Interview

Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit

Shawn Braley
AltOhio: Hey Scott, great show.

Scott Hutchinson: Thanks, man.

AO: So let’s start off with your guys’ start in Scotland and bring it to where you are now.

SH: Well, we started off; well actually I started off on my own. We slowly built up year per year we added one new member to where we are now as a five piece. Grant joined first on drums, then Billy (bass and guitar). We toured the states as a 3 piece with a band called Pinback. That was our first experience in the states.

AO: What year was that?

SH: That was 2007. We had only released our first record, “Sing The Greys”, we had just finished it but it wasn’t out yet. So we toured and then after that things really kicked off. Then after “Midnight Organ Fight” Andy joined the band and things really picked up from there.

AO: I was curious, your albums always have interesting titles (Sing the Greys, Midnight Organ Fight, Winter of Mixed Drinks), what do they mean to you?

SH: They’re usually a line in a song. I guess, what I wanted “Midnight Organ Fight” a phrase that is immediately associated with us and nothing else. I mean, you can call your album genuine, but that’s just a word. I want something that’s ours and ours only. “Midnight Organ Fight” could be a euphemism for sex; it could be just two people playing organ at night time (laughs) I don’t know. But, “Winter of Mixed Drinks” has less to do with drinking, weirdly enough, to me. It has more to do with drifting stream of mind where you don’t quite know what the purpose of everything is; you’re questioning it all the time. You’re mulling it over and just detached from the world. So that’s what that means to me.

AO: Yeah, and that seems to fit with each album. “Midnight Organ Fight” seems more like your relationship album.

SH: Absolutely, yeah.

AO: So, going into that, how do you feel about it being that? I guess I wouldn’t quite categorize it as such but…

SH: Basically, yeah. It’s broadly been called that. It was about a particular part of my life when a relationship was on the way out, just dying. It came out as such because it was the only thing that I could think about. Everything was collapsing around me. I wasn’t trying to make a break up record, I just couldn’t write about anything else, because it was everything. It wasn’t like therapy either, it was just that I’m not very good at expressing myself in conversations; I think that’s one of the reasons why the whole relationship ended in the first place is that I’m not so good at talking. So writing is the only way I can really tell anyone anything. In a twisted sort of way it was supposed to be a sort of “shit I’m sorry that it didn’t work”.

AO: I think the phrasing you use in a lot of songs is really interesting as well. A line like “you’re the shit and I’m knee deep in it” is correlating saying you’re the shit, which is a slang term for basically being awesome, but at the same time, shit isn’t necessarily a good thing, and you’re knee deep in it. The double sided meaning is great.

SH: I like to pack as much as I can into a song. When you write a song you’ve got only so much time to say what you need to say. You have to load every line with more than one possibility, so in order to try and load everything you have to use language properly and well, and make sure you aren’t wasting words. That’s the way I write anyway.

AO: Now, coming to your latest album and how you said that was about questioning everything, a song like “Swim (until you can’t see land)” that one seems like it might have been the first song you wrote for the record.

SH: Well, it wasn’t but that phrase was the working title for the record. Not that we really use working titles or anything, but it was in my head and then the song was written, maybe like the third song I wrote, but I was still writing all the other tracks with that line as an umbrella under which to write. So yeah, that’s the kick off point, in a lot of ways, for the story, well it’s not a story…I don’t want people thinking it’s a concept album, but there’s a lineage there you can follow. The album is a lot about me, but there is also a lot of storytelling involved in the writing.

AO: I think the phrasing you use in that song is interesting as well. The line, “Are you a man or a bag of sand?” I mean, it’s obvious, are you a man, are you able to swim, or a bag of sand, and just sinking. Was there any other reason for that specific phrasing?

SH: Nah, I was just, I don’t know. You summed up basically what it’s supposed to mean. For me, it’s not just about the sea; it’s about a bag of sand also being a limbless, lifeless thing that you use to weigh things down. So are you worth something or are you worth nothing at all. Which, those were the questions I was asking myself, because at the end of the tour, I was feeling more like a bag of sand than a man. It’s just the image of that helpless, stupid bag of sand that doesn’t know shit.

AO: Yeah, definitely. It also seems that you have this affinity towards a detachment from technology and an attachment to just relationships. Like in “Old, Old Fashioned” or even in “Things”.

