TAS Interview: Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit
Scottish rockers Frightened Rabbit hit a slight volcanic hitch delaying their North American tour - they were stranded at Heathrow Airport for days, wryly tweeting of their discontent. The ash has cleared and the quartet is finally on this side of the pond, catching up on lost time with a tour that will take them through the US and Canada, wrapping on May 24 in Las Vegas.
Back in March at SXSW, parked on a patch of grass near The Mohawk on Red River Street in Austin, The Alternate Side caught up with singer and songwriter Scott Hutchison who revealed his sunnier aspirations for the band's third album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, and admitted that the best advice he's ever received was "don't be bitter."
TAS: Frightened Rabbit has been one of the luckier bands from the UK. You broke through fairly quickly in the US.
Scott Hutchison: Yeah. It's been amazing. Don't ask me to explain it; I don't know why. We've toured a lot here. I think working, coming back, doing it again and again. The first time we toured the US not that many people came to see us. But we kept hammering it and I think that's the key.
TAS: You took your time, you didn't rush into this album. Do you need to give yourself time to write, get off the road, live life? Or are you the kind of person comfortable writing on tour?
Scott: I can't write on tour. I don't even try. It's not a frame of mind that I wish to convey. It's not the right place to be for me. I need to switch between two different sides of my brain to do two different things so off tour is the time for writing. And I love writing in chunks of time rather than sporadically. I like working in themes and my brain likes to have those constraints of a period of time and it holds an album together I think, if you write in a small space of time.
TAS: I assume you wrote this in the winter primarily?
Scott: No, it was spring! It was the end of winter, the beginning of spring. I think the album, though it's titled The Winter of Mixed Drinks is much more about the aftermath of a slightly odd time. And it also relates to things back in Midnight Organ Fight as well.
TAS: The whole idea of recovery after a shattered relationship?
TAS: So throughout your albums, you've been asking yourself about love and relationships. Who is the character singing the songs in The Winter of Mixed Drinks?
Scott: Well, he's less absolutely me. He or she, it's not necessarily a guy. A lot of life has been content for me since the last record came out. For me that was not going to make a record that was interesting to anyone. So in the end I turned to storytelling a little bit more than I did in the past. And also the last time was so incredibly personal, I really didn't feel the need to do that again. I didn't feel like I wanted to do that again. I wanted to write a more open, oblique album, purposely so. Some people have criticized it for that, but I did it on purpose. I didn't want to write another Midnight Organ Fight. That's just pointless to me. I wanted to change and challenge myself and there's a little more joy and happiness in this record.
TAS: The first song I heard off the record was "Swim Until You Can't See Land" and thought there was a real sense of anthemic triumph. As there are in other tracks on the record. Even though some of them come from a lonely place, there's something uplifting about the tone.
Scott: Yes! That's natural because of the way my life has been. I can't complain as much as I used to because it's been good. The only kind of sense of darkness in this record comes from being on tour, lost and drifting. That's the main theme that fans of darker parts of Frightened Rabbit will maybe recognize and I think the happiness and joy has been tough for some to take (laughs).
TAS: You seem a very literate person. Do you read a lot?
Scott: No, almost never. I don't read. I'm too slow! I don't have the attention span. A novel, because of the pace that my brain reads at, I can't maintain the pace that the writer intended and I lose a lot of the meaning I think. So I'm a terrible reader. I read poetry because it's short and quick.
TAS: What poets do you read?
Scott: Ted Hughes. I love Edwin Morgan, he's a Scottish poet. Phillip Larkin. I tend towards darker ones. But that's a format that I can digest better and prefer.
TAS: There is something very visual about your songwriting. Do you come from an art background?
Scott: Yes, I studied at art school for four years. It's the only thing I'm qualified to do. Draw! I gained a degree and I've hardly drawn since, but yeah, I like to be visual in the way that I write things down. Visceral, using recognizable symbolism, I guess.
TAS: Looking at the songs you wrote for this new album, is there any one or two in particular that you noted to yourself, "I've done something I've never done before."
Scott: Well, I think sonically the first song, "Things," is something I've not done before. It was purposeful that we put it at the front of the album. I think also with that song, it may be my favorite song I've ever written, lyrically as well. It's quite concise and it really effectively portrayed my frame of mind at that time. I think that one for me was the most exciting part.
