When Frightened Rabbit took to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in July, frontman Scott Hutchison introduced the band as a better version of their former selves. “We used to be a folk band, but then we discovered electricity.” Hutchison joked as the Scottish fivesome launched into “Get Out,” the single off their April release, Painting of a Panic Attack.
In the years preceding their musical reunion, Frightened Rabbit took a three-year hiatus with no new material, leaving their fans perplexed about the future of the band. Returning with their 2016 album, the Glaswegians announced that future; resurfacing as a stronger, more unified group, refreshed and excited to share new music with the same beloved sound.
Brothers Scott and Grant Hutchison grew up together, built a band together, and watched their project take off internationally after their 2008 album, Midnight Organ Fight, became an international hit.
Two albums and two EPs later, the band felt themselves growing again — this time in the wrong direction. “We toured so hard on the last album that we were all a little bit sick of the band,” Scott told me, calling from a beach in Maine on their recent East Coast tour. “I could see patterns in our work…I felt like we didn’t need to re-tread where we had been. You get bored of those songs.”
Following the 2013 release of Pedestrian Verse, the group toured consistently, running over the same material, with disillusionment stirring inside them — until they reached a breaking point. Their label suggested some time away. “They were concerned that we were losing interest in the band,” Hutchison said, “and they were right to think that.”
The band took the advice and went their separate ways. Hutchison, Billy Kennedy, and Andy Monaghan recorded Hutchinson’s “solo album” under the name Owl John. Grant Hutchison took some time to bike 1100 miles for charity. Former Make Model guitarist Gordon Skene departed from the band in early 2014, due to “differing opinions” about the direction of the group. “There is no more to tell other than sometimes things just don’t work out,” Frightened Rabbit wrote in a statement to fans. “Often the best option is to simply part ways and get on with life separately.”
Despite the gap, Hutchison said he had no intentions of focusing his musical ambitions entirely on a solo career. “It was really just more of a palate-cleanser than any sort of idea that I had to be a solo-artist,” he said. “I think you have to refresh the palate, that’s what the solo album was about. The other guys went off and did other things too, and I think it’s important to step out of this zone that you’ve lived in, kind of like a bubble, and come back with a fresh head and new ideas, and really really want to get your teeth into it again.”
Frightened Rabbit emerged from the break-sans-bubble with Panic Attack; a stripped-down collection of heartbroken anthems produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner. The band’s fifth album does not reinvent the band, but simply rethinks it, introducing the same beloved sound from a refreshed perspective.
In an unprecedented move, Hutchison and his band delved into the latest album with an ocean between them. Hutchison had moved to Los Angeles to live with his girlfriend, while everyone else stayed in Glasgow. Email and Skype replaced face-to-face contact. “We were all a bit frustrated; it took a long time for ideas to become fully-formed,” Hutchison said. “But then you start to realize, you get into this, into the groove of it a little bit more…you’ve got a couple of days to process something that comes your way, whether it be an opinion on something you’ve done, or a new piece of music, and you can just take your time.”
Finding the glamour of LA life antithetical to Glasgow’s post-industrial ethos, Hutchison felt distinctly out of place. “The whole city… I didn’t quite gel with it,” he said. “I kind of got there and I felt like, just like a pale, chubby guy… which I guess I am, but it was even more exaggerated there.”
Hutchison attempted to immerse himself, delving into veganism, giving up gluten, and trying his best to quell his inherent Scottish penchant for drinking. “It’s hard to explain to people, and it’s like…we just always kind of have, it’s how we get stuff done,” he said.
The last reinvention, Hutchison thought, would be his songwriting style. “I had this over-arching concept that it was going to be a fictional narrative, and I was going to create characters, and it wasn’t going to be about my life,” he said. “I was sending them along and my brother emailed, saying, ‘I’m not connecting with these songs. I don’t know quite what you’re going for, but it’s not working for me.’ It takes great skill and it takes great empathy, and maybe those are things that I don’t have enough of. I don’t know. I’ll keep trying, I’m sure I’ll be told by my brother that it sucks.”
That brotherly tough-love dynamic is the beauty of Frightened Rabbit: When one Hutchison takes a leap, the other will break the fall—or at least give a pretty honest review. “There’s no pulling punches, with he and I, … we’ve been at each other’s throats probably since he was born,” Hutchison said. “I was a little bit upset for a couple of days, and then I realized that perhaps he was right, and I did have stuff to write about, and I was ignoring it. I did look at myself again, and I did have material that I did want to get into these songs. So yeah, there’s a lot of me in it, and I think that’s what, ultimately, people connect with.”
Hutchison’s lyrics wriggle themselves into the soft spots and vulnerabilities of anyone who will listen. His personal stories represent something heartbroken within all of us. In the Greg Davenport-directed video for Get Out, two young women are tossed in and out of turbulent love, dancing through a bleak Ukrainian landscape. In Holy off of the 2013 Pedestrian Verse, a young businesswoman makes a great escape from an incredibly rigid environment, into the wilderness. Both videos illustrate something unique about Frightened Rabbit — their ability to encompass universal emotions within personal experiences. “If something has happened to you, there’s a really strong chance it has happened to someone else,” Hutchison said. “Humans, at their core, aren’t really that different from one another…there’s a wealth of material when you’re talking about human turmoil, or how life just doesn’t fucking work out sometimes.”
With song titles including “Death Dream,” “Woke Up Hurting,” and “An Otherwise Disappointing Life,” Panic Attack remains true to the morose themes of previous Frightened Rabbit albums, while retaining the band’s acerbic sense of humor. “It comes from living and growing up in Scotland,” Hutchison said. “A sense of humor, or an upturn in tone at the end, is what can make a song. It can’t be too crushingly dark. Everything is approached with a slight wink and a nudge. It’s like, ‘well, we’re all a bit fucked,’ you know?” In “Die Like A Rich Boy,” Hutchison sings, “If you leave this world in a rhinestone shroud / We could finally make your father proud / If I leave this world in a loaded daze / I can finally have and eat my cake.”
Hutchison has escaped the clutches of gluten-free Los Angeles, landing safely back in a new studio space in Glasgow with the rest of the band. “We’re going to start writing,” Hutchison said. “We don’t want to take two years of being in-between records, so we’re going to start again. We have some ideas that we’d like to pursue a little further, so that’s the starting point, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
In the future, Frightened Rabbit may run away from themselves, or grow in different directions, only to come right back again with greater purpose. For now, the band has work to do; picking over unreleased material, launching a U.S. tour in September, and spreading melancholy around the globe in albums to come.
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