Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison: I write out of a need to understand events
The spirited, lovelorn music of Scotland's Frightened Rabbit found a dedicated audience straight away in the Twin Cities, leading to a memorable string of packed-to-capacity shows here over the years that continues with Thursday's long sold-out show at the Varsity Theater. The talented quintet from Selkirk are touring behind their stunning new album, Pedestrian Verse, their first full-length record in three years, and have graciously brought along fellow Scots the Twilight Sad in support on a lengthy spring tour that is currently enthralling music fans throughout the U.S.
After Frightened Rabbit's hectic but successful string of shows down in Austin for South By Southwest, Gimme Noise was able to chat with frontman and chief songwriter Scott Hutchison before his band's soundcheck on Monday afternoon at the Gothic Theatre in Englewood, Colorado, where we were able to ask him about his (mostly) enjoyable experiences at SXSW, how playing his new songs live helped them coalesce so strongly in the studio, and just what it is about Scotland that inspires such indelible art and music.
Gimme Noise: How was SXSW for you this year?
Scott Hutchison:It was busy as hell, it was hot, it was stressful at times, but we played some fun shows to some great crowds, and that's really all you can ask for. So yeah, it was a good time.
Do you think SXSW is still a worthwhile experience for a veteran band like yours -- or even a young band -- given the expense and overall hassle of the experience?
Who knows, really? When anyone asks me for advice on what to get out of South By Southwest, I just recommend everyone to have a good time, first and foremost. Try not to focus too much on what it may or may not do for your career. There was a band playing before us who were visibly frustrated with their set, almost to the point of tears, and I wanted to tell them "You know what, you've got another show in three hours, and you can make up for this show and everyone will forget it ever happened." It's a total crap shoot, and you never know what you're going to get out of it.
For us, it's like, we're going here, we know our fate, let's try and enjoy it as much as we possibly can. And you know, sometimes it was horrible, but for the most part it was fun. And I just tried not to think about what the benefits of it all may or may not be. I have no idea, man [laughs].
You released two EPs between your last full length and the new album. Did that allow you to work through and address some lyrical themes before you tackled the larger work of Pedestrian Verse?
They were all kind of written at the same time, and the two EPs came out of the same sessions, but those songs didn't seem to fit or have a place on the new record, minus "State Hospital" obviously. They were anomalies, but ones that we were all very fond of, and we wanted to get them out on a format that was a bit more high profile than just a B-side, which tend to get lost over the years. We wanted them to be heard, and that was the main reason for it, but they just didn't fit on Pedestrian Verse.
How did playing some of these new songs live before heading into the studio help the songs, and the new album itself, coalesce?
I think while we were playing them on the road, we were able to talk about their faults and there were things we agreed that we were able to improve on, and they developed naturally. We're aware that songs that we wrote on previous records have now taken on a very different form live, and that's down to us becoming better performers. Now, if we can take some of those steps before we even hit the studio, then the song might become an improved version or a more comfortable version.
And also, we were aware that we wanted to record a lot of this album live, and nearly all of the guts or the bare bones of this record are live takes of just the five of us in a room. So, it was important that we were all comfortable with these songs before we even got to that stage, so playing it on the road served a great purpose. The songs already felt worn and comfortable for all of us by the time we hit the studio.
State Hospital is not only the name of your most recent EP, but it is a central song on the new album, and a line from the song actually gives the record its title. Can you talk about the significance and overall impact of that song for you?
For me, that song is really important. It was one of the first that I wrote for the album, and it was part of a process of me trying to stop writing about myself. I'd written three records that were essentially about my own life experience, and very much focused on my life. And I think what I became aware of lately while we've been playing live, is that every song we'd play for an hour and a half would be about me, and that seemed really self-indulgent. It was a mode of communication that I'd grown comfortable with, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing creatively.
So, "State Hospital" was a way for me, in a sense, to just challenge myself to write about another character, and fictionalizing something really -- just another form of storytelling. So, it's a start of a process that I'm utilizing, and while I'm far from fantastic at it, I'm really excited about what it means for the future of Frightened Rabbit's music. So, it's something that I definitely want to investigate further. It also helped set the tone for the record in a good way, I think.
But then you did eventually return to some far more personal themes on the album itself, correct?
Yeah, absolutely. There was no choice. A lot of stuff was going on, and I write out of a need to figure stuff out, and a lot of stuff needed figuring out. I had to at least try and apply the same imagery that is going on in say "State Hospital," "Acts Of Man," or "Backyard Skulls," I had to try and apply some of those new modes of language to those songs that were about me. It's slightly more oblique, but the album's got to have those moments -- because I write out of a need to understand events, and there have been a lot of events to understand over the last two years.
Every time that I've seen you perform live, your between song banter is so humorous and convivial. Is that a way for you to balance out the often weighty subject matter of the songs themselves?
It's definitely not scripted or anything, but I do enjoy that type of communication with the audience. I think it does sometimes surprise people that I actually do have a sense of humor given some of the subject matter of my songs. But I think it's a really good way of bringing a room together. You can do that with songs as well, and of course there's a unifying state of listening and singing along to a song with a room full of people that's just great. But I think if you can also project a bit of your personality on things, people seem closer to the band, and that's a very important part of what we do. There's not this barrier between us and our fans that a lot of bands maybe benefit from or depend on -- that's not my thing at all. Performing is like a two-way train for me. It's really nice to have an interaction with the crowd, it just makes the show unique to that night, and a much more personal experience for everyone involved.
You seem to have an affinity for Minneapolis -- and this city certainly has plenty of love for you as well, as you sell out each and every show you play here. What has drawn you in to the charms of Minneapolis?
Yeah, we love it there. It's one of those places where it always seems to have worked, but I can't seem to put my finger on exactly why. Maybe it has something to do with drinking, I don't know [laughs]. The shows have always seemed to work for us. From Chicago up through Milwaukee and Minneapolis, we have just always felt a really welcoming atmosphere whenever we play in those cities. But I really have no idea why, specifically -- and if I could put my finger on it, maybe the whole mysterious region would be ruined, so I'm quite happy just to go with it, and I really look forward to coming back every time.
Some of my favorite musical acts have come out of Scotland -- Idlewild, Belle & Sebastian, you guys, of course. Can you explain what it is about Scotland that inspires such great art and music?
There's definitely a rich history here, and those two bands that you mentioned both inspired me to make music in the first place. Within that long history of Scottish music there's this constant passing on of that baton, really. My admiration of Idlewild, say, spurred me on to make my music. But also, there's the weather -- it's not great. If you like spending time indoors, music is a great indoor pursuit in Scotland.
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