The 405 meets Frightened Rabbit
This interview is the cover feature for The 405's Frightened Rabbit takeover day. Check out tonnes of great guest features, playlists and recommendations from the band throughout the day, such as:
It's hard to imagine there's many bands around who don't envy the position Selkirk's Frightened Rabbit find themselves in. Though their fourth album, Pedestrian Verse is their first to come with the backing of a major label (Atlantic). No one seems too worried about what this might mean for the music contained therein. There have been no cries of creative compromises, no slurs about 'selling out' – simply the recognition that a band who've long deserved a taste of success might finally be getting it.
Frightened Rabbit started out as the solo project of Glasgow School of Art graduate Scott Hutchison. As the albums have gone on the line-up has expanded to include his brother Grant (drums), Billy Kennedy (guitar/bass), Andy Monaghan (guitar) and Gordon Skene (guitar/keyboard). It was Frightened Rabbit's second album The Midnight Organ Fight that found them their fanbase with its portrayal of love and heartbreak as a disease – the record resonated for the way it brutally charted the long, slow death of a relationship, the emptiness it leaves when it ends, and, ultimately, how that loss can be overcome. With its more self-assured follow-up, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit found fame in America that seemed to far outstrip their success back home.
Now with Pedestrian Verse– a far more intricate set of songs, as thematically abstract as they are powerfully euphoric – Frightened Rabbit are equally big on both sides of the pond and have made the tricky transition from the toilet circuit to the Radio One playlist with their credibility intact. We asked Scott how that feels, and where Frightened Rabbit might go from there.
When did you start writing the songs for this album?
Scott: Two years ago. The start of it was weird because we made the decision to write this album more collectively – not the lyrics, but the music – and it was a slow start. We had to find a new way of working which was important for progressing, but it took us a little bit longer to get into it.
Was it easy for you to get used to writing collectively? I don't know how much of a control freak you were before.
Scott:Traditionally, I am a control freak, but I started realising that's a really negative thing. It wasn't improving the music in any way anymore. [Starting to write collectively] was an adjustment but it was a decision that I made as well as the rest of the band that it was for the benefit of the album that we all started working together. I was just getting bored of my own way of working. Certainly a couple of the guys in the band probably didn't believe that I was going to let them in that much because I had been so controlling in the past but I had to and it's definitely improved the music as a result, I think.
And the songs seem to have developed in a completely different way. You've nailed this thing that I always like in a band, where I listen to it and I don't quite know how you've made it sound how you have. I don't sit there and go, “There's a guitar, there's bass, there's drums”. On this album, I listen to the chorus of 'The Woodpile' and I don't know how many guitars there are, or voices, or whether there's strings in there. The production is just a lot denser.
Scott: There are dense elements but for me what [producer] Leo Abrahams brought to it was he was very interested in being very specific about each sound and each sound doing a lot of work. In terms of density, it's maybe not as dense as it sounds, because we made sure that everything was doing a lot of work. And he tried to really fuck with sounds a lot, more than we have in the past, so the guitars are a lot more interesting.
The lyrics are a lot different as well, I feel.
Scott: They might be a little bit denser. Hopefully, I've been getting better at writing and I think this album advances that a little bit further. I've been a bit more ambitious lyrically than I have been in the past.
I think the lyrics have certainly become a lot more poetic and cryptic. With The Midnight Organ Fight and you can listen to it once and go, “Well, this is a break-up album”, whereas with this you get a feeling from each song without it being a song about a specific thing.
Scott: That's good. I wanted to write in a dense way and a poetic way without revealing perhaps as much as I did on The Midnight Organ Fight. Having done The Midnight Organ Fight and feeling like I revealed too much I reined it in a hell of a lot on the album that followed that and almost it watered down what we were doing. I kind of resolved, before we started writing this time, to go back to the density, lyrically, of The Midnight Organ Fight without revealing quite as much.
Do you think people will be able to engage with the songs and the content as much? I've always imagined that if I went through a bad break-up then The Midnight Organ Fight would be the album I'd turn to and I think a lot of people have that relationship with that record, where they can relate their own experiences to it really quite naturally.
Scott: That's okay and that album just exists in itself as that. It can serve that purpose and a lot of people have said that it does serve that purpose for them, or has done. I don't think we need another one of those, at all. At the end of it all, people hear and see what they want to within songs and if anything does resonate then that would be a good thing. I haven't a clue to be honest, man. I don't know if Pedestrian Verse will do the same thing that The Midnight Organ Fight did for anyone but maybe there isn't any need for that to happen.
