Interview: Frightened Rabbit on Mumford & Sons, The National, Scotland and success

REPORTER ANDREW TRENDELL talks to Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison about major label success, Scottish independence and comparisons with The National and Mumford and Sons.

“Cults can be quite big,” muses Scott Hutchison, considering Frightened Rabbit’s international following. “Does Scientology count?”

Beyond Tom Cruise and his contentious beliefs, Hutchison finds himself in good company as a ‘cult band’.

“I’m quite happy to be called that, to be honest,” he admits. “You’ve got bands like Deathcab for Cutie who were a cult band well into selling over a million records. It’s all about perception rather than how many albums or tickets you shift. I kind of feel like we’re someone’s secret.”

For over six years and three critically-acclaimed albums, Frightened Rabbit have been tirelessly working on building a dedicated fan base around the world with their crushingly emotive, marvellously honest and unmistakably Scottish approach to alt-folk. They can be dark, they can be poetic, they can be brash, and they can be very, very loud.

Shortly after the release of their last record, ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’, the band left their beloved independent label home of Fat Cat and joined the major leagues by penning a deal with Atlantic.

Now, with new material that sounds utterly game-changing and the world finally theirs for the taking, 2013 could be the year the Rabbit. They may not be Scotland’s favourite secret for much longer.

But alas, they’re a decent alt-folk band on the verge of breaking out. Do they fear being lumped in with lazy Mumford and Sons comparisons by fresh ears?

“First and foremost, we still remain ourselves and our identity comes from being honest,” says Hutchison, diplomatically. “I’m not saying that Mumford and Sons are phoney at all, but they dress it up a little bit.

“At Atlantic, the people that are working behind us are so aware of our identity and we’ve had so many conversations about how we maintain that whilst still trying to maintain a wider audience. They’re aware of who we are and what we’ve done and they don’t want to try and screw with that.”

He adds: “The Frightened Rabbitness will remain throughout whatever path we take in the next year.”

But what could that year hold? I had a bet with a mate last year (thinking that the album would be out by now) that by the end of 2012 Frightened Rabbit would be as big as The National and headlining Brixton Academy.

“Ah,” laughs Hutchison. “We didn’t quite make it. I’m really sorry man, did you lose money?

Nah, it was one of those hypothetical bets.

“Good – I thought you were about to ask me for a tenner. But it’s funny you should mention The National. I don’t really set myself goals or ambitions as such but I’ve always thought that being on the same level as The National would be ideal because they pay such attention to having a dignified approach. They don’t get much radioplay and they don’t get much television coverage but they’ve done so much on their own terms.

“I’d be over the moon if we were able to be in that place by this time next year.”

Similarly, The National only really scratched the surface on their first three records and then gradually blew up from there. F’Rabbit have already proven their relentless work ethic – but do they see years more of toil ahead or are they set to conquer in 2013?

Scott responds: “At the core of The National is a collection of great albums and any success that we’d hope to achieve from here would be based purely on people enjoying the music. We’d like to do it on those terms, rather than have our music spoon-fed to people or shoved down people’s throats.”

That’s the fear that comes a’knocking every time ‘your’ band jumps ship to a major label – that their essence will be diluted to please the suits and shift units to berks. But all that the big leagues have done for Frightened Rabbit is give them more space to spread their wings.

“Atlantic has never interfered with anything that we wanted to do. In terms of freedom, we’ve never felt more at ease or able to explore our own creative urges,” says Scott. “We were as worried as anyone that there would be an A & R guy coming in and going ‘ah, you need to write a single and it needs to be three and a half minutes and you must make all these adjustments based on our demands’ – but that just hasn’t happened yet.

“I’m just waiting for something bad to happen.”

Maybe they’ll get Timbaland in to remix a couple of songs?

“We’ve already got that in the can! It’s brilliant.”

On their motives for joining forces with such a behemoth of a label, Scott is realistic and honest: “We hope to reach a much wider audience – you don’t sign to a major label without that expectation and that’s part of the reason why we did.” But before they set their sights on scaling new heights, Frightened Rabbit took the time to reflect on their roots, go back to basics and reach fans that had never seen them before.

In the run up to recording Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbit set out on a tour of distant and isolated corners of the Highlands. Their humbling experience is documented in the short film ‘Here’, which comes with the deluxe edition of the album and can be seen on Youtube.

“There was a level of excitement not just because it was our band, but because it was any band,” enthuses Scott. “It’s just not that common for these places to get bands that are modern or current. The kids were just so excited, which just made it a really refreshing experience for us when touring can get slightly same-y. The whole thing was like a shot in the arm.”

He continues: “People were respectful of the lengths you’d gone to just to get there and really grateful that you’d come to play a show. I think there’s a rule in general that the further north you go, the better the crowds get. The further you go past Edinburgh and Glasgow, the reception just gets warmer and warmer.”

That warmth felt in their home territory clearly seeps into the very ethos of Frightened Rabbit – never more so than on Scottish Winds from an EP released last year.

“And the English (bleep) rule will mean nothing in these towns,” – as much a lovesong to the remote parts of Scotland as it is a testament to the nation’s character. But is it also a rallying cry for Scottish independence?

“Ah no,” laughs Scott. “I’m still on the fence about that because I’m yet to be convinced.

“I remember I was taking a bus journey through Scotland and I just got completely struck by a sense of national pride. It was always going to come out in a song one day, completely unabashed. It’s at those points that you what Scotland is and what it means to be Scottish. For such a small country it also has such a strong identity.”

Just looking at a list like the Twilight Sad, Mogwai, Chvrches, Errors and even Biffy Clyro – it seems that many of the bands that Scotland has produced often reflect that isolated sense of character and that tireless will to survive on their own terms.

Just as Frightened Rabbit explored the Highlands before taking on the planet, they too are hell-bent on carving out their own little piece of the world without succumbing to mountains or letting the struggle weather them or who they are.

“There’s a strong sense of being the underdog in Scotland – and that comes with a fighting spirit,” says Scott with pride. “That’s historical too, it goes quite far back to being attacked by you lot!

“We’re a small nation so we kick a bit harder than anyone else.

They’ll kick hard and you’ll hear it. Because cults can be quite big, can’t they?

By Andrew Trendell

- Frightened Rabbit play Rescue Rooms, Nottingham on Thursday 21st February

- Their new album ‘Pedestrian Verse’ is released on Monday 4th February

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