Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit
Frightened Rabbit (Scott Hutchison, Grant Hutchison, Billy Kennedy, Andy Monaghan and Gordon Skenehas) had a whirlwind year touring heavily in the US and the UK, promoting their third and most recent album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. If you haven’t heard of these guys yet you’re behind the times: they’re well-accustomed at this point to playing sold-out shows, and this coming Friday’s concert at The Paradise in Boston is no exception.
Their twangy, catchy, upbeat folk vibe, combined with their earnest nature, electrify crowds to create a memorable and extremely personal show. After being so impressed by their authentic performance last April, I was lucky enough for this second leg to land an interview with frontman and lyricist Scott Hutchison to discuss the current US tour, the creative process behind this most recent album, and the power of coffee & Emergen-C.
Interviewed by: Dorise Gruber
Shortly after the release of your third LP, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, you went on a pretty extensive US Tour to promote the new album. After returning to the UK for a Summer Tour, now you’re back to the US to do it all over again. How does touring at home compare to touring here in the US?
It’s often not that different. Boston is certainly on a par with Scotland – maybe it’s because both places like a bit of beer now and then. The US, like Europe, is basically many different countries within one land mass. The reaction and attendance can differ from night to night, within the space of a few hundred miles. The main difference is that we are now able to travel on bus throughout the US, which is a luxury for us.
Let’s talk about The Winter of Mixed Drinks a little bit– it was written during a ”self-imposed exile” – was the purpose of the exile for writing the album? How did the writing process go?
I initially went away to get my mental and physical health back after a long tour. We were all exhausted and a bit sick of each other, so the band all did their own thing for a while. It just so happened that after a few days out there in Crail, the songs started coming. I would take a pretty long walk each morning, during which I would hatch a plan for the rest of my day, throw down a bunch of ideas and see what came out.
A lot of the themes from the album came from your time spent there writing, was it your intent to draw so much inspiration from your surroundings or did that sort of happen organically once you got there?
It was completely organic. I had never lived on the coast before and it had a big impact on me. It was only when I went back and looked at the album as a whole that I realised how much it had influenced the record. Not just in the lyrical content either; I think you can hear the swell of the sea in the way some of the songs move.
You included some string arrangements on The Winter of Mixed Drinks, how did that fall into place?
We were lucky enough to share a label with Hauschka, a fantastic classical musician from Germany. He agreed to do the parts and we worked things out over email and on the phone. It was wonderful when we finally finished and laid the strings on to the tracks. I had never put such lush arrangements on any of our music
You’ve called 2010 a pivotal year for you, what are your hopes and expectations?
I always expect the worst, it’s that Scottish pessimism. That said, you do get some fantastic surprises along the way as a result. All I really want is to continue writing and releasing records, and for the band to move forward creatively.
Do you ever include any Scottish cultural references/slang in your lyrics that you think American listeners may not be able to fully appreciate? If so, could you give us an example?
I think some of the curse words are lost in translation. Cunt isn’t such a bad word in Scotland, it crops up a couple of times on our records and can be easily misconstrued. I reference places as well, but I think if you have Google maps you can probably take a look and figure it out.
You’ve played at a couple major festivals in the last year (SXSW, Lollapalooza, etc) as well as some more standard concert venues – how do those experiences differ?What’s your favorite kind of show to play?
They are both so different. At the festivals, especially as a frontman, you really have to amplify the whole show – make bigger moves, play to the crowd a little more. With that said, I have taken what I learned this summer back to our club shows, and it’s really helped me to open up to the audience. I just like to play to an audience who give just as much back, irrespective of the setting.
What should your fans expect at a Frightened Rabbit show?
Sweat, maybe blood, tears even. I think there’s a rawness to the live show that is not on the records. I’ve come to realise that energy is more important than perfection when you are at a show.
Since you’re always on the go, what do you do to stay energized throughout the whole tour?
Probably not as much as I should do. I like to wander around towns, to feel like I have an almost normal life. The Phantom Band have brought a football out with them, so maybe we’ll have a match or two with those chaps. I live on coffee and Emergen-C – that’s the secret!
Last time you came to town (Boston, MA) you gashed your head at the end of the show, but the pooling blood didn’t stop you from turning out an amazing encore. Have you ever endured any other major injuries while touring?
Nothing major. Our guitar player Billy just cut open his finger on the bus, and produced a surprising amount of blood. We aren’t daredevils, so tend not to put ourselves into situations whereby we could be maimed.
Your show here is on Halloween weekend – can we expect any costumes onstage? Hopefully this time, any blood will be fake!
I hate to say it, as i know it’s a big deal over here, but I’m not really a fan of Hallowe’en. I could never really be bothered to dress up, and when I did, the novelty became a chore pretty fast. I’m essentially an old bore at heart, and those parties always seemed a bit forced to me. This attitude does not apply to the rest of the band, however, so who knows?!
It’s been a couple years now since you wrote songs for The Midnight Organ Fight, and subsequently a couple years since the break-up you recounted in that album. How do you keep the authenticity of the anguished lyrics in your live performances a few years after-the-fact?
I just try to put whatever energy I have into belting out the lyrics. The original sentiment is long gone – I just don’t feel that way anymore and haven’t for a long time. It’s seeing other people sing the words back that keeps it fresh for me. I can definitely feed off that each night.
What’s your favorite break-up song of all time and why?
Probably ‘Dear Chicago’ by Ryan Adams. It sums it all up perfectly – the idea of the next stage of your life and what the last part meant to you. It sounds great too – perfect ‘drinking alone’ music.
Now that you’ve spent the better part of a year on tour steadily gaining momentum, what’s next for Frightened Rabbit?
Album #4 is definitely on the horizon. I’m going to start working on that in earnest when I get back. I don’t write on the road because I need an amount of time and space that touring life cannot provide. I’m excited to see what comes out this time. I think we have toured enough for the moment, and we are looking forward to a fresh new start again.
Be sure to check out Frightened Rabbit at The Paradise on October 29th. Click here for ticket and show info. Need more convincing? Check out the live video below: