Friday, 28 November 2008

Interview: Frightened Rabbit

Few Scottish bands these days can say they’ve sold out huge venues in the states, garnered a celebrity following and written an article for a British national newspaper. Especially while retaining a level of relative anonymity on home soil that makes it possible for them to gig in tiny pubs in their neighbourhood without so much as turning a few heads. Yet Selkirk natives Frightened Rabbit find themselves in this unusual predicament.

Their latest album, The Midnight Organ Fight, released back in April, is already big news stateside. Early blog support saw it spread like wildfire and has propelled the band to the prestigious ranks of Pitchfork darlings – an enviable if not impossible feat for most British rock bands. This side of the pond, they fill huge venues with ambitiously instrumented layers of sound, if not always people. On top of intricately woven guitars and keys, lead vocalist and songwriter Scott Hutchison, who was the first, lone Frightened Rabbit back in 2003, splutters a cracked and plaintive brogue, by turns desperate, bitter and brave, about a break up that happened some years ago, to him at least.

These days, he’s found someone new, someone who calls over to him to hurry up as we squeeze onto an open table for our interview in the frozen winter night. His brother, Frightened Rabbit drummer Grant Hutchison, comes too, and it is striking how tired they both look this evening. Grant’s drumming is part of what makes Frightened Rabbit one of the singular most exciting British rock acts of the moment. On stage he is transformed into a deranged yeti, teeth bared, shoulders squared, fists clenching drumsticks that he has been known to snap in seconds.

“We haven’t been off the road for months and months,” Scott offers by way of excuse for their exhaustion, “but why would you be in a band and not do all the gigs you can?” Plenty of bands have bemoaned life on the road – few have been invited by The Guardian to write about it. I ask Scott about this recent journalistic triumph. “I’ve actually had loads of e-mails requesting I do more!” he exclaims, clearly delighted. “It’s hard to write about life on the road without coming across as if we’re moaning, because it is great. We’re lucky: I know hundreds of thousands of other people would want to be doing what we’re doing, but sometimes it is just like, fuck this, this is ridiculous! I’m taking years off my life living like this.”

It must be exhausting, too, to relive the trauma of losing someone every night in front of a whole load of new people, I suggest of The Midnight Organ Fight and its barefaced, wounded account of a breakup. “There’s no rawness anymore,” Scott says. “It was two and a half years ago, and I wrote it six months after it all happened, so I could tie a knot over everything, as closure. If you hammer out a song over a hundred times, a lot of the emotion is going to fade away.”

Nonetheless, Scott still manages to recreate the confusion and hurt of that time live. He explains: “We still love playing live. A lot of the audiences, especially on this tour [they are currently supporting Death Cab For Cutie], are new to our songs, and that makes us feel new to them as well, in a way. And maybe our new audiences have just had their big ‘thing’ that happened to them recently, and that’s great, that people can walk into our songs and become the person that I’m singing about.”

Maybe its Scott’s lyrical frankness when dealing with the private universalisms of love, loss and sex that explains Frightened Rabbit’s disproportionate success stateside. “It’s different the way that music spreads in the US. They’re really big on blogs over there – I know we have blogs here as well – but in the US that’s kind of how you find out about new music, whereas over here it tends to be the NME and the music press,” he tells me. It was those faceless, secretive creatures – bloggers – who caught wind of Frightened Rabbit early on in the states and propelled them to the front of their ones to watch. “The Americans have this romantic view of the Scottish,” Scott tries to explain, meekly. Or, just maybe, Frightened Rabbit are really very, very good.

Frightened Rabbit seem perfectly happy with the way things are going, anyway, even if a lot of people ‘over here’ have never heard of them. (“It’s weird to say ‘over here’ as if we’re not from the UK!” they laugh.) But all that could change with their current and upcoming tours with Death Cab For Cutie, of which Ben Gibbard and Nick Harmer are huge fans, and fellow Scot, Biffy Clyro. They’re re-releasing a Christmas single, ‘It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’, which stings with the broken humour of putting grudges aside ‘just for one day’, and they hope to start working on new material in the new year, if they ever stop touring. I tell Scott that I hope we don’t have to wait for him to go through another messy breakup before he can write a new album. “Speaking of which,” he smiles, motioning behind me where his girlfriend waits, “I’d probably better go.”

DOWNLOAD (that's right kids, my first ever download) Frightened Rabbit - It's Christmas So We'll Stop