Frightened Rabbit Discuss New Album ‘Pedestrian Verse’ + Religious Imagery and the Scottish Temperament
After writing Frightened Rabbit’s first three albums largely by himself, bandleader Scott Hutchison was keen for his bandmates to play a much larger role in making the band’s latest, ‘Pedestrian Verse.’
“I had started to see patterns in my work,” Hutchison tells Diffuser.fm from Scotland. “I had started to get bored of my own solitary work, and I think it was time for the rest of the band to be as invested in what we were making.”
Like Frightened Rabbit’s previous albums, ‘Pedestrian Verse’ is a collection of deeply felt songs, built around confessional first-person lyrics and soaring sing-along choruses. What’s different is the scope of these songs, which balance the lacerating emotion of heartache with broader themes.
The album is the follow-up to the band’s 2010 LP ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks,’ and though Hutchison sounds drained when he ducks out of a late dinner in Scotland toward the end of the U.K. release date, he sounds excited, too.
“You can’t really get this feeling other than when you’re five years old and it’s Christmas Day,” the singer says in a conversation that touches on the Scottish temperament, letting go of a measure of creative control and why he likes using religious imagery in his lyrics.
Is there a Scottish temperament, and do you have it?
I think I have it. I think it’s something I can’t really shake. There’s definitely a Scottish habit of pairing misery and slight depression with humor. At the core of what we do is folk music. Of course, we extrapolate and expand it out to different forms, but if you take it back down to its roots and its core, it’s folk music, and that’s very Scottish. So I think the Scottish-ness of our band is important but also unshakable. It’s not something we have a choice in: We’re all Scottish, and we are all a mixture of misery or humor. It’s a classic combination in this country.
How easy is it to strike a balance between them in your music?
It’s a very natural balance. The Scottish people have a way of treating disaster. It’s like, “Aw, we’re f—ed, but it’s OK, we’re still alive.” It even extends to sports: We’re really bad at sports — generally, we don’t excel at anything like that — and there’s always a sense of pride, of joy, in being the underdog, in fighting for a small country. Historically, and I think it does go back through history, and it still exists today, it’s like it’s us against the world, and I think Scots people have that within them. And in the arts and music, it’s a very tight-knit and close community. We’re all aiming for the same thing, which is to show what our country has to offer.
Calling the new album ‘Pedestrian Verse’ was sort of a reminder to yourself, right?
Yeah, it was a challenge set by myself to steer away from cliché. Not that I think I was prone to it or anything like that, but it was an attempt to better myself, certainly. I’m trying to be a better songwriter all the time. To assume on previous records that I’d got everything right, that’s terrible. I would never assume that. I always try to be as self-critical as I possibly can, if not more critical than anyone else. So calling the record that as a working title, it was like a gauntlet. If you call your record ‘Pedestrian Verse,’ you open yourself up to criticism, so you can’t really write within normal clichéd songwriting standards, lyrically. Maybe paradoxically, we act like they’re standard guitar-folk songs a lot of times. I still love a verse and a chorus, I like hanging my words on that kind of framework.
The last album, ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks,’ really brought the band to a wider audience in the U.S. How much was that in your mind while you were making ‘Pedestrian Verse?’
Not really at all. There’s large sections of that record that I didn’t like, and I think if anything, we were quite keen to not repeat ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks.’ We were all the more pleased about the places it took us, and being self-critical about that record drove us forward. I tried to be unaware of an audience and write again from perhaps a naïve perspective of perhaps the same kind of person who wrote the first couple of records in a bedroom and didn’t really think about having an audience. I tried not censor myself.
This was a much more collaborative album in terms of songwriting. Why was that?
It was necessary. It was a conscious decision about something that I had to do in order to make a better record with the band. It had to stop being my sort of solitary ego project, and it had to be a much more open, and as a result interesting, project.
How big of an adjustment did you have to make to do that?
There was definitely a period where I was getting used to letting go of the reins about being less controlling about the whole thing. It took a bit longer at the outset, but once we hit our stride, it became more productive than ever. We ended up with a lot of songs, and I think that in letting go, it was to the benefit of the band. It had to happen. But there was an adjustment period and even the band themselves were like, “Are you sure you want to do it?” But ultimately it was about the album.
That seems like a remarkably mature decision for rock ’n’ roll.
It was just necessary. Although I do think that coming from the background I had, which is based in being an artist — I went to art school, and worked in a solitary fashion for a long time, and I think coming from that, it took a while to realize that you can’t achieve your best work in a vacuum on your own. A lot of it came from collaborating a little bit more with other artists outside of the band over the past couple of years. I realized I had so much to learn. Maybe part of me arrogantly thought that I had this songwriting thing down, and I realized working with other people that I didn’t, and that even though I’d been writing for years, I had a lot to learn, and I still have a lot to learn. Bringing in the other guys in the band, I learned so much, and it feels, weirdly at album No. 4, that we are at the start of something. It’s exciting.
The last album had a lot of water imagery, and this one has some religious imagery. What’s the root of that?
I just like using that language. There’s a universal nature to using that language that everyone, whether they’re religious or not, can relate to. It’s a very fast track to a certain way of understanding what I’m trying to say, even though most of the songs that include religious imagery aren’t actually religious. I enjoy using that imagery to describe a scenario. Like on ‘Holy,’ for instance, there’s a lot of religious imagery, but it’s really just about me f—ing up again and again and people saying, “Yes, you’re f—ing up. Why are you behaving in this way?” So in that sense, it’s just applying that imagery rather than giving an opinion of what I think about religion, though there are a couple of instances in the past where I’ve given my view about where I stand, certainly on Christianity. But not so much on this record.
The band released the ‘State Hospital’ EP last fall. What role did that play as a stepping-stone between albums?
Those songs, they were part of the album sessions. They came around at the same time as we were writing songs that actually made it onto the record, but they didn’t fit. We’re still very fond of them. Once we hit our stride, we wrote a lot of songs, and we wanted to give the extras a better space. So that EP, it did seem like those were good stepping-stone songs, especially ‘State Hospital,’ but it was more about us just giving those songs a time and a place to be noticed instead of just getting lost. We’re really proud of those songs, and they fit together, but they just don’t fit on the record.
Watch Frightened Rabbit’s Video for ‘The Woodpile’