Thursday, May 7, 2009
Making Tiny Changes to Earth, A Chat with Frightened Rabbit
About two years ago at this time, I was given three tracks from a self-released album off home-grown label “Hits the Fan” by a band quirkily named “Frightened Rabbit.” It took one listen for me to run to anyone who would listen proclaiming “you gotta hear this.” I was not the only one who took notice. Fat Cat Records quickly reeled in the talented Scott Hutchinson and brother grant to polish the not-quite-demo, not-quite-studio first full-length LP for release in Autumn 2007, which I quickly devoured and again put into the ears of anyone who would listen. A most unique holiday track was released a few months later. Then, Frightened Rabbit went into the studio and recorded one of the most inspiring, gut-wrenching collection of songs these ears have heard, “The Midnight Organ Fight.” It’s an album that thrust them into the limelight of music rags, new adoring fans, and won over critics the world over, none of whom could get enough of Frightened Rabbit. And they were happy to oblige, putting out a live track-for-track show of “Midnight.”
OAN: Scott, you, Grant and Billy are playing like mad and very busy, so I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to sit down and chat. Let’s start with Midnight: we seem to be coming into an age of a rebirth of the concept album, an album that tells a complete story. Do you consider Midnight to be one, as it seems to tell a very personal story from a moment of time in your life.
Scott: It wasn't conceived as a concept album, but when we put the tracks together, it became quite plain that there was a story there. I am a fan of albums that take you somewhere, start to finish, and feel like a slice of someone's (or a group's) life. There is definitely that aspect to the MOF. When I grab on to a subject, I often become rather obsessive, and explore it to its bitter end. That's really all that happened there.
OAN: You write with a unique mix of poetry blended with plain language. How do you conjure the words and combine it with a truly uncommon instrumentation? Which comes first, your endearing Scottish croon, or the twangy, catchy melodies?
Scott: Melody is always first. If you don't have that to hang the words on, then I don't think you have a song. One of my favourite responses to our music is when people say they have been singing along to our tunes for days or weeks before they realise what they are singing. The content kind of creeps up on them, because before they were simply enjoying the melody and the beat. This may sound weird, but when I listen to other bands, I'm not really a lyrics person. Its always something else that draws my ear in first, so that 'other' draw will always be a high priority.
OAN: Let’s talk about your relationship with Fat Cat and how influential they were in promoting your work, putting that much time into Sing the Greys and carefully marketing your assault on the music world. Your relationship with them seems to be completely symbiotic. But clearly, they were a big propellant for your current success.
Scott: They have been incredibly supportive from way before anyone else (perhaps even our families!) knew that Frightened Rabbit existed. Our relationship spans back about 4 years now, from the day they put our Tascam demos up on their website, then we began emailing, then they put us on a FatCat showcase at The Great Escape in Brighton, even though we didn't sign to the label until about 18 months after... They're the only external force that has always been there, and that is a really wonderful thing.
OAN: Something a bit different now: I’ve seen you perform four times. And your on-stage persona is, well, quite a bit different from the material you sing and play. On stage you are this warm, joking guy who has been known to crack a chuckle while playing some of the most woeful material out there. Is it a mind-set you have to prepare for? The contradicting personas you have within writing his songs and performing them?
Scott: I feel really at ease in front of a group of people. There's an element of control when you perform for an audience, which i really love. Its another, very seperate skill to presenting a live show that many bands seem to ignore. I quickly found that, even if we sounded like shit, a few wry observations would set the show on the right track. Its a fucking life-saver some nights.
OAN: The live album really shows if off. Why did you decide to record a live version, track-by-track, of Midnight. And though I haven’t been a personal witness to it, why did you decide to occasionally cover “Fake Empire” as a prelude to “Backwards Walk?”
Scott: The label were keen for us to perform the whole record, as a kind of bookend. Lots of people really took to that record in a rather intense way. It was important that we recognised that by playing the show in our hometown. The disc is essentially a souvenir of that for ourselves and those who were there, if nobody else. As for Fake Empire, I fell in love with that song and with that band, and played it for that reason really. Plus they are both in the key of C, I think.
OAN: Album art has to be discussed. I know quite a few people impressed with your diverse artistic talents. Is illustrating something you’ve always had an interest in? And what else do you do to stimulate that creative charge?
Scott: Illustration is the only thing I'm actually qualified to do. I studied for 4 years at the Art School in Glasgow, got my degree and then didn't draw for around 2 years. I'm drawing more regularly now for the sleeves etc, but its always interested me to give new things a go, things that I have no training in, to see if I'm any good at them. Might give astrophysics a bash after this record...
OAN: Too funny, Scott Hawking. Are you working on any new material or are you just enjoying playing live for right now? What are some of the most memorable shows you’ve done (I ask because you play some very intimate venues and have a lot of personal interaction with the audience. Surely, there has to be a great story or two in there.)
Scott: The new album is pretty much written, and I've demo-ed it up with the exception of the drums. I prefer this aspect of the band to the live stuff. The touring can feel a bit mechanical and draining. That said, some of our shows have been the most memorable times of my life. I'm not much good at anecdotes... The ones that stick out for me at this point were our recent London show at the Scala, and our shows in Chicago and Ann Arbor during the last US tour. Specific stories escape me now. I'm not very funny when I'm not on stage. Sorry!
OAN: You're too humble. I hear a bevy of sounds that emanate from your guitar and keyboards, not to mention your brother’s percussion. What are some of your biggest influences, either genres or bands or songs. I hear everything from twangy American southern soul to flat out rock-n-roll. But it all has that Frightened Rabbit twist, no pun intended.
Scott: Its all in there. Our influences are pretty wide, which hopefully keeps it fresh. I don't care for sounding like just one band, but as far as the next record goes, I think there's a fair bit of The National, TV on the Radio, disco, Jens Lekman, Death Cab, LCD, King Creosote and the usual dose of country and Dylan nad The Band (mine and Grant's greatest obsession). I'm a total thief when it comes to carving out a sound, but hopefully the pieces I've taken and put together originated far enough away from one another that it doesn't come through too obviously in the final song.
OAN: Anything else you want to tell the fans?
Scott: Eat three pieces of fish a week.
OAN: Heading out for sushi now. Scott, again, thank you for your time. I look forward to your next trip over to the States and whenever you release shiny new material. I owe you a beer or three when you come to New York City next. Cheers!
Mp3: Square 9 - Sing the Greys
MP3: Old, Old Fashioned - Midnight Organ Fight
MP3: Fast Blood - Liver! Lung! FR!
MP3: Be Less Rude - Live Acoustic Session
MP3: The National - Fake Empire
MP3: TV on the Radio - Wolf Like Me
MP3: Death Cab for Cutie - Your Heart is an Empty Room
MP3: Bob Dylan - Lay Lady Lay
MP3: The Trammps - Disco Inferno
MP3: LCD Soundsystem - All My Friends
MP3: King Creosote - No Way She Exists
MP3: Jens Lekman - I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You
MP3: The Band - Up On Cripple Creek
Official Frightened Rabbit Site
Frightened Rabbit on MySpace
Fat Cat Records
Buy Frightened Rabbit on iTunes