Interview | Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison: “The fact that a song makes the listener feel something is vital to me.”

Photo by Tim Richmond

And in the limp through years of bored schooling
She’s accustomed to hearing that she could never run far
A slipped disc in the spine of community
A bloody curse word in a pedestrian verse

Frightened Rabbit’s albums and Scott Hutchison’s words have been with me in the best of times and worst of times. And really, that’s a good place to start when attempting to discuss their body of work: the truth often hurts, but a window of hope always remains. You must find your own way.

Pedestrian Verse, their new album, follows a complicated path, and like any great piece of art, it requests your full attention. These days, that’s not for everyone; we often want an immediate, mature revelation that will change our lives. My advice? Give Hutchison and his Scottish band mates time, and new light will appear.

Before we go any further, let’s have a listen to “Backyard Skulls.”

Frightened Rabbit is in the middle of a U.S. tour, and we recently had the great privilege of catching up with Scott Hutchison, who writes all of Frightened Rabbit’s lyrics (and sings them, too), over email. 

The last time I saw you live, you were performing solo acoustic, opening for Josh Ritter, and everyone was yelling for “Keep Yourself Warm.” Actually, one guy yelled, “It takes more than fucking someone to keep me warm, Scott!!” How do you think these new songs would work in that setting?

We’ve been doing acoustic/stripped back versions of most of the new songs, so I think it’ll still work. If you can’t make a song work with just a vocal and a guitar, then it’s probably not a very good song.

State Hospital” is an important song. And when I say important, I mean that it has meaning, and that you should probably, as a listener, give it your full attention. What are your thoughts on music and people’s attention spans? Are people still willing to devote the time to a song like “State Hospital” and its message?

I would hope people are still willing to devote time to music, as I know how much time goes into the making of it. Though, if someone does wish to simply listen to the ‘surface’ of a song and they still get pleasure from that, then who am I to say that they are wrong?

When I hear people describe music as depressing, I often wonder what they really mean. It’s almost as if they are trying to find a nice way to say, “I don’t like it.” What’s your reaction to someone describing music as “depressing”? (I bring this up because “State Hospital,” while very hopeful, has been described to me as such.)

Well, the subject matter is fairly bleak and I understand that some people don’t want that from music. Someone told me the other day that the song made them feel sad in a really wonderful way. The fact that a song makes the listener feel something is vital to me, and that’s what I aim for when I write. I think it’s important that there’s a hopeful ‘lift’ at the end too, as otherwise it would be truly oppressive and perhaps a little depressing.

Why isn’t “Housing” one song, and why isn’t it longer? Whenever they both end, I’m always left wanting more. Shed some light, Scott!

That’s a good thing, that you want more. I’m not trying to be an awkward prick, I just enjoy albums that have recurring themes on them and this was part of that idea.

“I’m just dying to be unhappy again.” You sing that on “Nitrous Gas.” Explain. Please.

That whole song was an exercise in writing the most miserable song I could. It’s so sad and self-deprecating that it’s funny, in my mind. So that line is perhaps a tribute to Morrissey, in the way that he often writes dark, sad lines with his tongue firmly planted in cheek.

The Oil Slick” is my favorite track off Pedestrian Verse. And I mean this as a total compliment — it’s probably the best song Wilco never wrote. Are you influenced by that band at all? Tell me more about “The Oil Slick,” especially how it ends, and its final hopeful words — I sing loudly every time I hear them.

I consider Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to be one of the greatest records I’ve ever heard, so this is about as big a compliment as anyone could pay to me! The song is essentially an apology to a specific person for the fact that that I couldn’t bring myself to write a happy song about our (almost entirely happy) time together.

Finally, my favorite Frightened Rabbit song is still “Poke.” The final lyric from that song is: “And I never hated you.” My question: do you ever talk to the person you never hated?

We started talking again recently, which was a really lovely thing. It turns out that all the great parts of the friendship remained, whilst all the mess and emotional bullshit had gone.

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