In April last year, Glasway-via-Selkirk band Frightened Rabbit released their fifth studio album, Painting Of A Panic Attack – a record that very nearly didn’t exist. Intense touring schedules and disillusion drove the band to take an indefinite break following their fourth LP Pedestrian Verse in 2013. After a solid period spent pursuing projects outside of the band, Frightened Rabbit returned to the studio to delight of die-hard fans around the globe, refreshed and refocused and joined by producer Aaron Dessner of The National to deliver some of their best work yet. Frightened Rabbit are heading to Australia this month in support of their new record and drummer Grant Hutchinson was kind enough to take some time out to chat about the album, cycling around the UK and that period of ambiguity around Frightened Rabbit’s return.
You guys were in Australia four years ago for Laneway, is there anything you’re especially keen to do on this visit?
I’m going to sound like an absolute dick but I think I’m going to do the neighbours tour. I used to watch it when I was at university, 14 years ago, and I’ve recently started re-watching it. I don’t know why, but this character who drove off a cliff in a car and has just come back 14 yeas later, and I just think that’s hilarious. It’s just brilliant television, it’s what it’s meant to be like – it’s not meant to be like real life, it’s meant to be totally stupid. So I might go and do the Neighbour’s tour. I feel like I owe it to my 18 year old self.
A lot has happened for you guys since you were last here. After finishing touring for Pedestrian Verse, you guys kind of put Frightened Rabbit on pause for a while. Everyone else worked on the Owl John project but you decided to race around the UK on a bike? What sparked the decision to take that on?
It was a charity event that my other brother and his wife were organising to raise money for charity, for my niece cystinosis – it’s very rare and all of the funding is collected by families and carers. I honestly haven’t been on a bike since I was a kid really and I didn’t really do any exercise but thought, ‘Why not? I’ve got some time off, I’ll give it a shot’. It was great, it was genuinely a life-changing experience. With the band, it was all very tense and a bit…we were on the edge basically. After the last tour, we’d kind of run ourselves into the ground. Relationships were kind of strained and no one was really sure whether they wanted to keep going. Everyone had to take a wee step back and take some time away from it. Mine was probably way more drastic than just writing an album under another name. It was amazing, it was fantastic and the guys I did it with are friends for life and it’s something that my niece when she’s older she’ll be able to look back at what we did and hopefully be quite proud of her uncle.
Yeah, that’s amazing. So you’re a seasoned cyclist now, are you doing it for leisure now?
Yeah I do now, actually. That’s the thing – initially when I started, I was just like, ‘What have I done? This is awful. I hate cycling’. But gradually, I grew to love it. I might do it a bit when I’m over actually because I’m staying for a few days after the tour in Melbourne and I have an old flatmate who is also very into cycling so we might do it a bit. I like the way unlike running you can actually get somewhere and you can go out of the city and see a different place and feel like you’ve done a lot with your day if you’ve gone for a cycle. I might do that or I might just sit in a pub.
Well you can do both in Melbourne, just cycle to the pub.
Yeah that’s it, I’ll cycle to the pub. That covers all bases.
When you did take that time off, did you know you would be getting back together to write again for Frightened Rabbit or was it up in the air at that point?
It was pretty up in the air, really. That Owl John project was Scott’s decision really and there was no communication at the end of that campaign so the way we heard was kind of from other people saying he was doing a solo record. So we were all a bit confused as to whether he wanted to do it anymore and then you start kind of doubting yourself and whether you want to do it. I didn’t think we would do another album at the end of that. But once we’d had the time off, and everyone had reassessed where they were and what they really wanted to do and what they wanted out of life, I guess, we realised this is what everyone wanted to do and the only thing we knew how to do. The reality was, if we’re not going to be in this band then what are we actually going to do, it was terrifying. We absolutely love doing it. At that stage, and that age, it can be all-consuming and you can let it take over because you think, “I have to put absolutely everything into this otherwise it’s going to fail”. It’s about finding the balance between having a life outside of it and putting as much as you can into it to make it a success. I think we’re there now – we don’t have to go away for a few months solid and come back from Australia and then go out to the US… At the start of this campaign we did a big two month tour in the US because it had been going well there but it wasn’t as strong. That time off really made us realise what was important and how best to get through a campaign without absolutely destroying your soul.
Did you and Scott come from quite a musical household?
Not particularly, back in the day play dad played guitar and mum would sing. They lived up north in Scotland and they’d go to this folk club every week but really when we were growing up, dad hadn’t picked up a guitar for a long time and he never really played music with us. He always had music in the house but it wasn’t one of those idyllic houses where everyone sat around and picked up a guitar and sang in harmonies. My first memory is of him trying to get me to go to sleep whilst playing the Tina Turner record, I Can’t Stand the Rain Against My Window and Mike and the Mechanics as well. I must have been very young but for some reason I’ve got that memory. He maintains that’s where I got my rhythm, I would say it’s something that you’re born with. But that’s fine, I’ll let him have it.
Have you always had fairly similar music tastes? What kind of stuff did you listen to growing up? Do you find your tastes overlap still?
Yeah, absolutely. When we were younger, growing up at home, all of my music taste came from him really and all of his came from our older brother, Neil. So we all have very similar taste. I think that helps a lot with writing music as well. Now, being a bit older and having more of an independent mind, there are differences. I’m quite of a sucker for a pop tune. Not that that is evident in how I play or what I put into a song, my ear for a melody is just a bit more populist, I guess, than his. If I listen to a demo and I’m singing the melody that he’s written, he thinks, “Ok, that’s a good one. I’ll use that one”. I’ll be used as the barometer for the masses because I listen to Katy Perry.
What have you been listening to lately?
Last year, my favourite record was by Margaret Glaspy, that album is brilliant – ‘Emotions and Math’. Julia Jacklin as well, she’s fantastic. There’s a Scottish artist called Be Charlotte who is great and starting to do really well here. She’s from Dundee but she’s mainly based in Glasgow and does most of her recording here and plays most of her shows here. The great thing about Glasgow and Scotland musically is that whenever something happens, and it usually does, whatever the sound or scene is, there will be a band that comes out of it and becomes really successful. Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub, Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Glasvegas, us, all of these bands and the next thing that comes along is always a reaction to what’s happened before. Not trying to recreate the sound, people try to do the opposite because it’s such a creative buzz here and this artist Be Charlotte, there’s nothing else like it around at the moment. It’s great and I think she’ll do really well so have a look for her.
With such a large back catalogue to draw from, how do you go about planning set lists for an upcoming tour like this Australian one?
The last tour at the end of 2016, that was the first time we did a different set every night. The start and end of the set – you need to make sure it works. There was one night we tried to change the start and it was awful. If you get that wrong, the crowd might not notice it but you just feel like you’re on the wrong path and it feels a bit strange. We’ve got the ten or so songs that are in every set, then we’ve got the rest that are interchangeable and we’ll switch it up. With five records, ten years, you can’t please everyone. There’s always going to be songs that people will be like, “I can’t believe you didn’t play that”. But you know, you just promise them you’ll play it next time so they buy a ticket to the next show. That’s how you get around that one (laughs). It’s been nice to be able to learn more songs and be able to switch it up because it keeps it interesting for us. Not that we’re bored normally, it just keeps it alive.
After the Australian tour wraps up, have you got any touring plans locked down for the year?
What we’ll do is we’ll do the festivals over summer, so that’s not too crazy, bits and pieces over the weekends. Then we’ll get down to properly writing the next record because we’re keen to not sit too long on it this time around and try to get it out as soon as we can.
Frightened Rabbit Australian tour dates below.