SH: I guess that goes back to me never feeling lonely when I’m by myself. I can feel extremely lonely amongst hundreds of people, at a party of something like that. So I think I do have that problem. Because, well I’m getting better, but my conversation skills are not fantastic, I’ve always been shy. It’s pretty much like; I just like observing from far away than being in the thick of things. That’s more suitable to me. I like to detach myself. I kind of do it on purpose.

AO: So, those songs are to yourself in a way?

SH: Well, “Old, Old Fashioned” was a birthday present for a girl. But yeah, something like “Things”, at the time I was living with very little “stuff”. I had my guitar and recording things, but I didn’t need all the shit that you have, that you gather, that’s useless. So that song is about the way I was living my life at that time, to try and refocus my brain.

AO: So can you give me the lineage of the latest album that you were talking about?

SH: Basically what happens is you start with “Things”, and you have a character whose desire is to leave life behind in a lot of ways, all the shit that he’s gathered and showing what he’s actually made of. That leads into “Swim” which is about leaving shit behind in a physical way. Then you go into stuff like “The Loneliness” and “The Wrestle” where you know it’s definitely a person in a landscape. “The Wrestle” is either about fighting a shark or fucking somebody (laughs).

AO: I like your description.

SH: Exactly, it’s just a form of fighting, isn’t it?

AO: So when you say on the bridge of “The Loneliness…” “Fall down, find God just to lose Him again…Fall down find love just to lose it again” was that something that’s personal in your own life, or was it something you just saw in society that people do to attach themselves to something?

SH: I like singing about God, even though, in a lot of ways I don’t really believe in him. But I understand the power of that. I’m trying to think of what I was thinking when I wrote that line. I was just trying to get across the way we kind of trip up from time to time and I’m very focused on trying not to trip up and getting through what I’ve done in the past. I think it’s definitely about that. Certainly about my desire not to fuck up again, the use of the God thing is just the way I chose to express it.

AO: It just seems like they both kind of fall in that same line though, the way people use God and love, but at the same time, the way people need it.

SH: Yeah, it’s quite clear to see that some people rely on God, and He’s like their reason for being and doing things, and for me that’s usually another person who becomes the reason why I do stuff.

AO: In your songwriting, though, you have a lot of relational aspects and how you find that that’s important. Especially in a song like “Old, Old Fashioned” where you basically say, “Let’s turn off the TV and get to know one another”.

SH: That’s where it comes back to me because I watch a ton of TV. It’s stuff like that where I’m singing about a preferred lifestyle. It’s not reality at all, but it is about me wanting to be a different person in a lot of ways. Although I’m a lot more content than I used to be, I still often want to be a different person. Songwriting is a mode of escapism in a lot of ways for that as well.

AO: I know in America a lot of the time you’ll be walking through the city and no one looks at each other, we all have our ear buds in and we aren’t listening or conversing, and in your music you seem to fight against that. I don’t know if it is a cultural thing or what.

SH: You know, relationships and stuff are hard. I mean, touring gets in the way of relationships. I mean, there a places here or in Scotland where you can move and just live a simple life. I know I yearn for that, but my girlfriend wants to live in the city so I live in the city. I would happily live miles from anywhere and just read and draw and write and stuff. I’m too tempted to spend so many hours on the Internet just doing nothing. I really wish I could just dump all of that and move out to the country…not my girlfriend mind you, but all the shit. (laughs)

AO: So continuing with the lineage with the album, how does it all resolve?

SH: Well, the ending is just complaining that you’ve had enough of that particular journey and you just want to go back home. You found out what you wanted to find out and you learned something, done something new. I think that’s what’s important. It’s that Miley Cyrus song, it’s “The Climb”(laughs)

AO: She does speak to all of us. You guys are a buzz band now, or at least building your way up. How do you feel about being that way?

SH: Well, I’m generally unaware of it, except when nights like tonight happen.

AO: Was this a particularly good show?

SH: Yeah, definitely.

AO: Is that unusual?

SH: Uh, you get like 1 in 5 lately. As far as like buzz around you, it’s easy to just not be aware of that at all. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m happy for the way everything is going this tour. What happened tonight, that’s why I do it. Not because a writer…no offense (laughs)….but not because a writer says we’re some sort of buzz band. But yeah, nights like tonight are phenomenal, and they seem to be more frequent than they used to be.

AO: Do you have a place you’d like to get to as a band?

SH: We’re not very imaginative. Being Scottish by nature, I’m quite pessimistic, so I just like to keep it like that and then you get nice surprises every year.

AO: I subscribe to that philosophy as well.

SH: It’s so much better.

AO: Well, it was great talking with you Scott.

SH: You too. Take care.