I talked with Frightened Rabbit guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Scott Hutchison over the phone in preparation for the article that appears in this week's paper. Despite my calling him at an inconvenient time, he was friendly and informative and provided all his answers in a charming Scottish brogue. This was not weird at all, because he is indeed Scottish. Here's the rest of my interview with Scott.
Frightened Rabbit play TONIGHT at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison, 9 pm, $10
NED: So you recorded The Midnight Organ Fight in Bridgeport, Connecticut?
SCOTT: Yeah, yeah, we did.
That’s actually not far from where I grew up; I’m very familiar with Bridgeport. I’m at the other end of the country now, but…um… WHY did you decide to record there?
Bridgeport is where the producer is based. His name is Peter Katis. He’s like a good friend of the label manager, of Fat Cat in the US. Also, he’s like got a great studio up there. He has worked with Interpol and the National up there. So it was the choice of producer rather than town. He lives there because it’s cheap to live there and we went there because of him. There’s absolutely nothing to do in Bridgeport, Connecticut so it’s a great place to get some work done.
I can’t imagine there’s much to do other than record an album.
Yeah. It was a pretty concerted effort. No distractions.
Right, and I gather it was recorded really quickly—two weeks. Was it written really quickly, also?
Yeah, a large portion of it was kind of written over the space of three weeks or so. I just kind of holed myself up in the studio and demoed it out. Some of ’em are a little older, but most of them are written at a certain time, about a certain time, so it’s all been kind of done in blocks so as to hopefully gain a kind of consistency about the whole thing.
Is that the way you typically write?
Absolutely. I don’t write every day. I haven’t honestly written a song for a little while. And I don’t really feel the need to write every day, but I really enjoy looking back on periods of time and trying to make sense of those rather than making sense of the present. You kind of get a more—I don’t know, this maybe sounds wanky to you—like, cinematic kind of viewpoint where you can tell a story from start to finish rather than be in the middle of a story. I think that’s the way I like to write, definitely.
Not a concept album, but a unified…
It’s not a concept album. I think it’s definitely about a period in time, but that’s just how it turned out. I didn’t contrive that.
I remember on the first album, Sing the Greys, which was one of my absolute favorites, there were short little interludes between some of the songs, which were reworks or remixes of other songs, and there’s some of that on this one, too.
Yeah, there is. I wanted to keep that. I dunno. In time, I wanted to be able to… this record was done quickly because we didn’t have a large budget. In time, if I had more time to work at it, I’d like to create a whole album, like one... Not a continuous piece, but definitely a gapless kind of album, and that’s kind of me stepping towards doing that. One of my favorite albums is the first Badly Drawn Boy album, Hour of Bewilderbeast. I don’t think there’s any stops in that and there’s a really nice theme-and-variation thing going on that he always does, and I definitely kind of aim and aspire to that.
In addition to Badly Drawn Boy, what are some of your other influences?
I always say the Band, I always say TV on the Radio, definitely. I guess, like, Scottish music such as the Twilight Sad or Idlewild is definitely an influence, too, from my kind of younger years. And I suppose there’s a whole bunch of grunge in there from when I was 15 that I can’t get rid of, and I think it peeks out every so often.
I thought the new record has kind of a country sound on some of the songs.
I’m a huge fan of Laura Cantrell, Ryan Adams, kind of Americana, like one of my favorite bands of all time is Wilco, so, you know… There’s a country feel to a lot of Scottish music as well, I think, to the point where in Glasgow there’s a place called the Grand Ole Opry where they like to put on a kind of Southern-American themed show every so often and stuff. It’s pretty big. Line dancing is huge in Scotland as well, not that I take part in that. Yeah, you’re right to say there’s country in there. Country music is always what I turned to when I was kind of sad. It’s kind of a sad record as well, so country seemed right.
Does any of that come from coming over to America and playing shows for the first time?
