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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Another Dose of Scottish Pessimism from Frightened Rabbit

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Everything you need to know about Frightened Rabbit comes from a place: Scotland. That’s the home of the indie rock band, and its culture has informed Frightened Rabbit leader Scott Hutchinson—which means you’ll rarely hear much that’s cheery, optimistic or even close to happy from the band.

“It’s not really in my nature,” Hutchinson said. “I embrace that Scottish-ness in every form. It could be folk. It could be the accent, the humor—everything. I’m very Scottish. That’s just how it’s going to be.

“There’s a lot to be said for having a positive attitude,” he acknowledged. “A lot of people in the U.S. have good positive attitudes. But that doesn’t come across in Scotland. You won’t get away with it. That dark humor—that pessimism—is how we exist.”

Hutchinson, however, knows the downbeat tone that he brings to the words he writes for the band he’s fronted for a decade don’t necessarily translate to a dark, downbeat live experience.

“The music can be quite morose, depressed and bitter, but the show can be a happy, joyous experience,” Hutchinson said. “It’s one of my favorite things about how our music is put together. You couple that kind of dark stuff with very uplifting music. It’s quite satisfying when people come up and say, ‘I didn’t know what I was singing for a long time. It’s really dark.’”

Frightened Rabbit began as a Hutchinson solo project in 2003, utilizing the name his mother put on him because he was painfully shy. His brother Grant joined Scott the next year to play drums. Guitarist Billy Kennedy joined up in 2005, and a year later, the Glasgow-based band released its debut record, Sing the Greys.

That record, and Frightened Rabbit’s music since then, have been influenced by the band’s Scottish contemporaries, which Hutchinson said was natural enough. “It’s a very small country,” he said. “The bands are all really either in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Everyone knows everyone. You can’t help but have something of what others do rub off on you. Like I know I’ve been influenced by Belle & Sebastian and Mogwai. That’s good, not bad. We really are such a small country and a close community. Everyone supports each other in getting Scottish music out.”

Three more albums and a pair of EPs followed Sing the Greys, with their most recent release, Pedestrian Verse, dropping early this year. Along the way the band added guitarist/keyboardist Andy Monaghan and guitarist Gordon Skene to the lineup.

An expansive step forward for Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse offers a bigger, more enveloping sound to go with Hutchinson’s lyrics. It’s also the first record that was made as a band album.

“We’re collaborative on this record,” Hutchinson said. “I’m proud of it. I’m still writing all the lyrics. But from the inception of the songs, everyone is involved. In the past, I would have sealed myself away, written the songs, arranged everything and brought them in. This time it was a true ongoing collaboration. Everyone feels ownership of the songs rather than just doing their parts. It felt fresh and [was] something the band needed.”

The other notable change on Pedestrian Verse is lyrical. This time around, Hutchinson is writing story-songs about characters rather than delivering more personal, sometimes autobiographical lyrics.

“What happened was we were touring a lot and I started to notice these were all songs about me,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve never turned my focus on anyone else. That’s boring and self-indulgent. It was a challenge to me. It was a necessary step to move the band forward and, frankly, to move me forward too.”

One thing about the band is unlikely to ever change, though. I asked Hutchinson if there was any chance that Frightened Rabbit will ever make a happy record, lyrically and musically. The answer was a quick “No.”

“That’s the Scottish pessimism coming through,” he said. “It’s in the blood.”

Frightened Rabbit play the Pabst Theater Friday, March 22 with openers The Twilight Sad. Doors open at 7 p.m.