FRET NOT, Frightened Rabbit fans. Although their new album includes a song called "I Wish I Was Sober," the Scottish band hasn't metamorphosed into finger-waving teetotalers. And they haven't abandoned the sense of glorious, possibly alcohol-assisted obliteration that accompanies their outsized, emotionally trenchant rock songs.
Frightened Rabbit's just-released fifth album, Painting of a Panic Attack, is full of tracks that are at turns lachrymose and rapturous, sacrificing none of the band's signature gloom and whiskey warmness. As on previous outings (like 2013's Pedestrian Verse and their breakup masterpiece from 2008, The Midnight Organ Fight), these new Frightened Rabbit songs locate the shortest possible distance between sorrow and joy, and propose the theory that, maybe, these two sensations are not entirely opposite from one another.
Lead singer and chief songwriter Scott Hutchison, however, was operating at a significant distance from his bandmates and their home base of Glasgow. "The geography initially was a little bit of a stumbling block," he says. "We weren't quite sure how we were going to get around it."
Hutchison moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend two years ago, transforming the band's working methods. "There's the internet and stuff, but we're used to working through ideas in a room together, so we had to kind of reformat that. A lot of this record was made by sending ideas back and forth in files and attachments. It maybe elongated the process somewhat, but I feel like it definitely added more than it took away."
Hutchison played with demo ideas on his own in LA, learning how to use Logic recording software in the process. The full band—Hutchison's brother, drummer Grant Hutchison; longtime bassist Billy Kennedy; guitarist Simon Liddell; and the band's multi-instrumentalist and production guru Andy Monaghan—then convened for sessions in New York with the National's Aaron Dessner, who served as the album's co-producer.
"We were actually quite keen not to rely too heavily on some of the tricks and tropes that we'd used on previous records, where it's like, 'Here's where the big fucking guitars come in!'" Scott says. "I mean, we did do that occasionally—that's okay. But I think that the big guitars are in much smaller pockets on this record than anywhere before."
Hutchison adds that living in a new city informed the excitement, confusion, and loneliness that characterize the album. "It's a very different social construct in LA than what I'm used to," he says. "I'm used to making a call or a text at 5 pm and being in the bar one hour later; Portland's probably quite similar to that. The thing about LA is that people treat their social life like a series of appointments or something. I couldn't quite get to grips with the place and I did feel a bit out of step. That sense of isolation does crop up in the lyrical content on the record. I'm not one for getting 'homesick' as such—that might be the wrong word, because I've been away from home a hell of a lot in my adult life. But I definitely felt a remove, like I wasn't part of the community anymore. I wasn't part of one in Glasgow and I wasn't part of one in LA, and I just felt a little bit out of step."
Upon completing Painting of a Panic Attack, Hutchison and his girlfriend "upped sticks" and moved to the small river town of Hudson, New York. He now recognizes what the new songs have to say about the time they spent on the West Coast. "At this point, I think I can see that the album's an ode to how myself and my girlfriend became this little island unto ourselves. This record does tap into that world and the intensity of that whole situation—it can be so wonderful, but I think that there's definitely both sides of that intensity on this record. It's an ode to that time when things settle down and things get better, but at that point in time there was a lot of confusion, and I think this album talks about that place that we built."
With bleak but powerful anthems like "Get Out" and the thumping, coruscating "Break," Frightened Rabbit aim skyward, but Painting of a Panic Attack also finds room for inward-looking songs like "Blood Under the Bridge" and "Die Like a Rich Boy." The album's definitive moment of catharsis occurs when the uneasy first half of "Lump Street" gives way to its double-time, major-key conclusion. "Get together now, build a home," the Hutchison brothers sing with surprising but irrepressible optimism. "There is life beyond the one you already know."
"I never really see a situation from a purely bleak standpoint," Scott says. "There's something about the Scottish nature, which is that however fucked things can be, there's a humorous edge to it. There's a sense of hope. I think it goes way, way back in Scotland's history where we were perennial underdogs in war and sport and all these kind of things. We were just kicking against the pricks. And I think that happens to this day—there's a very Scottish sensibility that is, 'Well, things could be a wreck but hey, we can just drink it off.'"