Frightened Rabbit: Growing Pains

An upbeat fourth album for Frightened Rabbit? Not quite… Words: Hugh Morris

As the crowds filter out the Roundhouse in Camden, London, where Frightened Rabbit have just supported Biffy Clyro at the iTunes Festival, a teenager clad in black, his fringe plastered to his forehead with sweat, turns to his friend and says, “That Frightened Rabbit were good, eh?” His mate grunts in approval as he grimaces from an elbow to the ribs courtesy of the scrum of satisfied fans.

As the band await the release of their fourth album, introspective concern pervades the air as much as much as eager anticipation. ‘Pedestrian Verse’ is not a continuation of a fairly uplifting back catalogue. It is a deeply, sombre album borne of personal experience and filled with self doubt, morbid apathy and commentary on a desperate society on the brink of collapse. “A lot of bitter drunkenness is in there,” explains singer and songwriter Scott Hutchison, “I think a lot of people might have been expecting a large, positive pop record, but we’ve gone in the opposite direction – and I think it’s a better place for us.”

‘Pedestrian Verse’ is the band’s first album on Atlantic, after moving from indie label FatCat, and it would be easy to assume their music be simplified for the mainstream. But instead is a thoughtful and complex album showing maturity and confidence by the bucketload. Where their previous work, solely written by Hutchison, had emotional weight, it seemed to be carried solely by Hutchison’s dulcet tones – here we see gravitas with the band’s backing. “We decided at the end of the last record we had reached a wall – I had reached a wall with my own writing, so we knew from the outset we wanted to involve the whole band,” says Hutchison, whose brother Grant is also in the band. The band involvement makes this Frightened Rabbit’s most together record, but it is Hutchison’s personal outpourings which give them their own identity.
‘I didn’t realise I was quite so obsessed with death.’
Hutchison is a friendly, softly spoken frontman. Humble and genuine, he speaks with an introverted passion about the “unashamedly big choruses” he writes and with a slightly nervous discomfort when quizzed on his lyrical style. “There’s definitely points in the past year and a half which have personally been a bit dark for me and that’s reflected in the material – it wasn’t something we set out to do, it’s just about my frame of mind,” he says. “I set out to write in a more dense manner than before – I wanted to spend more time with lyrics and get back a bit more of the poetry from before.” And he has achieved this. The lyrics are as literary as they are dark, laced with imagery, analogy and metaphor, many filled with tinges of social commentary and anthropological criticism.

Take opener ‘Acts Of Man’ – a sarcastic and cynical ode to the pseudo-misogynist male agenda. “I have never wanted more to be a man and build a house around you / I am just like all the rest of them, sorry, selfish, trying to improve,” Hutchison sings. He says he toyed with the idea of an album made up entirely of social commentary – and then with the idea of a concept album where the protagonist in ‘Acts Of Man’ is the same man the woman in ‘State Hospital’ goes home with: “I was fed up about writing about myself / But then my personal life took over.” And take over it does.

‘Holy’ is full of contempt for those holier-than-thou people who were telling Hutchison, ‘Fuck, you’ve gone off the rails’ when he was going through a less-than-pure few months. Religion is tackled again in ‘Late March, Death March’ when Hutchison curses the stubborn, self-righteous as they stride towards the cold, hard ground. And then ‘Nitrous Gas’, Hutchison’s favourite song on the album, sees him praying for noxious gas in place of an unattainable happiness. “I didn’t really realise until I had compiled all the material that I was quite so obsessed with the notion of death,” he says. “It’s not just the death of a person, it’s the death of relationship and also a certain desire to be dead. It’s always there. I think it’s nice to have that outlet but at the same time it’s always sort of taken with a pinch of salt rather than like actually wanting to kill ourselves.”

The songs flicker with three ingredients: social commentary, character stories and his own life times. And yet with all this doom and gloom, the writing has not lost its Scottish, self-deprecating, dark humour. Nor has Hutchison. “I like the idea of a setting a scene and having songs tied in to each other. Maybe we could do a musical – it could be the first indie musical and take on the Spice Girls,” he ponders. “Nah.” He goes on to explain how when the band toured the Scottish Highlands and documented it with a short film, ‘Here’, it was an opportunity to create something more than music and connect with fans and country in a different way. While albums might be the primary product of bands, with Frightened Rabbit, it is about so much more. It is about creating a sense of belonging and comfort with the music and the musicians behind it. This is why they now stand apart from their contemporaries; they’ve forged their own path.

Frightened Rabbit have been deconstructed then rebuilt – their music, their lyrics, their sound. It marks a watershed in their growth. “We haven’t changed the way we write, we haven’t changed the way we produce records – it’s the circumstances around us that have changed. If this record takes us to that point [meteoric fame etc.], then it would be the external factors that changed around us. I’ve always liked writing big songs people can sing along to. This album has that. But it’s different as well. Where’s it going to take us? I don’t know.” But deep down, with an album as complete and thoughtful as ‘Pedestrian Verse’, I don’t think he cares.

Frightened Rabbit’s new album ‘Pedestrian Verse’ is out now via Atlantic.

Taken from the February 2013 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.