Interview: Frightened Rabbit – 'One phrase we tried to claim as our own was Scottish miserabilism'
New album from the Scottish indie band as they prepare for T in the Park
At its heart it's very Scottish. The roots of it come from Scottish music and the Scottish way of life. ‘One phrase we tried to claim as our own was "Scottish miserabilism",' laughs drummer Grant Hutchison. He was the second person in the world to hear Frightened Rabbit's music, the brainchild of older brother Scott. 'He said he'd written some demos and gave them to me. I was totally surprised as it was the first time I'd even heard him sing. I think he felt more open with me compared to everyone else. And to be honest I was the only drummer that he knew.'
From there, Frightened Rabbit grew. Debut album Sing the Greys was recorded as a duo in their home town of Selkirk. But Scott needed a band to play his songs live, so the recruitment of Billy Kennedy (bass), Andy Monaghan (guitar, keyboards) and, more recently, Simon Liddell (guitar) ensued. As a band they bottled the essence of northern soul, mixing elements of folk with epic rock, transforming themes of loss and defeat into stirring anthems of strength and empowerment.
On 2013's Pedestrian Verse, the band seemed to solidify their sound. Inspired by Scott's break-up with his girlfriend, its honesty and stirring choruses connected with listeners while the band found themselves touring the world and selling out ever bigger venues as the album went top ten in the UK. 'You're not aware of it until you finish a campaign because you're inside a bubble,' says Grant. 'You can't really be aware of what's happening around you because either you're going to get a huge ego or it's going to freak you out and cause mass anxiety.'
When we talk, the Frabbits are holed up in a London hotel after showcasing new album, Painting of a Panic Attack, at a couple of secret gigs billed as The Footshooters. For their latest record, Scott tapped into another aspect of the modern condition, once again finely balancing raw emotion with sweeping indie guitars. 'The Frightened Rabbit folksy feel that we're all in this together and we're all pals in a pub singing along is less evident,’ states Grant. ‘It's far more sparse which gives it a feeling of loneliness and distance. Scott was based in LA and felt quite isolated from friends and family. The city in general doesn't have the same welcoming feel as Glasgow. This album isn't about the desperation of a lost relationship; it's just as personal but it's more about isolation from the things you love and cherish.'
You get the impression that Grant’s upbeat and easy-going nature helps provide a counterpoint to Scott's confessional lyrics. Lead single 'Get Out' is the perfect example of their synergy, a gutsy oomph of a tune that belies the naked honesty of its lyrical themes. Painting of a Panic Attack was produced by The National's Aaron Dessner who Hutchison met when the two bands toured America together. Initial plans for a solo record or collaborative project organically morphed into a month of recording sessions for Frightened Rabbit.
'It was in a beautiful church called Dreamland in upstate New York, not far from Woodstock,’ recalls Grant. ‘People were saying "you must have felt the vibe". But not really; I got out of my bed every morning, went downstairs and played the drums. I wasn't channelling Levon Helm [The Band].’
The record was completed over a final two weeks at Dessner's home studio. 'He works in a very different way from us. He is essentially The National and their process is always quite long and drawn-out because their studio is in his backyard. Whereas we always keep it more compressed: once we've done the album that's that. He likes to tinker.'
Like many Scottish bands, playing T in the Park means a lot to Frightened Rabbit. 'It's a festival all of us visited before we were in bands, before we were in this band, one that we aspired to play. It's incredible to play to that crowd.'
Frightened Rabbit play T in the Park, Fri 8 Jul.