No, I’d just been listening to American music so much before I came over, so I don’t know if it’s… You don’t have to go to America to see it. I’ve been watching movies for years and it’s like you can definitely get that feel. And honestly coming over, a lot of it really does feel like I expected it to, you know, the long roads and kind of open skies and things. It’s kind of romantic but it totally exists.
We have a similar romantic notion about Scotland, too.
Oh cool! No, it’s a shithole!
We just listen to those Belle and Sebastian records and it all sounds very pleasant.
Well, yeah, yeah, yeah…
How long have you and [your brother] Grant been playing together?
We hadn’t even played together even though we grew up together. He played drums in a completely separate room to the room that I played guitar in, and we never really thought about playing together ’til we were, like… ’til I was, like, 20. And that’s when we started, which was, like, six years ago now. So, yeah, we’ve been playing sort of together for that amount of time, but I never, you know… No, we were kind of into different things and it’s really hard when he’s such a large drummer that I never really wanted to play in the same space as him until we had a slightly larger practice room, because it would be, it was just so painful. He’s ridiculous.
Do you find that there’s a lot of communicating that’s done automatically, on a musical level?
I have to say, yeah, definitely. I mean, I’ve been told, I’m not so much aware of it usually myself, but I’ve definitely been told by the people that come see us live, that because we play as a two-piece, and we’re brothers, there’s a kind of telepathy. You know, it sounds boring technical talk, but he kind of asks for, like, the thing that he plays off is my guitar and the thing that I play off is his, kind of, kick. So, still, even though there’s a full band setup, it’s a lot about the two of us, and the way we kind of put things together rhythmically, yeah.
I saw you open for Pinback in October of ’07 [at the Roseland], which I thought was a weird pairing, since your music is so spontaneous and heartfelt, while Pinback is cold and slick and calculated. I mean, they came out on stage and spent 10 minutes dicking around with their Pro-Tools settings before even playing a note. And the music they play is so shitty and boring. [Ned proceeds to trash-talk Scott’s former tourmates. Scott listens politely.]
[diplomatically] Their audiences are great. That worked out kind of nice for us.
And your music is so emotional, the total opposite of that. Anyway, you’re doing more shows on your own, and you played South by Southwest…
Yeah, I mean, obviously, even by South by Southwest, the album had certainly found its way into a few hands in the record industry. Our record still wasn’t out, but there were people who knew the songs who had sort of grown to love the band. Yeah, the response has been quite, I don’t know… Whereas last time around we were turning heads a little bit, and people were going, “Oh, well, who the fuck are these guys?” Now it’s like, “I know who these guys are,” and there’s a more fervent atmosphere at our shows, hopefully. We’re finding that here in the UK as well. People just know about us now, which is great.
You’ve got a pretty memorable name.
True enough! Yeah, that’s part of it.
My mom really gets a kick out of the name Frightened Rabbit. [Ned proceeds to talk to Scott about his mother. Scott listens politely.] Does the success of the band surprise you? On a lyrical level, the songs are pretty dark and personal.
Yeah, but people are… I think a lot of people are dark. That kind of shit happens all over the place. They’re personal but, like I say, I hopefully put kind of enough of a—I don’t know—an overview on the whole story that people can kind of dip into it and take from it, rather than it being about specifics, it’s more about how the way that things feel, I guess. And hopefully, I’ve always tried to externalize it so it doesn’t become like a masturbation project, you know? So other people can relate. And I think that’s the most important thing. I’ve always tried to not go way too far in, although they’re personal, and there’s kind of emotive language at use, I don’t get too detailed.
Having said that, you mentioned the songs on the record were about a particular place in time. What was going on then?
Well, I was breaking up with someone. Or they were breaking up with me. I can’t really remember which. The whole, you know… kind of, to and fro. You know, this old, like, you really want to move on, but then you see them again and you go back, and it’s just like no, that’s not healthy, and it’s about the kind of whole thing actually feeling like a disease that you have to get rid of. You know, this hugely long, important and really wonderful relationship that was coming to an end. And I think it’s right, to give it its place in the whole record, because it was a really important part of my life.