Scott Hutchison loiters on the pavement outside Cologne’s Luxor club toeing one of the tyres on the band’s tour van with his boot. “The worst thing is the boredom,” the Frightened Rabbit front man says wistfully. “There’s no bunk bed to escape to or Playstation to lose yourself in, just faces and feet for miles and miles.” The white VW, the type designed to transport bags of concrete rather than rock bands, lists wearily on a tired axle. Surely there’s a luxury coach parked around the corner? “No. This is it,” Scott says. “We’re doing it old skool.”
The feeling that Frightened Rabbit are still paying their dues is reinforced backstage at where the toilet attendant doubles as the band’s in-house security guard. “He takes his job very seriously,” deadpans Grant, the other Hutchison and the Rabbit’s drummer. “It would take a brave man to try and take a leak without paying.” The dressing room may resemble a broom cupboard but it’s still cosy and clean despite its diminutive size and its proximity to the gents. “The level of backstage comfort does tend to vary,” Grant says ruefully. “Sometimes there’s none at all and we’re sat at a cordoned-off section of the bar with everyone gawping at us. But we’ve been pretty well catered for and looked after on this tour so far.”
The drummer seems grateful for small mercies but there’s a creeping enthusiasm in his voice when he allows himself to dream of better things. America is calling and the Scottish folk rockers will soon be able to compare the closets of Europe to more spacious environs.
“We’re flying straight out after this European tour to do a six-week stint in the US, including gigs at Webster Hall in New York, the Metro in Chicago and the Filmore in San Francisco,” he says, a boyish grin flickering briefly on his lips. “When these were booked, we were like, ‘Really?’ These are around 1200 capacity venues but now we hear they’re selling out so that’s a big deal for us.” Then, as if he feels that he’s getting too carried away, he adds: “Saying that, who knows what the backstage at Webster Hall is like. It could be crap.”
Staying grounded remains part of this band’s philosophy despite the growing buzz around them. Since Scott Hutchison started performing solo sets under the Frightened Rabbit name in 2003, the band has slowly expanded in personnel and scope but creeping fame and progress has yet to separate the band from its humble roots.
“We had expectations when we started but no ultimate goal because that puts a cap on things,” Grant says. “We just take things as they happen, a bit at a time. We’re happy with the trajectory it’s taking. It hasn’t been an instant thing. It’s been gradual and slow. But we were playing to about four people in Austin three years ago and this June we’re going to playing Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park with Snow Patrol. We’re constantly being surprised by new developments with the band.”
They aren’t the only ones. Critics who were alerted to the edgy post-folk of Frightened Rabbit’s first album Sing the Greys were persuaded to stay interested by the more ambitious follow-up, The Midnight Organ Fight. Expecting more of the post-relationship angst and soul-baring that poured from the broken heart of Organ Fight, the third album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, came as quite a revelation when it was released in March. While there is still a theme of isolation running through this new set of more muscular songs, it is an album full of bruised hope shot through with a resolute desire for positive change.
That change may be just around the corner. The feeling among the expectant crowd is that days like these could be few and far between in the coming future. Catching Frightened Rabbit in such claustrophobic surroundings may soon be a thing of the past. There is a sense that big things are about to happen for the band and that the fans should enjoy moments like this while they can.
The band certainly sound gigantic when they eventually take the stage. Rolling out emotive epic The Modern Leper from Organ Fight as an opener could be considered a brave move, especially on their Cologne debut. Lesser bands may have opted to keep their big guns in reserve just in case but with powerful songs such as Living in Colour, Skip the Youth and the rousing Swim Until You Can’t See Land, Frightened Rabbit have huge tunes in spades. In fact, it’s the anthemic quality of much of the new material which suggests that the band themselves had bigger things in mind when they wrote them.
Barely an hour later, the Frightened Rabbit show comes to a close. The Luxor wants the band done by nine so its regularly scheduled club night can begin on time. While the crowd seem less than happy to be denied a longer set, the band begin packing away their gear without complaint. With no road crew to speak of, Frightened Rabbit’s work – at least for now – includes packing themselves up and moving on. But as the white VW once again braces to take the strain of five Scottish blokes and their equipment, one gets the impression its days of toil may soon be over. Perhaps there is a luxury coach waiting round the corner.
First Published in The Red Bulletin