Given the relationship you've had with America, the way your band have been embraced there, would it mean more to you to play Madison Square Garden [New York] or the S.E.C.C. [Glasgow]?
Scott: [Laughs] Oh man, I don't know if I want to play either of them. I think… ah… well Scotland, for obvious reasons is very special but the S.E.C.C., the thing is, I don't have very many fantastic memories about shows there. But then it's pretty fucked up, like Bon Iver played there last year and I didn't think he would ever be able to play there. I didn't go but people that went said it totally worked. It's the only time they've ever heard the S.E.C.C. hushed, silent, which is insane. So maybe it can work, but Scotland means the most to us for obvious reasons, but I'd have my reservations about playing the S.E.C.C.
Was it always an ambition to sign with a major label?
Scott: I've always had the goal of trying to reach as many people as possible and I don't know why a band wouldn't want that, and I think a major label is probably one of the best ways to do it. We met with a couple of major labels but the way that Atlantic seems to work, it's got quite an indie approach in certain ways. We never felt like they were feeding us bullshit. They've never taken us and tried to mould us and change us. They've essentially taken what we've already built and done, and in a way amplified that and in a way made it bigger, and brought it to more people, which is all I've ever wanted to do. I don't think we've essentially changed because of the label – we've only ever developed because we've wanted to. Bringing what we do to more people is all I've ever wanted, and it's happening – that is being realised at this point.
From someone who's followed the band for a while, it seems to have been an enormous turning point. The last time I saw you play was at The Cockpit in Leeds and I see on this tour you've upgraded the venue [in Leeds] you've sold that many tickets. That must be exciting and something you never would have predicted.
Scott: Yeah, I think a lot of people have become quite surprised. For us as well, we try not to expect too much from life in general. There's a natural cynicism. But the overwhelming feeling we've got from the long-term fans is that rather than them being, “Oh fuck, that's Frightened Rabbit sold out, gone, no longer a secret”, I guess our long-term fans know how hard we've worked and I think there's more of a sense of, “Well, good for them”. And I hope that it's recognisable that we haven't altered anything in order to get what we are now experiencing. It's really gratifying that you can get what you've hoped for without dulling yourself down.
I think the band who've really set that precedent over the last few years is Biffy Clyro. They've been very gradually building their way up then had their fanbase grow exponentially over a very short amount of time but still without really losing many old fans and keeping that credibility.
Scott: Yeah, theirs is a path that I completely admire. It was like, yes, something genuine is happening and this is happening because of the music rather than any kind of huge marketing – I mean, there is that behind it – but at the same time they've stuck to their guns and it's hugely admirable. That was the kind of template. Something like that would be incredible to achieve.
With them I had this weird experience recently of going home and my mum had heard, you know that song that ended up being used on The X Factor? My mum had heard that on the radio and was like, “I like Biffy Clyro now”.
Scott: [Laughs] It's funny because pals of mine have got jobs in offices and stuff like that and they say there's all the people that have been banging on about Frightened Rabbit for years, and all the people that have been totally ignoring them have been coming in like, “That band that you've been talking to me about for ages, I really like them now!” And they're like, “Yeah… I know… I've been trying to tell you about them for years now…” and it's weird now for us to be breaking into that – what essentially the word is, is 'mainstream' market. It's very strange.
Yeah, what's it like being on Radio One?
Scott: It's surreal. It's not something we're in any way used to and within the first week of that single ['The Woodpile] being out we received more Radio One plays than we'd had in the entire six years that preceded that. It's difficult to process because I don't quite see what it's doing at this point in time but it's definitely a new thing for us and it's exciting. I'd be lying if I didn't say that.
How much bigger could you see Frightened Rabbit actually getting? Do you think you would reach a point like Death Cab For Cutie say, who you toured with, didn't you?
Scott: Yeah, and again, similarly to Biffy Clyro they're a band whose career path I look at and admire and I would love to get to where they find themselves now. It would be amazing. That would be fine!
Yeah, because they've reached a point where they can come over to the UK and they'll sell out o2 Academies but they won't play arenas, and that's probably as big as that band could get. Do you think Frightened Rabbit have a cut-off point like that?
Scott: Possibly, and that might be a good and beneficial thing. If I could achieve [what Death Cab For Cutie have], that would be fantastic, although at the moment I'm perfectly happy with where we are. There might be a stopping point before our music is absolute mass, mass, mass appeal, and that's a good thing, I think. I wouldn't want it to get out of control. Death Cab For Cutie are a great example. Biffy have gone way, way beyond that and are doing incredibly well. I'm not quite sure that we could get there, but fucking who knows?