Scotland’s finest exporters of woolly jumper wearing indie rock, Frightened Rabbit, are back after a two year hiatus to clothe us with their signature brand of charming, heart-warming and spirited anthems that keep us the right mixture of warm and emotionally delicate.
With April’s release of their fifth studio album ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ fast approaching, the band are currently knuckled down in a Glasgow studio in rehearsals ahead of a short three date UK tour and subsequent mammoth 29 date North American jaunt.
Band members Andy Monaghan (guitars/keyboards) and Simon Liddell (guitars) took a bit of time out of their schedule to talk about the new album and their readiness to return to the live scene, alongside how Simon’s addition to the band – graduating from guitar tech and live musician to replace Gordon Skeene – has changed their dynamic.
“I guess it’s a combination of looking forward to playing some shows and anxious to play some shows. I mean the set-up has changed, it’s a bit of a new set up, new sounds, new songs, you never know how its gonna go down, as Andy begins.
While Simon adds, “That’s especially true of playing the new songs as well, for me, cause they are the first ones I’ve had involvement in part of the recording of those ones, as much as its fun playing the other ones.”
With the response so far to the release of new singles ‘Death Dream’ and ‘Get Out’ reaching fever pitch, both Andy and Simon seem in high spirits, as Andy mentions:
“We have put out two very different tracks out so far, so people have been reassured hopefully by the first one (Death Dream) and then saw that things are a bit different with the second one (Get Out).
Whereas Simon, in respect to the hauntingly beautiful ‘Death Dream’, says: It was not meant to be like a proper full on single but more like a ‘can u remember us’ thing. I’m sure some people think it’s a pile of shite but if they hate it they are keeping quiet about it.”
Talk then turns to the new record, produced in both Brooklyn and Upper State New York last year during a swelteringly hot heat wave last summer, that saw the band, in between lying down on floors to escape the heat, remove themselves fully from their distinctly Scottish-tinged overcast, drizzle inspired sound and embrace the flips flops, shorts, and bucket loads of ice-cream.
“The record is the same in that (lead singer) Scott’s narrative shines through but it’s a different band. The creation of the record was very different to any of the other records we’ve made and we were trying a few new things as well. So it sounds a bit different but at the same time it is rooted in Scott’s songs. Without that we wouldn’t be Frightened Rabbit,” says Andy.
As to the new things mentioned, Simon offers more: “There is probably a bit of a dip in the tone, a more electronic approach. I mean it’s not by any means a dance record, there’s just a few more textures in there that would take it a wee bit further away from the normal.”
The addition of a certain ‘electro’ vibe is partly down to Andy, who lists Glasgow’s very own Optimo as one of his favourite musical influences.
“It’s my scene, I’m all about that. Owl John (Scott’s solo album released in August 2014) brought Scott more in line with that sort of approach. I think he felt a bit more comfortable using some synths on some of the demos he was sending over. I was like, this sounds mental! This is great! This sounds nothing like the old Frightened Rabbit, but it still is to an extent.”
With Scott moving over to Los Angeles in the aftermath of touring Pedestrian Verse, both the distance from the rest of the band – who remained in Glasgow – and the arrival of Simon, brought with it new obstacles and different challenges to face up with. But both Andy and Simon see that as having an ultimately positive effect on the current (new) direction of the band.
It’s totally a 5 way street now,” says Andy.
“There’s like different approaches to different songs. Cause Scott was over living in the States with some songs he would come up with the main body of it himself, while there was others that me and Andy and Billy and Grant would have worked on in Glasgow and sent to him, and then he would kind of add to it. And then there was stuff we had from the writing sessions in a couple of studios in Wales and a bunch of songs came out of that, when we were all kind of the same room, so it was kinda different approaches that all yielded diferent results,” continues Simon.
And with all members of the band keen to step outside of their comfort zones and change things around a bit instrumentally, it made for a rewarding experience, as Andy details.
“There were points like when we were getting to rehearsals and we were like ‘who is playing what here’, maybe Billy wasn’t playing bass he was playing guitar or Simon was on keys, I was on keys, Scott played all the guitars but then It’s like Scott plays the keys and I’m playing the guitars…and it’s like nobody is playing what they wrote in the studio or like live on stage and it was all just like people throwing in ideas and seeing what worked.”
Simon agrees. “Everyone felt comfortable enough when we were writing the album to say they had an idea and put it down, and not be like “you’re not the bassist so don’t touch my bass”.
With that, Simon refers back to the importance Scott’s solo record had on the new Frightened Rabbit material.
“I guess it was like, I mean it was my first time in the studio with the full band but when we did Owl John that was the approach to that was so relaxed, we’d (himself, Andy and Scott) gone into that with nothing so it was a case of having to go into the room and record something, try something. There were no nerves, so that sort of carried through onto this record.”
He continues, “I think the touring schedule (for Pedestrian Verse) had hit everyone pretty hard so for Scott it was like, I think it was a really positive thing for him u know. He took all the pressure out of the creative process and it was brilliant.”
Interesting to note is that although ‘Paintings of a Panic Attack’ took the best part of a year and a half to write and record, with the band writing and recording in excess of 30 demos before whittling it down to the 12 that made it on the album, they started thinking about it as soon as they played what was their last show, at Laneways Festival in Australia on the 8th February 2014.
“The first writing session happened straight away after a festival we played in 2014. We got in a van after the festival and went straight there – to the studio and got started. At that point event Scott didn’t have anything – ‘Lump St’ came from that, ‘I Wish I Was Sober’ was born there and ‘400 Bones’ also, Simon reveals.
Having formed a close bond with The National after touring with them throughout America, it seemed a natural fit that Aaron Dessner would take up production duties, although his methods took some getting used to by the band, as Andy explains.
“He (Aaron) is a very talented guy. It was good. I guess when u put so much energy into something and someone else does the same there is going to be a little bit of friction. We wouldn’t know where he was going with something and he would never reveal his cards and then we would be like ahhh we see, we can see where it’s going. There were moments when we were like hallway through the sessions and we were questioning things, what was going on. But I think it worked out in a positive way.”
On a personal note, the move from guitar tech to fully fledged Frabbit was one Simon speaks volumes about, with a real sense of appreciation as to how things came to be.
“It’s amazing. I mean it was obvious for me as a member as I already playing as a live musician for a few years, the first show being us playing woodpile on BBC Hogmanay a few years ago with Jackie Bird. I always felt like part of the group on a personal level. It was always an inclusive thing and it has always been that way so that made it creatively so easy to slot in.”
To which Andy adds, “The internal vibe is different I guess with Simon being around. He is so enthusiastic and on it. It was an easy transition as no one was like ‘who is this guy’. With all the directions the others pull in, Simon pulls us in a different direction.”
With Simon finishing, “I love my reverb”.
And with a hard day’s work in the studio beginning to take its effect on their ability to keep awake, Simon and Andy ended by advising me not to make plans for Tuesday of next week, and to keep my eyes peeled for a show being staged by a band using a name of one of the songs off ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’.
I wonder how long the secret remains a secret.