Since the beginning of February, Frightened Rabbit have been selling out venues across the pond and here in the States as they continue to tour behind Pedestrian Verse, the fourth full-length album from the Scottish bastion of indie rock. This wouldn’t be the biggest deal for the band—who are used to playing for packed rooms in cities big and small, both international and domestic—except the record in question marks a major creative departure for the five-piece, in that it’s the first body of work they’ve truly collaborated on in their history as a band. They also hit the road four days after Pedestrian Verse’s debut on February 1, which means that Frightened Rabbit got to know the anthemic grandiosity of their latest in a live setting along with everybody else, despite the hours they clocked in the studio and in practice before departing Glasgow on their latest trek.
“It took us a couple of weeks before we were particularly great at playing the songs,” says Scott Hutchison, Frightened Rabbit’s frontman and lead vocalist, hanging out before his (again, sold-out) show at Terminal 5 last night.
“We rehearsed like hell, but until you get out and play the new songs live, you might as well be in the rehearsal room for a day. We noticed it at the start of the tour that the songs are settling in. I think one of the things we found challenging was that the producer, Leo Abrahams, brought a very important sense of subtlety to this album that was missing on other ones. The details are very much missed if they’re not included, so we spent a lot of time figuring out how to incorporate these details live. We’re totally dead against backing tracks, so we tried to do a raw energy version of some of the songs, and it just sounded like a shitty version of that song. He brought such a subtlety to the arrangements that we had to really look at how we were going to include these details. The United States got the best end of the tour, definitely!”
Though the accolades they’ve raked in indicate otherwise (the tour’s been good since the get-go), Pedestrian Verse has, after months of relentless touring, begun to feel like the songs Frightened Rabbit should’ve been singing all along. Before, Hutchison would “lock [himself] away and not welcome any of the band into that process” when it came to arrangements and lyrics. With Pedestrian Verse, that artistic autonomy ceased, as each of Frightened Rabbit’s members contributed to the fabric of every verse and breakdown.
“This time around, it was an open kind of door,” says Hutchison. “I was like, ‘I’m going to be here in the rehearsal space every day, I’m going to be working on stuff as I always do, and you can come and go as you please.’ That was the start of a new process with us, because we never worked that way before, collaboratively. I just put records together myself. So that process was new—it was brand new—and we felt reinvigorated. The first couple of weeks, we were still finding our feet, not really sure how this was going to work. I’m still getting used to letting go of that kind of control, that kind of thing. When we did hit our stride, it was great. Thereafter, we realized that this is how we want to do it. Perhaps I’d come to a saturation point where I was getting bored with my own way of working and I needed something to refresh it, and that’s what really happened with this record. For me, I can hear it all over it. It’s got more energy. It’s bigger. It’s brighter. It’s just more exciting.”
“Late March, Death March” is perhaps one of the best examples of this newly defined collaborative effort, as the song was written and recorded with all five members of the band having a staring contest between them as they battered drums in a circle. “We were very aware that we wanted this to be in every sense a band record,” says Hutchison. “We’ve never performed as a five-piece in the studio before. It’s always been like, ‘Let’s do the drums and work up from there.’ Here, it’s the five of us playing drums round with a microphone in the middle. That just brings something you can’t get from layering, you know? That integral energy on ‘Late March, Death March’ comes from us just making eye contact—and not all of us are great drummers, either. It’s got sort of ragged parts that added to it. That was probably the only song on the album that was written in the traditional me, on my own, in a room kind of thing. The performance itself it very much comes from the five of us together.”
For Hutchison, it’s the final track on the album, “Oil Slick,” that serves as a defining moment for him, in that the song is one where all five members can be heard—even if that’s not so obvious to the listener on the first go around. The telltale traits of a Frightened Rabbit song—insatiable hooks, a rhythm that works for introspective vibing, the grandest love song you’ve ever heard in a live setting simultaneously, a chorus that’ll lift you up into the ether of euphoria or speak to your despair depending on your mood—are there, but this is the song of a new Frightened Rabbit, the one Hutchison is thrilled to continue with through the rest of this tour and onto the next record.
“It’s a song that’s all of us,” he says. “It’s a song that’s got space, and everyone’s characters within it. I guess only we can hear that. It encapsulates what we were trying to do with this record, in that it has both a kind of intimacy and a series of massive, big endings. This album kind of draws you in and out of being close with us, and then it casts you out into the crowd of an arena. This album’s supposed to pull you around. For me, is the jump-off for the next record is ‘Oil Slick.’ We take it from there and see where we go from that.”
Where that is exactly has yet to be seen, as the guys don’t write on the road and their fans haven’t gotten enough of Pedestrian Verse yet. They haven’t, either, and they shouldn’t, as this record is a steadfast, undeniable feat of collaborative prowess that marks a shift in the maturity and depth of a rock band that wants nothing more than to do right by the music they make. This record may have been a revelation for Hutchison, one that paved the way to self-discovery through collaboration, but it’s clear that the level to which he pushed himself creatively won’t be absent from future Frightened Rabbit efforts.
“I looked back on our catalog and tried to be as critical as I could with it, and say what was wrong,” he says. “I realized through touring that I was spending an hour and a half every night singing songs that were entirely about myself. That starts to sound and feel indulgent after a while. Though there are moments on this record that are definitely about my life, I was very much aware that I wanted to try and externalize that and look less inward. There are songs like ‘Acts Of Man’ and ‘State Hospital’ where I was consciously trying to push myself into writing about other peoples’ lives, just to see if I could. That was part of the challenge of that record, trying to consciously move away from some of the traps and easy tricks I’ve learned over the course of the past six or seven years. This time around, everything was up for questioning. Everything was like a forum, and nothing was precious. For that reason, we were much more brutal in the decision making process with this one, rather than me indulging myself completely. It was a process of self-criticism from start to finish… This time around I didn’t censor it. It’s risky, but it’s important to be brutal. You serve the album in a song, and it can’t be a personal argument. It has to be objective. I don’t mind being raw. I think it’s what our audience has come to expect and love.”
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