By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)
Back in October of 2008, huddled together closely in a cluttered green room upstairs at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg, the members of a band from Selkirk, Scotland called Frightened Rabbit – most of whom wielded Apple computers as they killed time before their set supporting Delaware’s Spinto Band – chatted amiably about their friendships with one another, the critical success of their latest album, The Midnight Organ Fight, and its acoustic offshoot Liver, Lung, FR, as well as their current U.S. tour.
What they didn’t know at the time was that they were actually responsible for my own personal Almost Famous moment so-to-speak. That was my first real backstage interview. Everybody always tells a newbie or an underdog to “act like you’ve been here before.” So, that’s what I did. Being a tad nervous, I polished off about eight beers beforehand at a bar across the street, only to find out Frightened Rabbit consists entirely of down-to-earth, thoughtful gents who are happy to share their insights on any number of subjects. What resulted were a lot of laughs and subsequently, one of the finest indie rock shows I’ve seen – and that’s not just because of all the beers.
Fast forward about 18 months and Frightened Rabbit no longer play the role of underdog either. On the contrary, having just released their third full-length album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (released March 1 on Fat Cat Records), produced by indie wunderkind Peter Katis (The National, Swell Season), fans and critics alike have been teeming with anticipation for this release ever since The Midnight Organ Fight went on to populate so many 2008 “Best Of” lists and the band itself emerged as leaders of a burgeoning Glasgow music scene – one of the most compelling locales in music today.
On the day before the big release of The Winter of Mixed Drinks, JamBase caught up with the busy rockers to check in on all things Scottish, working with Peter Katis, and the unwritten rules of being a Frightened Rabbit.
JamBase: List 3-5 things that influenced this record, such as people, books, movies, other musicians, events in your life, or feelings at the time.
Scott Hutchison: Ted Hughes’ book Songs of the Crow was a massive influence lyrically. It’s an amazingly powerful set of poems, and there is a wonderful thread running through the series. It’s terrifying in places. The North Sea had a huge effect on the record. There are clear nautical references throughout, and they would not have been there were it not for my coastal location at the time of writing. Walking was a major factor in the way I finished the writing process. There is something about the rhythm of striding across the land that gets the mind ticking over. A brusque walk always sparks an idea for me.
JamBase: Could you give some background on your relationship with Peter Katis, both from a working and friendship perspective?
Scott Hutchison: We were incredibly lucky to work with Peter on The Midnight Organ Fight. He is an old friend of Adam Pierce’s [the head of Fat Cat, USA] and as such we probably got a good deal. At first, everyone was unsure about what we were trying to do; I think he wondered what the hell we were doing in his studio. But slowly we gained an understanding of each other and it started a great working relationship. I love what he does with records. His style is a little different from my own, perhaps he works a lot more subtly, but that is something that adds a great deal to the records. He creates space, whereas I have a tendency to fill it up with all sorts of shit.
Last time we spoke, we joked around about your childhood growing up with Grant [Hutchison, his sibling and FR’s drummer] and how when you first started playing music it wasn’t so cool to have your little brother in the band, but as you guys grew up you came to become close friends. How would you characterize your relationship these days?
It’s still a totally solid friendship. We have fairly distinct roles within the band, and we tend not to step on each other’s toes. Grant deals with much of the day-to-day running of the band, something I am fairly inept at. It’s great that he has a knack for organization, because it allows me to go forward with the creative side. We still argue, but it’s always constructive. And I am always right [laughs].
Along those same lines, how would you describe the camaraderie of the band?
The best way to sum things up is through the unwritten, and usually unspoken, rules within the band. You don’t finish Grant’s cider. You don’t fuck with Billy [Kennedy, bass] when he’s hungry. You let me sit in the front seat for most of the journey. If Andy [Monaghan, guitar] has gone missing, he will be “on a wander.” Don’t try to find him; he always comes back on time. Gordon [Skene, keyboards] doesn’t like shit food. If you suggest a Chinese buffet, he won’t be joining you.
