Three years is enough time for major changes to happen in anyone’s life. And that’s certainly been the case for Scott Hutchison and the other musicians in the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit.
That time has seen the group change guitarists, parting ways with Gordon Skene and bringing touring guitarist Simon Liddell on as a full-time member.
For Hutchison, who started Frightened Rabbit as a solo project in 2003 before it evolved into a band, there was also a move from Scotland to Los Angeles to live with his girlfriend, and then a move from there to the small town of Hudson, N.Y. There was also a side project for Hutchison, released under the name Owl John.
And then there was a major shift in how Hutchison approached songwriting for Frightened Rabbit, a move that has him considering the band’s first album in three years, Painting of a Panic Attack, as the start of a new phase for the group, which also includes Grant Hutchison (Scott’s brother, on drums), Billy Kennedy (guitar, bass) and Andy Monaghan (guitar, keyboards).
The period of change began after Frightened Rabbit wrapped up touring in support of its fourth album, the 2013 release, Pedestrian Verse.
Worn down from a decade of recording and touring, relations in the band were getting a bit frayed, and it was clear that it was time for a breather.
“We didn’t ever really talk about the band ending or anything,” Hutchison says. “But we definitely acknowledged that we needed some time to step away from it. It had been my life for over 10 years at that point, and it really had to sort of go into the background for a few months.”
The creative change of environment came when Hutchison recruited Monaghan and Liddell for the Owl John project. Then there was Hutchison’s move to Los Angeles, which he enjoyed at times, but found it a difficult place for him and his girlfriend to build a circle of friends. So the couple looked for a more suitable locale and found it in Hudson, a town east of the northern edge of the Catskills.
“It’s almost the opposite of L.A,,” Hutchison says. “It’s like 6,000 people live there out in the country, which (is) the kind of town I grew up in. But it also has a hipster element. I like the fact that it’s got an artist’s and musician’s community. There are lovely little venues, cafés, bars — there’s a community spirit that we both have really come to really enjoy.”
Such big changes would seem like obvious fodder for new Frightened Rabbit songs. But Hutchison says initially he tried to continue writing in the story-song direction he pursued on Pedestrian Verse. But after realizing those lyrics weren’t connecting, he turned toward more personal topics. While Painting of a Panic Attack is not entirely autobiographical, several songs relate to Hutchison’s time in L.A. and life with his girlfriend.
“You’ve got songs like ‘Still Want To Be Here,’ which is obviously about Los Angeles,” Hutchison says. “I moved there for one reason and one reason only, and that was my girlfriend. Even though I was going through some periods of doubt about my connection to the city, I didn’t have any doubts about my connection to her. So that song is directly informed by our neighborhood, and feeling like a real outsider. I think we both felt like outsiders, but we were both in love with each other’s company. So that song is about absorbing yourself completely into another person’s life. And we both did that. It was kind of wonderful a lot of the time.”
What also shifted during the development of Panic Attack was the band’s method for writing music. With the other members still living in Scotland, Hutchison and his bandmates had to trade ideas via the internet.
This pushed them away from using guitar as a main songwriting instrument. Instead, they turned to laptops and crafting music using synthetic instrumentation as a foundation for the songs. This produced a fundamental shift in Frightened Rabbit’s sound on its latest album.
“I had been sitting writing with a guitar since I was 14. That’s been 20 years, and it becomes quite habitual,” Hutchison says. “You get into these little modes of writing, and then I started recognizing patterns in what I had been doing. So to sit at a little keyboard/synthesizer and construct a song on that alone without even looking at a guitar, that’s naturally going to take it to a different place. I think that’s why some of that material has moved forward, because it’s a much less guitar-driven album.”
The songs on Panic Attack are built on beds of melody made up of synthesizer and electronic tones. The catchy foundation and mid-tempo feel of the group’s music, though, emerges intact, and the new album has considerable dynamic range.
It opens with the disquieting yet enticing piano ballad “Death Dream,” then moves into “Get Out,” a song that explodes out of its simmering electronic pulse with bursts of guitar and drums.
The third track, “I Wish I Was Sober,” reaches Coldplay-esque anthemic heights as it swells behind rolling drums and dreamy instrumental textures, while the jaunty rocker “Woke Up Hurting” blends electronic and Folk elements to nice effect.
Exploring new musical territory with Painting of a Panic Attack has Hutchison excited about the future.
“A lot of these sounds and a lot of the modes of working are just in their infancy for us, and we’re so keen to explore them further,” he says. “And I think this album has opened a door, and I don’t know where it’s going to lead. But we’re going to pursue it and we’re going to see where the next record takes us.”
FRIGHTENED RABBIT plays 7 p.m. Saturday on the Elliot Stage at 2016’s MidPoint Music Festival. Visit mpmf.com for tickets and details.