Goodbye & Hello


Posted by in May's Magazine

Lately I journeyed up to Mull where Scott Hutchison and a small troupe of musicians were recording at An Tobar, a bobbydazzler of an arts space used by folkies and thespians alike. The trigger for the trip was (mainly) to empower a little collaborative song Scott and I were working on. I arrived, conveniently, in time for the one big night out of the entire stretch – MANY Aftershocks, which I believed had gone out of production for the greater good of humanity, were consumed.

The next fragile morning we were in a studio that had been stripped bare and rebuilt to create a project unprecedented in the Frightened Rabbit’s chief’s career – a solo album. Atlantic Records funded the caper and their agent had dropped in to check on their investment leaving chuffed, yet still holding his cards close to his chest. (In case the label boys read this, aside from the brief splash noted above it had been a couple of weeks of long studio days and bitter Mull winds, the odd search for a sea eagle the only respite from a vicious self-set schedule.)

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Despite being impressively prolific and one of Scotland’s most acclaimed singers Scott’s a humble lad. A serial poo-pooer of the big, lauding introductions he’s afforded whenever he plays at our Neu! Reekie! events. Indeed, the last time he was at mine I apologised in advance for the (lidless) state of the toilet, he immediately offered to come round, tooled-up, the next day and sort it. Chances of Paolo Nutini coming round to take care of one’s utility problems are, I imagine, somewhat more chimerical. Just sayin’ like… good cunt.

I caught up with Scott for this natter hours before his leaving do (another late one). Before lassoing him on the very eve departure for a photoshoot. The Leither likely took up more of the man’s last weekend as a Scottish resident than was right and proper.

For the blinky few who haven’t heard of Frightened Rabbit tell us how the band started.

My formative years were as a grunge fan and I certainly didn’t have a grunge voice; but then I discovered bands like Teenage Fanclub and Neutral Milk Hotel and realised that there were alternative ways of singing that seemed less intimidating to me.

I started the band ten years ago as a solo venture while I was still studying at Glasgow Art School. My first shows were supporting Shitdisco. I hadn’t completed the lyrics so I was mumbling a lot and making things up on the spot – which to me now is a completely alien idea. Somehow it gathered pace; my brother Grant joined a year later on drums and then Billy, a friend from high school, jumped on board. We released our first EP on our own label Hits the Fan in around 2006.

I was actually supposed to be the ‘Frightened Rabbit’. At the time I was obsessed with Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast and felt I could be that type of character but with a band around me. An album later we signed to Fat Cat records then Andy joined and Gordon a little later with Simon, somewhat of a sixth member, arriving as guitar tech and live player.

I’ve got to ask, (wincing a little as I already know the answer), what else is behind the name?                                                            

(Tuts, and says “Michael” with a well seasoned, disappointed mockery) My mum and dad used to call me a little frightened rabbit. I was a nervous child, afraid of social interaction with other kids, chronically shy. Forced play dates with my parent’s friend’s kids was a particularly bad one. Four or five years old and being asked to interact with strange and confident children didn’t at all appeal to me. I also didn’t sleep properly until I was about eight. My bed was at the end of an L-shaped corridor by the front door – I was consistently thinking that should a perpetrator enter I’d be the first to get killed – stabbed is how I’d imagine it. I’d lie with my back to door so that if he did get me there’d be a slimmer chance of it being to fatal effect.

In the last year the band has been on an upward trajectory: top ten album; building a huge US following; touring with The National, an appearance on The Letterman Show. What caused this, record label, haircuts or sneaky sexual favours?

We’re not a band that’s ever had haircuts or a sense of style – therefore the substance had to come to the table. What I think did it for us is finally having people in the background that fitted and were able to propel us forward; also I feel we made our best record to date. I think I’d become a better songwriter and a better lyricist. I found the line between depth and immediacy; being able to write pop songs that have layers in them was key – if you don’t want to access the layers beneath then don’t bother, the song’s still there; but if you want more depth there’s something to mine.

Was there any unusual backlash moving from an independent to a major label?

I think these days people give less and less of a shit about what label your music comes out on, it’s not visible on an MP3 device or noticed on iTunes or Spotify. For us it’s been a consistent build, what seemed like an immediate jump to others simply wasn’t. The nature of our albums mean there hasn’t really been a colossal hype behind any particular one; rather they’ve been built steadily and to last. Whereas we might momentarily forget about previous albums whilst making a new one, the fans never do.

The last year’s been a full throttle schedule (Glastonbury; SXSW; your first Asian dates; trips to Australia; huge US and European tours), highs and lows?

The beginning of the tour was great, we were energetic, dealing with things, playing new songs and the single Woodpile had taken off. Arriving at Glastonbury midway through this to a tent full of people delighted to hear you play wasn’t just a high point of the year but of my life. The lows were strictly down to the mental and physical toll a tour this size takes on you. A few wires came loose towards the end of the year. We’re talking about eight weeks in America with shows every night, followed by another 6 weeks in the UK and Europe – all bundled together.

You’ve been recording your first solo album. Why now, and how will it differ from a Frightened Rabbit record?

I’ve been so deeply dug into the mechanisms of Frightened Rabbit for the past 18 months and the 8 years preceding that I felt it necessary to have a creative reinvigoration, the chance to go away from the band and explore some new things. I brought in Peter Kelly, Simon Liddell and Andy Monaghan. We recorded the music in a couple of weeks, the lyrics have still to be written, but the musical framework won’t be altered and I won’t be asking for edits. We recorded a song a day and powered through it – I won’t overly labour on the lyrics, I want them to be as spontaneous as the music.

It’s influenced by the recording methods of The Beta Band and Lone Pigeon. Lone Pigeon for example has a five or six disc box akin to a musical sketchbook full of beautiful moments of spontaneity, rich in purpose. It’s like seeing into his head and being able to understand him as a person – that’s what I’m looking to achieve here without being too loquacious.

At one point I felt like writing it as a character. It will come out under the name Owl John. John being the type of person I wish I’d been more like as a child, poorly behaved, a loveable rogue. Unlike me, John would have had no fear as a child. I’m also a huge admirer of Nick Cave and how he often writes in character.

It’s not like I’ve been building up these songs for years, to date I haven’t written anything I didn’t want to put to the band. Each FR album has been about clearing out the closet, in a way this one is more about creeping up to the closet and not being sure what’s inside of it. The joyful uplifting choruses won’t be as present on this record and that’s a pressure eased.

So, aye, you’re off to Los Angeles, not for a jolly or plastic surgery, you’re actually due to become a US resident/alien of extraordinary ability. Music and love is it?

Well the music will exist no matter what and spending more time on art is a priority, let’s say I’m off to score some points with the girlfriend. I met Courtney about 8 months ago and ever since we have scraped ourselves through a long distance relationship. It was time to give us the opportunity of a better personal life and to pursue this relationship properly, which is important to me. It’s the first time I’ve lived outside Scotland so it’s a big step.

Will you do a bit of collaborating or co-writing over there?

Well you know that yeah. I’m looking to co-write for my own experience as much as anything; hopefully I can help artists realise their ambitions and coin something new. There are a few interested parties and I’m keen to pursue that. (MP: Harry Styles has been waxing lyrical about Frightened Rabbit being his current favourite band, whilst praising the lyrics. That’s a good calling card for a Scot (this Scott) heading to LA.)

Ever had a life changing experience?

Yeah, but not a positive one – I had a panic attack on a plane on tour. It was a sign I had to change the way I was operating.

Have you ever been inappropriately groped?

Yes. We’ll leave it at that.

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