Before the Scottish indie rockers head out on tour, they explain what it was like to work with the National's Aaron Dessner on their latest record

By Madison Vain
July 27, 2016 at 04:22 PM EDT
Dan Massie

Scottish indie rockers Frightened Rabbit have made a career out of misery. Their first five albums didn’t just wade into heartache, they swam in it. Frontman Scott Hutchinson spat out lyrics of anxiety and self-loathing, the music surrounding him—handled by his brother Grant Hutchinson (drums), Andy Monaghan (guitar), Billy Kennedy (bass)—was desperate and dense.

But this spring they released Painting of a Panic Attack and while an album about, as Scott says, “addiction to another person” is a far cry from joyous, it’s certainly their lightest set to date. And with The National’s Aaron Dessner behind the sound board, it’s also their smoothest.

As they arrive this week for a string of U.S. dates that begins at Lollapalooza in Chicago and ends at Austin City Limits on September 30, the Hutchinson brothers sat down with EW to discuss brightening up, working with Dessner, and why they’re happy to never headline a stadium.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Despite its name, Painting of a Panic Attack is actually one of your most soothing albums yet. 

SCOTT HUTCHINSON: [Laughs] I think it’s the greatest contrast we’ve ever achieved between subject and sonics—but we always intended for the music to be what opens the door to a song. And then, once you’re in, you close the door behind you and it’s, “Ah, it’s kind of f—ed up in here!”

The National’s Aaron Dessner produced this album. Did you guys keep in touch after touring together a few years ago?

GRANT HUTCHINSON: No, there was very little communication on tour between the two bands—I actually never knew if I was talking to Aaron or Bryce [Dessner, the National’s guitarist]. [Laughs]

S.H.:: They’re quiet, private people, and we appreciated that. But then a guy bumped into Aaron and he was kind of looking for things to do. So I went to visit him in [Brooklyn’s] Ditmas Park and it became very clear that there was no one else who should be doing this.

Scott, you used to write everything solo—Frightened Rabbit actually started as a solo project—but now writing credits have a bunch of bandmate names mixed in. Did that evolve naturally?

S.H.: It was like sending your kid off to college, or something. The whole embryo of Frightened Rabbit is me on my own, writing songs and playing, and recording in a bedroom. When something starts off that way, it is a process of letting people in, gradually. I really believe the only thing that fully opened that up is time.

Dark emotions certainly aren’t new topics for you guys. When people meet your, do they expect you to be total downers?

G.H.: Or they expect you to solve their problems. [Laughs]

S.H.: There have been people who’ve been like, “I lost my significant other and then you were there.” And you can tell with a lot of people, they’ve been saving this speech up and then when you say hi, it pours out. I find that to be the wonderful part of what we do. 

What role does songwriting play in your life?

S.H.: I’ve always felt that it’s about putting a neat frame around a messy picture. People ask me if it’s therapy, but I find it has something more in common with the filing system—I like to organize event in albums. 

Do you have a line of “That’s too personal, I can’t share that”?

S.H.: After every album comes out and we tour it, in my head I’m like, “Oh, I said too much!” And then I wrestle with things like, is it a little sick to make a commodity out of your and someone else’s life? But I think you can’t draw that line, because then you’re editing yourself where you shouldn’t be.

You’re playing a mix of enormous festivals and smaller rooms on this tour. Do you want to always be filling bigger and bigger venues?

S.H.: Everyone thinks about things like selling out Madison Square Garden, but then the trick becomes maintaining intimacy. I also keep in mind that 10 years ago I never thought I would be here—this is more than I ever thought I’d achieve. The goal now is to just have this always be our job. It’s not a given that you’re allowed a sustainable career in music. 

See a full list of tour dates below.

July 28: Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall

July 29: Chicago, IL @ Lollapalooza

July 30 : Montreal, QC @ Osheaga Festival

August 13: Haldern, DE @ Haldern Pop Festival

August 20: Konstanz, DE @ Rock am See Festival

September 2: Swansea, UK @ Singleton Park

September 8: Omaha, NE @ The Slowdown

September 9: Lawrence, KS @ The Granada Theatre

September 10: St.Louis, MO @ LouFest

September 12: Charlotte, NC @ The Neighborhood Theatre

September 13: Baltimore, MD @ Ramshead Live! ~

September 14: Charlottesville, VA @ Jefferson Theatre

September 16: Madison, WI @ Majestic Live

September 17: Minneapolis, MN @ Festival Palomino

September 19: Cleveland, OH  @ Beachland Ballroom

September 20: Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme

September 22: Champaign, IL @ Pygmalion Festival

September 24: Cincinnati, OH @ Midpoint Music Festival

September 26: Nashville, TN @ Marathon Music Works

September 27: Birmingham, AL @ Saturn           

September 30: Austin, TX  @ Austin City Limits Festival