TAS: I was also quite struck by "Skip The Youth."
Scott: It's the longest song we've every written; it's got three distinct parts. The main difference in the recording process between this time and the last is that we had so much more time. So I left the arrangements until we got to the studio. For me as well, that was a new thing - to go to the studio with the basic skeleton of a song and try to flesh it out there. All that stuff that happens in that song came from that period of time and that's exciting to me as well.
TAS: It seems you took new, really interesting left turns in this album.
Scott: I'm glad you said that - yeah, we did. One of the things I think we also did was after touring the last album I started to recognize this pattern that was present in most of our songs was that where there was a build and build and then a huge ending. And what we tried to avoid with [this album] was that. Even though "Skip The Youth" kind of does that. But i think most of the songs have a subtler arrangement. Again, we did that very purposefully. It's very satisfying to have the loud-quiet stuff going on but I really wanted to eschew that and try to be a more subtle songwriter.
TAS: What is the best advice that someone has ever given you?
Scott: When you're part of a music community, people's careers move at different paces and the one thing that I've learned and have been told, ages ago, is don't be bitter. Be happy for other people in bands. Your career will take its own path, just be supportive. And also, just keep going. If you do that, good things will happen. If you give up, nothing will happen because you're done.
TAS: Have you ever hit a point when you thought you'd give up?
Scott: A few times. Maybe even a few times a week. Maybe you play a bad show ... I get so disappointed in that. Maybe not at SXSW because it's so ephemeral and shows are bad for maybe a hundred reasons (laughs). But your own show, people paid, and I'm kind of a perfectionist. And live music is not perfect. That's its nature. That irks me sometimes and is frustrating. But everyone around me and everyone who comes to the shows convinced me that it's not the best attitude to have. So I quickly snap out of it.
TAS: There's such a vibrant Scottish scene - bands like Camera Obscura, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Codeine Velvet Club - what bands are you keen on?
Scott: There's one band called Meursault and they're from Edinburgh and they've got this DIY ethic which is awesome. They make their own records in their own homes and small studios and they put out records on a tiny label in Edinburgh which means not as many people hear them as I think should. And we've been there, that paradox of "I really wish you could become more popular because you deserve to be," but this is the way they want to do it. And to me, that makes them all the more awesome. Their first record is called Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues.
TAS: If you could ask anyone, dead or alive, to cover a Frightened Rabbit song, who would you ask and what song would you like them to cover?
Scott: I would ask Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel to sing "The Modern Leper." I love his voice. I think he could do it better than I can and I think if I ever heard that, I would definitely cry. He's such a hero of mine. That would be special.
Frightened Rabbit North American Tour Dates
April 30 - Philadelphia, Pa. @ First Unitarian Church
May 3 - Montreal, QC @ Petit Campus
May 4 - Toronto, ONT @ Opera House
May 5 - Cleveland, Ohio @ Grog Shop
May 6 - Newport, Ky. @ Southgate House
May 6 - Cincinnati, Ohio @ Shake It In-store
May 7 - St. Louis, Mo. @ The Old Rock House
May 8 - Chicago, Ill. @ Metro
May 9 - Milwaukee, Wisc. @ Pabst Theatre
May 10 - Minneapolis, Minn. @ Varsity Theater
May 12 - Denver, Colo. @ Bluebird Theatre
May 12 - Denver, Colo. @ Twist & Shout In-store
May 13 - Salt Lake City, Utah @ Urban Lounge
May 15 - Vancouver, B.C. @ Biltmore Cabaret
May 16 - Seattle, Wash. @ Neumo's Crystal Ball Reading Room
May 16 - Seattle, Wash. @ Sonic Boom In-store
May 17 - Portland, Ore. @ Berbati's Pan
May 19 - San Francisco, Calif. @ The Fillmore
May 20 - San Luis Obispo, Calif. @ Downtown Brew
May 22 - San Diego, Calif. @ Casbah
May 23 - Los Angeles, Calif. @ Henry Fonda Theater
May 24 - Las Vegas, Nev. @ Beauty Bar
August 6-8 - Chicago, Ill. @ Lollapalooza