Musical tastes fluctuate with the seasons. As the summer ballads have long since escaped our playlists, we've smoothly transitioned into a hearty diet of earthy and emotive tones. The warmth of an acoustic guitar and the poignant poetry of an inconsolable Scot is our ideal accompaniment to a steaming cup of cocoa sipped near a roaring fire. And according to our research, the moody allegory of Scott Hutchison and Frightened Rabbit's February 2013 release Pedestrian Verse perfectly suits this wintery state of mind. This is why we were thrilled to have hosted the group during a recent swing through New York City where they occupied a cozy Brooklyn library with a few of their awakening tunes. We hear Hutchison's stubborn yet cleansing confession in "Holy", the skeleton in the closet "Backyard Skulls", and the Game of Thrones-inspired "Candlelit". Luckily, there was no librarian to hush this incredibly charming session.
While you read to me from the riot act way on high, high, Clutching a crisp New Testament, breathing fire, fire. Will you save me the fake benevolence, I don't have time, I'm, Just too far gone for a-tellin', lost my pride, I don't mind. Being lonely, So leave me alone. Well, you're acting all holy, Me, I'm just full of holes, full of holes. Well I can dip my head in the river, Cleanse my soul, oh. I'll still have the stomach of a sinner, Face like an unholy ghost. Will you save me all the soliloquies? Paid my fines, And I'll be gone before my deliverance Preach what you like, I don't mind, Being lonely, So leave me alone. You're acting all holy, Me, I'm just full of holes. Full of holes. Don't mind being lonely, Spare me the brimstone. Acting all holy, When you know I'm full of holes. Don't mind being lonely, Don't need to be told. Stop acting so holy, I know I'm full of holes. I don't mind being lonely, Won't you leave me alone? Are you, oh, so holy, That I'll never be good enough? Don't care if I'm lonely, Cause it feels just like home. I won't ever be holy, Thank God I'm full of holes. Full of holes. Full of holes. I'm full of holes. into the category of songs that made me, ... you know, there was a-, there was a period of time where I, certainly sort of drifted-, drifted off the map a little bit and I was receiving advice from friends and essentially not listening to it. And I think, you know, Holy is about being that time, being a slightly belligerent fool. But you know for-, for my own reasons I guess. Second one, Backyard Skulls was a bit more open. That was inspired by a-, a novel that I read by a Scottish writer called Chris Brookmyre. He is a-, he is a very funny crime fiction writer. And he-, they solved one of the crimes by t-, using aerial photographs to find old-, old buried bodies. And I thought about that, you know like, there is-, there is-, there is skeletons in the closet and then there is bodies in the backyard and then the skeletons in the closet are maybe like not quite as bad as the bodies in the backyard, you know, those particular secrets. And they're also like, the idea that they are buried but-, but at any point of time can be found, you know, that's-, that's the sort of nature of a secret or a lie, you know, it's-, it's never gonna go away really. So that's the idea. All our secrets are smothered in dirt, underneath paving stones Lying waiting to be told Some stay hidden, whilst some get found Like a long lost soul, like a skull beneath the ground Backyard skulls, deep beneath the ground All those backyard skulls, not deep enough to never be found Here lies the first time I was wrong And yet there's still no sign, no X's mark this spot The ancient encounters with foreign skin All but perished by now, but you can't erase the grin from the Backyard skulls deep beneath the ground All those backyard skulls, not deep enough to never be found Through patio doors, lies century upon century Of skulls untold, hushed as suburban adultery And below our homes, underneath the lawns we keep White silent skulls are smiling at the hypocrisy The backyard skulls, deep beneath the ground All the backyard skulls, are not deep enough to never be found Backyard skulls, deep beneath the ground All those backyard skulls, not deep enough to never be found Deep enough to never be found Deep enough to never be found - And the third one was Candlelit, which was, inspired by Game of Thrones, I was watching a lot of that-, a lot of that TV show - ... think you need to change that backstory. - It's true though, it's true. I was thinking about ... I wanted to write, certainly not condoning violence, but I wanted to write like an ultra violent love song and that. But-, but the whole, I guess it-, the ethos of it is, like, you know, people should fight for things that they love and that they want, you know, no-, not physically fight but really, you know, I guess in other ways. Love's checkered past Is littered with violent acts And the blood that fills countless baths Each drop drawn in her name In this modern age The image of valor has changed But I'm ready and willing to wage A gut-wrenched war For a minute of your time I'm done playin' stone-paper-scissors Gonna take that stone and bring 'em all down with it Steal those scissors and cut some throats Put pen to the paper and I'll write you a note I won't get in line I will not wait for this With my bare hands I kill Just to be candlelit With you I have no checkered past I've never been a violent man Well maybe you've changed all that Each scar I carve is in your name So let the suitors come I can see them off, one by one Open every last artery up Just for a second of your time Oh... I'm done playin' stone-paper-scissors Gonna take that stone and bring 'em all down with it Steal those scissors and cut some throats Put pen to the paper and I'll write you a note I won't get in line I will not wait for this With my bare hands I kill Just for the privilege Look at the blood bath Look at the mess I have made With my bare hands I've killed Just to be candlelit With you Oh I'd kill for one I'd kill for one night candlelit I'd kill for one I'd kill for one night candlelit
For Scott Hutchison, the songwriting inspiration can come from anywhere.