Could you talk about some of the interesting elements from working in the studio that came across on the new album, such as cool overdubs, effects, interesting things you used for sound effects, etc.?
The most important item of equipment became the SP-404 sampler that I bought when I was writing the record. We just took some of the loops and sounds straight off there. They were pretty lo-fi, but I think it stopped the record from becoming too “over-produced,” although some may argue otherwise.
I gather in listening to the album that it’s meant to be emblematic of escaping one’s life or running away, so to speak, which seems somewhat consistent with Midnight Organ Fight. Could you give a little background on how you got to this concept?
Quite simply, I was alone for a certain amount of time, which gave me the space to assess what was and was not important in life. I’m not saying I’ve got it figured out, but the simplicity of things out in Crail [Scotland, where the bulk of the record was written] made everything seem so fucking easy. My brain just worked the way it ought to out there. The city can be stifling.
On the flip side, there’s some unbridled optimism toward the end of the record on “Living in Colour” and “Not Miserable.” Are you happy these days?
Yep! I was never terribly unhappy for long periods of time before, but I suppose listening to the last record you could be forgiven for thinking that I was permanently miserable. I’m pleased to say life is pretty good right now. Long may it continue!
So, you guys are getting closer to full-on fame nowadays. How do you feel about fame? Do you welcome it or is it a little scary to think about it?
I can’t say I’m aware of being on the brink of full-on fame. There are different levels I suppose. It’s nice when people come up to you in the supermarket to tell you that they like your music. I won’t ever get tired of that. When they start telling me I’m a dick and my music sucks, I will begin to worry.
How much influence did Peter Katis have on the sound and the material? Did he help write with you at all?
He didn’t have a role in the writing, but he has an absolutely magic touch on all of the records he works on. The albums quite simply would not sound as they do without Peter’s input. As I said before, he mixes very subtly, and especially in the new record, has helped to create some space in a rather busy, layered record.
With Midnight Organ Fight you spent about two weeks in the studio. How did the process this time around compare?
We had about twice as much time. On Organ Fight we essentially recreated the demos note-for-note in the studio. This time, we saved a lot of the arranging and creativity for the studio itself, so it was a lot more involved. Perhaps the luxury of time led to certain portions of the album getting a tad overblown, musically, but it’s something we were aware of, and it’s definitely the way I wanted this one to sound. It’s not something I wish to repeat next time.
There’s quite an indie music revolution occurring in Scotland these days, particularly on Fat Cat, with you guys, James Graham and We Were Promised Jetpacks. What would you say makes Glasgow and Scotland in general so special for music?
Scotland is an indoor nation. Making music, or any kind of art, is perfect for us. We are pale and pasty-faced, hate the sun and love a dark room. There’s a very specific dark and self-deprecating nature in lots of Scots that filters through to the creative output of the nation. Glasgow is the center for most of this activity. It’s a city built for the arts. There are so many spaces to play and work in. It just breeds good stuff.
What are your two favorite songs on the album, one from the perspective of the music and one from the perspective of the lyrics?
“Things” is the most succinct song I’ve ever written, lyrically speaking. There’s not much wasted language in there, which I like. I think parts of “Skip the Youth” are our most musically ambitious to date; I’m especially fond of the two minute intro. I’m aware that it could be incredibly annoying for some people, but that only makes me love it more.
Finally, when last time we spoke, you had some pretty funny comments about the Enemy [aka, NME]. It seems as though they have since taken quite a liking to Frightened Rabbit. Are you still skeptical about them? What are your feelings toward the music media in general these days?
I have no beef with anyone in the music media. I don’t expect to be universally loved. I don’t want to be. It’s healthy to read articles by people who clearly hate my band. The NME has been kind in recent months, which is great, though it’s not incredibly important to me. It’s best not to take any of that stuff too seriously. Reviews are relatively ephemeral in comparison to the actual content of the record.