The unbelievably sudden and sad news of Scott Hutchison’s death last week sent Wind Back Wednesday to this interview with him recorded on a doorstep in a dusty corner of Austin, Texas, five years ago. A lovely man, an engaged man and a thoughtful one who had a good idea why the people liked his band, Frightened Rabbit: “We’re not a band based on style, and people appreciate that.”
LOVE AND THEFT
Normally when something is described as having risen without trace it’s meant insultingly, suggesting there was no apparent reason for such an elevation. But Scott Hutchison, heavily bearded songwriter, frontman and founder of Frightened Rabbit gets my point when I say that this five-piece from the unsexy Scottish town of Selkirk has risen without trace, building a substantial following across the world without that big, transformative hit that put them before everyone.
"We’ve done it in quite traditional way," Hutchison agrees. "We toured a lot, we built a fan base but it was done in almost an invisible way, without the splash but with people talking about you and then going to your shows. I enjoy it when people say ‘Frightened Rabbit are playing that venue?’.”
The advantage, he sees, is that many of that broad fan base still feel like they are involved in some sort of secret as well “which is a really nice feeling for us all", particularly when it shuts some sceptics up about the band which began as a solo project but four albums later now includes Hutchison’s brother Grant on drums, guitarists Andy Monaghan and Gordon Skene and bassist Billy Kennedy.
"In Australia for example at the start of this year we were getting these closed doors, people saying no one gives a shit about Frightened Rabbit,” Hutchison says without any rancour at the doubters here despite three Antipodean tours behind them. “But we managed to get two or three shows [sold] in a week. I keep an eye on these things on social networks and I knew we had fans there.”
His explanation for this support in Australia comes down to "we're not a band based on style and people appreciate that”.
“It’s substance rather than having a nice haircut,” he says, adding with a wry grin. “Which I've never had in my whole life - I can't seem to find that great haircut and now I don’t care.”
One explanation, apart from the absence of a hipster haircut, goes beyond the music which, as Hutchison admits, is not trying to break new ground. There’s a view that what they do they do with a level of intensity which rises above the familiar.
"I'm not interested in reinventing the wheel, I'm interested in progressing ourselves in a natural way. Certainly what I put of myself and my own life into specifically the lyrics is something that people appreciate and get absorbed in. There's a connection there and an honesty."
If the support in Australia is impressive, they have really made a connection in the USA, not surprising in a way if you think about Scottish bands like Simple Minds, Del Amitri or even Big Country who all prospered at different times in the States: they all worked hard on intensity and rock dynamics. More to the point maybe is that until they start talking, there’s nothing about Frightened Rabbit that would make your average American (or Australian) music buyer think anything other than local. They do rock’n’roll in what you might call a universal manner.
Again this may not be a surprise. When he first got serious about music Hutchison was the right age for grunge but by the time he started writing songs at around 18/19 he was more into Ryan Adams and Wilco “and it set me on a path and now bands such as The National and Radiohead I find very influential”.
None of those bands sound like Frightened Rabbit either, but that is the good thing, Hutchison's songs being less a copy than a distillation of his favourites.
"There is a process of theft from many different places that then culminates in what we are.”