There’s few Scottish bands that inspire the kind of devotion Selkirk’s Frightened Rabbit can and how many would even think about a three night stint at the Barras just a couple of weeks before playing a prime time slot at Edinburgh’s Night Afore Hogmanay party?
For a band that’s made a career out of stories of disaster and heartbreak it’s disaster and heartbreak blind in the face of success.
These homecoming gigs are the finale to a lengthy European tour including 15 UK dates which started in Antwerp back in mid November and speaking to Grant Hutchison they’re happy to be back playing lots of UK gigs: “It’s good to be touring the UK again, there’s been a few parts of the country we’ve neglected and it’s good to get back to these places.”
With three Glasgow shows in a row they’re set on keeping it exciting each night by introducing different songs that haven’t been played live for a while. “We’re not so naïve to think that it will all be different people who come to the shows so we’re planning on mixing it up.” All sounding pretty positive then.
Of course this year’s Painting of a Panic Attack was the album that might never have been made. Off the back of the lyrically and sonically tentative hopefulness of Winter of Mixed Drinks came Pedestrian Verse.
‘Verse’ in the right moment is a dark and bleak listen and with the benefit of hindsight hearing Scott sing ‘We’ve still got hope so I think we’ll be fine ‘, on its closing track ‘The Oil Slick’ you can easily be left with the feeling that he was nowhere remotely convinced on the matter, despite the jokey bird song ending.
With a tension releasing detour via the Owl John side project, shedding a bandmate and with Scott moving to Los Angeles no-one was quite sure what the future held for the band.
Scott had got to questioning whether at album five if there was “really a necessity for another Frightened Rabbit album at all?”
The rest of the band kept working away in Glasgow and while they’d the benefit of being a more collaborative group since Pedestrian Verse Grant admits it was “not that easy” working together over such a distance.
Having gigged with The National on a US tour in 2013 they got Aaron Dessner of The National in ‘just to help shape the demos for Painting’, not so much sitting writing from scratch: “If we were hitting a wall with a song and didn’t know where to take it he helped with that, spending a lot of time on one part of a song”.
The result is a gorgeous, if more measured and even record than anything before, somber electronics and warped textures reigning in much of their normal anthemic bombast.
The first two albums had positioned Frightened Rabbit as the reflective and introspective band with a heart against a post Franz Ferdinand Glasgow music scene which Scott has described as “more concerned with style than substance”.
It’s a pattern Grant sees repeating itself, lamenting the cycle of copy cats trading in the success of the big breakthrough act “Without wanting to be a dick about it there’s been a bit of a dip, a bit of a Chvrches hangover, it happened when Franz got big, Primal Scream, Mogwai, even us to an extent. But then there’s a shift, new bands and new sounds emerge and that will happen again”.
From the current crop Grant singles out Bossy Love, Tuff Love and Be Charlotte as bands to keep an eye out for, those who are stepping out and making interesting music.
From Winter of Mixed Drinks onwards each album appears to be more of a struggle against themselves rather than setting themselves apart from their contemporaries. Playing with their own template while challenging themselves trying something new and not just “shovelling out the old shit.”
That said they were aware that when having Dessner help out with Painting of a Panic Attack they’d have people “listening out for the record sounding like The National”. There’s a good deal of what you might consider Dessner’s character in the sonic makeup of the record, an austere intensity and attention to detail where before there might have been lovingly fingered ragged edges.
Still despite meeting Dessner “in the middle with some of the less developed songs” it still sounds like a classic Frightened Rabbit album at its core.
Despite being essentially miserablist Frightened Rabbit gigs are never somber affairs and these upcoming nights are sure to be no different. There’s always that glint of dark humour in amongst the dirt to brighten things up and besides they’ve always been decent at coating the angst in a massive life affirming chorus.
As Scott says, “people don’t come to a Frightened Rabbit show to feel sad”. It’s the Scottish mentality, there’ll be blood and guts and tears but it’s cathartic and you can bet everyone will walk away with a smile.