Frightened Rabbit are currently taking their much-lauded second album ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ out on a UK tour, playing the album in full to celebrate its tenth birthday. Across that decade, the record has become one of the most infamous, well-loved breakup records of the 21st century, both a comforting hug and a kick up the arse to wallow with through aching heartbreak.
“‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ has been followed in the decade since its release by three increasingly polished but still bitingly tough full-lengths from Frightened Rabbit, but it still remains unmatched for its sheer catharsis,” we wrote in our Hall of Fame retrospective on the album, and it’s clearly a record that’s stayed close to the band’s Scott Hutchison across the decade since its release.
Alongside the Hall of Fame piece, we talk to the frontman about the creation of the record, its lasting legacy, and letting others into his fiercely personal stories.
You’re currently taking ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ on tour for its 10th birthday - how did you come around to the idea?
It wasn’t something we thought about at all until it was suggested to us, to be honest. It’s an album that - and I know this from speaking to many people over the course of the last ten years - means a great deal to a lot of people. I think we slowly came around to the idea of celebrating its birthday, having not been interested at all really prior to that.
A bunch of the songs from album are regularly played live anyway, but was there a lot of going back and listening to the album and re-discovering it?
There were a few that we haven’t played for quite some time. It’s really interesting to dig back into it and remember what headspace you were in when you wrote it, and trying to work out whether we should be completely faithful to the album, or whether we should do something slightly different. That whole process was pretty interesting. Almost assessing our own work as if it was another band. It’s weird feeling quite removed from that process, so far on, and quite removed from the person that wrote it.
While being a different person a decade on, do you still find the songs bringing out the same emotions in yourself when you play them live?
They’re all essentially small short movies that I’m unconsciously acting out, and it’s the same imagery coming back to me with each of those songs. It’s an amazing thing, kind of like a photographic memory. It’s strange to have such a visceral account available to you of something that happened so long ago. It’s like having a small, 45-minute film of your life that you can play back at will. It’s not a common thing to have. Everyone has memories, but these are so intrinsic and tied into certain lines in a song.
“I don’t think the protagonist in your movie, soundtracked by this album, is me. It’s you.”
Did you get a sense when writing the album that it could have such a strong connection, and stay with people in the way that it’s ended up doing?
Not at all. I think that’s partly why it exists as it is, because there wasn’t that much thought in it. In reality, [first album] ‘Sing The Greys’ and ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ are almost like one album. All those songs were pretty much written at the same time. Over the time ‘Sing The Greys’ came out, we’d already recorded ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’. It was quite a private writing affair. When I was writing it, not many people knew about the band, and I think you can write in a much more open way in that circumstance. Listening back, it seems horrifically open to me. To go back to that, a point when you’re not so acutely aware that people are going to hear these thoughts, is impossible, and that’s the difference between that album and everything else that came after it. After that album, we had an audience in a lot of places, and your brain processes writing differently, and starts censoring itself without really thinking about it. [‘The Midnight Organ Fight’] was a pure representation of thought without any censorship at all. I appreciate it for that, but also feel a bit fuckin’ embarrassed at times.
And on that point, was it ever tough for you to watch an audience start growing for an album you never thought would reach that many people - especially such a personal one?
It was a bit weird at times. Having people sing along to your songs is always amazing, but at the start, when the audience first started to really come, and there’d be singalongs at our shows, I’d just think ‘Fuuuck! They’ve reeeeally listened to this haven’t they!’ However, I console myself with the fact that I don’t actually think that when people listen to that album and take it on board, they’re not actually envisaging my life - they’re envisaging their own. I don’t think the protagonist in your movie, soundtracked by this album, is me. It’s you.
“I’ve always been conscious of allowing people into the song, and not just bellowing my fucking woes at people constantly.”
Totally - you take what you want on board from an album and make it your own.
Yeah exactly. That was the start of me investigating a way of eeking the door open a little wider, externalising my own thoughts so people are then able to project them onto their own experiences. That’s the thing about really personal songwriting. It’s not actually as personal as it first appears.
And is that how you first got into songwriting? By projecting yourself onto other peoples’ songs that you were hearing?
Yeah! It’s trying to not have an overbearing amount of first person accounts in there. There are a lot of those [on ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’] but what I always tried to do is widen the language so it can be a little more universal, and I think that’s the key to it. It’s a balance I’m still trying to achieve. I don’t think anyone wants to listen to someone simply singing out of a diary. I’ve always been conscious of allowing people into the song, and not just bellowing my fucking woes at people constantly.
Something about that album is that it’s very distinct. It’s such a weird mix of very thought out and not thought out at all. There’s a massive amount of gut instinct, but I can’t at this point explain how it came together. A lot of it was flying by the seat of my pants.
Celebrating this album and revisiting its songs must bring back a lot of memories - is it something you’ve found useful regarding new material, and moving forward?
Over the years, I’ve become almost embarrassed about how much I revealed on ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ that the follow-up [2010’s ‘The Winter Of Mixed Drinks’] is purposefully less personal. What I then realised - and this applies going forward as well - is that I will never again be in the situation that I was in back then, when there was no audience, it was a really private thing, and just demoing in the bedroom and playing them to my friends. Now, it’s not that at all. It’s very public. But the goal is to try and at least channel a little bit of that gut instinct I was talking about, and to not be too studios about making albums. If something feels right, then maybe it’s right. That’s what this album proved.
Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett / DIY
Frightened Rabbit’s 10th anniversary tour for ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ continues tonight (15th March) in Manchester, before they play London (16th) and Glasgow (17th).
Read our Hall of Fame piece on the album here.