Honestly!

Do you have any more collaborations planned?

I’ve just finished a song with Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra. I loved his solo album Church Of The Good Thief, so I was pleased as punch to work with him. In “musical fantasyland” I’d kill to work with Jeff Tweedy one day; he’s an absolute hero of mine. That would definitely be a “die happy” scenario...

All your albums have been well-received, but it feels like this could be the one that really sees you crossover to a wider audience. Is becoming a household name something that interests you?

I don’t know how you would prepare for that, but I’m certainly not expecting to become a household name. Of course, I’d like our music to be heard by as many ears as possible, but if we remain at this level whilst continuing to move forward creatively, I’ll be perfectly happy with that.

We want our music to reach lots of people, but I just never want to feel like this is a band that is sitting still. It’s strange to think that our fourth album is actually the start of something new and exciting for the band, rather than a feeling like the “settling” of a career.

What’s been the highlight so far?

There have been so many. When a band builds slowly and organically as we have, it’s less about one moment and more about a series of moments that allow you to gain momentum. That said, I’ll never forget the day we played at T In The Park in 2010. If there was a “landmark” show for me thus far, that was certainly it.

Finally, could you recommend a few albums that you’re enjoying at the moment please?

Flutes by Flutes, {Awayland} by Villagers, Half Way Home by Angel Olsen, Hello Hum by Wintersleep and Hummingbird by Local Natives.