You've probably already heard of Death Cab for Cutie - let's face it, indie's #1 sensitive guy band have been hard to miss over the past 10 years, even if you barely followed pop culture. But Death Cab's tourmates Frightened Rabbit have flown a little more under the radar, despite a string of strong albums.
The Scottish quintet almost sounds like an unbuttoned version of the National, like if the NYC band wasn't so carefully orchestrated. Frightened Rabbit has a similarly rich, heavily textured sound, but the many layers and textures are messy, ragged, and noisy, in the best possible way. The lyrics are honest and visceral, and Scott Hutchison lays it all out there when performing live. It's easy to see why Death Cab chose them to open for their tour.
Frightened Rabbit released their highly acclaimed The Winter of Mixed Drinks last year, but they most recently released a short tour EP of three songs, one of which features a lovely appearance by Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura. The band opens for Death Cab at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul this Friday August 26, but lead singer Scott Hutchison took some time away from set-up in San Diego to speak with Gimme Noise about his lyrics, folk music, and the group's plans for a new album.[jump]
Has the tour been going well so far?
It's been fantastic. We've had great responses from the crowds, and it's been a real kind of dream tour for us.
Have you managed to get used to playing to massive crowds like this?
Yeah, slowly. I think the only thing that we've experienced like this is festival crowds of that size. I guess you can almost think of it like training or something, because it's a different scenario from playing a club show. You kind of have to...not change the way you play, but you have to appear a bit bigger or something. You have to be more dynamic. It's good kind of experience for us, and I'm enjoying the challenge of it every night, it's great.
Going along with that, how are you translating the songs live now? I've only seen you once, and wasn't as familiar with your music then. On your records, especially The Winter of Mixed Drinks, there are all these really dense textures in the songs, so do you use extra players at all?
Well, we're a five piece now, and I believe we were last summer as well. For us, it's really not about being 100% faithful to the recordings. I've always liked the idea that the live setting and the studio are completely different ways of portraying your band and your music. I never really think about "how are we going to do this live?" when we're making a record, it's more about if I like what I've put down on the thing that lasts. I think a live show, in essence, is about that time and place and the moment and the feeling and the energy. I kind of always hate it when I go and see a show and it's just kind of a loud version of the CD, that doesn't really do it for me. Really, all we do is take the more essential elements of the songs and try not to use too many sampled sounds or anything. We don't use click tracks or anything horrible like that. It's just about getting that gut energy and feeling into the whole thing.
Yeah, your songs all kind of have a really great building feeling, which works great live.
The build, yeah, there's a lot of that [laughs].
Definitely. I wanted to ask about the song "Skip the Youth" on your newest album. It feels like the centerpiece of the album, and the lyrical idea of aging too quickly is really unique. Could you talk about where that feeling come from?
Yeah! A lot of that album came from me being on tour. It's quite an irresponsible, sometimes childish way of living. I was going through my youth, but actually kind of making myself sick and tired, and a lot of that album was about coming back off this crazy tour and feeling like I had aged five years in the past year or something. I was sort of grappling with the idea that I might not even want to do it again. I think a lot of the time, I've really felt like I can't wait to be maybe 50 and have everything worked out [laughs]. And I think it's a frustration as well with not really having my life worked out and wanting to [have everything worked out], and trying to get there is making me feel old. It's sort of a battling with that, having a great time on tour but it's also sort of killing you at the same time. It's a weird feeling.
When you write your lyrics, do write from a personal basis, or do you usually have particular characters in mind?
Well, it's funny. With the last album, the protagonist in mind wasn't necessarily me. A lot of it came from my own experience, but I did a lot more storytelling as I saw it. For all that my life was, I was having a great time and everything, the band had started taking off, but to be honest, that's not very interesting to write about. I had to do a bit more fictionalizing with that one. But the one before, The Midnight Organ Fight, that was very much all about my experience. If you were one of the people involved, you would get some really specific references in the lyrics that speak to a specific place and time that I can remember really vividly. But I think I had to move on, because my life was working out really well. It was far less interesting to write songs about [laughs].
Do you have any plans for a new album anytime soon?
Yeah, we have it pretty much written. We're at demo stage right now, we're just finishing that up. We've written quite a lot of songs, and we're just looking for a studio and producer to work with. We're hoping that it will be recorded at the end of this year or the beginning of next. I'm really excited to get back into the studio, and I like the direction that we've taken with this new material.
What sort of direction is it?
It's taken a few directions. The main difference this time around is that we've been writing collectively. Not in the lyrics, but the music. It used to be that I would just go away and write the album, and then take it to the band. This time around we've been working together. We've had a lot more space and time to do it. We've been in residence together in a couple of houses in Scotland just to hash ideas out. I think as a result it's much more of a band album. All those layers that you were talking about that are present on the last two albums are gone. It's way stripped back, and I'd like to keep that way when we go into the studio as well.
FRIGHTENED RABBIT open for Death Cab for Cutie on FRIDAY, AUGUST 26, at ROY WILKINS AUDITORIUM. All ages. $35. 6:30 p.m.
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