Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit explains his Aussie festival Twitter angst to Alex Wilson.
During the writing process of what would become Frightened Rabbit's fourth LP, the upcoming Pedestrian Verse, frontman Scott Hutchison felt he needed to do things a little differently. Despite having built his band's reputation on two album's worth of heart-on-sleeve indie-rock, 2010's The Winter of Mixed Drinks and 2008's critically-acclaimed breakout The Midnight Organ Fight, he decided he would look outwards for a change. The band took some time off, played shows and released a couple of EPs while Hutchison began to write, this time focusing on life as it was lived outside his own heart and head. “The starting point of the album was songs like State Hospital, which focus on a wider section of society,” recalls Hutchison. “I intended to finish the record off in that vein, writing a whole section of songs focusing on stories from other people's lives.”
But as often happens with deliberate changes, things didn't work out exactly as he expected. “And then a whole lot of personal shit happened and I couldn't ignore it! Halfway through the process, I almost decided not to air the filth, you know. Not to bring out thoughts that might be a little too personal. But then I realized that's where the strength lies. That's what people appreciate in music. Honesty and forthrightness. So that's when I started writing a little like The Midnight Organ Fight again.”
Maybe this is partly due to a somewhat lacklustre response to the band's previous full-length, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. With its oblique and symbolic lyrics and ornate, dramatic compositions, it was a curveball for fans and critics that had fallen in love with The Midnight Organ Fight's direct and unvarnished exploration of love, loss and identity.
Almost as if it is responding to this, Pedestrian Verse takes big chances at the same time as it unpretentiously plays to the band's recognized strengths. There is plenty of Hutchison's stock-in-trade introspection, but the inclusion of tracks like State Hospital, an exploration of life from the perspective of the chronically ill, shows a new socially-conscious side to the band emerging. Lead single The Woodpile exemplifies this balance, confidently splitting the difference between a pensive, odd-time verse and a big rock chorus. Hutchison's endearingly melodic brogue and rich lyrics is Frightened Rabbit's ace in the hole, his calling for deliverance from isolation giving the song real emotional heft. This personal candour is, according to Hutchison, ironically encapsulated in the album's title. “Initially, it was a working title, but then it became a challenge to myself to write lyrics, write verses that were anything but pedestrian,” he says. “It was important to me that each line had weight, had meaning and had a point. And that was part of the process of the whole album musically as well. Every part of the instrumentation had to be there. There's not much fat on this record.”
Early signs indicate that Hutchison has passed his own test with flying colours. Some of the first opinions coming in off the blogosphere are calling Pedestrian Verse the band's most focused, compelling and accessible record yet, possibly an early contender for album of the year. It may be the kind of album that pushes this band, teetering on the fringes of the underground and the mainstream, upwards to new levels of success.
While some of this creative revitalization must undoubtedly be due to Hutchison's return to some familiar ground lyrically, Frightened Rabbit have also completely changed the way they've approached the music on Pedestrian Verse, writing collaboratively for the very first time. “On previous records, the process would be that I would go away for a while and I would write the whole record and then just almost hand the songs over to the band and that was it. There was no creative input from anyone else. This time around, we really wanted to write as a band,” says Hutchison.
In the beginning, the Frightened Rabbit moniker was a name for the solitary, shy Hutchison's 4-track demos and early solo shows. This new way of working represents a significant change for him and his band, which has gradually expanded to a quartet, including guitarist and bassist Billy Kennedy, guitarist Andy Monaghan, guitarist and keyboardist Gordon Skene and Hutchison's brother Grant on drums. “I felt that would change things. Just by it's very nature it would feel fresher and different and new. It's a much more surprising process when someone takes a song and sends it off in a completely different direction to what I could have imagined. I was getting less and less excited about my own ideas, so it was a really fresh start for us. We're not talking about radical departures here. We're talking a big step forward, and I'm more excited about than I have been about music for a long time. I really feel like the process we went through to make this record has been the most exciting, creative and productive one since we started. It's a really important time for us.”
About to release what he thinks is the best record of Frightened Rabbit's career so far and in the thick of a creative rediscovery, Hutchison is eager to go and unleash his new songs upon audiences around the world. Yet, while the band have made it over to Australia to tour their past couple of records, recent years saw offers from promoters down under drying up, inexplicably leaving them without any way of getting over to play for local punters. So back in December 2012, a fed-up Hutchison took to Twitter to vent, calling out Aussie festival promoters and assuring his fans that they were making every effort to line up some gigs. “I just thought that any fans we may have in Australia should know WE ARE TRYING TO COME BACK, but nobody wants to put us on... Man, the folks who book festivals in Australia really don't like us. We may never get the chance to come back at this rate.”
But despite feeling a little miffed by the initial lack of interest from bookers, Hutchison assures us that we shouldn't take his annoyance too seriously because, hey, it all worked out in the end! All it took was some good ol'-fashioned social-media shit-stirring. “I was almost just trying to get a rise out of them,” he says of his throwdown to the Australian live music scene. “We'd come up against a few brick walls trying to get on festivals. And after so many times trying to get some shows sorted out, I just decided I didn't really give a shit anymore and posted that stuff to get a reaction. I really wanted to come back, and it worked! We're looking forward to making it over to Australia and it definitely won't be too long now.”
Frightened Rabbit will be playing the following dates:
Saturday 27 April – Maitland Showground NSW
Sunday 28 April – University of Canberra ACT
Saturday 4 May – Prince of Wales Showground, Bendigo VIC
Sunday 5 May – Murray Sports Complex, Townsville Cricket Grounds QLD
Saturday 11 May – Hay Park, Bunbury WA
Pedestrian Verse is out now.
This week's new sets include music from locals Gurrumul, Josh Pyke and West Thebarton Brothel Party plus new tunes from The Maccabees and Albert Hammond Jr.