From a Scottish sitcom about a larky soldier who's served in Iraq. A break-up, his own usually a recurring theme, it seems, judging by the incisive, compelling accounts of heartache sprinkled through Frightened Rabbit's three previous albums, Sing The Greys (2006), The Midnight Organ Fight (2008) and The Winter Of Mixed Drinks (2010). A shit family Christmas that only got worse come Boxing Day. Or from a room-full of American fans main-lining a long-lost Celtic connection while also hoovering up a powerful British indie-rock band with a folk heart and a soulful love of their heritage. Frightened Rabbit are proudly Scottish, and adored on native soil, but their songs also seem to take on greater resonance and power the further from home they travel.
Ideas might have come on any one of the ten or so US tours undertaken by the band, each bigger, noisier, rowdier, more special than the last there aren't many British bands who can match Frightened Rabbit, formed by this thoughtful former art student nine years ago, for the level and intensity of their American success. Or they can come via a hero peer on the Scottish music scene, in this case onetime Arab Strap dipso-poet Aidan Moffat.
Or Hutchison will take inspiration from the shortcomings he himself sees in the songs he wrote for his band's last album.
"With 'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks' and what I tried to do there" begins Frightened Rabbit's founding member and singer, "and the things about that I didn't like that I wanted to make better this time The last record was purposefully open and vague in its imagery. But I wanted to write dense poetic songs again. And that was a kick off into 'State Hospital.'"
It serves as the curtain-raiser to a few things. The five-track State Hospital EP, released this September. Frightened Rabbit's upcoming fourth album, Pedestrian Verse, will be released February 5, 2013 in the US. And to the band's new relationship with Canvasback Music/Atlantic Records, a deal forged eight years after Selkirk native Hutchison started the band with his drummer brother, and after three albums made with respected indie Fat Cat Records.
"I feel very creatively liberated on Atlantic," says Hutchison, a man who with bandmates Grant Hutchison, Billy Kennedy (guitar, bass), Andy Monaghan (guitar) and Gordon Skene (guitar, keyboards) has almost a decade's experience building his band, cultivating a fan-base, improving their chops, and doing these the old-fashioned way: touring.
Earlier this year, the five-piece was ready to make their fourth album. But their producer of choice wasn't available, and Hutchison was kicking his heels. And that, too, fed into a song. "Home From War" was partly catalysed by the original pilot for Gary Tank Commander, a Scottish comedy that has gone on to become a cult show north of the border.
"He's a guy back from Iraq and he's just bouncing about, he's got nothing to do, doesn't know what to do with his life any more. 'Cause he's been structured and regimented for that amount of time. It's really funny but I found it quite interesting and sad."
Suitably inspired, and rather than sit on their hands, this past February the band hired a house in Kingussie in the Scottish Highlands and trucked a load of instruments and studio gear up from Glasgow. They then spent three weeks writing and playing and recording and writing and playing some more.
Three songs were immediate keepers: "Home From War," inspired by that aimless squaddie, a Pixies-meets-Coldplay giant that's sure to become a live favourite; "Off," an intimate, chorally atmospheric tune written in one quick afternoon; and "Wedding Gloves," a yarn about a couple who try to rekindle love by digging out and putting on their matrimonial garb. It's narrated by Moffat, to whom Hutchison entrusted the writing of the verses.
"He totally got what I wanted," beams Hutchison, who finagled the ex-Arab Strap man's involvement via a drunken, late-night email. "He said to me, 'Right, you want me to be a sexual Yoda?' I was like, 'Aye, if you like!'"
Come this past May, Frightened Rabbit's producer was finally available. Leo Abrahams was Brian Eno's assistant for 11 years, so on top of being a great guitar player, he's a man well-versed in free-thinking. "He was definitely up for shaking things up, and he has plenty of soul and understanding" all perfect qualities for the band's new songs and fresh perspective.
A month in Monnow Valley studio in Wales did the job. The EP's opening two songs, "State Hospital" and "Boxing Day" the latter a mordant yet defiant account of that Yule hell have been pulled from those sessions.
Only "State Hospital" will appear on Pedestrian Verse. Hutchison is understandably keeping the just-completed album under wraps for now. But he will say that "State Hospital" "informed the rest of the album," and that the bulk of the other songs "have a different atmosphere" from the remaining new songs on the EP. "I don't know how to describe it I mean, we did consider them all for the album, but they just didn't work. But I was really fond of what we got out of those three weeks of creative freedom."
Next up: an "underplay" tour across the pond, in which Frightened Rabbit purposefully slip back down a few rungs on the gig circuit ladder, playing small UK and Irish venues they've long since outgrown. For this British band with a huge following stateside, it'll be a challenge, but a wholly rewarding one.
It's just how Hutchison likes to do things stretching himself, pushing his skills and the band, taking nothing for granted and believing, always, that there's everything to play for. Why else give an album the title Pedestrian Verse?
"I scribbled that on the front of my notebook on the first day of writing songs for the new album," he recalls with a smile. "It was like throwing down the gauntlet to myself. Call your album Pedestrian Verse and you just leave yourself open to people going, och, that's a bit boring So," he smiles, "I couldn't write anything dull."