In addition to stirring hearts with their beautiful, three song acoustic session we recently caught up with Grant and Scott, the brothers Hutchison, of Scotland's Frightened Rabbit to discuss the roots of their songwriting, the personal qualities that seem to percolate about within their craft, and how their newest album, Pedestrian Verse, turned the focus away from Scott Hutchison, the writer, to Frightened Rabbit, the band.
- Hi I'm Grant. - I am Scott from Frightened Rabbit. We're at the Brooklyn Art Library, home of Sketch Book project. - You know there are-there are few cities that feel a lot like home. When we come here and play uh-- - I think particularly the east coast you know I always feel... It's just first sort of area of the country where we toured and encountered uhm... And-and it definitely there's-there's something about the people and attitudes here that does align up. I-I grew up listening to American music. You know I was heavily influenced by that. You know uh the-the-the whole start of my song writing I guess. Just the start of the of my song writing career and path was-was-was when I was listening to artists like Ryan Adams, and Will Cool, and Laura Contrail, and a lot of that kind of, what you would term alt country. You know when I-when I started truly writing songs in earnest, it was-it was a lot of American music that influenced that. - And there there, you know, there-there quite... It's quite easy to see the connection between the American essentially folk music, and Scottish folk music. You know the roots of both are quite, you know, heavily tied to the land, and you know to work, and whatever else. So there's definitely a strong connection to it. Are you acting all holy? For me and this Full of hope. - I think that pedestrian verse has, you know, has become this point in time. I felt that, I hope on par. However I would say that there's a large section of our audience that arrived to the band via our second record, Midnight Organ Fight. And I have a theory that any band you get into, it's that first record that gets that-that first record you come to, almost kind of be... It-it's certain... - I think even you know with that and with what's Scott's saying in mind, this album has reached a whole new audience who, I think for them in the future of pedestrian, you know will-will hopefully be that record. The one that they find the band uh, at that stage. I don't mind being lonely. Would you leave me too? The... Yeah the public nature of the outlet has caused problems I guess. It's-it's an unnatural way to uhm, to air your grievances, and uh to-and a lot of times, you know, even Grant my brother, and people I've been in relationships with, at first they pair to these instances were-were within songs, and that's odd. It can be come across as a very selfish way to work, but I think a lot of ours is I guess. You know It's-it's a selfish pursuit. - When Scott first started writing songs as well, there wasn't an audience there. So you know to make it a conscious decision to-to use it for that purpose. You know a-a-and the-the uhm, the-that came and it's a record two or three. You know, and that I guess when it became, you know, the public outlet that it is. Uhm, but then by that point you can't really change it, you know. - Can't take it back. - Yeah. He told. Some say heaven was. Some guy found like a long lost soul. - Yeah, with-with like the writing process on Pedestrian just being more collaborative. When it came to us learning the songs and playing these songs live, having the involvement from the very beginning, you know, it definitely feels better to-to release those songs to the public and play them, you know. - Uh, you can't really fake that kind of commitment to a song. Uhm, uh, I guess you just have to look at any number of artists who use session musicians, who actually do try to fake investment in a song, but that just leads to-leads to-leads to this like terrible faces being pulled and stuff. Just pretending you're into it. And I think now that it's uh, certainly less about myself, uh, you know and in an artist sense as well, I think there's definitely uh-uh, a greater sense of togetherness, and achievement as uh, achievement together. - Yeah I mean the reason, one of the reasons why there are still s-s, a set of personal songs on this record is I-I kinda can't help it. So I started up with this idea in mind, I was not gonna write about myself. There was no reason to, there wasn't much going on, aside from being in a band, and there's nothing more boring than listening to a guy talk about being in a band. - About sing-singing about being in a band - No I mean that in-in the sense of the song, it doesn't make for great material. And uhm-but then, so I started writing about other people's lives, and tried to, widening the, widening the lens a little bit, but then you know things happen. And uh-and uh it is definitely my way of making sense of these things that happen. Not deep enough to never be fine. Backyards Scotts. - I am Grant from Frightened Rabbit. - And I am Scott from the same band. Uh, you're watching Cable Music. Not deep enough to never be fine. Not enough to never be fine. Deep enough to never be...
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."