In a bid to not pen anything dull for his band's fourth LP, Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison wrote two words on the front of his notebook: Pedestrian verse. Those two words became the title of the Scottish band's latest long-player, as well as the album's loose lyrical theme. The band also gave their creative process a jolt by allowing all members to contribute to the songwriting, which has yielded the band some of the best reviews of their career and a top 10 debut in their native U.K. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, we chatted with Hutchinson about the record, his creative process and the band's move to the majors. Frightened Rabbit play The Showbox at the Market on March 8th.
The album was produced by Leo Abrahams - who has worked with Brian Eno and David Byrne amongst others - and whose producing style you described as "almost invisible." Can you talk more about how he works and why it feels that way? I would intend the invisibility comment to be a compliment because I think what he did is he allowed us to make the record we wanted to through his filter. He's got a really light touch musically, and as such it just put us at ease and we were able to work. I think the trick is to make the band feel like we were making all the decisions, but in retrospect it was really him guiding us. It was really a subtle sense of guidance that he offers rather than, "I think this is the way it should be done." He never talks like that. He's very measured. To be invisible as a producer in that way, while also having a huge effect, is quite a trick.
Between the album's title and the last line on the record, "only an idiot would swim through the shit I write," there's a certain amount of self-deprecation at play. Despite the record having lots of emotion, you also seem to have an acute awareness about it. I think that's important to stop it from coming off as overly-whiny. You end up with a diary entry or something if you don't temper angst or emotion with something smart or funny. I think you can end up with something that's hugely self-indulgent. It's very Scottish as well, looking at lyricists such as Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian and Aidan Moffet from Arab Strap, darkness is always tempered with a humor, and over-emotive behavior is tempered with a kind of self-deprecation, so there's always two flipsides to each emotion.
Do you think of the album as being your most emotionally mature record? Yes. I wrote the last one around 2009 and the one before that, some of those songs are almost ten years old, so to compare them, I was a completely different person. Maturing is hopefully a natural thing that happens to every band. For us, I think it is the most complete record we've made and certainly the most grown-up record we've made.
The album's title comes from a line in "State Hospital," and was also written on the front of your notebook to help motivate you to not write about ordinary things. What was it about this phrase that spoke to you? There were two things really. The first one being that every time I opened my notebook, there was an awareness that if I was to call the album Pedestrian Verse, that's a very easy criticism for anyone to jump on should they find pedestrian elements within the lyrics. Time will tell whether or not that's been a success. But it also a sense of I was trying to write a little bit more out of my own realm, focusing on pedestrians, people around me. It's about a widening of the two whilst also still maintaining an idiosyncratic way of putting words together.
Which came first, the lyric or the title? The song came first. It was very quick. It was the first song I wrote for this record that I thought worked. I thought, "Oh, here's the start of a piece of string that I can follow." For me, that line, or those two words, spoke to me about where I wanted to go next.
When you wrote it on your notebook did you realize at the time that it was going to be the record title and the sort of concept for the songs? I didn't ever consider another title and it was something to work towards. It was the first time the title dictated what came after, and I'm not saying I would do that again, but that's the way it happened. It just forced me into a different way of thinking and that was really important. That was part of what this whole project was about, to force me out of my comfort zone.
Can you talk a bit about the album artwork and packaging and the concept behind all of the objects that are featured? It was myself and a colleague of mine, and we've worked together on all the sleeves, Dave Thomas. He took a bigger role this time because I didn't have the time. We came up with the concept together. We were trying to build a character through these objects, like trying to answer the question, who does all this stuff belong to? Who's taking the time to make these objects? Is it someone in the band or someone obsessed with Frightened Rabbit? I always see the artwork as being an art project in itself that compliments the music and can be as important. For me, it's these connections and questions in relation to the songs.
Is there a story behind the album's opening line, which is great: "I'm that dickhead in the kitchen, giving wine to your best girl's glass." That song was supposed to be like mid to late section of the record, like number eight or something, but then the label came to us and said, "This is just a great statement of intent for the rest of the album." I think it was this idea from having moved to an indie label to a major label that the music might get watered down or something but within 30 seconds of the first song it's like, "Oh, it's not going to be." It was one of those lines, I don't know quite where it came from or why I came up with it but I'm pleased it happened.
You mentioned switching labels. Was the jump to a major part of changing up the record-making process as well? It was just a sense that in the band we wanted to start something fresh. We'd spent eight great years on Fat Cat and we'd gotten so much out of that, but the contract was at the end. Like anyone, who has any job, when your contract comes to an end, you look at your options, and we did. It was a creative decision as much as anything else. And of course I'd be stupid if I didn't say, we were aware that we could get more resources through this label. But that was not the sole reason for this change at all.
Was part of wanting to sign to the majors because you hoped it would help you break through in America? I know the record debuted in the top 10 in the U.K. The U.S. is hugely important to us and we've toured there a lot. Maybe the record takes a different path in the U.S. and it's a longer snowball effect. Here is seems to have taken on an immediate resonance with the U.K. audience but we'll see. I don't mind playing the long game in America and we'll see how it goes.