Scott Hutchison, singer and songwriter for Scotland's Frightened Rabbit, has the day off in Washington, D.C., so he's hitting the museums and keeping an eye out for Secret Service men in the bushes. His band is part of a wave of Scottish indie rock that pushes back against predecessors such as Franz Ferdinand or even Belle and Sebastian. Frightened Rabbit's most recent album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is neither cool nor twee, neither glamorous nor austere. It's simply the sound of a band making accessible, sincere and smart guitar-based rock that transcends the timorousness and anxiety of its moniker. B-Sides got the back-story from Hutchison on the eve of Frightened Rabbit's first show in St. Louis.
B-Sides: What is up with Scotland these days? There are so many rock bands emerging.
Scott Hutchison: These things happen in waves. You get a surge of music coming over the course of a couple of years. In the UK, you'll have Manchester and that golden period, then London, then back to Glasgow. It's symptomatic of a reaction to what's come before. For a long time in Glasgow there was the post-Franz Ferdinand thing, with a lot of bands emulating that kind of stylish thing. I think Franz Ferdinand did it well, but a lot of bands tried that, and it became soulless. Now I think you just have a lot of bands making honest rock music, I guess.
And now bands are reacting against you guys with robotic polka music.
Probably! But my finger's way off the pulse. There's probably an underground scene of Rabbit haters.
You've slowly built up the lineup for Frightened Rabbit, starting out solo and then adding your brother on drums. Now you're a five-piece. How have you kept a Frightened Rabbit identity?
I think that's why we took our time. You can go down the path of putting an advert in a newspaper, but the chances of that failing are so high. So we wanted to make sure the people who came on board had the same outlook as we did. We've had to let a member of the band go before. It was horrible. He was a friend, and you have to tell him you don't want him in the band. It's an awful thing to have to do.
You worked with Peter Katis again on this record, someone who has worked with the National and a ton of Scottish bands. Did he come to Scotland to record with you?
No, we did all the basic tracking without a producer. But knowing that Peter would be on the mixing end of things, that's a comforting thought. He's very involved as a mixing engineer. There are two ways you can do it: Just make it faithful to what you recorded or put it through your own processes. He's very hands-on. That was purposeful. We just wanted to present him with the tracks, hand over the reins once we recorded, just to let Peter do what he would.
That didn't work so well for the Beatles and Phil Spector.
Phil Spector is mental.
Peter doesn't pull guns in the studio?
No, no. We had normal-size fear and stuff. It was fine.
In your songs, do you start from autobiography and then fictionalize or do you personalize the fiction?
It starts with a feeling that's genuine. The expansion comes after that, making a few things up, adding bits and pieces. That wasn't my process before. Before it was purely about me. To be honest, this time, there was less going on in my life that was interesting to write about. I was touring, had a good relationship, had settled down in Edinburgh. I had to make something up to make an interesting record. You need the tension and a bit of rawness.
Let's play word association: ocean, water, swimming, floating, sinking. Not to get all Freudian, but I think you're obsessed with liquids.
Liquids! It's not just water, is it? It's all sorts of liquids. Fluid, sweat, blood.
Booze, of course!
In your songs, there's that desperation of drowning but also the freedom of floating away.
There's such a contrast in the ocean, or in liquid in general. It's very common but also really fucking dangerous. It's like drink. It can make you feel fantastic, but it's also dangerous. The difference is so minimal. The tension between them is really interesting to me. What you said is true: It's that mixture of "Fuck, am I gonna drown? Or am I going to float and enjoy the ride?" I didn't know I was obsessed with it, but you build up a body of work, and you look back and say, "Jesus. I'm talking about it all the time. It's getting boring."
The next album will be the desert album.