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By Observer Staff
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There's something in life to intimidate every soul—a person, an opportunity, the heart's desire—and perhaps that's part of Frightened Rabbit's appeal. Boldly seizing a moniker his mother hung on him when social anxiety held him back a year in nursery school, Scott Hutchinson's Northern Scotland quintet plays earnest self-searching paeans that ring with the sonorous indie-pop echoes of spiritual regional antecedents such as the Vaselines, Orange Juice and the Delgados.
Before Frightened Rabbit, Hutchinson was a Friendly Badger, playing with his brother Grant in a high school band. When he graduated from the Glasgow School of Art, he returned to this first love, playing solo before adding Grant on drums and, later, childhood friend Billy Kennedy on bass. They were on the verge of signing to Universal imprint Polydor in 2005 before the label pulled out at the last minute to focus its energies on adding the UK's answer to the Backstreet Boys, Take That.
"It was really a completely shattering experience," Hutchinson recalls. "It was literally the week we were supposed to sign and they pulled out. We were all so excited. We told everyone. That's the worst thing, you have to go back and tell your friends, 'Oh dude, it's not happening,' and they're like, 'Was it ever happening or have you just been lying to me all along?'"
They eventually signed to English indie Fat Cat for 2006's Sing the Greys, a disc filled with dulcet jangle pop that lacked the bite and emotional resonance of the band's 2008 follow-up, The Midnight Organ Fight. As the wry title suggests, their second album is a break-up album fueled by the clever anguish of tracks like "The Modern Leper," which insists "You must be a masochist to love a modern leper on his last leg," and "Keep Yourself Warm," with its assertion "You won't find love in a hole/it takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm."
Their well-crafted songs take on another life on stage where their passion and intensity take them to another level, balancing the heartfelt emotion with bristling power.
"An album is just different than a live show," Hutchinson says. "I want to make records that have subtlety. Capturing that raw thing in a studio is just really hard. And I don't really want to capture that as such. I want to save that for the live show so when you go see the band you're like, 'Jesus I did not expect that.'"
These days at shows, Frightened Rabbit is supporting its third album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. It was written in Crail on the Scottish coast, where Hutchinson spent two months decompressing from 18 months of touring. The song "Swim Until You Can't See Land" serves as a fine touchstone for the album's spirit of self-discovery after so long away from home.
"I wanted to write an album about that frame of mind, that drifting sense where you're a bit lost," Hutchinson says. "It's so transitory, you lose sight of who you are. It's a foolish way to live and you have to become something of a fool."
More ornate and layered, the album benefits from the financial wherewithal to spend more time in the studio with producer Peter Katis (The National). But while Hutchinson enjoyed the opportunity to explore this richer, fuller-bodied direction, it's as far as he's likely to go.
"I'm the first to admit we went completely over the top on a lot of these songs on this record," Hutchinson says. "But that's the way we had to do it to keep moving forward. To be honest, it'd be nice to try paring it right back and seeing how we can do without all this limitlessness. Because Pro Tools can do that to you."
He acknowledges all those layers make the album harder to embrace. But in the end, Hutchinson believes it will prove worth the effort.
"I've described it as a vortex album," he says. "You start off out on the fringes of it, and you're 'Yeah, it's all right.' And you slowly get sucked in."