Glasgow is fast becoming the late noughties’ answer to pre-rave era Manchester or post-Strokes London. Over the past 18 months or so, many a new artist has emerged from the one-time European City of Culture, all with a story or two to tell and, most importantly of all, with a unique sound that is very much all of their own making.
The most recent discoveries are dynamic rock action trio Frightened Rabbit, a band whose sound could be described as Biffy Clyro minus the histrionics but with extra points in the tunes department, or a darker mid-period Idlewild without the impending REM fascination.
Comprised of two brothers Scott (vocals, guitar) and Grant (drums, vocals) Hutchison, plus second guitarist Billy Kennedy, 2007 has been something of a whirlwind year with the band’s self-released debut Sing The Greys completely selling out, culminating in the band signing to Fat Cat Records who subsequently re-packaged and re-released the record (review here). The trio closed the year with their most extensive tour to date, taking in support slots with We Are Scientists and The Good Life.
DiS caught up with them after their explosive set at Nottingham’s Bodega Social – the final night of their run of shows with The Good Life – and even got some records and CDs signed in the process. All aboard the fanboy express…
Tonight is your final show with The Good Life. What’s it been like on the road with them?
Scott: Really good. They’ve been great to us, let us drink their beer and use their kit on stage. We’ve also been doing some shows with We Are Scientists in between, so there’s been some pretty long drives up and down the country. But it’s all been worthwhile.
How have both bands’ audiences responded to you?
Scott: I think we’ve gone down pretty well considering our music doesn’t really sound like either of them. I mean, it’s difficult to quantify because some people might not class us as being an appropriate support band, particularly where We Are Scientists are concerned, but to me that’s part of the challenge, getting people to hear our music that perhaps wouldn’t normally be exposed to it.
Grant: It’s been great to actually play places where we’d never even been to before and see people singing along with the words! Liverpool’s one place that springs to mind, and Nottingham too – it’s our first time here yet there were a few people at the front of the stage who knew most of the songs.
So what are your first impressions of Nottingham?
Scott: Really good to be honest… well, apart from the one-way system! We only found the venue literally minutes before we were due on stage and didn’t get a soundcheck, so to go down as well as we did makes it even more pleasing.
Grant: People warned us about Nottingham and its reputation with guns and such, but to me it’s no different from any other city.
SCOTT: And coming from Glasgow, which is supposedly the most dangerous place in the UK, we’re not really in a position to judge anywhere else!
Glasgow seems to be a very vibrant place musically at the moment. Would you say it’s been waiting to explode for a while now, or is it just pure coincidence that a number of bands are starting to break nationally at the same time?
Scott: I think with ourselves and The Twilight Sad you could say it’s happened pretty much in unison because we’re on the same label and have been playing the same bills as each other for a while now.
Which one of you got signed first?
Scott: They did. We’d had a relationship with Fat Cat for a couple of years before that but they never got their arses in gear and signed us. Historically I think these kind of things tend to come in waves, certainly with all the renowned cities. Two years ago people were talking about Sheffield, before that Leeds and before then London, so now the focus has switched to Glasgow and, to be fair, there are a lot of good bands that deserve the attention.
Grant: I think one thing that sets Glasgow apart from most other cities is that it’s not got a ‘scene’ as such, as none of the bands tend to be playing the same kind of music. Instead it’s more about the city having regained some of its romance in the music.
Scott: There was a time not so long ago where we couldn’t get a gig in Glasgow because everyone was booking electro or Libertines-influenced bands.
Video: 'The Greys'
Your album Sing The Greys came out at the back end of 2006 pretty much unnoticed nationally yet sold out almost immediately. Were you surprised when Fat Cat said they wanted to put it out again, particularly as it is essentially a set of demo recordings?
Grant: We were really surprised to be honest, and even more shocked at the reviews it’s had since. We did remix it for Fat Cat because the original version wasn’t mastered either, but we still didn’t expect anyone to really notice it to be honest.
Scott: We just thought Fat Cat would slip it into their roster quietly because we’ve already recorded our second album, so to get the acclaim that we’ve had has been totally mind-blowing. I mean, even the NME gave us a good review, which was something we never expected in a million years!
Looking at several acclaimed Scottish acts of the past few years – Urusei Yatsura, Eska, The Yummy Fur for example – all have their roots steeped in the lo-fi aesthetic of recording. Did this influence your approach towards how Sing The Greys sounded?
Scott: No not at all. The only reason it sounds lo-fi is because we couldn’t afford it to sound any different at the time. We couldn’t afford to record it in a lavish studio with a renowned producer, so we just had to do the best we could with what little cash we had.
