It’s 4.29pm on a Tuesday afternoon, and the third time we’ve tried to get through to interview Selkirk indie-folk band Frightened Rabbit. In keeping with their latest album, the sombre full-length Painting of a Panic Attack (released back in April this year), it’s raining. And we’re starting to worry.
Exhausted after the extensive tour that followed 2013’s Pedestrian Verse, the band dropped off the radar for more than two years following the departure of guitarist/keyboardist Gordon Skene. During that time, frontman Scott Hutchison left his homeland of Scotland to move to Los Angeles with his then-girlfriend, writing – and subsequently touring – an album under the alternative moniker Owl John. Combined, these conditions rendered Frightened Rabbit’s future unpredictable at best, with fans questioning whether they’d see the band release another record again. Luckily, it was relatively short lived – and evidently worth the wait. In a strange turn of events, the run up to this interview appeared to be following an almost identical pattern. Our concern quickly dissipates however, when finally guitarist Andy Monaghan picks up. And off we go.
“We’ve been rehearsing a lot,” Monaghan tells me, apologetic. “We’ve been in the studio every day for almost the last two weeks, and we’ve had shows probably four times a week since the beginning of the year.” It’s safe to say then that the band have been busy, and probably fair enough that relations with the media have been fairly low on their list of priorities. However, Monaghan makes it clear it’s not that the band is indifferent when it comes to obtaining column inches – it’s purely that they care about their fans a lot more. “We’ve been spending a lot of time attempting to recreate what we’ve recorded [on this album], working out what we need to take on the road. We’ll see how the fans appreciate that on tour.”
In keeping with previous efforts, Painting of a Panic Attack is packed with the raw emotional catharsis typical of Hutchison’s songwriting – this time inspired by the disenchantment of LA living, the realities of unhealthy relationships, sobriety (or lack thereof), suicide and obsession. There’s enough familiarity in the album’s structure to placate long-time fans of the band (who released their first album Sing the Greys more than a decade ago), yet the influence of The National’s Aaron Dessner on the album is evident; Painting definitely sees the band more controlled in their sound. “We’ve tried to approach it in different ways – singing in different ranges and moving over to keyboard moments instead of putting on the overdrive pedal and just thrashing out chords.”
While they’re happy to leave the big choruses off their new material (“We’ll leave those to Biffy Clyro,” Monaghan says), the band understand the risk in making revisions to what has become their signature sound. Nevertheless, Monaghan adds, it was time for a change. “From this side – the selfish side of actually creating the music – you need to be inspired by it and keep yourself on your toes. It needs to be a bit of a chameleon to keep yourself interested as an artist.” Another change on the latest album sees the addition of Simon Liddell to the band following Gordon Skene’s departure. Though most bands would expect teething issues to come with a new member, Monaghan is insistent it’s been nothing but a smooth transition working with Liddell. “I’ve known Si [for] 15 years now. He brought a lot to the team from the start and diffuses many situations, which is a good balance. And he can also play guitar and knows a few chords on a keyboard, so I guess that helps!”
This talk of plain sailing will come as welcome news to Frightened Rabbit fans, for whom there’s been some doubt over whether this record would ever come. Though Monaghan acknowledges feeling the same at various points over the last three years, he’s quick to point out the fact that the band have managed to stay together despite these obstacles plays testament to their dedication to the band. “I think there were moments where we were all like, ‘what’s going on here?’ The future at some points was uncertain, which made us question whether we wanted to keep doing it or not. We just had to find a different way to work together when [Scott] was in LA. We became a slightly more remote band, and there were long questions of when we could attend studio sessions. But we were always sending each other ideas.”
With the band’s UK tour marking the end of a long year of live dates – ending at home in Scotland just in time for Christmas – it looks at a glance as though the band may be following the same pattern that pushed them to breaking point before. But Monaghan is realistic (well, ish) when dismissing the chance of repeating the burnout of 2013. “I feel like we’ve got a little tight unit at the moment so hopefully that will continue for a while. But who knows? Maybe a week or tomorrow we’ll be like, ‘screw this, I’m becoming an Arctic fisherman.’ I can’t really see that happening but you never know.”
As our interview comes to a close, it occurs to us that one thing ran true throughout our entire conversation with Monaghan: Frightened Rabbit really enjoy what they’re doing. With more excitement than would be expected of a band known for its despondent lyrics, Monaghan finally lays to rest any thoughts that this may be the last we’ll hear from the Scottish fivesome. “It’s unbelievable we’re still doing this. I don’t think any of us had any foresight to believe that we’d still be here. When we got three records in, we were like, this thing’s got legs. From then, we’ve always kind of thought, ‘Let’s keep this car running as long as we can.’”
Frightened Rabbit come to Concorde 2 on Mon 5 Dec
Image by Dan Massie