Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Best of 2008: #7 Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
feature for the skinny
This time last year Frightened Rabbit were playing in city centre bars around Scotland and not selling them out. Tonight, every ticket has gone, and we're in one of the biggest venues in the country. Sure, they're playing Edinburgh's Corn Exchange as support for Seattle indie darlings Death Cab For Cutie, but the suspicion that the Rabbit are a strong draw for much of this crowd is confirmed by the almost capacity attendance during their brief support slot. Frontman Scott Hutchison twice bigs up Death Cab for the crowd, seemingly because he can't quite believe that so many people would be there for his own group. The truth is Frightened Rabbit have taken a huge leap forward in 2008, thanks to a fantastic second album in The Midnight Organ Fight and a relentless touring schedule, and they've become a hot ticket. The Skinny first featured them in September 2007, but we were more focussed on FatCat mates The Twilight Sad last year; 2008 has been, in Swing Out Sister terms, their breakout year. So let's go back to the beginning lads: talk us through a life less ordinary in The Year Of Frightened Rabbit.
"This time last year the album had been done for three or four months," Scott tells us before the gig. "I think I knew it would be quite well received, cos I was very pleased with it, I'm not gonna lie, when I finished it I thought it was pretty good." Hold on a sec - so the second album was finished before the first was even released? Scott's brother Grant, the drummer, chips in "We always saw the first album as a kinda demos album, but when we gave FatCat the remixed mastered version they decided to put a full campaign behind it, so that meant pushing the next album back a bit". "This time last year we were pretty much sick of Sing The Greys" Scott says, "We were saying goodbye to that record and just really itching for people to hear the new one."
Early reports were good. "People were coming up and saying 'new album's fantastic by the way', and we'd ask where they'd got it, and they'd say 'Jetpacks'!" Apparently allowing friends (and now labelmates at FatCat) We Were Promised Jetpacks hear early copies wasn't the best idea. "By about March, Jetpacks had given it to pretty much everyone in Glasgow!" But apart from praise from pretty much everyone in Glasgow, the album was also attracting attention from international publications like Spin and Paste, as well as online zines like Pitchfork and Drowned In Sound, and of course The Skinny. The acclaim was almost unanimous - I say almost: "We got one from this guy from the Costa Del Sol Tribune, or something like that. He gave it a really scathing review, it was quite funny. He was saying 'I don't understand what they're trying to do, it's all over the place, they need to be specific and consistent'. One of his favourite things of the year was a book signing by Mick Hucknall, but, we're saying nothing."
So the big day arrives, April 14th, and it's a huge relief. "I was in Edinburgh actually" Scott says. "I went to Avalanche and bought a copy, and they were already playing it when I went in. I was like [clenches fist]!". "I went into FOPP and it was the same" says Grant, "they were playing it in there. We played the album from start to finish at Mono for free the day it came out. It had been such a long time, we'd been waiting for ages, so for Mono to fill up so quickly that they had to stop letting people in... that was quite a big moment. It felt real then."
But because the album hadn't dropped until late spring, most summer festivals had already booked their line-ups, and the Greys-era Rabbit weren't chosen for too many. They did T, and Belladrum, and Connect, and Summer Sundae, and went on a massive tour of the States which even led to an interview with ABC News in New York when a reporter became a fan. “The shows were getting busier, and as we got closer to Washington and New York we found out that those shows had both sold out. We'd never sold shows out well before the night, even here [in Scotland]. So Washington DC was technically our first sell out.” As we talk in Edinburgh, they’ve just come off another US tour, during which they had to swap with the original headliners because crowds were leaving after their support; and tonight is the third leg of a packed European schedule with Death Cab.
One new song that’s received a particularly rapturous live reception is Keep Yourself Warm. "It's now the standard closer for the set because people always want to sing along, and they really sing those lines with gusto" Scott says, referring to the jarring opening lyric. "I'll get my hole" is such a strange line to be sungalong-to because it's male-only, distinctly Scottish, and really, horribly crude. But it's true - men, women, and probably children, of every background at every gig they play, roar along jubilantly. Does Scott think everyone actually understands what it means? "They might interpret it as whole, with a w, as in 'I'll become complete'. But actually no - it's about fucking!"
As is the album title, of course - The Midnight Organ Fight ain’t something a band has when musical differences arise. So it’s nearly 2009. Frightened Rabbit will see in the bells down under, with a gig in Sydney, before taking a well-earned break before yet another US tour. I ask Scott whether he’s had any time to think about the future. “Well touring has become such a habitual thing, there's not much brainwork going in to what we do these days, so yeah I'm starting to think about what to write about. I can't do another break-up album, cos I haven't had one this year! Maybe it'll just be a bit less focussed on me”. What does that leave, politics? “OK, that's track one, ‘Yes, You Can‘!
And there, bands still struggling to sell out city centre bars, is your encouragement: in one thousand words, or right there in just three.