” I think that every man has some of the worst traits – the whole challenge of being a guy is suppressing those on a daily basis – you know, trying not to be that cunt.”
Scott Hutchinson spoke to Peter McLoughlin ahead of the release of Frightened Rabbit’s excellent fourth album, Pedestrian Verse.
P: When Frightened Rabbit started out, did you have a mission statement – an objective so to speak? If so, has it changed as the band has developed?
S: I think the only objective was to build a solid career, as opposed to going for broke or reaching for the stars. We just wanted to solidly build a fan base and tour a lot. I think our mission has not changed really. It’s just about maintaining something and making sure everything is done correctly. That we don’t make any stupid decisions, and that we continue to develop creatively. It’s really just about that rather than any kind of ambition to play in an enormous dome at some point. I don’t really have any ambition to do that.
With Pedestrian Verse, it’s much more outward-looking than The Midnight Organ Fight and The Winter of Mixed Drinks. At your concerts everyone screams along, it’s an incredible atmosphere – but these new songs shift toward singing about other people. You said about expanding yourself creatively – but moving towards something else, that’s risky I suppose because by singing less about the personal you remove that recognizable dynamic between the crowd and the music.
Ah, it could do. I think you might be right in that there’s definitely some material that might not relate in the same way, as in the listener being able to project their own life onto the material. I didn’t worry about that when I was writing though. I was interested in doing something new, and that felt different for me. There are different types of connections to music.
And also, I’ve spent three albums writing about myself, and there still is material that is personal to me on this one but I just thought: I can’t do an hour and 45 minute live show which is just entirely about me. That seems horribly indulgent. So it had to [have] a wider focus, a wider lenses on some of the new material just for that reason alone. I was a bit bored of myself.
No, I mean there’s not a lot of – I use a lot of religious imagery in my songs. I’ve criticised it a couple of times but I’ve actually always said I don’t particularly agree with organised religion in that sense. I use the language mostly though to describe situations that are completely different from that and are quite far removed. I enjoy using the religious metaphor almost as a fast track to people understanding what I’m trying to say because everyone understands that kind of imagery. It’s very clearly defined, it’s very powerful and strong. In the end I rarely use it in actual reference to religion itself. So I’m not doing too much god-bashing in this one – not as much as I’ve done in the past.
Whenever I write there’s definitely a compulsion there. There has to be otherwise it’s going to be bland and there’s not going to be much weight behind it. Everything I write is based upon a compulsion to express what I think, definitely.
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And so then with these songs – or in Oil Slick, in particular, the final chorus is: “There’s still hope so I think we’ll be fine in these disastrous times”. I wouldn’t describe your songs as bleak though there is a sense of the tragedy in life; because there is always a sense of underlying hope. Is that something as an artist you always try to work toward?
I think it’s important to me because it allows – the great thing is when you express that sense of hope at the end of every song, if the song takes an upturn, then you can get away with being quite dark within the song itself. It allows a bit of lee-way. If you just write this oppressively dark song that has no glimmer at the end then, again, it can be quite indulgent and oppressive on the listener. There’s no light there at the end of the tunnel, and I think that [light] is hugely important, because again it allows me to be more dense and dark within the body of the song itself. I like that upturn at the end for the same reason that I like writing big choruses, because it allows you to be a little more dense in the verse. I enjoy that juxtaposition of things.
And you’re excellent at it. I can’t think of another band that has so many incredible choruses – not just catchy but meaningful at the same time…
I love a chorus. I bloody love a chorus (Laughs).
(Laughs) ok, well, – how much should we assume then, particularly in Pedestrian Verse, that the ‘I’ in the songs is you – rather than say a character?
Well, when I’m singing ‘I,’ I would say with exception of “Acts of Man,” certainly the start of that is supposed to be a more open indictment of the male of the species. But no for the most part the ‘I’ is me. Because even with something like “Acts of Man,” although initially I’m not singing about myself, it’s a more general sense of male behaviour – I still would never remove myself from that. I wouldn’t want to appear to be looking down on that, because I think that every man has some of the worst traits – the whole challenge of being a guy is suppressing those on a daily basis – you know, trying not to be that cunt. And you know, that’s a daily challenge for me. So the ‘I’ in a lot of these songs is me. But there’s also hopefully scope for it to be someone else. But it’s a slightly more general sense of the ‘I,’ in a lot of cases in this record.
It’s funny because “Acts of Man” in particular was the song I was thinking of, because I was thinking about the song earlier in relation to the album, and it brings an important empathy into the album. If you don’t relate yourself to that man who, you know, is a cunt or whatever – if you don’t relate yourself to that man at the beginning then there isn’t that same sense of empathy running throughout. I thought it was a great way to start the album because it just means you know as a listener that you’re on the side of the people you’re singing about.
Sorry, that wasn’t really a question. I could talk about the album for quite some time…
(laughs) Well that’s good news.
So when are you coming back to Belfast? You’re going to America soon I know but what about the summer?
There’s nothing confirmed yet, but we’re desperate to come back. I think because we were in the Empire later last year that we thought it might be too soon to come back before the summer. But there’s no doubt – we love playing Belfast and love playing Ireland in general.
On a closing question then: do you tend to get the same reception abroad – touring America etc. – as you do in the UK? Are there any cultural differences?
There are definitely cultural differences. I think a lot of the colloquialisms that travel quite well into Ireland might not work [further abroad], but they [the fans] don’t seem that bothered by that stuff, that certain parts of the language might go over their head. Not over their head in an intellectual sense, it’s just not their everyday use of language. But they actually – they whole-heartedly jump into the music and they completely embrace it so the reception actually is quite equal wherever we go – America has always been amazing to us. It’s as good there as it is at home a lot of the time, so I’d count ourselves lucky in that sense.
Well I’d say it’s less luck and more about the universal elements to the songs –
Well, there’s a lot of luck man (laughs).
Well, yeah – fair enough (laughs). Cool cool. Well, I’ll leave you be for now. Thank you very very much. I look forward to seeing you play sometime soon, and all the best on your tour.
Cool man. Thanks very much. Nice to talk to you. Cheers. Bye.
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