With their third album out next year, Frightened Rabbit tell David Pollock why their growing popularity could cost them some friendships . . .
'YOU know things are starting to happen for your band," says Scott Hutchison, singer, guitarist and songwriter with slow-burning Scots success story Frightened Rabbit, "when you stop texting your mates to say 'we're playing tonight, please come along' and find yourself having to say sorry, there's no room on the guestlist for them."
For Frightened Rabbit that point came towards the end of 2008, with a sold out show at Glasgow's Arches, after which Hutchison had to hunt through the crowd for his friends. That was when the scales tipped for the band, and the past 12 months have seen a large and loyal Scottish fanbase added to, successful tours of America and Australia undertaken, and The Winter Of Mixed Drinks – their third album, and the follow-up to 2008's The Midnight Organ Fight – recorded for a release early next year.
Reflecting on 2009 over coffee in Glasgow's Merchant City on the Saturday morning before Christmas, Hutchison looks shattered, but still enthused when he considers everything his band have accomplished so far and have left to achieve. With less than a fortnight to go until the end of the year, they still have to film the video for next single Nothing Like You in London (although the director texts Hutchison during our interview to say that heavy snow might have put paid to his planned stunt driving the next day, to the singer's disappointment), record a seasonal cover of Walking In The Air for BBC Radio Scotland, play a large end-of-year homecoming gig at Glasgow's ABC and cement their status as Scotland's breakthrough band of 2009 with a set at Edinburgh's Hogmanay Street Party.
"The peak of The Midnight Organ Fight was around December of 2008 and January of this year," says Hutchison, "which was a full ten months after it was released. That's strange, because the hype around most records mean they reach their peak more or less when they come out. We didn't have that, which has bred a much more loyal fanbase for us, I think. People who like the record found it for themselves. They weren't handed it on a plate and told 'this is good for you, you should have this'.
This delayed curve between the record's release and its gathering an audience means the band have been touring it for the best part of two years, and even now as they come to the end of their promotional period for it, they're about to start pushing album number three – the recording and mixing of which was squeezed in among various tours earlier this year. "It's been hard work," says Hutchison, "but we feel like we've earned all of our fans ourselves.
"You know," he says, alluding to the mountainous marketing budgets which bands other than his own enjoy, "you can almost buy fans these days. So that's our goal. We want to be rich enough to afford more fans." Alongside him, bassist Andy Monaghan laughs. He and Hutchison enjoy an easy, bantering relationship with each other, but there still exists the sense that Hutchison is the senior partner in the group. Indeed, Frightened Rabbit was initially his own solo project, until his brother Grant started playing drums alongside him in 2004. Since then guitarist Billy Kennedy, Monaghan and recently multi-instrumentalist Gordon Skene (ex of now-defunct Glasgow outfit Make Model) have been recruited.
"It was originally supposed to be a Badly Drawn Boy type thing," says Hutchison, who lived with his parents in Selkirk until he moved into his own Edinburgh flat earlier this year, "but when Grant joined I had no choice. He said I'm not going to be your drummer, we are a band. After that, it wasn't about getting in virtuoso musicians to play with us, it was about the character of the person. Like, when someone plays with session musicians, you can always tell, can't you? it's just a bit too clean-cut and well done, and that's not us. We've always been a bit ragged around the edges, and we like it that way."
So how has 2009 been from Frightened Rabbit's point of view? "Strange," says Monaghan. "It started with us going to Australia, which is somewhere I never really expected to visit, let alone be asked to play. Then right after that we went to the States, and found that pretty much all the shows were sold out when we got there. That includes places like the Bowery Ballroom in New York, which is about 750 capacity…"
"…and two separate shows in one night in Chicago," picks up Hutchison. "They were about 350 capacity each, and the second one sold out in 24 hours. There were some days out there we just had to pinch ourselves and ask 'how did this happen?' Even in Scotland, we hear about gigs we're playing and think 'no way, that's too big'. Like the ABC this Tuesday – I still expect to be turning up and playing to an empty room."
The next question is why exactly they think they've taken off so well in the States, but the sneaking suspicion is that the band themselves don't have a clue. "I've been asked that a lot," says Hutchison, "and the only thing I can think of is that there's a different method of music being spread over there. It's like Australia, they're both vast countries and I think the press doesn't hold as much sway in either as blogs, local radio stations and online sites like Pitchfork, who have been rather nice to us. It's a more democratic way of getting your music out, I think – like, we haven't quite broken into Radio One here, but (barriers like that] don't really exist over there. The next level up from us is Spin or Rolling Stone, I think, which is really massive."
The rest of the year saw another US tour, this time alongside We Were Promised Jetpacks and The Twilight Sad, their fellow Scots groups on Brighton label FatCat, both of whom are building cult followings at home and abroad: the former will also be playing at Edinburgh's Hogmanay party. "We had a tourbus for the first time," says Hutchison. "It sounds luxurious, but 15 guys packed into it like sardines really wasn't. I think it was the one the Polyphonic Spree used to use."
There was also an acoustic album (Quietly Now!, recorded at Glasgow's Captain's Rest), and recording sessions for the new album with producer Peter Katis, whose past credits include The Midnight Organ Fight and work with Interpol, The National, Von Bondies and Spoon, at his home studio in Connecticut. "Getting thrown out of his studio was a particular highlight," says Monaghan. "I didn't do anything wrong, he just doesn't like to give his secrets away. You hand over the tapes and then go and watch telly while he works on them." Lots of iced coffees were apparently consumed while they waited.
"Our label wouldn't let us make a crap album," says Hutchison, when asked about the record. "It's one of the things I like most about them. They don't have the money for a big marketing campaign, but they recognise that if the product is good it will have legs, it won't get lost completely. I admit I'm nervous about this record where I wasn't about the last two. I know there's more expectation because we have more fans. But the exciting thing about it is that, unlike bands like Franz Ferdinand or Glasvegas before us, we still have headroom with it. They probably got into Rolling Stone with their first albums, so where do you go from there? We've hopefully still got that to look forward to."
"Unlike Glasvegas," says Monaghan, "who have nothing to look forward to."
"Yeah," says Hutchison, "terrible lives they have." He's joking, of course. Although he's taken a slower route to it, the feeling is he has his eye on a similar life for his own band in 2010.
• Frightened Rabbit play the Waverley Stage at Edinburgh's Hogmanay Street Party on Thursday. The single Nothing Like You is released on 22 February and the album The Winter of Mixed Drinks follows on 1 March. www.frightenedrabbit.com
A version of this article first appeared in Scotland on Sunday on December 27