Q&A With Frightened Rabbit

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Give or take a few unforeseen breakdowns, there’s nothing particularly cool about Frightened Rabbit’s Midnight Organ Fight. It’s personally obsessive, self-loathing and unadorned—a caravan of songs for your own mistakes. No wonder it was our seventh-best album of last year and earned the Scottish outfit a support slot on a Death Cab For Cutie tour.

MAGNET sat down to chat with singer Scott Hutchinson after a recent acoustic set at Rewards Boutique in Philadelphia.

“Heads Roll Off” from Midnight Organ Fight (download here):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/HeadsRollOff.mp3

Did you grow up in Glasgow?
No, I grew up in a rural town south of Edinburgh. They don’t have a university or college there, so everyone who wants to further themselves leaves. [Laughs] Having said that, I’ve effectively moved back to where I grew up because I don’t have an apartment, so all my stuff is at my parents’ house. I moved to go to art college nine years ago. Glasgow is definitely a creative place to be, the music scene rubbed off, and it’s easy to be really awful and still manage to get shows. [Laughs] It’s a good training ground and the audiences aren’t too hard.

Was that your first exposure to a music scene and the idea of putting a band together?
Absolutely, that’s where the idea struck. I didn’t even start writing songs until I went there. When you grow up in a small town, [the scene] tends to be all about the covers. It’s very hard to play your own stuff, so I didn’t even bother. I guess I just saw a bunch of other bands doing it, people who I grew to know and were getting quite good at it.

Compared to (2006’s) Sing The Greys, Midnight Organ Fight is more sonically ambitious. Was that to do with having spent more time with a band or maybe the producer?
I think ambition had grown slightly, but we’d always had sonic ambitions that we couldn’t quite achieve with the studio set we had before Sing The Greys. It was a case of being able to achieve the sounds and arrangements. Peter Katis, the guy who added quite a sonic muscle to the thing, that’s his natural trick. But we were just able to achieve the big-scale sound that we were striving for on the first record but limitations downscaled it to this lo-fi, almost demo quality.

What attracted you to working with Katis?
The idea came from the label. The guy who runs Fat Cat [Records, in the] U.S. has a connections with Peter, so it came up. I knew the reference points with the National and Interpol, and I felt like it was definitely what I had in mind for the record, which was a larger sound, more spacious. I think he has a magic touch on the records he works on, so it was a real privilege. I’m not sure he was sure about us to begin with. [Laughs] He was like, “Who are these kids in my studio?” But he really grew to love it.

What are some of the things he’s done that you like?
Boxer (by the National). The first Interpol record (Turn On The Bright Lights); the second one has its moments, but I really do love that first one. He mixed a record by some friends of ours called the Twilight Sad.

If you have any perspective on it right now, what is the most important thing in your life right now?
Being in the band. It’s my life. It’s been what I’ve been doing for the past 10 months pretty solidly, and it completely dictates where I am, what I’m doing and who I’m with. There are people that are important to me, but this strongest, most visceral force in my life has taken me places I didn’t think I’d be able to go … It’s funny. I’m still making a mess of certain aspects of life, and I keep joking that I’ll make a happy album. There’s a feeling of isolation. Like, once you start to spend enough time with the four of us it becomes lonely, there’s nothing else to talk about and we don’t share stuff. I definitely have that sense of being way out at sea sometimes. So, I think that could be one of the themes that springs up (on future recordings). I joke about writing a happy record, but I still focus on the dark parts.

I remember watching a DVD that Death Cab For Cutie put out after Transatlanticism, and Ben Gibbard was saying something like, “I always tried to write happy songs, but I’ve never really been able to. I wonder if it’s just something in me that doesn’t allow me to do that.”
Happiness brings about great one-off songs. But an entire record? It’s not really exploring what human is, anyway. I don’t like hanging out with people that are constantly happy—that’s incredibly dull. I don’t believe they are, anyway, even if they have that persona. The darker side is something that interests everyone. People love hearing about another human fucking up. In tabloids, politics and every aspect of general celebrity, the fucking up is the thing that sells magazines. I’m not saying I contrive it so we can sell records, but it’s definitely a part that I’m interested in. I totally admit I love seeing the pictures of Lindsay Lohan looking like an absolute fucking tit. But it’s the way that my brain works and it won’t change dramatically.

You’ve gotten a lot of positive reviews for Midnight Organ Fight. Has there been any one piece of critical acclaim that you’ve held onto?
There was an early review that was essentially from a blog called Ragged Words. I hadn’t read very many (reviews at that point), and that was the first one where the reviewer completely understood what I was trying to do. All the other reviews since—there have been some other people that definitely got it—but reading it was reading what I was trying to do with the record. That one blog, as insignificant as it may be in the general scheme of press, was for me validation that I was on the right track with how I approached the album.

How about praise coming from musicians?
Craig Finn from the Hold Steady is a fan. That band right now is probably my favorite band in the world. To have him come out and say we’re a good band, I was blown away by that. I never actually met him. Hopefully one of these days I’ll get to shake his hand.

So, you’ve been touring for what seems like forever. What’s next?
New record. I can’t wait to get back. The frame of mind for touring is quite contrary to being creative and writing whenever I’m on tour, so I want to get back into that frame of mind. Hopefully I’m invading a friend’s house. He’s away on tour and his house is empty, by the sea, so I’m going to go there and change my lifestyle for a couple months and write a new record. I don’t want to stop working. I don’t want to waste the privilege that we have of being able to record and tour. I’m always afraid that it’ll go away, so I want to try my best to keep it the way it is.

—Chris Zakorchemny