Frightened Rabbit interview: ‘We had doubts about continuing’

Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit - Credit: Archant

For a while, the future of Scottish indie group Frightened Rabbit seemed touch and go.

By November 2013, the Glasgow-based band had released four albums to critical acclaim and moderate commercial success, and had just finished an extensive tour ending in a final flourish at the Brixton Academy.

But the constant gigging had bred disenchantment.

“Everyone got quite exhausted, to the point of having doubts as to how keen everyone was, particularly for [frontman] Scott, to continue with it,” explains guitarist Simon Liddell.

But thankfully for their loyal following, those doubts soon dissipated and now the band are back with their fifth album, Painting of a Panic Attack, which was released last Friday.

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The record retains the gloominess and lyrical honesty that are the hallmarks of any Frightened Rabbit album, defined by fan favourite track The Modern Leper off 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight.

But with the snarling synth in homesickness anthem Lump Street and the build-up of raw emotion in Death Dream, this fifth record sees the band producing a much bigger sound.

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Liddell believe that’s the result of working on the album with Aaron Dessner of US indie darlings The National, who the group have toured with in the past.

“He was pushing us out of our comfort zone especially in terms of performance,” he says.

“It took him a little while to understand my accent, I found out after the first week that he had been pretty much not understanding anything I had said!”

The band started out back in 2003 as a solo project for frontman and lyricist Scott Hutchinson.

But on their last two records, songs were written in collaboration with the whole band for the first time.

“Scott’s let go a little of the reins in that way,” Liddell says. “He’s always going to be the man at the helm, and that’s the way it should be, but in terms of the instrumentation, he’s opened up to different ideas.

“It’s more of an open book. Obviously, the lyrics are still Scott’s domain – I don’t think it would be Frightened Rabbit if they weren’t.”

Since the last record, frontman and lyricist Scott Hutchinson has moved to LA to be with his girlfriend, but there is little Calafornian sunshine on the album, perhaps owing to the two writing sessions the band held together in rural recording studios in Wales.

The last three years has also seen Liddell join the band as a permanent member, replacing Gordon Skene on guitar.

When asked what drove the band and Skene to part ways, Liddell fumbles for what he calls “the party line”. “He... left the band. He parted ways. It was amicable.”

With Hutchinson at breaking point, the band’s label, Atlantic, suggested he work on a solo side project.

The result was Owl John and an eponymous album, which Liddell, and guitarist and keyboardist Andy Monaghan, also worked on.

“It was suggested as a form of therapy in a way,” says Liddell. “I was already keen as custard, but I think it re-ignited something in Scott as well.”

They play the last of three UK dates before a seven-week US tour on Thursday at St John at Hackney Church in Homerton, a much more intimate setting than where they last played in 2013.

“You’ve got to play it safe, before you know how things are going to go,” Liddell shrugs. “It’s important to be humble and not be presumptuous, and then start to move things back up again, fingers crossed.”

Doors open for the sold-out gig at St John at Hackney Church on Thursday at 7pm.

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