For more than a decade, Frightened Rabbit—Scott Hutchison (vocals and guitar), brother Grant Hutchison (drums), Billy Kennedy (guitar and bass), Andy Monaghan (guitar and keys) and Simon Liddell (guitar)—have been making global noise on the strength of soaring, melancholic arena rock with resonant lyrics that stay with you. Since then, the Scottish rockers (above, doing “I Wish That I Was Sober” live for KTBG FM) have become as equally well known for their fiery live performances as for their recorded output. The band’s fifth LP, Painting of a Panic Attack (stream it below), which came out last spring, was produced by the National’s Aaron Dessner. “Though Hutchison’s talent for crafting beautifully dark stories hasn’t changed much, Frightened Rabbit’s sound most definitely has, thanks in part to Dessner behind the mixing desk,” said the Line of Best Fit. “The usual aching melancholy that has the capability to flip to captivating exuberance at a moment’s notice is ever present but Dessner’s experience with the National gives a whole new, often gloomy, depth to their sound.” Frightened Rabbit play Brooklyn Steel next Tuesday. And ahead of the band’s North American tour, The House List contacted the frontman to answer Five Questions.
Painting of a Panic Attack features electronics more than your other albums. Was that a conscious choice ahead of time or is that just the way things went as you wrote? I think we all wanted to move in that direction a little more with this album, but it wasn’t forced. Through necessity, I was figuring out how to use music software for the first time and exploring the raft of sounds held in Logic. Andy has always been interested in electronic music, so for him it was a natural place to go.
So many Frightened Rabbit songs are anthemic, somehow sounding like upbeat tales even when they’re about downer topics—not many bands could get crowds to lustily belt out lyrics about loneliness or “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm.” Is that something you set out to do? I’ve always been looking for that contrast within the songs. From very early on I knew I wanted the melodic qualities of the music to act like an open door, warm and welcoming, sometimes anthemic. Then once you’re in the room, you hear all these dark lines and it might be a little jarring, but we’ve already shut the door behind you. Ha!
What’s your process for recording new material? Is everything written and fleshed out in advance of going into the studio? Or do you just have sketches and ideas of songs ready to go? We’re usually relatively well prepared but recently we’ve enjoyed developing songs from rough sketches in the studio. Being overprepared or too certain of the songs can result in losing those little moments of studio magic. That’s our excuse for not knowing what the fuck we’re doing.
Once a track is recorded and released, does it stay like that in perpetuity, or do songs grow as you play them live? They always grow, they absolutely should. Often it’s just through boredom within the band, but sometimes the audience drives it forward. I never thought “The Loneliness and the Scream” would be a set-closer, but that had nothing to do with us. It was the crowds latching on to a melody and sticking with it. That was a surprise.
Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much? Absolutely. It’s a big danger and I’ve caught myself repeating themes again and again. However, I do think it’s important to develop your own world within the songs, and repeated lyrical themes are a big part of that. And the thing is: I am still a bit of a drunken failure. I’m not making it up. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog