Catching Up With... Frightened Rabbit
The Winter of Mixed Drinks, the soon-to-be-latest from Scottish troubadours Frightened Rabbit, is the follow-up to the band's 2008 experiments with intimacy: a studio effort focused on the regretful nature of post-breakup hookups (The Midnight Organ Fight) and a live album that stripped the band of its electric guitars (Liver! Lung! FR!). Winter contains some of the band's most open-air atmospherics to date, and combined with nautical metaphors and burial imagery, it sounds like an emergence from deep hibernation. Paste recently spoke with frontman Scott Hutchison about letting his voice get lost, touring with his favorite band and how one tiny Scottish fishing village shaped the new record.
Paste: Your last tour of 2009 was opening for Modest Mouse in the U.K. and Ireland, though you guys really have been relentlessly touring for the past two years. Since you don't typically write songs while on the road, did you ever feel creatively restrained by the mechanic nature of touring?
Scott Hutchison: I don't feel restrained in terms of wanting to write, yet being unable to—because I just decided I never wanted to write on the road. Touring is not a very creative process, and my mind almost needs to switch between different settings for touring and writing. So when in tour mode, creativity is usually switched off. I suppose this means ideas burst out with more force when I go back to the writing process.
Paste: Around the time of The Midnight Organ Fight's release, both you and critics had said that Frightened Rabbit had been experiencing a slow, but steady growth, in both musicianship and number of members. What do you have to say of the band's growth now?
Hutchison: It has continued in that same way as far as I can tell. There haven't been any huge, earth-shattering movements in the history of the band, and I rather like it that way. When a band is the finished article from the outset, where do they have to go? In many ways it has been nice to have some headroom to get better and better at what we do.
Paste: Around that time also, you also kept citing The Twilight Sad as one of your favorite bands. Fast-forward to 2009, and you guys were touring the U.S. with them. How did that feel?
Hutchison: They have been good friends of ours for a couple of years now, so to tour with them was an absolute pleasure. There's nothing better than watching one of your favorite bands perform each night and have the songs you love take on a new life from town to town.
Paste: You say that you retreated to Crail to compose the album. What is Crail like, in comparison to your hometown?
Hutchison: I grew up in a small town, but not quite as small as Crail. The solitude of the village had a huge impact on the new record, both thematically and sonically. It's a beautiful part of Scotland and the sea air was good for blowing the thick cobwebs from my head. It definitely had a recuperative effect on my physical and mental state following the year and a half of touring the last two records.
Paste: What precise moment led to you writing "Swim Until You Can't See Land"? Where were you and what were you doing?
Hutchison: I can't remember exactly what I was doing or when I came up with the song. I know that the phrase had been in my head for a while before I started writing the record. It was the touchstone that I went back to again and again, as I felt it summed up my frame of mind at that point—a little bit mad, feeling the need to escape. A lot of the other songs on the record are very much companions to that song.
Paste: The album seems to beg for a general inner peace, if not an escape from life in itself with all this imagery of being buried. In "Skip the Youth," you sing, "All I need is a place to lie, guess a grave will have to do." Though the album takes on a slight nautical theme, what conjured up such imagery?
Hutchison: I suppose it was all a reaction to the urge to hide away and not be disturbed, which is exactly what I did. It doesn't relate to wanting to die, however. That song is essentially about being so tired that you just want to disappear. You can bury yourself in many different ways.
Paste: Airy background vocals are nothing new in Frightened Rabbit's music, though here, your voice seems to disappear in the howling wind, such as in "Not Miserable." Am I hearing that correctly?
Hutchison: We tried to make the backing vocals more of a feature on this record—I am happy for my voice to drown a little in the mix, as it makes the whole thing sound louder and more powerful. We put a lot of layers of vocal on some of these tracks, and tried to more than the basic 'ooh' and 'aah' sounds with them.
Paste: Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) produced this record, though the end result is less jangly and a bit more spaced out than The Midnight Organ Fight. "Skip the Youth" takes nearly two minutes to start. What inspired this?
Hutchison: I disagree that it takes two minutes to start. The song starts at the start, no? To answer your question, when we're making a record we always feel like every song needs its "thing"—its reason for even existing. That one seemed to be missing its 'thing' so we took a bold-ish move with the intro. It's easy to settle into standard song structures sometimes and it's something we are still trying to swerve from, with varying degrees of succes. The two-minute intro was part of that process.
Paste: Is all this a part of what you wanted to achieve soundwise, with this album and with Frightened Rabbit?
Hutchison: It is. We want to evolve, to stay interesting—if only for our own satisfaction. I am far happier with the sound of this record than anything we've done in the past. It feels more complete and detailed. It is, however, just another step in the ongoing process of developing the band. I have no idea what we will become and that is what keeps it exciting for us.