Some of the songs have been knocking around for as long as four years now. How did the album eventually end up taking shape, particularly the inclusion of the three interlude tracks? (Namely ‘The First Incident’, ‘The Second Incident’ and ‘The Final Incident’)
Scott: The first one came about by accident, to be honest, while we were mixing. We tried to create a running pattern throughout the record, so the interludes were there to glue everything together.
Grant: The bizarre thing is that people have been downloading the interludes off the Fat Cat site more than some of the actual songs themselves!
Scott: Our original contact with them was just sending a demo and they put the ‘The Final Incident’ on their website’s demo section so that was probably the first thing most people outside of Glasgow would have heard of ours.
Video: 'Square 9' live from Micheline's, Brooklyn
For the second record you’ve been working with Peter Katis, whose work in the past has included Interpol and The National. How did you find this compared to the way you’d recorded in the past?
Scott: When we first flew out to meet him we were quite nervous, but he was amazing. With the first album we basically recorded it in a studio the size of a bedroom and it was produced by someone who we know.
Grant: There was also the fact with the first record we felt we were on a time schedule and the clock was ticking away so we had to get it done – after all, studio time costs money. With Peter though, although we did have to work to certain time limits, his only concern was that we got it sounding right. If that meant doing a song over and over again, then so be it.
Scott: I think Peter understood what we were trying to do from the start. We wanted the record to sound as close to our live show as possible and he was receptive to that.
When are you hoping to release the new album?
Scott: March 2008. We’re going out on tour then as well.
Grant: It actually comes out in the States two weeks before it does over here because we’re doing South by Southwest, so it’s coming out to coincide with that.
Scott: Before that we’ll be releasing a brand new single, ‘Head Rolls Off’, which if all goes to plan should have a very interesting b-side…
Grant: …Our version of N-Trance’s ‘Set You Free’.
On Sing The Greys there seems to be a theme of bitterness running through most of the songs. Is this theme continued over onto record two or have Frightened Rabbit discovered their merrier side?
Scott: Hmmm…I don’t think we’re that bitter are we? Well, ‘Music Now’ is I suppose but…
Grant: I dunno. I’m blaming Scott as most of the songs on Sing The Greys are about someone he’s been in a relationship with for seven years.
Scott: I suppose Sing The Greys is about a certain part in my life and the new record is about another one…
Grant: …Same girl though!
And the band’s name, Frightened Rabbit. There seems to be a common theme with Glasgow bands and rabbits at present, what with The Twilight Sad implying “…the rabbit might die” and Glasvegas instructing it to “…run rabbit run”. Is there some kind of in-joke we’re missing down here?
Scott: No, not at all!
Grant: I’ve always meant to ask James (Graham, The Twilight Sad) about that line to be honest. I don’t think there is a theme with Glasgow bands and rabbits though. The name comes from Scott being shy and likened to a ‘Frightened Rabbit’ when people tried to talk to him.
Scott: Aye, I was the one being terrorized, not any rabbit! I never used to mix with many other children when I was younger so my parents used to force me onto their friends’ kids, and it was like, we had nothing in common so I probably said even less.
Grant: The funny thing about having a name like Frightened Rabbit is some people automatically assume we’re named after a sex toy!
Finally, you’re releasing a Christmas single (‘It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’, review). Can we expect to see it giving the X Factor winner and Shaun the Sheep a run for their money in the battle for the Christmas Number One?
Scott: And Malcolm Middleton, too!
Grant: I was listening to Radio One the other day and they played clips of some of the contestants on this year’s X Factor and said bookmakers were taking bets for the first time on it not being the winner at number one because the standard this year is so low!
Scott: So we’re in with a chance then!
Grant: No, I think it will be Malcolm Middleton at number one, us at number two, Shaun The Sheep at number three…
Scott: What about Mew? Surely they must be releasing ‘She Came Home For Christmas’ again?
Video: 'It's Christmas So We'll Stop' (full choir version)
What made you write a single specifically for Christmas?
Grant: We actually started it out in Connecticut in the sessions with Peter Katis and we were arguing over whether it should go on the album or not, but we didn’t get it finished in time.
Scott: When we got home we finished it of and we took it to Fat Cat and came to the conclusion it would be a good idea to release a Christmas single and here we are!
Grant: I think if we hadn’t done it like that it would have gone to waste, which would’ve been a shame.
Scott: We thought it would be a good idea to get a choir together – because all the best Christmas songs have choirs in them – so we spent a day phoning and texting our friends and all the Fat Cat people came down and we spent the whole session eating mince pies and drinking wine so it became one big party.
Grant: We call it Frightened Rabbit’s guide to being miserable and happy at the same time!
Frightened Rabbit will be playing the Fat Cat Christmas Party with The Twilight Sad and Vashti Bunyan at The Arches, Glasgow on Thursday December 20. The single ‘It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’ is out now.
For more information on Frightened Rabbit visit their MySpace.
Photo: Dave Gourley