Tuesday 29 January 2013, 12:48 | By Andy Malt
Q&A: Frightened Rabbit
Initially a solo project for singer-songwriter Scott Hutchinson, taking his mother’s childhood nickname as a moniker, Frightened Rabbit grew into a band over three albums: namely 2006’s ‘Sing The Greys’ and ‘2008’s ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’, and 2010’s ‘The Winter Of Mixed Drinks’.
Having released those first three records through indie label FatCat, the band then signed to Warner/Atlantic in November 2010. A year later, and with guitarist Gordon Skene added to create the current five-piece line-up, the first release under that deal was released in the form of ‘A Frightened Rabbit EP’, with a second EP release, ‘State Hospital’, following a year after that. And now, on 4 Feb, the band’s first major label album, ‘Pedestrian Verse’, will be unleashed. Later the same month the band will head out on a rapidly selling out tour of the UK, including a show at The Forum in London on 13 Feb.
Before all of that kicked off, CMU’s Andy Malt spoke to Hutchinson about the new album, his views on Mumford & Sons, and the future of the music industry.
AM: It’s over two years since you signed to Atlantic. Have you been writing and recording ‘Pedestrian Verse’ all that time?
SH: The new record took about eighteen months in total to make. The process was longer than with previous albums, mainly due to the fact that we worked collaboratively on the music this time. Writing within this new framework, it took us a while to hit our stride.
AM: So what was the process on this album, and how did it compare to previous albums?
SH: It was very different. We wrote the music collaboratively from the outset this time, rather than my traditional method of writing in solitude and almost completing the songs before the band had even heard a note of it. And once we got into the studio, we were adamant that we wanted to perform the basis of each track ‘live’, with the five of us playing together in the room. That had never happened before, and it adds an energy that had perhaps been missing in previous efforts. Our producer Leo took the songs that stage further, adding a beautiful level of detail to each track in the studio.
AM: Was it a conscious decision to do things differently this time, or did it happen organically?
SH: We did consciously push ourselves, and pushed each other I suppose. It became about a collective vision and ambition for each song rather than simply my own, and that meant that the songs took various twists and turns on the road to completion that none of us could have anticipated. It was definitely organic and certainly exciting.
AM: You seem to have settled on a line-up now. Do you think this is what will one day be referred to as the ‘classic Frightened Rabbit line-up’?
SH: Ha! Who knows? It’s the only line-up I can imagine having from now on. It’s the best incarnation of Frightened Rabbit in our relatively short history, I’m sure of that.
AM: The title of the new album potentially gives critics a free derogatory remark to use. At what stage did you settle on that title and why did you choose it?
SH: I settled on that title almost from the outset for that very reason. I knew that it left me open to easy criticism, so it was effectively a challenge set by myself to be a better lyricist and to avoid cliché and dull, pedestrian writing at all costs. I hope it worked. Time will tell…
AM: Conventional wisdom is that bands aren’t now allowed to develop over a series of albums before coming to more mainstream attention, but you seem to be doing just that. After releasing three albums on independent labels, how has the experience of moving to a major been for you?
SH: We’ve never had more time, space or freedom to make a record. It’s been such a fruitful period for us, and I think the label has been very understanding of the ways in which we wanted to grow. They realised that allowing us to explore new ideas in the right environment would yield results, and they didn’t meddle with that process at all.
AM: ‘Pedestrian Verse’ comes out as HMV battles for survival. Does the potential death of mainstream music retail on the high street concern you?
SH: Yes and no. It’s worrying that we are rapidly moving towards a time in which music may not be available to buy on our high streets. That’s definitely a negative thing. But on the other hand, record sales have never been a financially supportive aspect of our band. Luckily we are able to keep the band going by touring, and although it’s a hugely competitive arena, it’s still a very strong potential revenue stream.
AM: How do you feel about the music industry as it currently stands?
SH: The industry (mostly the business end, ie labels) will have to adapt or die. It’s pretty simple. There is still a demand for music, that will never change, but the industry will need to diversify and find other ways of making money, just as many floundering industries have for decades. Quite how that will work, I’m not entirely sure. Streaming is a tricky issue. On one hand, it makes your music easily accessible to millions of listeners; on the other, it doesn’t feel like it places much value in the product. Time will tell on that one too!
AM: As we speak, the internet is currently chattering hard about comments you made after being compared to Mumford & Sons. But do you think such comparisons are inevitable as your popularity grows and the pool of bands at your level and upwards shrinks?
SH: Perhaps the comparisons are inevitable. That whole thing was borne out of a throwaway comment I made that a couple of publications made a needlessly big deal out of. Perhaps I’m too used to magazines and websites not giving a shit about what Frightened Rabbit think and therefore I have been able to say what I like and have it go unnoticed. It would appear that this has changed. I’ll just keep my mouth shut in future! It was far less about Mumford’s music and more to do with having to hear that name mentioned in every single interview we did, being compared to them again and again. Ironically, I’ll probably be hearing many, many more questions about them as a result of the wee rant. What a fucking idiot I am.
AM: Sorry to bring all that up then! Someone you’re clearly more of a fan of is Aidan Moffat, who guested on ‘Wedding Gloves’ on your ‘State Hospital’ EP last year. How did that come about and what was he like to work with?
SH: A lot of the content on the album was hugely influenced by Aidan’s writing. I had written a chunk of the lyrics for ‘Wedding Gloves’ already and each time it came to recording the vocal I could just hear his voice. So I emailed him and asked if he’d like to lend a vocal and some lyrics. And he said yes. I couldn’t believe my luck! It was a joy and a privilege to work with him.
AM: And finally, are you excited about getting out on tour and playing the new songs? Do your songs continue to develop and change as you play them more?
SH: We are indeed excited. We’ve finished all the tour rehearsals and we’re ready to unleash the new songs. I’m sure the new numbers will take on a slight metamorphosis over time. That’s natural and healthy. I’m looking forward to it.